Main Street

At the bottom of Cedar Street, I can see the beginning of Main Street to the right – a few hundred yards back at Warr Avenue. But I go the other way, walking past Tobey Hospital into town.The Agawam river meets salt water here at Besse Park, hosting swans and herons, fish and fishers. Train tracks run between Main Street and the river, disappearing behind downtown businesses just a few yards past the hospital.

Wareham village, the town center, looks good. New sidewalks and lights, gardens and trees make it a welcoming place – a federally funded facelift that encourages tourists and residents alike to spend time here. Riverside Cafe serves a tasty breakfast at a low price, Twigs & Tides offers the wares of local artists, Minerva’s has great pizza, and the post office staff is friendly and efficient. Bait and tackle, dog grooming, legal advice, haircuts, chiropractic adjustment, and gas for the car are all here in this half mile space.

The odd thing about Main Street: the businesses on the right side of the street, closest to the river, face away from the water. Changing tides and graceful wildlife are blocked from view by walls, storage rooms, and dumpsters. Riverside Cafe’s customers can see the insurance office across the street, but not the river. The only exception: Cafe Soleil. When it was Merchant’s Way Cafe years back, the owners built the dining room facing the river.

I love this downtown, but I see in it a cautionary tale. For convenience and the loveliness of human communal space, the wild world that feeds human bodies and souls is often ignored. The Agawam has its own life, far removed from human needs and preferences. It supplies fish and oysters, and destroys homes and streets when it floods. This tidal area serves a much larger purpose than feeding and entertaining me and the rest of the human family. It is fearfully and wonderfully made by and for the glory of God – not for the glory and convenience of humanity. When I walk on Main Street, I wonder if these buildings turn away from the river to avoid facing this.

Question: What can you see in the heart of your town?

For more information on this series of writings, see Walking Wareham on the “About” page.

Cedar Street

High Street ends with a choice: turn left or right onto Cedar Street. On the right, a steep, partially paved section of road with many potholes; on the left, a steep hill, well paved. I turn left.

This a peaceful place to walk. Maple and Oak leaves shelter the houses and wildflowers grow in sidewalk cracks. After the leaves fall, there’s a beautiful view of Besse Park and the tidal area where the river meets salt water. Two of the houses were recently renovated, two more need work. Beauty, decay, and renewal live on Cedar Street. I wish the memory of a death didn’t.

A few years back, a seventeen year old borrowed a family car without asking. It was after midnight when she saw flashing lights from a police car. She flew straight through the stop sign at the end of High street, ran out of road and flipped the car. Trying to avoid a speeding ticket and punishment at home, she died. The priest at her funeral asked everyone to pray for the girl’s soul, since she died committing the sin of disobedience. Perhaps he thought it would serve as a deterrent, keeping other teens from borrowing cars late at night.

I pray the kyrie on Cedar Street: Lord Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy. For the girl who died so young, for her loved ones, and for the priest whose words brought pain and sorrow rather than peace.

Lord, on this street and in this time, Grant Us Peace.

High Street: Gibbs/Marion Road to Cedar Street

Walking up from the light is a literal statement – the street slopes upward, coming to its apex just beyond Tobey Hospital. Past the light on the left is Ladner Street, with a garden so lovely it refreshes the soul. Sawyer Street cuts in on the left halfway up, with Kennedy Street one house up from it on the right side. Half the distance again, and Center Street is on the left. Saint Patrick’s Church and Church of the Good Shepherd (the bullet hole in its spire cross is a story for another time) are on the right side. Tobey hospital comes next, on the left. High street dead ends a few hundred feet later, with a right or left turn onto Cedar Street. With houses lining its sides, two churches and a hospital, it offers the full range of human experience – a living novel. But those stories are for another day. Today, it’s the walls.

The first is a three layer wooden retaining wall, just eight or so inches high. It hugs the yard of a white colonial on the corner of Chapel and High. Next, fieldstone walls on either side, forty inches high with taller columns marking the driveways.

At Sawyer Street, a nine inch cement retaining wall in front of Wiegandt Immigration Law. Almost across from it, a two foot fieldstone wall with electric lanterns lighting the front walkway. Close to the end, a waist high stacked stone wall separates the street from Tobey hospital’s parking lot.

I’ve loved walls my whole life, walking countless ones for untold hours and holding the hands of many little ones as they learned to do the same. I’ve fallen off a few – gravity at work. Balancing on the narrow ones, skipping along the wide ones, walls offer a new perspective. Young children grow taller than their parents, getting a foretaste of their grown-up height. Adults can see farther in all directions than is possible on the ground. Thin ones are an exercise in balance and trust, wide ones are steady as solid ground.

I don’t walk on them so much as walk beside them these days, except the one at Sawyer Street; the owners are friends who won’t mind my trespassing. I still love them, though. They remind me that 1) Adventure and fresh perspective can be found by anyone, but not without personal effort and some risk; 2) Learning to walk on walls is easier with a helping hand; and 3) At some point, it’s time to be the helping hand.

High Street: Gibbs Ave to Chapel/Marion Road

It’s over a mile long, parallel to Main Street, and I find myself on it almost every day. It begins on Gibbs Avenue, with the blue and white hospital sign pointing the way. Mulberry Bed & Breakfast and Bladez Hair Salon are on its left side, workplaces and living spaces to their owners. A quarter mile down, Highland Avenue comes in on the right. Morse Avenue  comes next, its sign obscured by the grand Catalpa on its corner. Another few hundred yards along comes the light at Chapel Street/Marion Road. It’s as far as I’ll walk today.

One of my favorite things about High Street is its geometry. I can stand at any telephone pole, look either way, and see all the other poles on the street perfectly aligned with it. If I stand behind one pole, all the others disappear completely. It’s an amazing gift of engineering and craftsmanship. It’s the same with the old trees that line the sidewalk. I take time to enjoy this visual effect at least once a week, an investment of a few seconds to behold geometric perfection realized with wooden poles and living wood.

I know very little about civil engineering, but I know it’s made High Street a good place: a one-point perspective  in three dimensions, bringing with it a life-enhancing sense of proportion and order. It wasn’t created to be admired from afar. It was built for hands and feet, wheels and foliage, asphalt and wires. A public work that works for the public.

High street is a lesson. Skill and vision, with work and good materials, make an artful way to get people from one place to another – a beautiful means to an end beyond itself, outlasting its creators. It’s the same with scripture, poetry, and prayer – words thoughtfully aligned, beautiful in their own right, holy because we walk through them to God.

Question: What do you see on your town’s High Street?

For more information about the Walking Wareham writings, see  the “About” page.

Gibbs Avenue

Walking up Marion road, past the library sign and town offices, I turn right onto Gibbs Avenue. The side entry into Shaw’s is the first drive, followed by the driveways of many houses on both sides of the street. I walk past Highland Avenue on the right  and Bodfish Street on the left; High Street merges in farther down, followed by Park Avenue. Gibbs ends with a stop sign: First Congregational Church on the left, Memorial Park to the right, Main Street ahead. Gibbs is a favorite for walkers and drivers alike; I rarely walk its length without passing someone on the sidewalk, heading the other way.

There is a Cape Cod house on Gibbs that was empty when I moved to town. Its white paint had all but worn away, visible only around door sills and window frames. Queen Anne’s Lace and orange Day Lilies had taken over the whole yard and the once shell covered driveway had reverted to sand. Three years ago, the whole place was renovated – new windows, new siding, new residents. It’s a lovely old place and Gibbs is the better for its presence and restoration. I love the house, but I love its story even more…

There was a man from a wealthy family. He fell deeply in love with a woman. For whatever reason, his family didn’t approve of her. Then came the threat: leave her or lose your inheritance. He chose his love. They bought that Cape on Gibbs, making a marriage and a life together until her death. He remained until his death a disinherited outcast.

I don’t know any details of the couple who lived in this now renovated Cape on Gibbs Avenue. Love stories are remembered for their passion and sacrifices, not the daily acts and choices that mark a marriage. The Love Or Money ultimatum, when true love conquers all, is supposed to be followed by Happily Ever After – details just get in the way.

I love the story, but I wish the years had preserved more than the romance of it. The choice wasn’t really love or money, after all – it was the love that creates a new family or the love and benefits of parents, grandparents, and siblings – wings or roots. Love lost one way or the other.

Perhaps the man’s parents thought he would choose them. Foolish people to forget this holy truth:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,

as a seal upon your arm;

for love is strong as death,

passion fierce as the grave.

Its flashes are flashes of fire,

a raging flame.

Many waters cannot quench love,

neither can floods drown it.

(Song of Solomon 8:6-7, NRSV)

Question: What are the legends and fables that haunt the streets of your town?

Highland Court

A few hundred feet past the light and down Marion road is a blue and white library sign. Taking the sidewalk to the back parking lot, crossing the spaces and climbing the stone stairs, I reach Highland Court. It’s small, with four driveways and two houses that look onto its asphalt. There are many more chickens and garden beds here than people – farmland in downtown Wareham. Cars must enter and exit from Highland Avenue because it ends at the chain link fence at the top of the stairs – passable on foot and a dead end behind the wheel. It’s a peaceful lane leading to a quiet destination of books and dreaming for cyclers, strollers, and walkers.

Years back, Highland Court was the access road to the elementary school – a place of learning and playing, noisy and busy. Buses and cars drove through an entry now blocked by the fence. When the school burned down, elementary education moved out of town center and the library moved in. Now and back then, it’s mostly children who take this pavement and staircase; once a way to elementary school, now a shortcut to the library. After a good snow, it’s a tiny sliding hill for small children.

I’m here frequently. It’s an integral part of my walking route, leads to the houses of dear friends, and delivers me to the library. Like my life path, it began in elementary learning and no longer concerns itself with the complexity that can dominate life between childhood and grey haired maturity. Fostering green spaces and birds, domestic and wild, is a treasured activity, and it leads to a place of beautiful words and images. When I walk the earth here, I see my life: simple and short, with a beginning and an end. There’s a staircase that takes me beyond it. The way is narrow and I can’t enter weighed down with cars or camels, or troubled by many things. But that’s to be expected – it’s how Jesus sent his disciples into the world. Holy adventures start with empty hands, simple faith, and the willingness to be part of God’s amazing story.

 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25, NRSV)

 Question: If we are Christ in this world, then we continue the story. What adventures are found in your life’s chapter?

Marion Road

Chapel street ends at the light, running into High street. Walk straight through the light and it becomes Marion road/route 6 on the other side of the intersection. A few hundred yards away are the library and town hall. Behind the town hall parking lot is Spillane Field; it’s the summer home of the Gatemen, Wareham’s Cape Cod League baseball team. For $2, you can see some of the best college players, MLB scouts, and lots of residents enjoying the great sport of baseball.

Past the town buildings, at the Shaw’s shopping center, Marion road widens to four lanes. Roads on the left lead to popular beaches, roads on the right to Rochester and West Wareham. Straight ahead, Kool Kone offers fabulous food and ice cream at reasonable prices and Gateway Tavern serves drinks and terrific seafood to locals and visitors alike. Just past these places, a bridge offers views of osprey nests, tidal marshes, and people fishing. The bridge is not the end of route 6, but it is the end of Marion road; Wareham ends here, becoming Marion and route 6/Wareham road. Change the town, change the road name.

I’ve never walked across the bridge into Marion. There isn’t much on that side for a couple of miles, and there’s enough on the Wareham side to keep me happy. The two towns have very distinct identities, and most who live in one wouldn’t choose to live in the other. It’s one thing to name a road after a neighboring town – it’s a great way to let walkers and drivers alike know where they are headed, but it’s quite another to claim kinship with the town next door. Marion road in Wareham, Wareham road in Marion: both the same(route 6) and both different.

I think about Marion when I’m walking on Marion road. It’s a beautiful town on the same water as Wareham. I’ve spent time in its shops and churches, on its beach and in its preschools. But it’s not home, and I don’t spend my days and nights there except to visit. But the road that takes me there is part of my daily life: it’s the road to my library, my town hall, and my team’s baseball field. Whoever named Marion road showed wisdom in his or her selection: at the very heart of home is the road that leads to the next door neighbor.


Question: What are the main roads in your town? Do they lead to your neighbor?


For more on the “Walking Wareham” writings, click “About.”

Chapel Street

It’s hard to find, but it’s well travelled, linking Main street to Marion road. It’s only two hundred yards long, and most people think it’s part of Marion road. Its sign is at the bottom of the hill, rarely given a glance by the thousands that pass it daily. Chapel as a street in its own right has virtually disappeared, overtaken by the two roads it connects.

There’s no chapel on Chapel, and I’m not sure how many houses there are. Only two are certain – the others are on its corners, facing High street or Main. Four driveways open onto Chapel, so perhaps there are four with a Chapel address. It hardly matters, except for mail delivery and voter registration. Yet Chapel street remains its own entity. A steep hill between Main and High, turning into Marion road at the light.

I don’t know what the kids walking home from school think about Chapel street, or the drivers heading to work. It’s a means to another end for most, a destination for only a few who live or visit its houses. And yet, it’s named a house of prayer. At some point, Chapel was sacred ground, a place to come into God’s presence, a refuge. When I walk up the hill, I wonder how often I’ve marched straight across sacred ground without a thought or a pause. When I walk down the hill, God’s beloved are before me, in their cars and on their feet. How often do I see them without really seeing them?

How often? That’s a sacred question. I guess there still is a chapel on Chapel.


Question: Does your town have a sacred/chapel street?

Storm Damage

Hurricane Arthur blew through town yesterday, bringing a lot of rain and some high winds. It came up the coast right after storms blew in from the west. Fortunately, the sun was shining in a cloudless sky by the time I took my walk this morning. The only signs of yesterday’s storms in my yard were a couple of bent hollyhocks and corn stocks. High and Main streets had a few puddles in the road and some small branches on lawns – nothing remarkable. It could have been so much worse.

Only one tree on High street lost a huge limb. I didn’t notice it at first because it hadn’t fallen all the way to the ground. I saw it because of the color difference between the outside and inside parts of the tree – the light inner wood showed up against the ivy covered bark. The break wasn’t a clean split, but something resembling the damage in termite infested wood. Arthur wasn’t strong enough to damage healthy trees, but was enough to fracture this one. The true damage came from ivy; the tree is covered in it, from ground to top, enclosing the trunk and all the limbs. Over many years, the tree died as the ivy sent its roots into the wood. There is no living tree beneath the ivy now. Only the strength of the ivy keeps the tree upright and intact – short one branch, thanks to Arthur. It’s just a matter of time before the tree comes down, falling under the weight of the ivy or cut down by a tree surgeon. Either way, High street is poorer for its death.

Appearances can be deceiving. Internal damage, spiritual destruction, isn’t always visible. Sometimes it’s covered in vitality, giving every appearance of health while slowly killing true life. Outer growth can come from a robust inner life, deeply rooted and strong; it can also be something that causes and masks damage, slowly draining the spirit until there is nothing left but a facade. It’s only when a storm comes that the truth is revealed.

There’s ivy growing in my yard. Like many things, it’s wonderful in small amounts but deadly if allowed to take over. I keep an eye on it and spend a lot of time cutting it back when necessary. The tree on High street and my own yard remind me to keep an eye on my inner life as well as what thrives on the surface. Storms blow through, and the truth is revealed: will it be life or death?

Prayer for the Acceptance of God’s Will: Final Meditation

Teach me how to pray. Pray thou thyself in me.   Amen.

This prayer ends with words very similar to “Prayer at the Beginning of the Day,” also by Philaret of Moscow. Since I already wrote something, I asked my friend, Bill Albritton, if he’d do the honors…

In Mere Christianity old friend C.S. Lewis writes:

“An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get in touch with God…God is the thing to which he is praying – the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing which is pushing him on – the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers.”( Lewis, C.S.; Mere Christianity, New York: Touchstone; Simon & Schuster, 1996)

God praying in us, God praying on our behalf, God listening to our praying. Yet at the same time, we remain ourselves – not dissolved into God, but very much ourselves in our praying. Perhaps that’s what prayer really is: God being God, we being who we are, held by love in time and space.    Amen.

Moving into God’s presence through words