when I’m plopped down in Hong Kong accompanied by a student whose face appears on green postage stamps or we walk in broad streets into Back Bay expecting to find Chinatown picking at pieces, not knowing where they will go, still trusting in the original impulse there’s something of faith here, enduring and fleeting melodies […]


The urban leg of Dover’s Community Trail leads from the train station, where the Amtrak arrives and the buses congregate, southward across the river and through wooded backyards almost all the way to the Sawyer Mills, now converted to offices condominiums.

I find it’s a fine walk on Sunday morning, to or from Quaker meeting for worship.

As you can see.


By the time the wind died down, we knew we were lucky. Living halfway between Boston and Portland, Maine, we were in the band the forecasters were including in the heart of the oncoming blizzard. The warnings included the possibility of extended power outages, and in an old house like ours, that could quickly lead to frozen pipes. Besides, the heavy winds push freezing air through the walls while sucking much of the heat out the other side. At least I was relieved I wouldn’t be commuting to or from the office in this snowstorm — I’ve had enough of that, thank you.

Yes, the wind was ferocious. Our poor weather vane was doing 180-degree turns at times as the gusts battled around our neighborhood. I wouldn’t attempt to photograph the overnight action (you can see some pretty spectacular examples elsewhere on the Net — admire the photographers’ skill while you’re at it), but the stiff winds and bluster kept shaking the house. We never got the whiteout conditions that hit elsewhere, but there still wasn’t much visibility during the worst hours. I was very grateful we’d been able to get the barn and kitchen roof shingles replaced back in November, that everything held snug. And the wind blew most of the blanket from the rooftops, eliminating the danger of collapses under the heavy additional weight, especially if we get a round of rain or sleet tomorrow, which is a possibility.

In addition, we kept a fire going in the wood stove, just in case the electrical lines were downed, and we had our backup supplies at hand. Fortunately, they weren’t needed. We’d already had several extended outages in the past few years and didn’t want to go through another.

The depth of the snow wasn’t the issue. We wound up with 20 to 21 inches — about a foot less than the maximum expected. It was the blowing, which made removal impossible through the heart of the storm. Just don’t trying going anywhere — the authorities knew there was no way to keep the roads passable. By morning, much of the snow had been sculpted into some remarkable shapes.

Digging out, of course, was still a major effort — about 10 man-hours for our place. I appreciated the fact that what hit us was a light, dry snow, which made shoveling much easier than the heavy, wet snow that fell to the south of us — and that was a good reason our power lines hadn’t been disrupted by falling trees and branches. From experience, we know the digging has its own strategy. You need to keep the level low enough at the end of the driveway that you can see oncoming traffic when you are backing out — and so that they can also see you. We’d had one winter that was an insurance company nightmare and an auto body shop’s heaven for that very reason. The worst section to dig is, in fact, the short stretch between the sidewalk and the street, because the snowplows keep filing it in with compacted snow and ice, usually right after you think you’ve finished. The plow drivers just wave and smile, maybe even shrug their shoulders, knowing you can’t help the words on your lips. All along, as you move the snow, you need to think about the next several snowstorms — once the piles get higher than your shoulders, you’re in trouble. Where on earth will you put the new stuff?

And now it’s time to get our lives back to normal. Whatever that is.


Today is the Twelfth Day of Christmas, also celebrated as the Feast of Epiphany, drawing the nativity observances to a close. In Eastern Orthodox custom, it’s the day Christmas presents are distributed, an acknowledgement of the arrival of the Three Sages from afar some time after the birth of the Christ Child.

In our circle, the Feast of the Epiphany also means reassembling in one household, lugging along the gingerbread houses we made during Advent. Somewhere after the more traditional conventions, like the storytelling and singing and, especially, the Cake of the Three Kings with its three almonds, we arrive at the grand finale – the smashing of the gingerbread houses. Using a mallet or a hammer, the kids go at their surprisingly strong structures, reducing them to pieces.

There’s a tasty reason for their madness – all the candy used as decoration is now theirs for the taking. Meanwhile, the rubble of gingerbread and icing will go outdoors as a treat for the squirrels and other wildlife. It doesn’t take long for a squirrel to go running up a tree trunk with a side of a house securely in its jaws.

Already, some participants are planning next year’s gingerbread mansions.



Here’s one of Rachel’s classic, understated gingerbread houses. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a master.
Well, here’s my first attempt at a lighthouse.
Children, of course, prefer theirs covered in candy. To that we add our tradition of gathering again at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas for a Feast of Epiphany party, when we smash the houses with hammers and mallets. No, it’s not a true act of violence — it’s simply to liberate the candy. And how!