Lexington & Concord: lock, stock, barrel, and pond

minute man

minute mouse

Thursday, July 3. Lexington and Concord. We troop up to Lexington to retrace the fateful eighteen-mile march made by the Red Coats to seize hidden munitions in Concord. The bucolic five-mile long historic battle trail lined with granite fieldstones commemorates one memorable April day in American history beautifully. If the biting flies were not so bloodthirsty it would be a perfect place to walk, ride bicycles, or paddle a canoe. But today we opt to drive from site to site, stopping at the Hartwell Tavern for an instructive demonstration in how to fire a minuteman smoothbore musket.

  1. Half cock your firelockcon11
  2. Handle your cartridge
  3. Prime
  4. Shut your pan
  5. Charge with cartridge
  6. Draw rammercon3
  7. Ram down cartridges
  8. Return rammers
  9. Shoulder firelock
  10. Poise firelock
  11. Cock your lockcon4
  12. Present
  13. Fire

con2The interpreter explains the origin and meaning of the phrases ‘flash in the pan’ and ‘lock, stock, and barrel.’ Later we watch an interpretive film in Concord and hear another ranger talk beside the Old North Bridge where the ‘shot heard ‘round the world’ was fired and the eight-year Revolutionary War begun.

river through time

river through time

While it is easy enough to re-read the history we were taught so very long ago in grade school, it is remarkable to visit the place for ourselves and to see just how brief our collective American history really is, and what a small new world we still inhabit. Only a century removed from the initial musket fire, Ralph Waldo Emerson moves in right next door with a clear view of the same revolutionary site from his window.  Down the street, Louisa May Alcott pens Little Women. And beneath Emerson’s roof, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes a collection of sketches published as Mosses from an Old Manse.

old manse

old manse

Today the lovely garden rows of beets, carrots, corn, and potatoes are planted just as Emerson’s good friend Thoreau laid them out for his literary lodger, Hawthorne – a wedding gift to his fellow man of letters. I remark upon the big white canvas tent sitting on the lawn behind the garden and learn that it is erected each summer for a continual stream of weekend weddings. Emerson’s trustees happily cater to contemporary couples wishing to weave the records of their personal milestones into history’s unending chain forged in conflict, bathed in light, and tempered by transcendence and finer feeling. And so it goes.

simple man

simple life

We quit the Manse and its open fields, and head over to Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond only to be met with flocks of Massachusetts beach goers traipsing to the pond’s shore after paying five dollars to park in the state managed parking lot. Ouch. Surely the avowed naturalist and father of the civil disobedience movement in America would have something to say about paying the government for the privilege of jumping in a lake.

little cabin

little cabin

After learning that our out-of-state license plate will cost us an additional fee, we turn around and head next door to the bookstore instead. I stage my own small insurrection, making use of the employees-only restroom. Oh joy. The private privy is painted floor to ceiling as a magical fantasy forest in blues, greens and magentas. I have visited the woods and my soul is restored. Smirk. Suddenly balance returns and we are once again in harmony with our unnaturally natural world.

big world

big mouse on campus

I buy a slim volume of Thoreau’s meditations, hoping to interest my young reader in this deep woods thinker. Then I enlist David’s help in photographing our own mousy woodland muse beside the tiny cabin facsimile where old HD was famed for making the small and insignificant most grand.


breezing through port

port6Wednesday, July 2. Gloucester & Rockport.  The winds are whipping up along the rocky shores in the working fishing town of Gloucester. Tropical storm Arthur is off shore, and expected to make his presence known in time for Independence Day. Fifty or more American flags line the esplanade, their stars and stripes snap in the bright salt air as we stop for a picture of our stalwart little sailor next to the famous statue of the Man at the Wheel.  Honoring “they that go down to the sea in ships,” the Fisherman’s Memorial looks over Gloucester Harbor to the thousands of men who never returned to port.

port7I expect that our little mouse would be more interested to know that Gloucester is also home to the Gorton seafood company, and the place where frozen fish sticks were first invented. We look in vain for a statue with a giant breaded fish finger, but alas it is not to be. So much for trusting that Gorton’s fisherman.

port1So we console ourselves with the catch of the day at the Causeway — a local fave. The place has ridiculously cheap prices and huge portions with a line of hungry customers waiting to get in. It is obviously a Massachusetts institution. I order fresh steamed mussels, and get a large mixing bowl piled high with more than six-dozen fragrant little beauties. And, David; well, you know the story. Another day, another bowl of clam chowdah. Afterwards we drive into Rockport to admire the picturesque artist colony and check out the garish souvenir T-shirts.

 port3 port2  port9port5

diary of a chowderhead

Orinoco's Venezuelan Restaurant - A chowder free zone

Orinoco’s Venezuelan Restaurant – A chowder free zone

Tuesday, July 1.   Brookline & Cambridge.  Orinoco’s Venezuelan arepas, John Harvard’s yard, Camelot’s front porch, Zaftig’s Boston cream pie, and the Boston Public Library’s cats at the top of the stairs. We sprint through the streets and subway stations on a mad cultural dash through Boston with my Fodor’s foodie guide at the ready. David is eager to see JFK’s childhood home in upscale Brookline. For me, it’s all about the food. Four star food at one star prices in Boston’s eclectic warren of squares just minutes from the underground T. I rush through Harvard Yard on my own amazing alimentary race of steamed mussels, melt-in-your mouth Latin popovers, Portuguese custard tarts, artisan breads, and tender sfogliatelle.

chow1While I gorge myself on gourmet curiosities and mix it up in Boston’s melting pot, continually distracted by exotic menus and novel entrees, David refines his search for the perfect clam chowder. His singleness of purpose is unwavering. If he were to keep a food diary, it would look something like this:

  • Sun*                Clam Chowder           Cabela’s                      Hamburg, PA
  • Mon***           Clam Chowder           S & P Oysters             Mystic, CT
  • Tues**             Picnic- no Chowder   Sandwiches               Cape Cod
  • Wed***           Clam Chowder           Waterfront Grille      N. Bedford
  • Thu**              Clam Chowder           Boston Chowda Co.   Boston
  • Fri                   Pizza – no Chowder   Pellini’s                       North End
  • Sat*                 Clam Chowder           Snack Bar                   S. Island
  • Sun**             Clam Chowder           Finz                             Salem
  • Mon*             Clam Chowder           Mike’s                         Saugus
  • Tues              Arepas- no Chowder  Orinoco’s                    Cambridge
  • Wed**            Clam Chowder           Causeway                   Gloucester

Life after chowder.

chow6 chow4orn1chow3orn2chow5orn3

over wrought

sau1Monday, June 30. Saugus Iron Works. Nathan goes to camp today with other virtual pick and shovel wielding Mine Craft aficionados. His goal: to create his very own Role Playing Game (RPG) on the computer. He bounds out of the car without a backward glance at 8:15 when we deposit him on the pretty Merrimack College campus in Andover. So we are left to our own devices. While David and I eschew using a virtual axe or hammer, we still find ourselves at a recent dig site: the Saugus Iron Works.

sau2Opened as a National Park in 1969, this first indirect iron ore foundry on American shores was but a pile of rubble submerged beneath Yankee bog slime just two decades before the park service took over. But back in the 1630’s everything was up-to-date in Saugus with the latest and greatest metal making technology ever imported from Mother England belching out great steel bars. But time and tides were not kind to the not-ready-for-primetime upstart, and the factory foundered and closed after only twenty years. What man had wrought was quickly overtaken by marsh and mire.

sau3Some three hundred years later some fired up iron fisted charity ladies of Saugus were able to clamp modern-day 1950’s steel barons in a head lock long enough to extract their molten fortunes for a major archeological dig and the historical recreation of the old works we see before us. Seven old wooden water wheels were built. Two giant bellows were constructed. Channels and sluiceways were recreated, and the stones from the original blast furnace were stacked high once more with mid-century modern mortar. On a good day this place has all working parts. You can see the water flow, the wheels turn, the fire burn, and the five hundred pound hammer strike.

sau4But like much of today’s American manufacturing industry, times are tough and the original investors have cashed in their chips. Most days the Iron Works are silent. The historical accuracy of the design created in the 1950’s has now been called into question. Corroborating documentation is scarce, and old growth timber to replace aging water wheel axles is even scarcer. Maybe the Saugus divas overreached a bit, but their works had already been wrought, and the park service apparently deemed them good enough to carry the freight.

sau5More overwrought curiosity than cultural or historic treasure, Saugus still makes for a fine day trip. Even though junior is not along for the day, we find ourselves unable to pass up the chance to acquire another park souvenir. So David and I complete the ranger workbook and take the ranger pledge. Our iron badge may be nothing more than shiny plastic, but it will still make a nice addition to our family collection.

soup ‘n’ suds

sal1Sunday, June 29. Salem, Massachusetts. We spoon our soup, sip some suds, and soak our duds in the sailor town on Sunday.  The bright, breezy, slightly salty smell of Boston Harbor carries up from the wharf to wind around the cobblestone streets. We pass more old Cape Cod homes sided with weathered cedar shingles. Freshly painted window boxes sport blousy summer blooms lifted from the pages of a Laura Ashley catalog. Local ale houses serve al fresco refreshments to ladies in sequined flip-flops. Wharf-side diners observe practiced weekend sailors who kick off their shoes to tangle with inscrutable rigging. Another day, another cup of clam chowdah. But best of all today is Sunday, and every port town that still sends sailors out to sea has one of these too. A laundromat. We commune with other fellow weary travelers – some by land, others by sea.

sal4Ahh. Nathan and I have declared mutiny on yet another ranger-led walk. We turn down a guided march through the storied streets of Old Salem in favor of tackling ring-around-the-collar and ground in grass stained pants while we recharge our electronic devices and tap away at our keyboards.

sal3I think even the good witches of this maritime village used a little white magic to make their soiled linens come clean. I whisper a modern incantation as I feed currency into a hungry brute of a machine that transforms my lucre into an enchanted debit card.   I pour our grimy pantaloons and topcoats into the nearest cauldron, sprinkle the seething mess with a cleansing potion, and head next door to the A & J Artisan Bakery for a Spindrift Seltzer and a lime sable sea biscuit. They are playing vintage David Byrne and Talking Heads, turning out wicked good-looking Boules and baguettes. Hmmm. Clearly, there is more than one way to experience Salem.

sal2We do manage to climb aboard the replica of the Friendship and visit with a friendly ranger who admires our vermin friend and volunteers to swear him in as a Junior Ranger. Gizzy earns a badge and a lovely baby blue ribbon.

wharfing out

spec8Saturday, June 28. Boston Harbor Islands Charter Ferry Boat, Spectacle Island, George Island.  Okay, so get this: it’s an old town, but more than seventy five percent of it is a modern invention added long after Paul Revere took his night ride, Sam Adams rallied his belligerent shop-keeping buddies, and Doctor General Joseph Warren made his ill-advised last stand on Bunker Hill. Many of the Revolutionary War high grounds have been brought low; whole strategic hilltops razed to make way for commerce. They call it ‘wharfing out.‘

spec5Crazy urban engineers, like fiendish hermit crabs, have excavated and terra-formed the historic coastline, adding a Long Wharf here, tucking a tall hill there, and every now and then adding a judicious tunnel or canal. It’s a strange kind of eastward spec7expansion invented by wily real estate moguls to ensure an every growing manmade reef of high-rent waterfront properties. Boston’s tentacles grow longer and longer, reaching out into the harbor to confound Mother Nature’s efforts to erode and abrade man’s incursions into the bay.

spec9Last time I was in Boston in the late nineties they were at it in a major way: wharfing out the Interstate 93 corridor and piling it in the harbor to send the city’s unsightly traffic jams deep underground. Another chapter in the town’s history has now been plowed under and resurfaced with lovely green spaces and eponymous rose gardens along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. The Big Dig made headlines nationwide as the taxpayer tab escalated, but by Bean Town standards it was hardly newsworthy. It’s just what people do here. Dig a little here, plow a little there.

spec1So we are off to one of Boston’s newer national parks for the day: Spectacle Island. Opened in 1996, the picturesque eye-glass shaped jumping off spot for sunshine deprived office workers used to be but a wee monocle not so long ago. Today the Spectacle Island is the summer get-away destination for twenty-somethings without a ride to Cape Cod for the weekend. We board the harbor ferry with throngs of lily-white young upwardly mobile picnickers toting beach umbrellas, ice chests, and yoga mats. Every rider has paid fifteen dollars for the opportunity to sit atop one of Boston’s finer landfill areas and drink in the ambiance.

spec4The trash heap island, packed with human waste and beer bottles from long forgotten Red Sox games was topped off with deposits from the I-93 corridor and then set aflame to make way for progress. Engineers made a slight miscalculation though when they set the huge pile of debris on fire, and it took more than ten years for the eternal methane flame to smolder and extinguish. A lovely image, yes? But there was a silver lining, we are told by the perky narrator on our voyage across the bay: the heat from the fires fractured so many glass bottles and other manmade items that they were blown out to sea only to return on the tides as highly prized beach glass. Voila!

spec3And thus we enjoy today’s lesson in modern history against the backdrop of the Boston skyline. We disembark with our supplies to explore the shores of this newly baked isle served steaming hot to so many urban refugees. My son makes note of all the lithe young women with ponytails and black leggings, carting their exercise mats up the hill. And suddenly he is off for Saturday meditation with the wizened young yoga instructor at the top of the hill. Eclectic. Eccentric. And fun. This is definitely new territory being charted in the constellation of Massachusetts’ spec10twenty-six National Historic Sites. I ink my NPS passport book with the island seal and am met by a delirious park stamp collector, thrilled to point out the new official stamp recently unveiled. It may be a bit offbeat but I guess this place really is legit.

Freedom Trail: Day II

navy10Friday, June 27. Charlestown Navy Yard. Boston Freedom Trail Part II. Well. Enough of riding the commuter rail into Boston. Unless you are a solitary driver with no dependents, the timetables and the economics just do not work out to park and ride. So today we are riding, then parking, then boating, then walking about. We spend the morning visiting the Charlestown Navy Yard and oldest remaining US Frigate, the U.S. S. Constitution. navy2The last of the six sisters that sailed the sea raining cannon fire on the Brits during the war of 1812, Old Ironsides was lucky to evade capture by the British. It was even luckier to dodge conversion into a Yankee flour mill at war’s end – the most unseemly fate suffered by one of its mates. Our mouse crawls over the Constitution’s cannons and longingly eyes to miles of rigging before we walk the plank and head over to the nearby hands-on museum to play dress up and craft our own sea worthy vessels.

navy3 navy1navy4

navy6Later we stop by the U.S.S. Cassin Young, a WWII Destroyer ship, before making our way to the Warren Tavern – a dark 1780’s landmark serving tankards of ale and heavy patriot fare. Paul Revere ate here. We dine on sheppard’s pie and ye olde chicken fingers before mounting our last assault on Boston’s Freedom Trail: Breed’s Hill, known by many as Bunker Hill. We climb the 294 steps of the monument to see just how far the silversmith-turned-patriot and the his merry band travelled in pursuit of independence.

navy9 navy8 navy7We have reached the end of the two-and-a-half mile red brick path tracing the revolutionary timeline, and our mouse is tired and hungry. So we prepare to set sail and board the water taxi at Pier bound for Long Wharf. It’s a lovely evening on the water, and soon we find ourselves back in Boston’s North End for a simple supper at the old oven. Antico Forno. Paul Revere did not eat here. But lots of other foodies have, and the bustling family restaurant with low ceilings and windows open to the street proves why it has won so many awards and recommendations for good food at a fair price. We feast a fresh tossed pizza, and waddle back to the wharf.

son of liberty

bos1Thursday, June 26. Beantown.  Lookout Sons of Liberty: here we come. We drive to the commuter rail station in Andover and catch the 9:20 inbound train.   We have waited for the commuter traffic to clear before venturing into the city. The ca-h is pah-ked. We hurry up. Wait. Hurry up. Wait. The Haverhill Inbound rumbles through half a dozen bedroom communities north of Boston and drops us under the Bruin’s stadium at North Station. We wait in line at the ticket counter and mark ourselves as tourists by asking for directions, then hurriedly buy seven-day passes for the ‘T.’ Nathan is singing about Boston Charlie as we board the green line train for Boston Commons.

bos2Stepping out into the sunlight at Boston’s Park Street Station, the inland port for unwary out-of-towners, we are greeted by tour guide companies galore. Sour faced young men in dingy patriotic wool stockings are selling authentic walking tours. Girls in long Quaker dresses promise a glimpse of ye olde Boston. Trolley bells ring. Hurry up. Taxi cabs honk.  Wait. And then there are the Quackers. Tooting on bright orange duck-billed kazoos, competing outfits offer amphibious assaults on the old port town aboard land and sea-faring ducks. Take out your wallets and prepare to get soaked. There are plenty of savvy street entrepreneurs ready to take you for a ride … if you let them.

bos3We turn away from the sound and fury, and hoof it over to the Commons to admire the view. We cross Charles Street and head for the Public Gardens and the swan boats. David scopes out a quiet park bench to wait while Nathan and I take a leisurely ride around the famous pond. Our boat is packed with mothers and small children, all of whom have read the David McCloskey classic picture book, Make Way for Ducklings.  I can hear the mammas retelling the tale for their young as we lazily circle the small isle. It’s a charmingly nostalgic slow ride for me. As my own chick’s childhood gives way to adolescence, I am mute.

bos7Our brief sail down memory lane ends and the youthful rebellion begins in earnest as we hurry onward to the Freedom Trail.  Boston Common – Old State House – Granary Burying Ground – Old South Church – Old Meeting House – Faneuil Hall – etc. We meet up with an enthusiastic park ranger who offers a spirited look at the revolutionary protestant rabble looking for a rumble.   I am struck to learn that the average age of citizens in these parts in the 1770’s was fourteen, and children under the age of twenty made up sixty percent of the population. Our ranger duck walks us across the street and marches us over to the Old South Meeting House, raising his voice above the loud cheering coming from the nearby square where hundreds of rowdy Bostonians are shouting as one World Cup soccer team slaughters another on the jumbo screen outside City Hall. It’s a fitting backdrop for explaining the Boston Massacre, where hormonal teens hardly needed a reason to question authority and pick a fight. I notice my child listening intently. The tour ends and our young son of liberty is sworn in as a junior ranger in the building called the cradle of democracy.

bos5We exit Faneuil Hall, and enjoy the energy of the crowds who throng into market place. Smells of Asian stir fry, seafood chowder, and Italian sausages swirl about from Quincy Market across the way. Sound waves echo against the old brick buildings as street performers beat on old plastic buckets, hip hopping, rapping, and strutting their Boston stuff for the summer visitors. Nathan comes alive with the vibrations pulsing in the air. We offer him ice cream and room to stretch his wings, knowing now is not the time to levy any new taxes on our young revolutionary.

Paul Rever's home

Paul Revere’s home

Eventually we make our way to the North End for a bite to eat and an intimate look inside Paul Revere’s home.  Paul Revere, Crispus Attucks, Sam Adams, John Hancock, Joseph Warren, and the first-person accounts of dozens of young men and women dance through our heads. So many sons of liberty, so many fathers of history.  American history. Americans’ histories. Personal history and nation building quickly become hopelessly intertwined. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from a pluralistic society is that history is never truly singular.

adams family story – abridged version



Wednesday, June 25. Quincy, Massachusetts. The Home of Presidents and only National Park in our country to boast of two presidential births in one small town: Quincy (pronounced Quin-zee). John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams travelled the world, represented the upstart new nation as ambassadors to England, and served in the White House, but there are folks in Quincy that



might have you believe they were really just a couple of small town boys… not.   In a little over two hours time with the help of a Park Service trolley we are able to visit the two original birthplace homes, the final retirement estate (Peacefields), the posthumously erected presidential library built by another notable Adams, as well of the crypts of John and Abigail, John Quincy and Louise Catherine. Our second and sixth Presidents travelled the world and shaped the future during their lives, but only managed to move a little over one mile from cradle to grave.

Below (L-R):  Died, buried, dissected by historians.




happy new B

newb1Tuesday, June 24. New Bedford Historical Site. We are the unwitting advance team for the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whale ship in the world, as it makes its homecoming voyage to the town where she was built. The national historic landmark is typically anchored in Mystic, Connecticut.



But every now and then when the winds are favorable it turns out they take the old gal out of port for a spin. This summer the Morgan has embarked on her 38th voyage, with a sold out tour of seven seafaring towns – many of which we will visit or have already passed through: New London, Newport, Mystic, Cape Cod, New Bedford, and Boston.

Herman Melville's pew

Herman Melville’s pew

The good people of new B haven’t seen their baby for more than seventy-three years, and the town is hopping with excitement. She should arrive later today if the winds hold. Even though the park interpretive staff is distracted by last-minute party planning, we are utterly charmed by the old whaling town of New Bedford. The June weather is divine. newb6The cobblestone streets are picturesque, and the on street parking is plentiful. It is only a short walk from the working harbor filled with fishing trawlers, lobster boats, scallopers, and draggers up to the National Park Historic Site and its partner Whaling Museum. For lunch we eat at the Waterfront Grille overlooking the working boats. Then we find a little café where Nathan can sit and take a break while his dad and I amble through the Whaling museum. We cap off our visit with delicious Portuguese pastries with names I cannot pronounce, and head out-of-town before the Morgan blows through.