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The Freedom Trail, Various Wildlife Refuges, and Three Pieces of Performance Art

This entry is just a collection of random stuff I have experienced recently. In no particular order:

The Freedom Trail

Bunker Hill MonumentThe Freedom Trail is a self-guided walk that winds through central Boston, passing various sites of historical interest on the way. Boston is very proud of its history, being the site of the American Revolution (boo hiss) and the abolitionist movement (better late than never) and its role in the American civil war (hooray).

About 40% of the sites on the trail are connected to Paul Revere, I was pretty sick of hearing about him by the end.

At the end of The Freedom Trail is the Bunker Hill Monument. Technically (and confusingly) not on Bunker Hill, the monument commemorates The Battle of Bunker Hill (which was also not actually on Bunker Hill). In any case, you can climb to the top of the monument (294 steps!) for a cramped, hot, and majestic view of the city. This picture is looking vaguely west along the Charles River in the background.
Boston from the top of the Bunker Hill Monument

4th of July

The fourth of July is one of the important holidays, and one Boston celebrates with gusto. The public celebration was brought forward one day because of the bad weather forecast for the 4th, so I went down to the Charles River Esplanade to see how things were done. It was basically like Symphony Under the Stars in Auckland but with more security (and armed police wandering around). We were treated to various patriotic songs by the Boston Pops Orchestra and some hits from a Beach Boy. The crowd had a very lucky escape when Joey McIntyre couldn’t make the rescheduled event.

I learnt that nobody really knows the words to the America national anthem, and fewer people actually have the range to sing it. I also learnt that Americans get annoyed if you sing the correct lyrics My Country, Tis of Thee, which more properly begin “God save our gracious Queen.”

The concert was cut short due to the encroaching rain, and we were treated to the best fireworks display I have seen. It must have been visible from most of the city. The best part were the shells that exploded into reasonable attempts at a giant smily faces.

5 minutes after the fireworks ended, the thunder storm took over the skies. Boston gets proper summer storms, the lightning lasted for over an hour and for a while you could almost read by it, so frequent were the flashes.

Sharknado

I don’t really have much to say about this. Sharknado is a (terrible) made-for-TV film that became a minor hit a while ago. This was a special presentation by the guys behind Mystery Science Theatre 3000 which consisted of them playing the film in its entirety, but making jokes over the top. Despite being fairly inept, Sharknado is quite entertaining, and with added jokes makes for a good evening’s entertainment.

My only other observation is that in America, a small coke at the theatre is approximately 1 litres worth.

The Phantom of the Opera

The tragic story of a hideous man who sits backstage playing the keyboard all-the-while lusting over a beautiful actress he will never have. Wherever does Andrew Lloyd Webber get his ideas from? </old joke>

This was a lavish production, with pyrotechnics and all sorts of stage trickery. It turns out I had completely misinterpreted the story, so the ending was a complete surprise to me. The Boston Opera house is pretty amazing just by itself. It is a little like the Civic is Auckland but about twice the size. This photo doesn’t really do it justice.
Boston Opera House (from the cheap seats)

Ipswich River and Great Meadows Lake Wildlife Sanctuaries

Finally some photos from two wildlife sanctuaries I have visited in the last few weeks.

Beaver Dam at Ipswich Wildlife RefugeThis is a beaver dam (the pile of sticks, not the bridge – beavers are neat but not that good at building). I have seen several of these constructions in various parks, but no beavers as yet.

Lillypads at Ipswich River ReserveThis pond was absolutely filled with turtles of various sizes. American ponds seem a lot more alive than back in New Zealand, with frogs, insects and small mammals all vying for space. The lilypads are nice as well.

Laura’s Tower and Ice Glen

There are only so many days of summer, and in Massachusetts you really have to make the most of the non-freezing months. Last weekend I went out to Stockbridge in the region called The Berkshires in the Western part of the state, about 2 hours away by car. I was hoping for a change of scenery but the whole of New England seems to pretty much look the same. Nevertheless The Berkshires have their charms.

Laura's Tower - Stockbridge, MAThe region is mostly rural, dotted with small towns trying very hard to be quaint. Norman Rockwell lived in Stockbridge so you know what to expect. On this warm summer’s day it reminded me a little of Hawkes Bay.

At Stockbridge I went to see Laura’s Tower and the Ice Glen, both located on the same hill. I had heard that Laura’s Tower affords fantastic views over New England, but it is disappointing short and I literally could not see the forests for the trees. Perhaps the view is better in winter when the trees die back a little, but I wouldn’t want to climb up that ladder in the cold.

On the other hand, the Ice Glen more than lived up to its name. A narrow valley of broken granite chunks, it somehow still has crannies filled with ice on a hot June afternoon. The cool air in the glen was very welcome after the climb up the hill, and the moist soil is home to all sorts of interesting mushrooms and creepy crawlies to uncover.
Ice Glen trail, Stockbridge MA
Fungus on tree, Ice Glen, Stockbridge MA

Leominster State Forest (and Outback Steakhouse)

Leominster State Forest vista
44 Miles down the 2 highway lies Leominster State Forest. It is a very pretty spot. The forest itself is typical New England landscape – thin soil covering lumps of granite – except here the granite forms cliffs that attract scores of rock climbers. I don’t mind rock climbing as a sport, but it does seem a little silly to climb a bluff that has a walking trail going up it only a few meters away.

The trees have shaken off the blossoms and have gotten down to the serious task of growing leaves. Just look at the colours of the leaves.
leominster_state_forest_tree
Wait a minute; what is that on that tree? Zoom and enhance!
eastern_tented_caterpilla
Well this is certainly a little creepy. This is the Eastern Tent Ceterpillar or more correctly, a whole bunch of them. Certain spots in the forest were filled with these nests, each a writhing mass of furry wrigglers. They are harmless (except to pregnant horses apparently) but I have to say my flamethrowner-trigger finger got itchy each time I passed close by one.

On the way back, I visited the Outback Steakhouse for some authentic and in no way souless down-under tucker.
Blooming Onion at Outback Steakhouse
This is a blooming onion, battered and deep fried just like the native Australians did while on walkabout. Actually the food is fine, in that corporate-chain sort of way. I was offered 17 kinds of salt and pepper, which seems 15 more than is really required.

New England Aquarium and The Blue Hills Reservation

Last week I visited the New England Aquarium right on Boston harbor. This is a clever multi-layered affair, with a 4 story cylindrical ocean tank forming the core of the building with other smaller tanks around the outside showing different habitats as your wend your way up to the top. The ground floor is a penguin colony.

New England AquariumNew England Aquarium Clown Fish

It has some pretty impressive stuff – the highlight for me was the ginormous anaconda. It only moved once (to slowly grab a ball of fluff that turned out to be a dead rabbit) but I was still glad to be on the other side of the glass.

As aquariums go, I will have to give a slight edge to Monterey Aquarium, but only because it had more jellyfish. Plus I grew up in Oamaru so I am kind of over penguins. Still, the New England Aquarium is well worth seeing.

This week I took a trip to the Blue Hills Reservation, which is a largish park to the south. It is nice enough, if not quite as picturesque as Walden Pond which I visited a few weeks ago. The tracks are actually pretty rough for a city park, which was fine with me since I was wearing my newly arrived tramping boots, but the park was so busy that I never really felt that essential wildernessy feeling.

houghton's_pond_at_blue_hillsforest_at_blue_hills

There were some nice views from the tops of the hills though, and I walked for almost 2 hours while seeing only fraction of the park so perhaps it has other hidden attractions. There were a surprising number of people fishing from the banks of Houghton’s Pond but I didn’t see anyone catch anything.
boston_from_blue_hills