Saturday, November 28, 2009


Forget what you've heard about how "wood warms you three times." Yes, I did get a bit overheated stacking all this wood--about two cords' worth. And yes, we'll be plenty warm when we burn it (if we stand near the stove--it's a very central sort of heat).

But what really gets me fired up about burning wood is the sheer beauty of it. The way these pieces, split by my arborist neighbor from the many trees he cuts all over greater Boston, fit together to make a solid stack--like the tiles in a mosaic, in three dimensions. Their heft and hardness against my chest when I bring them in to burn. The little thrill of ignition as the kindling leaps into flame, I add a few small pieces, and the fire quickens. Even the ash, so pure and fine when I shovel it out and bag it for use in the garden later on. And the smell, drifting down the street in one direction or another, speaking to passers-by of woods and campfires and the out-of-doors, so that strangers sometimes stop to tell me, when I'm outside hauling in more logs, how glad they are for the smell of it.

Wood warms in so many ways, it would be a cold season without it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Our neighborhood is merely Allston, and yet it has a portal. You can see it from a distance: two columns rising, a domesticated version of a Brandenburg Gate. Even though--like the Brandenburg Gate for so long--it leads to nowhere, to a steep grassy slope, buttressing the Cambridge Street overpass, our neighborhood's rough edge.

We lived on this street--Royal Street--for about ten months once, long ago. This strip of no-man's-land was there then, an urban waste, litter-strewn, barren of all but the toughest weeds. An eyesore, a blight, the scene of lurid crimes. Half-hearted clean-ups, tentative planting schemes came and went. Nothing helped.

Then a few years ago the site was claimed by a local visionary. Grants followed, landscape artists arrived, volunteer crews pulled out weeds. Sprawling raised steel forms were mounted sideways across the slope, filled with earth and seeded, along with the slope itself. Last spring it turned a rich green as the grass grew two, three, four feet high. You could hardly see the forms. A debate broke out between those who found it lush, and others who thought it looked unkempt. The grass was trimmed and the forms reappeared. It has found its shape and goes on, a modest but eminently successful earthwork, a monunent.

The portals are a little cheesy. Literally--they look as though maybe mice have been nibbling away at the fragile metal plates that define the columns. The curlicues of capital and urn are derisory in their quotation of classical forms. And yet the columns, the portal, as I like to think of it, introduces the whole structure, the whole work, as a work. Gives it definition not just as a form in the earth but a work of art. Here in Allston.