A Maine Dispatch

In late October, my wife and I traveled to Portland, Maine for a much anticipated vacation. Colleagues and friends told us great things about the city. Besides, shouldn’t one visit New England in autumn?

Portland’s concentration and quality of creative businesses and arts institutions delighted and impressed us. Bookstores, cafes, restaurants, quirky shops, museums–Portland has them all.  Although a small city, Portland offers cultural amenities rivaling many larger metropolises.

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The Jersey City of Yore

During the past several weeks, I’ve been researching the early history of Jersey City. Mainly, this consists of me pouring over books, prints, and ephemera in the research rooms of the New York Public Library and the Jersey City Free Public Library. Mind you: this is not a chore. The hours fly by.

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Cleaning Up the Garden: a Passage into Winter

During the past several weekends, I have been cleaning up my garden to prepare for the coming winter months. Bit by bit, I approached this annual seasonal project: I pulled up the remaining pepper and tomato plants, pruned bushes and shrubs, dumped potting soil into the compost bin and pile, put away chairs and tables, and swept the deck.

Now, a crispness has settled upon the ground blanketed by fallen leaves. The garden is empty and silent. Even the squirrels and birds have quieted down. All that remains is a fig tree awaiting its protective wrapping. Once I cover this tree, the season shall officially conclude. I shall visit the garden when I need a moment of reflection, but there will be no more long meals with my wife or drinks with our friends until next spring.

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The unwrapped fig tree, the final living symbol of the harvest season.

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City or Country? The Constant Question

For the majority of my adult life, I have lived in one city or another. Arguably, my hometown in Western New York–really, a small city–contains a walkable urban center with access to pharmacies, parks, the post office, the public library, and a handful of restaurants, bars, and modest shops. Like many towns throughout the Rust Belt, the joint terrors of Walmart, peripheral sprawl, automobile dependency, and the contemporary drug scourge have hollowed out the core, stripped it of its past vitality and vibrancy, and degraded its public spaces. When I walk through the downtown, I seldom pass another pedestrian. Many of the surrounding neighborhoods appear shabby and neglected.

This past weekend, my wife and I traveled to this corner of rural Western New York to visit my family and celebrate my younger sister’s recent engagement. Along the way and during our brief stay, I remembered what makes this corner of the Empire State great. Although it might lack the dazzle, variety, and culture of a big city, Western New York bursts with nature.

Rolling hills, green in the spring and the summer; brown and red in the autumn; and brilliantly white in the winter, hug the town. At almost every street corner, one can spot these hills with a mere turn of the head. The Allegheny River and its tributary the Olean Creek wind through town. When I was in college, a cleared and paved trail opened up along the River. On my way to and from my campus jobs, I would ride my bike along the trail. During weekends, I would often retreat to my favorite spot just off the path, a bench facing the river, and watch the slow water and gaze at the green hills. As English major (and a passionate and dedicated lover of literature to this day), I felt the tug of the Romantic poets and their sentimentalization of nature.

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Allegheny River in the morning, at an undisclosed location in Western New York (Photograph by author).

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