Ice Cream Mondae

A rain dance: that was the idea, only with ice cream.

After what seemed like a week of 90+ degree weather we had both collapsed in the middle of the afternoon when Sharl blurted out, ‘let’s skip dinner tonight, and just have banana splits.’

It was, literally, a cool idea.

We had just finished cleaning three rooms, preparing for a full house that night, and we felt too exhausted to think of, much less, eat dinner.

An ice cream dinner would be easy to prepare, have the extra added effect of cooling us down as well, and perhaps break the heatwave.

This is an old house: if all the doors are open, all the windows too, it is remarkably airy.

Before air conditioning house builders had to know how to construct a comfortable home using nothing but natural airflow.

But with the Airbnb occupying most of our second floor the door to each suite is often shut, the windows down because of room air conditioners and so, paradoxically, the rest of the house retains the heat.

Wait, I said to Sharl, perhaps a bit drowsy and overheated, ‘let’s take your idea and double down. Let’s not just have ice cream for dinner, let’s go on a multi-state ice cream adventure!’

It was 93 degrees.

It was 4 p.m.

Could we really manage to visit multiple ice cream ‘stands’ in multiple states before the sun set, Saturn rose, and all the little dairy bars between Plymouth and Rhode Island shut down?

Yes, Sharl said, or so I imagined.

The plan was hatched en route.

It seemed clear that our best shot for multiple scoops was to head southeast, perhaps to Rhode Island. Newport was only an hour or so away and, there were likely dozens of ice cream stands (creameries, parlours..) on the way.

Besides, the Prius has an air conditioner and, by the time we reached the Rhode Island the temperature would likely have dropped below 90.

It was a no-brainer and a brain freezer at the same time!

Yes, as one overly earnest Facebook commenter suggested before we had even left the driveway, Plymouth has an ample supply of ice cream stands: why not just walk about town?

Seriously?

Yes, she was serious.

Well, I offered the response, because a road trip is its own reward.

Because we wanted to do more than get a cone and go home.

Because part of the idea was to get away, if even for just the afternoon, to avoid thinking about how hot it was.

Off we went, first announcing our plans on Facebook, then heading west on Summer Street, toward the State Forest, thinking right away of making our first stop at Erickson’s in Carver on 58.

Ever ordered a ‘triple-thick shake’ and when it arrived, thought to yourself, “this isn’t triple-thick, hardly double thick?!’

Not at Erickson’s!

Their triple thick is glacial: it moves about an inch a year, up your straw, however hard you struggle.

They’ve been there for decades, have dozens of flavors, and are 5 minutes away from Route 495: a road that can take you in any direction.

Stop #1.

As stepped out of the car we realized we had no master plan, no specific goals, no objective way to evaluate one scoop from another.

We invented a loose plan on the spot (and later abandoned it).

What’s your most popular flavor, I asked the scooper.

At Erickson’s it was a tie, she said, Maine Black Bear and Moose Tracks.

It was also apparent from the start that we needed to go slow, at least at first, so we ordered the smallest cones they had: so-called ‘baby size.’

At Erickson’s though you could fit a baby in the baby cone.

One of my favorite smart-phone features is the ability to ask Siri or Alexa or whomever, for the nearest Italian restaurant, or where the nearest place to rent a kayak is, so as soon as we hit Route 195 (still working feverishly on our first two cones) we asked Siri, “Ice Cream near me?”

The choices were endless.

There were several in Wareham itself, one in ‘downtown’ Onset, one in Marion and, about 15 minutes away, two Acushnet Creameries – one in Acushnet, one in New Bedford.

We didn’t have the best internet connection so we couldn’t upload directions, so I got off the highway in Acushnet but ended up at the New Bedford stand anyway.

Sometimes it pays to get lost.

On Pier 3 in New Bedford there is a large open-air restaurant, a popular clam shack and the Acushnet Creamery’s New Bedford location, all set on a working pier surrounded by colorful trawlers and lobster boats.

Sharl was still feeling the ‘baby’ cone at Erickson’s so I ordered a large cone set in a cup of what I was told was one of their most popular selections: Espresso Brownie Fudge.

It was a devilish mixture: caffeinated, super sweet, and chewy too.

Hard work with a tongue or spoon, but worth the effort.

We dawdled a little here, the setting was so wonderful, but we were still working on that cone when we headed back on to the highway and continued our journey south.

P.S. The hometown location of Acushnet Creamery, we were told, has fifty flavors including – in the fall – an amazing Peach flavored scoop

Maybe it’s good that we didn’t see the comments on the Facebook page before we got home. If we had we may have never made it to Newport, but would have been found in a rest stop, groaning from the scoops we’d been lured to eat on the way.

Grays was one of the names we heard repeatedly, just over the state line in Tiverton, Rhode Island, open 365 days a year, and offering 30 flavors.

            Melissa had a lot of great suggestions, including Acushnet Creamery, Salvador’s Ice Cream (presently closed), and the Oxford Creamery in Mattapoisett.

My old friend Louise suggested Dr. Mike’s Ice Cream Factory, which she said offers a unique flavor called Chocolate Lace. That would have been tempting too, only that ‘factory’ is in Bethel, Connecticut, 166 miles (and about 3 hours) further southwest.

We had just finished the Espresso Brownie Fudge when we hit the Rhode Island border, so we vowed to wait until Newport for our next dairy dip.

It was a Monday but – even with Covid restrictions in place – Newport was bustling.

We had a choice of several ice cream stands in the waterfront area and we chose Sprinkles, as it seemed to be right on the water.

We were feeling a bit queasy, so we decided to stabilize with a hot dog or two and then, at the text request of our friend Denise, ordered cones of Maple Walnut.

That’s a fairly staid, traditional flavor, but I have to say the Sprinkles’ version was delicious: the walnut chunks seemed to be coated in maple sugar, and the maple-flavored ice cream was especially creamy.

We spent a quarter hour or so just sitting on the dock, relaxing, readying ourselves for the drive home.

What was remarkable to consider – besides the variety and quality of ice cream available within an hour’s drive – was the central location of Plymouth. In an hour you can be in Boston, Cambridge, Provincetown or Newport.

Plymouth has its own flavors to taste, sights to see, history to contemplate of course, but it also serves as a perfect headquarters for exploring a wide variety of New England originals.

The only questioned that remained was, how many stops would we make on the return trip.

It was tempting to consider seeking out the hometown store of Acushnet Creamery. We could easily find a few stands in nearby Fall River. We had seen a tempting website – and reviews – of Nana’s in Onset. And then of course, there are a wealth of wonderful ice cream shops in Plymouth as well, including one that is part of our view of the harbor – Ziggy’s.

In the end we set our sights on Nana’s, largely because neither of us had been to ‘downtown’ Onset in years.

It was dark when we got there, just a few minutes before 9 p.m., so we parked and hurried over, worried that it was about to close.

Actually, we discovered, Nana’s is open until 10 most nights, until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights.

It was difficult to make our selection at Nana’s.

As it would likely be the last scoops we’d have on the road that night, we wanted to end with a flourish – but admittedly my stomach was beginning to make itself known and Sharl, she won’t mind my saying, had closed down for the night.

I pondered a shake. I considered that American classic, the Banana Split. I looked over the flavors and then I threw a dart at the board: “give me one of your smallest sundaes,” I said, “with two scoops, no more.”

I wasn’t quite sure what I had ordered.

It was dark – outside that is – there were two scoops of ice cream: one strawberry, the other vanilla. The scoops were covered with what, at first, was a mysterious fruity concoction, sprinkled with coconut flakes and decorated with an ample supply of whipped cream

It was a classic, old school sundae and I ate it all, only learning its name when I stepped back inside to throw away the container.

The Bahama Mama!

I’m not sure how I got home. Sharl says she didn’t drive, so I guess I was at the wheel.

Is it possible to be drunk on ice cream?

My brain had been frapped.

The plan, in my head, was to end at Ziggy’s with one of their special waffle cones and walk home but I wisely decided to go straight to bed instead.

We had done the deed though.

We had danced the dance.

The sun descended, the temperature plummeted, the humidity dissipated – the heat wave was broken – and we were responsible, I swear.

We sacrificed our stomachs and, while I am sure it will go unappreciated, we have the satisfaction of knowing that it was all for a good cause.

Or, as Sharl said, “I may never eat ice cream again.”

Long note about a short vacation

We went west last month, intent on camping along the Mohawk Trail, driving north toward New Hampshire first, then taking Route 2 from Concord west.

That route took us through a number of colonial-era communities, including Johnny Appleseed’s Leominster, ‘Furniture City’ Gardner, Petersham and the Harvard Forest and a variety of other towns that you only hear about when a tornado touches down, a Police Chief resigns in disgrace, or a small plane crashes in dense forest…

The ‘new road,’ that’s American slang for ‘you’re out of luck.’

Many of the small communities that Route 2 passes ‘through’ are actually not on the road, are obscured by forest, or were bypassed when the ‘new road’ was constructed.

Orange, in better times.

In some ways it all works well, for both traveler and community, as many of those towns feel awkward to pass through, such is their fallen state.

Yes, most have interesting histories,  a few famous former residents, and stories to tell – but that’s not nearly enough.

The town of Orange, to cite one example, has had a fascinating run.

            They were building cars in a factory in Orange, a steam-powered car called ‘The Grout’, in the late 1800’s!

            A  manufacturing company in Orange once shipped over a million sewing machines in one year.

            A lot of that had to do with the railroad that runs through Orange, from Albany to Boston, which was made possible by the ‘Big Dig’ of the late 19th Century – the Hoosac Tunnel – which cost (in today’s dollars) $600 million to build in 1870.

            That was a long time ago. Today Orange looks poor and has little to boast about save for the new Walmart that likely sucked the life out of the last few remaining Mom and Pop’s that used to be there.

            That’s why we stopped in Orange: to get a few items for our trip.

A meadow just off the Mohawk Trail

            That’s one of the great myths of America, isn’t it? The idea that if you just get off the highway, take the alternate route, that you’ll stumble upon some perfect little ‘town that time forgot,’ a town where there’s a general store, a church, a post office and a library – all painted white – all grouped around a central square, a common where…

            I’ve always felt that if you can imagine it, you can make it happen but though we have certainly imagined and re-imagined the American small town it seems to only exist in Disney World.

            What’s the problem?

            Why we are so bad at making and keeping good places to live?

            Our system seems ready-made for innovation and creativity – and making money, but no one I know, no community I have seen has figured out the secret formula for keeping the American small town alive and vibrant without abandoning what came before or selling off what made it great in the first place.

            Of course it depends, in large part, on how you define a livable community so let me say that what I mean, is a place where the byword is diversity: diversity of culture and economics, and ecological diversity as well.

            Natural beauty cannot sustain a community on its own. Cultural homogeneity is like art glass: pretty to look at, but too fragile to use every day. And it goes without saying that communities that share only their economics – whether wealth or poverty – are no place to live.

            There are many communities that have one, or the other: but an effective balance is hard to maintain. Maybe that’s because no one seems to willing to commit to one place or one town for any length of time.

            When I was walking through the western deserts of California, Arizona and New Mexico in 2018 – trying to follow what’s left of Route 66  east – I noticed a particularly disturbing trend: when the highway moved, the commercial center moved as well, abandoning long-standing businesses, ignoring the location of civic institutions.

            That was particularly jarring along the path of the old Route 66: though those cultural ruins were often the only claim to fame of many of those desert communities, no one seemed to have complained when the new highway bypassed those areas and wealthy business people bought up the new intersections and built new hotels and restaurants – driving the old Route 66 businesses (further) into the ground.

            I thought, at the time, that this was a phenomenon particular to the West, but I’ve changed my mind: it may be easier to do that in the West, where so much land is still ‘available’, but it happens here too.

            In Plymouth, when malls began to appear along Route 3, we abandoned our downtown, even moving institutions like the County Courthouse and Registry of Deeds outside of long-standing commercial centers.

If it weren’t for our unique history (and a liberal attitude about liquor licenses) Plymouth’s downtown would be a ghost town today.

            There was no plan.

There is no plan.

There is simply, in my opinion, economic expediency.

            And where economic expediency is what passes for planning, good luck!

            Those are the rosy thoughts that came to me as we drove west on Route 2 hoping to stumble into that perfect little mythic American small town.

Orange may have been depressing, but most of Route 2 west of Concord was disappointing, at least until we reached the Mohawk Trail.

The State Forest there – and tiny towns like Savoy and Florida and others sprinkled between trees and tributaries of the Connecticut River – was luxuriantly green and brown and dappled with sparkling water.

That’s not an accident, not completely.

In lieu of civic planning there was the poor man’s version –  conservation.

The mountains in the northwestern part of the state were preserved, in part because they were so inaccessible, and in part because of the establishment of state forests, and parks.

Then, realizing what they had, additional money was made available – I think out of a kind of municipal guilt – to maintain the roads to allow visitors to reach the area without difficulty.

It wasn’t the intention, but sinking the railroad beneath the ground, temporarily improved the economic well-being of towns on each end of the tunnel, and at the same time preserved the woods and mountains there in perpetuity.

That was where we camped, cooked out and hiked.

That was where we hugged trees too (some of the tallest in the Northeast).

It was great to forget everything else and for a few days simply worry about where your feet are about to land.

It took a while but eventually we were able to relax, to rejuvenate and then, of course, to head back.

We didn’t have to go far to go wrong.

Less than an hour east of the Mohawk State Forest as you are about to reach Greenfield there is a long descent from the plateau of the state forest and just before your tires find the valley floor you come across an abandoned ‘trading post’ that – perhaps in one last desperate attempt to lure speeding traffic off Route 2 – featured a 75 foot lookout tower.

There might have been a view there, a few years back.

Ascend that tower today though and what your eyes would be immediately drawn to is the rotary at the edge of Greenfield.

And radiating out from that rotary a slew of fast food restaurants, pre-fabbed hotels, box stores and more of the same.

That briar patch of commerce grabs at your tires, tugs at your wallet, and stings your eyes and you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself checking into a fourth-floor hotel suite and looking down at this alien world, clicker in hand.

            If you are capable of resisting these Velcro developments beware the rotary itself: it seems designed to suck you on to the highway and shoot you up to Canada or south toward New York and it takes a good grip on the steering wheel to resist it’s pull.

For your effort though you’re sling-shot back on to Route 2 and forced to explore the downtown/main street section of Greenfield which has all the personality of an abandoned movie lot.

            Remember the Neutron Bomb? Not many do. It’s chief selling point was that it preserved buildings while decimating the population.

            Is that what happened to Greenfield?

            What might have once been a classic small city (or is that just a myth as well) is now a mishmash of architectural styles, auto dealers, gas stations, banks, restaurants and once statuesque hotels that have devolved into cheap apartments.

            Orange had a look of abandonment. Greenfield’s theme is confusion.

            Follow the main drag through the old downtown and in a few miles you’ll find yourself turning north on High Street and into an older residential section of town and, if you look up and to your right, you might catch a glimpse of a brown, castle-like turret at the top of a long, high ridge.

It’s the Poet’s Seat.

Really, that’s what it is called.

            The entrance to the road where the Seat sits is not easy to find, but we managed and found ourselves standing on the top level of that tower, looking down on the city proper along with a few dozen teenagers and a smattering of other wayward travelers.

            It was a nice night, just on the far side of sunset, but I still can’t imagine any poet, save perhaps Charles Bukowski, poet laureate of the bar stool, belching out an ode at this spot.

            “It’s not who lived here,” Bukowski once wrote, “but who died here;

and it’s not when,

but how;

it’s not

the known great,

but the great who died unknown;

it’s not

the history

of countries

but the lives of men.”

No, that doesn’t do the disappointment justice. What about Thoreau’s ‘the mass of men…’

“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.

What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.

From the desperate city you go into the desperate country

and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats.”

A few days before during a hike along the Mohawk Trail we came upon the ‘shunpike,’ a trail along the river – opposite the southern shore with the paved road and railroad tracks – that was created by travelers and tradesman who wanted to avoid the toll road.

That’s the road we thought we were on all along.

Somehow we have to find a way to combine the two: the desire to make a living, to create wealth for its own sake, and the need to have a real life in a real community.

We have to stop building new roads, and instead work to perfect the roads we have already made.

We have to reward honest work, not speculate on the future, and refuse to abandon the good we know in favor of the unknown no matter how it glitters.

After Greenfield though I stopped fighting it. I ‘shunned’ the scenic way and took 91 South to the Mass Pike, then east on toll roads all the way home.

One complaint

            Mama Mia!

We love our home on Chilton Street. Built in 1845 it sits atop an imposing set of granite stairs, looking down on a largely residential area with views of the harbor, Bug Light, Long Beach and – out the backdoor – the backside of one of the town’s favorite restaurants, Mama Mia’s.

            In the past two years’ the restaurant’s nearby presence was detectable, but only from the aroma of their sauce, the tinkling of glasses and silverware, and the constant comings and goings of customers. We have had guests who reserved with us say they were stopping over just to eat there.

            This year though, with Covid playing rough with many similar establishments, Mama Mia’s took advantage of the state’s offer to create outdoor dining and placed a few tables at the back of their alley off Water Street.

Good for them.

Bad for us is that, accompanying that change, we have been hearing music being played outside the restaurant at a level that, while admittedly not ear-shattering, was bothersome.

            You can only take so many doses of 70’s pop rock in a 24-hour period.

            ‘Brandy, you’re a fine girl,’ but give me a break!

            In any case we inquired at Town Hall, I won’t say complain, whether the restaurant had an outdoor entertainment license, or permit and, if so, what were its hours?

            We were hoping that perhaps they might limit the music to a few evening hours, perhaps Friday and the weekend: not the 10 to 10 all week we were being subjected to.

            We were surprised to find out that no, they did not have a permit, but claimed to have been playing music outdoors for thirty years?

            That seemed puzzling.

To top it off we were told that that now that we had raised the issue (I won’t say complained) they would likely request and receive the necessary permit.

            My first email to the town on this issue was on the Sunday (July 12) before we left for a short vacation, hiking in the western mountains, with no cell service.

            On Monday the 13th we were in a location that allowed spotty service, and, via email, I received the town’s response and responded with an expression of confusion. Again, why would the town award a permit, no questions asked, to an entity that had been violating the regulations for, by their own admission, 30 years?

            I thought at very least I would be given the opportunity to express my concern directly to the Board of Select Persons before they received approval, only to discover when I returned home that within two days of my query to the town Mama Mia’s had asked for and received a permit to broadcast music outdoors 7 days a week, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

            That was fast!

            But how did that happen?

            My letter of concern was received the previous Monday morning: one day before the board was to meet.

            To be part of that agenda the request had to have been made the previous Friday.

            Mama Mia’s had previously requested another entertainment permit – for their Pinehills location – in time to get it on the same agenda.

            The request for their Water Street location was not on the agenda of the meeting the next day.

            Still the Select Board took up the issue, and newly elected board member Dickie Quintal publicly acknowledged that he had spoken with the owners about this request – though he too only had one day’s notice?

            Yet there was not enough time to tell me it would be on the agenda, or give the general public a chance to comment?

            There’s my complaint (you knew it was coming): there was a rush to solve Mama Mia’s problem, but little concern with public notice.

            I don’t have a problem with Mama Mia’s: a business has to try to do what it can to survive, within the law.

            I think we can still be good neighbors.

            The town and I, however, have work to do.

(Let me add that I have nothing but good things to say about the professionalism of Lisa Johnson, the town’s expert on anything to do with liquor licenses. She responded quickly, honestly, and with detail.)

Thoughts on small town democracy…

The autocrats amongst us…

I was writing a thank-you note to one of the dozens of people who supported my candidacy and I used the phrase, “the autocrats amongst us.”

‘Especially at this difficult moment,’ I wrote spontaneously, ‘your commitment to local government helps counter the damage done by the autocrats among us.’

            I meant simply to thank someone for their support, but that phrase, that idea, pushed through the sidewalk of my consciousness like a weed and I suddenly realized that I had come to believe that the systemic failure of our vaunted if quaint Town Meeting form of government was, in some small way, associated with the world-wide rise in authoritarianism.

            Yeah, I know, big leap.

And yes I know, the closure of town hall, the delays of our Town Meeting, and the reliance on the unreliable ‘meeting space’ provided by Zoom has a great deal to do with Covid-19: it is at least the leading excuse.

But democracy is, by its nature, in constant peril.

            Until this year I thought it more resilient.

Until this year I thought that its practitioners would put up a bigger fight when it was challenged, when its institutions were put on stand- by.

            But I don’t see that happening.

            There are so many truths and ideals and beliefs that we claim to hold dear, that when they are challenged or, their practice becomes inconvenient, we readily jettison.

            But government too?

            Our particular form of participatory government is, to continue the biological metaphor, like a kitchen garden: small, tucked into the corner of the yard and inefficient in the extreme.

Such a garden requires nearly as much effort to plant, tend, water and, yes, weed, as does a larger garden.

Such a garden produces, well, little enough on its own: Sharls’ has a few radishes, three pumpkins, a few dozen tomatoes, zucchini.

It’s clear though that , despite its size, it can provide an inordinate amount of personal satisfaction when shared with others.

That is democracy, literally in a nutshell: a private garden that we tend ourselves, then take the fruit of our labor to the public market.

There the fruits of our labor are handled, squeezed and, ultimately, judged by our fellow gardeners.

But the market has been shut down.

The stalls are closed.

The radishes are rotting.

The tomatoes are turning black.

The pumpkins are running amok.

And the autocrats?

Well, they never liked Town Meeting in the first place.

BK, BB, AB, BBBK

Whatever your previous feelings about Birgitta Kuehn (BK), you could not help but have been impressed with her speech to the Board of Select Person’s last Tuesday night.

            It was an eloquent recitation of BK’s accomplishments while the Chair of the Town’s Board of Health, and a strong argument for her re-appointment to a second three-year term.

            Even if you knew that BK had been chastised by the Board in the past for her treatment of constituents, that she and the Town Manager had not seen eye to eye but, instead, eye for an eye, you would have been hard-put not to give her high marks.

             BB (Before Birgitta) the Board of Health had been a rather amateurish affair, content to work around the edges of public health issues in Plymouth .

            AB (After Birgitta) the Board became a professional organization, the public face of what aspired to be a true “Public Health Department,” contributing to the effort to fight opioids, attempting to literally dig into the problem of ponds polluted by faulty or non-existent septic systems, and with the expertise (when led by the town’s first true Director of Public Health, Nate Horwitz-Willis) to think epidemiologically, not simply react to problems as they arose.

            AB the Board of Health spearheaded the effort to obtain an MVP grant for the town – likely the first of many, created their first strategic plan with (so un-Plymouth like) actual constituent participation, and accomplished much more.

            There are literally hundreds of appointed members of the various boards and committees that comprise our Town Meeting form of government, many of them serving at the pleasure of the Select Board, and who can be removed for cause or not reappointed when their terms are up.

            It is rare though for the Select Board to replace an incumbent who actively seeks reappointment.

            This past Tuesday night the Select Board appointed two dozen or so residents to various boards and committees.

For the Health Board there were five candidates for three positions.

            BK was the only incumbent seeking reappointment.

            She ascended to the high platform, walked to the edge and peered over, took her position, extended her arms over the end, bent her knees then sprang into the air.

            There was an audible gasp  when she began with a reverse gainer – a somersault that spins the divers head backwards toward the board.

            She went into a curl, spun 2 ½ times around, unfurled like a jackknife and, if her form was all that mattered should have received a perfect score from all five judges (Select Board members_.

            But there was no water in the pool.

            BBBK. (Bye Bye Birgitta Kuehn).

            Or is it, ‘until we meet again?’

‘jawjaw’

            I used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to ask the town for all documents related to the Select Board’s Executive Session regarding 204 Long Pond Road, a small building on conservation property off Long Pond Road that I have a personal interest in.

            The reason cited for the closed session was to discuss the potential purchase, exchange, or lease of the property.

            I wondered who was interested, and why. I guess I was mostly bothered by the apparent need to keep that information from the public.

            So using the FOIA I asked, specifically, for all communications to the Board, about the property, over the last few weeks.

            I didn’t expect that there would be much but, just in case, I said that if it proved to be a voluminous number of documents that I be apprised of the cost before they proceeded.

            The law gives the town 10 days to find those documents: it didn’t take that long.

            There were none, I was told.

            Zero, zilch, nada, nuttin!

            So the Board was never given any documents about 204 Long Pond Road, but they decided they needed to go into Executive Session to talk about it “to consider the purchase, exchange, lease or value of real property if the chair declares that an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the negotiating position of the public body.

            I was confused.

            If there were no offers, or exchanges proposed – and there seemed to be no record the Select Board had been informed of such an offer – then how could they say they needed to go into executive session to protect their negotiating position?

            And yet, according to the town’s archivist, there were no documents at all.

            “I guess I was not sufficiently precise in my language,” I told the archivist.

            Instead I asked for all communications, created or received by, Town Hall, that referenced 204 Long Pond Road, within that same time frame.

            I thought it likely I would have to wait the full ten days this time.

            I’m not alleging wrong-doing.

I am concerned that the board is in the habit of hushing things up before they need to be.

            It may be that they are planning on demolishing the building. It may be that there is an offer to buy or lease the building. A local business may have expressed an interest.

            But why not make that public?

            I think that everyone in government needs to err on the site of transparency.

            I want to know what is going on, before decisions are made or opinions formed.

            Shortly after making my modified FOIA request I was told there were three documents and a number of emails that fit.

            The documents included, not surprisingly, the agenda of the meeting when the executive session took place, plus a list of leased, town-owned properties, and a vague reference to the theoretical effect that taxing non-profits would have on the overall tax rate.

            Useless to me.

            There were also 3,000 emails that, at a minute apiece to review and redact, at $25 per hour would the archivist informed me, would cost me over $1,000 to see.

            I did a double jaw drop: a jawjaw.

Could there really have been more than 3,000 emails about 204 Long Pond Road in less than a month?

From zero to 3,000 in one day?

In any case I couldn’t afford to find out so I narrowed my search to the four days leading to the Executive Session.

Would that turn up the information I wanted? Would that cost me $100 or more to see?

            There were just four emails on those four days.

            To review and redact would take just four minutes.

            A savings of $998!

            “I’ll send them right over,” the archivist said.

            Four hours later they arrived, or rather, a summary, which is to say that someone at Town Hall determined that every word in those emails, if revealed to me, would compromise their ability to negotiate the sale or lease of that property (the only reason they could go into executive session to discuss it).

            All I could know is who sent the emails and who received them: nothing more.

            You know what I am afraid of? Not that these three emails, if seen in their entirety, would reveal something disturbing.

            I am afraid that this is normal.

            When the smoke clears

            We walked up to the top of Burial Hill on the night of the 4th and sat on a bench overlooking the waterfront.

            It’s probably, depending on the conditions, the best view in town: Water Street, the jetty, Long Beach, Bug Light, Clarks Island, Gurnet and Saquish all unfurled before you, a tapestry of town and water and sand and spire.

            Not on this night though.

            It had been unusually foggy for several days leading up to the 4th but tonight the town was under a blanket of smoke.

            Fireworks.

            Small skirmishes everywhere.

            Small arms fire at the top of Russell Street.

            Rockets rising from somewhere along Town Brook.

            Whistlers spiraling up and over Coles Hill.

            A motorcyclist rumbling up and down the connector streets, pausing to toss M80’s.

            And a few hundred feel up through the smoke, easily mistaken for a bright star with its earthward facing light, the unmistakable whirring of a drone keeping watch on Town Hall.

            Eventually, unable to see much of anything, we came down the hill and on to South Russell, then up Court in front the 1820 Courthouse.

            Two men stood on the sidewalk there, one with a large brown dog that obediently sat as we passed by.

            He wished us a ‘happy 4th.’

            When we were 25 yards past him, he launched a screaming rocket up and over Court Street.

            I guess it wasn’t that bad. It all seemed to fade away before midnight.

            But when the smoke clears, what will remain?

            Court and Main with their candy-cane barriers.

            An obstacle course of restaurant tables on the sidewalks.

            An endless parade of overly loud motorcycles.

            Water Street sounding more like Daytona Beach.

            Did I mention the biker with his “Black Bikes Matter,” tee shirt on the corner?

            He’s there all the time, in that same shirt.

            When the smoke clears are we going to be able to recognize this town?

Natural resources…

“ATV impacts include noise disturbance, damage to vegetation, increased runoff, soil erosion, and degradation of water quality. Wildlife also suffer from all of these impacts. Unfortunately, when ATVs leave trails…and there is extensive evidence that this occurs…these impacts to wildlife are even worse.”

-Kevin Chlad – Adirondack Council Director of Government Relations

June 30, 2020

From: Plymouth Residents and members of

Plymouth-based Environmental Non-Profits*

To:       The Plymouth Board of Select Persons

Re:       Natural Resource Officers

It is fitting that a town of this size, and ecological significance, should have staff devoted to promoting and protecting its natural environment.

It is a source of pride that, in Plymouth, Marine and Environmental Affairs (DMEA) is a separate division, highlighting their importance and unique mission.

And it is revealing that, since achieving divisional status, the DMEA has been cited and rewarded on numerous occasions by regional, state and federal organizations for their foresight, innovation, management and restoration of the town’s bountiful natural resources.

Who better then to enforce laws meant to protect those resources – and the citizens of this community living adjacent to our water, woods and wildlands – than the men and women of this department and, specifically, its Natural Resource Officers.

The NRO are in the woods, and the fields, and along the shorelines of this community every day, anticipating threats to those resources, monitoring the condition of our woods and waters, and doing their best to interdict those with callous disregard for the fragility of the environment, the rights of homeowners, and the law.

It is both an efficient use of their time and a logical use of their training to provide them with the authority to fully protect our natural resources.

With all due respect to the Plymouth Police Department, we the undersigned urge the Board of Select Persons to reconsider their vote of June 23, 2020, and to confer upon the Natural Resource Officers of Plymouth the status of “constable.”

Giving the NRO the status of constables is common sense. Giving the NRO the status of constables does not unnecessarily burden other public safety resources. Giving the NRO the status of constables puts enforcement of these specific regulations in the hands of professionals trained to do just that.

Signed,

The Friends of Ellisville Marsh, Inc.

Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance

Explore Natural Plymouth

Save The County Woodlot

Frank Werny, Hickorywood

Charlotte Emery Russell, Long Pond Road

Brian Harrington, Valley Road

Martha Sheldon, Valley Road

Diane Peck, Overlook Road

David Peck, Overlook Road

Eric Cody, Lookout Point Road

Christine Cody, Lookout Point Road

Frank Mand, Chilton Street

Sharl Heller, Chilton Street

Peter Briggs, Gallows Pond Road

Dodie Frank, SEMPBA Board Member

Love Albrecht Howard, Long Pond Road

Bruce Howard, Long Pond Road

Malcolm MacGregor, Jordan Road

Margaret Sheehan, Rocky Pond Road

Betsy Hall, West Long Pond Road

Philip Holt, Cranberry Circle

Kathleen Holt, Cranberry Circle

Virginia Davis, Lauren Road

Linda Lancaster, Shinglewood

Anatol Zukerman, Shinglewood

Marc McGraw, Alice Mullens Way

Aileen Briggs, Long Pond Road
Judy Savage, Oar and Line Road

Dorie Stolley, Morgan Road

Cheryl King Fischer, Montrose Ave

Lisa Meeks, Red Leaf
Lois Post, Thatcher Road

Connie Melahoures, Fremont Street

Lawrence Delafield, Morgan Road

Jack Kedian, Herring Ponds Watershed Association

“I would fully support anything that would get the Board to reverse this decision. Our Homeowners Association spent more than $25,000 to install gates at the four points a power line crosses our property. Unfortunately we don’t control Savery Rd. which runs behind our house and which is constantly used as an ATV/Dirt Bike highway along with Old Sandwich Rd.”

-Great Island resident

Acting out

Acting out.

            The world is acting out. Like a tired child, perhaps, with no parent to drag them out of the supermarket, they fume, fuss, bawl and refuse to do anything, anything at all.

            Exhausted. Maybe the world is exhausted too.

            It needs a nap, or to be put to bed without supper.

            In the street outside our bedroom window an old man’s muscle car is slipping its clutch, in and out, in and out, rubber melting into tar, acrid smoke hovering above the pavement like dark mist above dark water.

            A volley of firecrackers begins, then roman candles, bottle rockets, cherry bombs, boom, boom, boom, then more squealing, tired, petulant children scatter as a police car – father with a rolled-up magazine – chases them about the parking lot.

            Up the street the lawns of restaurants are crowded with makeshift tables and impromptu celebrations: check everyone’s ID and, yes, it’s true, everyone is turning 21 tonight, again.

            No one can hold their liquor or their tongue or their tongue while they are drinking.

            On the historic waterfront long past their prime bikers parade in place.

They arrive with an angry roar, depart with a deafening din but, in between can only stomp their feet.

            One wears a t-shirt that reads, “Black Bikes Matter.” Where is his mother?

            I can only take so much 70’s pop music.

Brandy, you are a fine girl, but can you shut that guy up?

You don’t have to ask: this is what I am listening to, car after car proclaims.

            My father was amused by the thought of aliens arriving and trying to understand our language by reading bumper stickers.

I’m not sure but freedom appears to be comprised of the right to park anywhere you want, at any time, then stay until reinforcements arrive.

On this Memorial Day…

My father, Colonel Robert Mand, hardly ever spoke about his military service, his over 30 years of service in the Air Force, beginning in World War Two, lasting through Vietnam. He flew almost everything the Air Force had in WW2 (bombers, transports), flew in the Berlin Airlift, fought in Korea, was the head of air traffic control in Vietnam and finished his career at the Pentagon. He died last year and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

mating ritual

It’s romantic, in a kind of Wuthering Heights, gothic way: dark figures, moving through the shadows.

Of course it’s also evolutionary: some say that it’s remarkable that after a few hundred million years they haven’t changed a lick, but they seem to have picked up a few tricks along the way.

Otherwise, I can’t imagine how it happens, how, in the darkness, in the rain, with the sand in their eyes, the ribbons of seaweed curtaining them off.

How do they find each other?

For over a year I didn’t see one, one pair, one male or one female, and that’s all I was there to do – find them.

My trick, my evolution, was realizing, accepting that they actually were there.

If you don’t believe it, you’re done from the start.

Their trick is survival.

What came first, I wonder: the belief, or an actual horseshoe crab?

I shouldn’t diminish their effort with my philosophizing, the effort it takes to scour the sea bottom, to find each other in the dark.

It’s romantic, yes, but mostly they are remarkable for the energy they display.

When you begin to see, to see them, the first thing you notice is that energy: for such an ungainly, disc-shaped, diminutive deep-sea dinosaur they can really move.

Again I am not sure how they do it?

Are they shooting water out their backside, jet propelled?

Are they paddling furiously with their multiple appendages?

And all the speed they generate is often demonstrated in tandem: male and female affixed to one another.

Have you ever run a hundred yards carrying a younger brother on your back?

They do, and move along quite nicely thank you, while contributing to the survival of their species: helping to stave off extinction at least, at least for now.

That’s why we’ve been out there too, at mid-day or midnight, at 2 in the morning, in the cold, in water that’s a few degrees colder, water up to our waist, sometimes a little deeper: we’re trying to stave off extinction too, both for the Horseshoe Crab and for those species – like the beautiful Red Knot which flies here non-step from the tip of South America – those species that depend on the Horseshoe Crab for food.

I am not sufficiently grounded in the interdependence of species, but I think that it’s probably possible to demonstrate a link between the crab, the bird, and the human out here in the dark wading through the water.

At the very, very least, the horseshoe crab gets me out of the house, and down to the beach, up Ryder Way, down to the harbor and into the water where, treading carefully over the uneven bottom which on Long Beach, varies from sand to stone to grassy ledge, I peer into the dark water, scan back and forth with my flashlight.

I am looking for a particular shape, for bubbles rising, for movement, for what appears at first to be an hourglass-shaped stone but is moving, moving rapidly, perpendicular to the rolling waves.

“Mating pair,” I excitedly proclaim and, when I return to the shore I take the other measuring staff from Sharl so she can more easily manipulate the clipboard she is carrying and enter the data on the survey form.

Until this past week I had never seen a live crab during one of my surveys. Over the years here, and along the coast of New England, I have seen plenty of discarded shells but never a live horseshoe crab in the water, let alone a mating pair.

The other night we counted 13 mating pairs, plus one solitary female scouring the sea-bottom.

It takes about three hours, all told, to get to the site, complete, the survey and make it home.

Last night we made it back to the house at 2:30 a.m.

That’s not the usual routine: it’s taking about 90 minutes longer this year because we have not been able to drive to the spot: we’ve had to park at Pilgrim Sands and walk to the survey area.

We’d prefer to drive but you know what, the walk is often bonus time: a slow walk down a long, dirt road, often in darkness with nothing but the water whispering to the rocky shore sounding in our ears.

In the water I have to fight a kind of snow-blindness: an hour of staring in the murky, moving water looking for shapes that aren’t actually rocks, can be hypnotizing.

But if I get it just right I am in a kind of perfect receptor-state: I hear the water, note the silver fish skimming the surface and somehow differentiate between a round stone underwater and the shell of the horseshoe crab.

Oftentimes the male ‘crab’ is wearing a nightshirt of seaweed. If the water is calm you might see an effusion of bubbles rising where, I am told, the female is depositing her eggs. But be quick, it seems they don’t like to make love in the light.

We all love the embrace of night, punctuated with stars.

We all drink deeply that perfect draught of air, that cordial of sun-ripened seawater.

Now they are feeding me as well, feeding my imagination, my affection for nature and my appreciation for this special place, for Plymouth.

At times, as I reach the full length of the cord – ten yards out – I pause and gaze across the water. There I can see and hear another world: Water Street, downtown Plymouth, just across the way, just out of reach.

Just minutes ago I realize with a start, I was on paved road, on a gas-lit street, and now here I am, sharing the surf with this 300-million year old arachnid.

Yes, it’s a sea-going spider.

They have blue blood that coagulates to seal them off from infections.

The have a remarkable ability to tolerate different levels of salinity (salt).

They’ve survived several world-wide extinction events.

And here we are, together.

Wuthering Heights, indeed.

Mating pair of horseshoe crabs off Long Beach, Plymouth MA (Photo by Dodie Frank)