Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Two Tire Guy

This morning Dixie, the Airedale Dog, and I went to Prospect Hill Park for the second time since we moved 392 miles north to Waltham less than a week ago. We are both outdoors oriented, her bein’ a dog and me bein’ restless, and so one of the first things I did, after finding the grocery store, library, fee-free ATM machine, and transit station to get back and forth to my new job in Boston, was to find places outdoors to walk. We’ve also found the local school field that people walk their dogs in and the unofficial dog park in Newton (pronounced nehw-in; that’s how the locals can tell the foreigners. If one pronounces the “t” in Newton you’re from out of town. The jury seems to be out on whether Waltham is pronounced Wal-tham [as in Wal-Mart] or whether the emphasis is only on the first syllable).

Prospect Hill is a city park in north Waltham. Comprised of 250 acres with a scenic overlook of Waltham and Oz-like Boston ten miles off in the far distance, the park is a long rectangular swath of nature running from its northern low end to its summit at the southern end. When you start from the park entrance off Totten Pond Road, the walk seems almost vertical. The legend at its entrance boasts of a number of hiking trails, ranging from easy to difficult. It seemed to me that the walk up the road to the top was fairly strenuous in and of itself. Since there was about a foot of snow on the ground, except for on the roadway, we didn’t traverse any of the trails. It was of ironic interest to me that the road was closed during the winter months, apparently due to snow accumulations, yet it was plowed.

When we went to the park for the first time the day before, we walked almost to its top, bearing off to the left where the winding, almost meandering, roadway forked and where we found two fenced off circular buildings. Determining that we’d walked far enough and assuming correctly that we’d probably gone in an incorrect direction to see the scenic overlook, we turned around and, leaning back to compensate for the incline, trudged back down the road. When we were about two-thirds of the way back to the parking lot we ran across a lady who explained that we had, indeed, taken the wrong fork in the road. Had we gone to the right we would have made the scenic overlook. It was, nonetheless, an interesting walk; not too many birds in mid-February and the trees were as bare as could be. Still, we saw a Robin, heard the stream gurgling as its water cascaded over small rocks and the felt the wind as it blew through the barren boughs. The winter sun was warming with partly-blue skies overhead. We saw the signs for various trails that looked inviting when not covered in over a foot of snow and saw a rock formation that looked like the name of the trail that started at its one end: Dinosaur Rock Trail.

On the western edge of the park a series of red brick high tech corporate-industrial buildings rose up out of the ground to almost dwarf the trees and to serve as a definite boundary. Its many windows faced the park. I imagined the corporate folks inside looking out and I wondered if they could see the forest for the trees. Then again, it occurred to me that maybe they all had their noses to the grindstone of corporate greed and so never even noticed the changing of the seasons. Maybe all they saw when they looked out their window was something foreboding, not inviting, something out of a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale instead of out of a Peterson’s Field Guide. I wondered which was scarier to them, the jungle in there or the forest out here.

It seemed like such a contradiction walking in woods with trees and streams and rocks and animal tracks and nature abounding, even in the middle of winter, and yet at its very fringe civilization imposed its will, threatening to overtake the natural order of things. I looked closely at the space between the buildings and could see the trash dumpsters and, just beyond them, the macadam parking lots. I wondered whether the raccoons and the foxes would find the dumpsters a dining area or a place where they would meet their demise. Just this morning, in the Daily News Tribune, there was an article about how covering the earth in concrete and macadam caused runoff and prevented water from seeping into the ground to refill the local aquifer, which in turn created drought like conditions during the summer months. Water use restrictions would begin in June, while commercial and residential construction brought in needed tax revenues.

When Dixie and I went back the next day, for our second walk, I tried to ignore corporate America and concentrated, instead, on the beauty of the park, the warmth of the sun, the rustling of the wind and the singing of the stream. As we neared the top of the hill and took the right fork we started down along another road that stretched out before us with woods on either side. It was very bucolic and peaceful. I noticed picnic areas, camping spots, additional hiking trails, the Summer House and a whole host of other inviting aspects of the park. We reached the overlook and I stood in awe at the vista in front of me. Dixie stood there with me and looked out over the peak. What caught both of our attentions was, way down at the bottom of the hill where the houses began, a dog barking while chasing a car.

On our trek back down from the top, we ran across a not too friendly couple who seemed more intent on summiting Prospect Hill than on wasting time giving the time of day by saying hello. I’d heard that the only really friendly Mass. folks are those who have relocated to the state from elsewhere. I decided to pass them off as locals and paid them no further mind. What did intrigue me, however, was a sight I’d seen the day before and which I was about to see again. Both this time, as well as yesterday, I heard it before seeing it.

Imagine the sound of something heavy being dragged along the ground. Imagine the grunting, snorting and heaving associated with dragging something heavy along the ground. I couldn’t imagine, from the sound, what I was about to see as I rounded the bend in the road. Dixie, curious as always, ran up ahead to find out what the noise was and was met with a gruff, bellowing: “Get away from me! Get away from me!” What came around the bend was a tall, cut-from-granite man who, looking like he was in his early sixties, was decked out in layers of winter work clothes with a large leather belt strapped around his waist. There was an iron ring fastened at its back and from it trailed a chain about six feet long. Attached to the end of the chain were two automobile tires.

The guy was sort of half-walking, half-jogging up the hill dragging these two car tires along the ground behind him. Although he was all bundled up, it was easy to see that he probably didn’t have any body fat on him at all. He looked very strong and sinewy. He looked very focused on his task of walk/jogging up a long, steep hill for more than a mile dragging two tires. He looked like he may not have been wrapped too tight. I wondered what kind of penance this man was serving. On the other hand, I wondered if maybe he was preparing for the iron man triathlon. Maybe he was seeking attention. He seemed angry, almost as if he was working off a lost bet that he had originally been assured of winning. I said Hi to him and wanted to ask him what he was doing that for but he ignored me. Maybe any interruption would cause him to lose his concentration and throw off his rhythm. As he passed me, dragging these tires, I stopped, turned and watched as he trundled off uphill. Like the couple I saw before him, I decided he was a local.

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