Blogs by Hilary Hopkins

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Summer Solstice in Boston

June 27, 2014 / Summer Solstice in Boston

The Summer Solstice!  Longest day of the year!  I went downtown to see what people were getting up to on the Boston Common, to celebrate.


See all the images I made:


Boston Common, you know, never “commons.”  That means land owned by an entire community rather than one person.  It’s never been built on, and it’s the oldest public green in America.  In 1622 a fellow called William Blackstone owned some acres of it; he was the only resident hereabouts, as the rest of them lived over in Charlestown.  But there wasn’t a good water source in Charlestown, so William offered to sell his land to them, as it had an excellent spring on it.   He sold it in 1630, and a few years later Governor Winthrop set aside 44 of its acres to use as a training field and pasture: the Common.   In those days you could see all the way to the Charles River from the Common. 


Over the centuries, the Boston Common has been the stage on which many momentous events have played.  Here in 1660, for instance, Quaker Mary Dyer was hanged.  In 1776 the Common echoed with the sounds of British soldiers, marching and training.  In 1851 Amelia Bloomer spoke out in aid of liberating women’s clothing.   1969 saw 100,000 demonstrators on the Common, protesting the Viet Nam war on Moratorium Day.  And last New Year’s Eve, thousands of folks welcomed in the new year at the First Night festivities.


Today, though, on the first day of summer, nobody’s marching or protesting.  It seems that everybody’s playing.  Here’s a carousel, with a zebra and some lively horses and there’s a rooster and a kind of blue mer-creature, and is that a reindeer?? 


This carousel was made in 1947 by the Allan Herschell Co. of North Tonawanda, New York, which made over 3,000 wooden carousels over its 60-year history.  Carousels have their origin in centuries-old Middle Eastern horsemen training exercises, which by the 17th century had morphed into the amusements we love nowadays.


The music plays!  The animals go forward, and up and down even!  The kids laugh, and mom and dad are happy too, on this first day of summer.


After a few minutes I wandered away, looking for what to see next.  Oh wow!  BUBBLES!  Giant bubbles are floating high above me.  And there’s their source, a guy with a big sort of rope wand with many loops, and a kids’ wading pool full of bubble-making liquid.   He’s dipping this bubble-maker into the pool and when he waves it above his head, hundreds and hundreds of bubbles gush forth and float above his delighted audience.  Babies stare at them in attentive puzzlement.  Kids rush to catch them.  Grownups jump up to try to pop them.  But many of them float away serenely, just visible above the trees and against the blue sky. 


Water holds together because of surface tension between its molecules (you know, the thing that keeps the water from spilling over an over-full glass).  But when you put soap in the water, it makes the molecules kind of slippery, so they don’t stick together as well, and you can blow air between them and they separate and stretch to form a bubble.  The bubble’s round since that is the shape that takes up the least room, which is what water (and other substances) likes best.  The rainbow colors come when light reflects from the water molecules.  You can also put glycerin in the water, since that keeps the water from evaporating and making the bubble pop.


Anyhow, the guy there on the Common had gathered a big crowd and it reminded me to get some bubble stuff for when my grandson comes next weekend. 


I love it how everybody’s smiling at the bubbles. 


I cross the street to the Public Garden.  This land used to be a big marsh on the banks of the Charles River, and actually Benjie Franklin used to fish there.   In 1837 a group of amateur horticulturalists asked the city to let them fill the marsh and turn it into a botanical garden.  After some fits and starts, this finally happened in 1859 and it became the first botanical garden in America.  Now it’s filled with fine trees and fancy gardens to admire.


The Public Garden is known to one and all as the home of the famous Swan Boats, beloved by generations of Bostonians and tourists.  The Paget family has been the custodians of this charming attraction since 1877, when Robert Paget got the idea of using the new-fangled bicycle as a way to propel one-person boats around the lagoon.  Over the years as the Swan Boats became more popular, their seating capacity increased.  But they are still foot-powered, and they still carry their beautiful and elegant swans.  And the Paget family still operates them, and people still line up, young and old, to cruise slowly around the lagoon, feeding the mallards and listening to the sounds of summer in Boston.


Not only are there the Swan Boats, there are the swans, on this perfect day.  The swans, called Romeo and Juliet, over-winter at the Franklin Park Zoo, and are returned to the Public Garden every year at the end of April.  One of them is sitting on a large nest of twigs, which she keeps fussing with, adjusting here, tweaking there.  The other seems to be patrolling along the edge of the water.  The nest and the surrounding area are enclosed in a fence, to keep us humans at a respectful distance.


The thing is, it turns out that Romeo and Juliet are both females, and the eggs (which I get a glimpse of when Romeo or is it Juliet stands up on the nest briefly)—the eggs are sterile since no male swan has been involved in their production.  The eggs will never hatch, and I read that park personnel will discreetly remove them after a while.  Swans mate for life, and they live a long time, so these two, who have been together already for a long time, are well-bonded even as a same-sex pair. 


While I’m taking pictures of Juliet on the nest (or it is Romeo), one of the Swan Boats glides by, and I get a great image of real swan and wooden swan, together. 


I turn my camera’s eye on the mallards, who are trolling and turning in the water, rippled and stippled with green and blue, summer’s colors. 


A simple pleasure, no screens required.  Happy Summer to all!

Summer Solstice in Boston


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