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A walk back through the year that was

Submitting this essay were Barbara Thornton, a Precinct 16 Town Meeting member, and her husband, Ron Alex. They offer holiday greetings to Arlington and review the year following a long walk around Cambridge’s Fresh Pond.

Personal essay

A gaggle of geese floated together pondering the approaching sunset. A hundred yards further floated a bevy of swans. Bright sunshine on blue water. After March’s Covid-19 “shelter in place” orders, in walks through the Arlington Great Meadows, on the banks of the Charles River and along streams feeding Mystic Lake, we watched the fuzzy baby geese and the fluffy newborn swans learning to walk and swim with proud parents nearby. Now they are all grown.

The garden in late March, dormant since the previous fall, came to life with the teddy bears perched in windows and on the lawn to entertain the constant parade of toddlers in strollers out for the fresh air. Nearby woods were coming to life, marsh grass going from brown to bright green. Spring peeper frogs come alive in the vernal ponds. Azaleas bloomed. Then the peonies, rhodos, iris, allium, mountain laurel, liatris, viburnum, all in their turn.

What blooms in June

By June, gardens sprouted election signs, Black Lives Matter signs, Love Lives Here signs. A parade of masked adults marched through communities, six feet apart, with protest banners. June brought out the roses in their wonderful forms, colors, shapes and scents. The month included a very strange Arlington Town Meeting. No fife and drums. All 250-plus of us gathered in six-feet-apart seats on the high school football field. One for the record books, after a few hundred years.

By July, trees were fully leafed out, providing welcome shade while sitting in the garden sipping our limeade and ice tea mix and watching the hummingbirds. Sitting in the garden gave way to sitting in the car, as we escaped for a road trip to a place we’d never been: Ithaca, Skaneateles, Syracuse, the Adirondacks. … Upstate New York. Did you know Harriet Tubman and William Seward, who was secretary of state, were good friends and lived about half a mile apart? The footprints of the Underground Railroad were everywhere.

August road trips

Hyacinth entered its glory phase in August. But it wasn’t enough. So we added more perennials in the bare patches we could find, and we ripped up the old driveway to lay in a fancy cobblestone trimmed driveway and walkway to the back door. It still wasn’t enough. Ron got a fierce yearning to move. So another road trip took us to explore 26 different places in coastal Maine.

By October, the vernal ponds were gone, the leaves were red, yellow and orange; the marsh grass a bronze orange and gold. Tai chi continued outdoors in the open under the trees in the Arlington park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. One 20-minute pass through the 88 postures in the Yang style Long Form featured blazing sun, shadow, icy wind, hail and back to mellow Fall again. 

Remembering the birds we’d watched frolicking through the summer months, we added new bird feeders and mealy bugs to attract bluebirds. As November came to a close, we valued even more the opportunities Zoom provided to stay in touch with other humans, whether business, book club, virtual Town Meeting (the November Covid-19 version) or friends, it will get us through the cold season -- that and bird-watching, star-gazing and winter walks.

Nature's transitions

Deprived of all our normal routines, we have remained entertained by the transitions of Mother Nature. The signs of even greater transitions, such as the telemedicine evaluation when I thought I had a concussion after a fall on a hiking trail or the opportunity to have a meeting without spending an hour just getting there and back or watching a new approach to vaccine produced in record short time, these are transitions that will likely permanently improve our lives. Other transitions continue as ever before -- watching your favorite kids’ teeth fall out and new, bigger ones, grow in.

It’s been a super busy year. (No, still not retired!) Many frustrations. Too much strange news. We’ll be so very happy to say goodbye to 2020. But this horrible year, with the fearsome pandemic, has also left us with a new sense of the year’s rhythms, the transitions of nature, that we hope to carry forward.

We also wish you health, happiness and fresh breezes in the new year. We hope to hear from you.

Reach Thornton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Alex at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


This essay was published Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. Thornton, the mother of two, is a grandmother, entrepreneur and community activist for diversity, social justice and affordable housing. She loves Muddy Waters, Ella Fitzgerald and Tom Paxton. She is a big believer in flexible time, governance and the power of individuals to change the world.

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