Miss Fit in Career City II

In Career City, activism and doing can lead to your undoing. With biblical fervor I campaign for the common good. Unfortunately, creative and innovative visionaries – like prophets – are doomed to lament, and particularly unwelcome in their hometown. My municipal job applications are methodically ignored, so I remain the outsider looking in, as opposed to the insiders looking out for themselves.

If the applicant pool is stagnant, I am fresh running water.

Miss Fit in Career City I



Exploring Career City from the glorious empty nest, dead-end streets perplex me. Each job application rings in another resounding silence. A servant-leader, troubleshooter;  a self-taught jack of all trades, I can master it all. My resume is a customized chameleon, but ‘multifaceted’ threatens the pigeonhole society. Misfit?

As a Bachelor degreed and married Mom, I find this civilization uncivilized: Narcissist individual interests trump the common good. My priorities are altruistic, my interests are broad and go deep.

If the world is an infinite expanse of salt water, I am the island on your horizon. The one with the palm tree.





Crooked as an Arrow

As if a meteorite bared a huge sand square near the Billerica-Chelmsford line, heavy equipment roars and a mega truck muscles its load into a cloud of dust. A yellow dinosaur stops its stump ridding, and cranes its neck to watch a doe trotting frantically along orange fencing – lost in her deforested world.

Centuries before, the Middlesex Turnpike was chartered in 1805 by the Massachusetts legislature to slice those same primeval woods. As was the practice of that time, the road was to be as straight as possible, with ‘turnpike’ barriers to collect toll from users like horse drawn stagecoaches. The unpaved path was in business from Cambridge, through Billerica to Tyngsboro, where it connected with other turnpikes to Nashua and Concord, New Hampshire.

The Middlesex Turnpike closely paralleled its namesake Canal, which was operational from 1803 till 1852. After 1835, both the turnpike and the canal suffered stiff competition from the railroad and its steam powered locomotives for freight and passenger traffic. Although both were feats of traffic engineering at the time, neither the canal nor the turnpike was particularly profitable. The last canal tolls were collected in 1851, and the Middlesex Turnpike charter was repealed in 1841. It became a free road in 1846.

The right of way of that free road in Billerica is fragmented.  Still acknowledged in GIS maps, the ‘Old Middlesex Turnpike’ – a dirt path – crosses Rangeway Road, and it beelines into Chelmsford, nearly connecting Billerica Rangeway Town Forest with Chelmsford’s Russel Mill Pond & Town Forest Reservation.

The path cuts through wetlands and woods alike, and separates Rangeway Town Forest from the dreaded Aspen Apartments 40B development site. Since 2010, nearby auto auction facilities paved the former Swanson paradise along Rangeway Road, and a portion of the 211 year old historic path got flooded year round. Busy beavers got the blame. Word got out that beaver management would take care of it, and a couple of weeks after that it was time to explore:

Let’s see how the construction site preparation is coming along; see if the beaver management has brought down the water levels yet! With the Turnpike still submerged,  we choose the meandering paths, recently cut through Rangeway Town Forest by a mountain bike group. Soon we reach higher ground, and find ourselves on the Old Middlesex Turnpike trail again. We walk until an obstruction halts our stroll: Orange fencing barricades the path, zigzagging back and forth. When a turnpike is by definition straight as an arrow, and the lot line is bounded by the turnpike, what or who allows the fencing to zigzag?

Construction fencing locks in / locks out wildlife and local town forest recreation. We watch on the sidelines as the  big money heavy equipment roars and kicks up its clouds of dust;  the digger stops its stump ridding, and cranes its neck to watch a doe trotting frantically along the orange fencing. The doe, lost in her deforested world, and we, sidelined in our deforested town?

Now, winter season, work continues. Retaining wall blocks form bits of Great Wall  of China, elevator shafts rise, heated cement mills roll on the snowy landscape. Sounds like business as usual.


Columbus Day: Go, Indians!

“Our wild apple is wild only like myself, perchance, who belong not to the aboriginal race here,
but have strayed into the woods from the cultivated stock”
– Henry David Thoreau

Anglo-Saxon initiatives seem to have adopted a policy to further segregate Indians with the ploy that any display of culture predating the European invasion is considered racist, and therefore politically incorrect. The media buzz with words like “Cultural Competence” and “Social Justice”.
Exposure to smallpox, firearms, reservations, alcohol and gambling could not completely eradicate the original peoples of the Americas. An ambivalent theory threatens to eliminate cultures: The “appropriation” of cultural symbols by others than the surviving minorities is considered offensive. But how can remaining survivors salvage a heritage while we hug the remnant to death?
We are taught that Columbus ‘discovered’ America. Sure, he mistook it for India – and named the welcoming inhabitants “Indians”, and the US government coined the name “Native Americans”, a term has met with only partial acceptance by tribal confederacies.
Prior to the arrival of European colonists and the naming of Billerica, the culture and language in this region was Algonquian. Countless generations of indigenous tribal communities made a living in harmony with their environment, but Puritan invaders saw them as savages, and introduced Christian culture to the Pawtucket, Pennacook, Wamesit, and other tribes.
So-called Praying Indians were a lesser threat to Governor Winthrop and Deputy Governor Dudley when they divided thousands of acres granted them by the British King in 1638. Regardless of existing sacred burial sites, hunting grounds and harvests frontiersmen arrived. After years of skirmishes, Punjoe was the last of the Wamesit Indians living in the Billerica area. He was murdered by white settlers near the end of the eighteenth century.
Like predators suffering from generational guilt for having dominated vulnerable victims, we seem to absolve our shame by squashing souvenirs: Honor amnesia, not ancestors. On the pretext of equity and equality we decry and scrap certain names of sports teams and schools. “Go, Indians” takes on new meaning: “Vanish!” What’s next? Changing the name and flag of our State?
For decades BMHS has debated the perceived controversy of its logo. Three years ago a squarish “B” captured the academics stationery flag, while sports continue to sport the profile of a chief; a sachem disassociated with intellect; how is that not wrong and racist?

Thank goodness a reverse trend occurred when President Obama visited Alaska this year; Mount McKinley is henceforth officially Mount Denali again. There is hope.

Cycling Symbol of Liberty


Eighteen years ago, similar to the Sting song lyrics, I was a legal alien – I was a Dutchman in NB (North Billerica, MA). Immigrating on a fiancée visa, I frugally packed only the essentials, naturally including my bicycle, an indispensable asset.

However, during my first trips to and from the grocery store, with a three year old seated behind the handlebars, and a four year old seated on the back, trucks honked, cars beeped, and drivers yelled curses out their windows. A manager once ran out the store and asked me to show the sales slip for the groceries in my basket. Of course I had paid! It dawned on me that I was an anomaly, a threat.
When in Billerica, do as Billericans do, so forget the bike.

It sat unused in the basement for fifteen years, until I occasionally spotted a man on a folding bike riding by my home, apparently regularly commuting. My harbinger of hope! It was time for me to consider not abiding to local custom, to resist submission to the norm and become a trendsetter instead: A cycling symbol of liberty! Whether it’s me or the zeitgeist, the number of bicycles on Billerica roads indeed grows exponentially!


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Weathering yet another snowstorm a cyclist rode along high piled snow banks on our street. Not without misgivings, it seemed prudent to take transit to Boston, and while waiting for the train, another cyclist advanced towards the platform. I thought I was a staunch winter biker, but here I was beat by two unshakable riders, and the third blizzard-biker of the day disembarked in Wedgemere, his bike equipped with a cross country skis carrier – surreal, but very hopeful.
Invited to an art gallery opening “Alternate Realities” in Boston, curated by our daughter, my husband and I were in for a treat: First the inbound MBTA commuter train polar-expressed into North Billerica depot, horns a-blasting; wheels and brakes one solid block of ice. After a stop in the distance, the rear lights came on, another blast of its horn and it backed up to reach the platform. We boarded the train which carried on in a more sedate pace, and darkness fell. Finally we rolled slowly into North Station. Propane heaters burned along the tracks; flames licking the switches like a mega gas Barbie – post-apocalyptic. Transit was an alternate reality too, but it all worked out.


With every revolution of my pedals I pump triumph through my veins. Seventeen degrees, “real feel” two – Fahrerheit that is, but I keep myself warm, because I’m exercising. Admittedly, indoors doubt crept through my system, but I ventured outdoors anyway for the challenges it posed: Is it doable? Can I do it?

“Promo”, I chuckle, and it’s just a short 0.2 mi trip to the grocery store. I returned the same four minutes with a basket full of fresh vegetables. The trip wasn’t nearly long enough, it was so enjoyable. The chill is dry, the sky is blue, and fellow citizens shiver. Pea soup and Kielbasa tonight; and for tomorrow kale with mashed potatoes; hearty winter meals one earns by winterbiking.

Food Shop Daily

One of few who shop for groceries daily, I ride the half mile (four minutes) to and from Market Basket. Sometimes I’ll go all out and add a bunch of beets, a”Parisien” bread or another product that will decorate my basket like a centerpiece on a restaurant table. It’s 5 PM, 29 degrees Fahrenheit and getting dark; the better time to ride because traffic lights work best with cars around – a bicycle doesn’t always trigger them.

Any other “sensible” citizen would probably choose the car: Remote start it, let it idle for ten minutes, drive 2 minutes, take a few more minutes to park. Do I feel cold while riding? No sir! I wear gloves and a headband (under the helmet) and a jacket under the reflective vest. I get home warmer than I left, because my blood circulation got activated. That it why I shop for groceries daily: Quick, fresh, healthy.

Hanging in there

Yesterday I cycled to our handsome North Billerica station and boarded the train headed for Boston, making a stopover at a disheveled looking Winchester Center. At this station it was almost impossible to singlehandedly unload my bike down to the platform. I rode to and from a meeting with the President of the Middlesex Canal Commission, and a train conductor had to help me lug the bike back up on board the Inbound train.

At North Station the exit / entrance doors are hindrances. Although it makes for community spirit if gentlemen or gentle women hold them open for a person struggling through with a bicycle, people are not always around, nor courteous for that matter. But I won’t rant on inhospitable cycle accommodations at North Station, not even the annoying lack of ramps by the staircases on the Portal Park exit side; I want to relate my wonderful 3.5 mi ride along the Charles’ left bank upriver to MIT on 77 Mass Ave, where I attended a FANTASTIC talk about Bicycle Urbanism and Infrastructure Design, by Mikael Colville-Anderson from Copenhagen. Afterwards I rode back in the dark; 2.5 mi on cycle track along the other bank of the Charles, the magic skyline reflected in the rippling river surface, to arrive with perfect timing at the station, “Lowell train boarding now!” I enjoyed a smooth ride home, reading Mia Birk’s Joyride.

Mia writes about the city of Portland; Mikael talked about the city of Copenhagen, the city of Barcelona, the city of Ljubljana, the city of Paris … I did ask why it was all about ‘city’ and ‘urban’ and not ‘suburban’. I got a ‘low-hanging fruit’ answer. C’mon folks; Baldwin apples originate from Billerica / Wilmington. Even high Baldwin apple trees have low hanging fruit. Low is a relative term. I’m hanging in there.

Click to access Poster_MikaelColville.pdf

Mind blogging

Fewer blogs appeared, but not because I didn’t ride. Temperatures plummeted to 20s and 30s, but I’m out there on a daily basis. Headband under the helmet, gloves on the handlebars, and pedaling keeps me warm. So let’s throw another log on the fire to defrost a Billerica frame of mind.

A stubborn argument to freeze local opinion against bicycling is snow. Say snow and remember the 1978 blizzard. The climate has warmed, plowing has been upgraded, but there is no need for safe routes to school because … it snows. This puzzles me, because when it snows, schools are closed.

Some of the most bike-friendly cities in North America experience serious winters, and  boast healthy populations of year-round cyclists. Thanks to safe infrastructure. Take Minneapolis, MN, which gets more snow than Boston. Yet Bicycling Magazine proclaimed Minneapolis 2010 #1 Bike City in the US. Bicycle commute during midwinter Minneapolis might beat the commute on an Arlington August, never mind suburban Billerica which sports no bicycle accommodations at all – yet.

Oh, and by the way, in Danish Copenhagen, the most bicycle-friendly city in the world, half of all trips are made by bike, while it has more snow days than Minneapolis. In Helsinki, Finland, an astounding 460 miles of well-maintained bikeways defy 101 days of snow; cycling remains the quickest alternative for short journeys, and folks increasingly choose pedal power over cars in search of greener, healthier and a more economic mode of transportation.

On a global scale, Denmark is a nation where transportation by bike is high: 18%. In the Netherlands it is 27%. By comparison, the figure is 1% in the US. No wonder our health expenses are on the rise like yeast! Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle seriously threatens our life expectancy. Even with unimproved infrastructure, your car is a bigger threat to healthy living than a bicycle.

Dear reader, snow is embedded between our ears. It blocks the Billerica mindset. Start shoveling!