Saturday, February 16, 2019

We Put the Owl in Lowell

After decades of living in the city, I thought I had visited most of the hidden prizes in some of our city's neighborhoods.  Come to find out, I was wrong.  And it took the lure of catching a glimpse of some owls to introduce me to the wonder that is the Hawk Valley Farm at 526 Varnum Avenue, nestled between Varnum Avenue and Pawtucket Boulevard over in the Pawtucketville neighborhood (in the woods behind the soccer fields.)
Thanks to Jane Calvin and Katie Durkin from the Lowell Parks and Conversation Trust, I joined about 40 other interested bird-watchers Friday night to go exploring the snow-covered trails of the farm, the entrance of which lies off Varnum Terrace, from the Varnum Avenue side.  The second oldest home in the city stands at the entrance to the trails.
Chris and Brianne Lemay were there, with all four of their daughters in tow.  Some of them, though, figured out the easiest way to traverse the trails would be riding on Andrew's shoulders.
Some history: Hawk Valley Farm has been owned by the Varnum family since 1664, when English immigrant Samuel Varnum bought 1,000 acres of Pawtucketville real estate.  He and his sons grew crops and kept livestock on the land, while living on the Highlands side of the river in a small garrison to protect them from conflicts with Native Americans.  (Two of Varnum's sons would end up being killed in those conflicts.) 
355 years later, five acres of the land still remain untouched and undeveloped, and will continue to be so, thanks to the Parks and Conversation Trust.  Hawk Valley Farm became the conservation trust's first Conservation Restriction, which ensures perpetual protection so that future generations can explore the history of the area.
For more than a decade, the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust has worked with the Pawtucketville Citizens Council to protect the farm.  The Farm contains prime agricultural soil, unique nut trees, and wildlife habits.  
On this particular night, the intrepid group of explorers went looking for some of our winged friends.
Daredevil's nemesis the Owl wasn't there
but the trust brought an ornithology expert along, who brought her own friend.
Couldn't catch it with a pic, but on the site remains a cabin foundation wall and old farm from the original homestead, centuries ago.
Sadly, while this night provided some haunting and moody skies complete with rapidly shifting clouds and breezes, the owls were apparently in hiding.
We did, however, come across a bevy of coyote tracks, which led off into some of the other trails.
For more information about future Owl Prowls, pay a visit to the trust's website at www.lowelllandtrust.org or give them a call at 978-934-0030.
Me, I'm going to keep looking for new surprises in the Mill City.  And of course, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for this guy:
ALTHOUGH, as anyone who knows me is aware, I'm big Twin Peaks fan.  And therefore, can never forget this:
Oh, and one last thing - going back to our opening picture, I went in search of an official answer out there as to how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.
Hint: it ain't a-three.
According to Purdue University, it's 252.
The University of Michigan said it's 411.
I guess it's true.
The world may never know.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Souped Up

souped-up;
to improve the capacity for speed or increase the efficiency of by increasing the richness of the fuel mixture of the efficiency of the fuel; to give spirit or vivacity to; enliven
Exactly when the actual New Years Day E Streeters Soup Run™ officially began has been lost to the annals of time.  If this blog is any indication, it has notched at least a decade of January Firsts, sacrificing countless bowls of chicken stew and vegetable gumbo to the running gods.
Whatever its origin, one thing is for sure - as sure as the 12 foot wide, 11,875 pound geodesic Waterford Crystal ball descends to the screaming throngs awaiting its arrival in Times Square, NYC, so too, does the soup on Dunstable Road, Westford, fill the empty stomachs of E Street Nation, courtesy of John Piekos and Karen Cambray.
This year, the run came with its own menu, complete with a series of choices being offered at First Run Kitchen ©  Points off for no valet parking options.
Also, in this technological age in which we prosper, we have multiple satellite-authenticated course options of varying distances to choose from
All of those best laid menus and maps would be thrown out the windows with a series of audibles, as this year's crew decided instead to order off the Specials menu and extend the course by a mile or two.
This day, we weren't just celebrating the unseasonable 55 degree warm temperatures, we were also celebrating the fact that John's driveway did not mirror its Iditerod ice flumes of years gone by.
To commemorate the occasion, we let John take the lead and set the pace for the run.
It would be a short-lived lead, as Tommy, knowing of the Town Line that lie ahead, made his move immediately.
Ben was already celebrating the multiple bowls of soup he knew awaited him at run's end
These two siblings made a New Year's Resolution to smile all through their runs
Alas, Tommy would not prove victorious in his quest for the First Run First Blood.  And as anyone who runs with the E Streeters knows, if there's no picture, the victory didn't happen.
Luckily, we had multiple cameras at our disposal.  And cameras don't lie.
Okay Ben, we know.  There's soup waiting for us at the end.
Throughout the year's 365 days, there'll be hundreds of runs notched by this stalwart group.
None however, usually compete with this course in terms of the hills required to scale. (Vertical and horizontal shots stand ready to document the mileage)
You are my sunshine, Heather 
The Founders of the Feast 
And....they've already broken their New Year's Resolution.
Did I mention hills?
Barry snagged some great shots on the course, from a unique vantage point.  No truth to the rumors it was because he had collapsed on the roadway from exhaustion after scaling these White Mountain foothills.
Exactly one year ago, Heather was winging her way to London, there to partake in a semester abroad and some unforgettable times with our UK comrades-in-arms.
This day, she was just happy to give a shoutout to the Union Jack we spotted along the way.
What's that U2 song about Elevation?
Back at Dunstable Road, the Deadpool began anew, and the bowls of soup were as plentiful as the tales of Town Line victories of Yore.
Another New Year, another opportunity to pause for a moment and just celebrate the fact that again, we're all still relatively healthy, and able to gather for events like this to share an abundance of inappropriate jokes and recount laughs that encompass stories spanning more than three decades of this motley crew souping up.
I've said it frequently on this blog, and will continue to write it for as long as possible - we're fortunate on so many fronts to have such a loyal and dependable group of friends who've been there through thick and thin for one another.
Running just happens to issue the clarion call that often brings us together in one place - well, that, and soup - but it's important to use opportunities like the start of a New Year to pause and take stock of everything - and everyone - who's been around to celebrate all the years gone by with us as well.
On to 2019, and, I'm sure, dozens more group runs and hundreds more off-color jokes.
To E Streeters, far and wide, including those who either aren't too fond of running, or couldn't make it to Soup Run 2019, here's to you!

As I stated up top, getting souped up is defined as increasing the capacity for speed, the richness of the fuel, to give spirit to, to enliven.

Yeah, that pretty much describes us E Streeters.

One final shot - in which Ben apparently broke the news to Andrew about soup waiting for us at the end of the run! 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Frozen Pies

Thanksgiving morning, and this year, there was more than just a hint of frost on the pumpkin.
In fact, the pumpkin, not to mention all of the extended E Streeter nation, was flat-out frozen solid for the Thanks4giving 5K run at the Lowell Elks.
At race start, the thermometer recorded a balmy 11 degrees, and with the wind chill factored in, the race start came in at a scorching -5 real-feel temperature.
This did not bode well for the pies awaiting us at race's end.
At race start, the perennial sounds of Carlos' name being yelled by thousands of runners this year were replaced by the sounds of Kaylaaaaa reverberating off the walls of most of Pawtucketville. Welcome to E Streeter Group Runs, Kayla!
Inside the Elks, everyone was still smiling, because at that point, we were reasonably warm.
That would quickly pass.
Outside, Andrew had the right idea sporting his bank robber togs - the less skin exposed to the elements, the better.
After a frozen National Anthem, we were off, but nobody was willing to be the one to set the blistering pace on this cold morn.  Chloe was contemplating it, though.
Mike, always knowing where the camera is.  John, take notes.
Kayla seems barely distracted by the incessant shoutouts.
Turns out SHE was the one going to set the pace for this 3.1 mile trek!
The rest of the E Streeters could only watch as Kayla pulled further and further ahead of them.
Theresa Corcoran, motoring through the windiest and coldest stretch of the run
Congrats to Bri and Chris for running the whole race together, step-for-step!
Sadly, though, many of our phones/cameras fell victims to the Antarctic temps, dying halfway through the runs, and depriving many of us of those thrilling finish line shots.
But thanks to a collection of several award-winning photographers, we were able to cobble together some shots from the second half of the run, most of them celebrating with the glorious finish line medals that others may call Apple Pie.
Hoist them high, everyone!
Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday of the year, and not because of the feedbag we all strap on come dinner time.
It's a perfect time for all of us to be thankful that we're still all here, and healthy enough to be slogging through these runs.  It's not just the distance, it's the voyage that we celebrate to get here every year.
Sure, there's pie waiting for us at the race finish line, but Thanksgiving gives us all a chance to appreciate still being together after all these decades!  Some of these friendships track back 45 years!  (Looking at you, Mike!)
We may have lost a couple of seconds off our steps, but we're still here, making inappropriate jokes and helping one another power through the hardest stretches of the roads we travel.
And for me, one of the most inspiring and fulfilling pieces of these group runs is the indoctrination of second generation E Streeters into the fold, with our children, godchildren, nieces and nephews, joining us to celebrate the extended Fellowship of the Ring.  Seeing the continuing addition of new faces to the field every year solidifies the bonds and inspires us to continue putting one foot in front of one the other to log our miles.
Thanks to all the family, friends and co-workers who make it fun all year long.
Enjoy the day with your own family and friends!
Now, someone get me a chisel to break into this frozen apple pie!