Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Last Souper?

From Small Things, Mama, Big Things One Day Come
- Bruce Springsteen, 1979

It began, as many things do, from humble beginnings.
Eight friends gathered on New Year's Day, 2011, to start the new year off, as many are wont to do, with a brisk run, to help effectively kickoff their New Year's fitness resolutions.
The gathering place, was the Westford home of John Piekos and Karen Cambray, tucked away atop one of the iciest hills found anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.
As luck would have it, the gathering was captured on film (imagine that!), and chronicled here on this blog, the prose of which can be found here:
And here's the Motley Crue who logged those first soup miles:
A decade later, and the soup, mileage, and friendship are still going strong.
All but one of the Soup Runs have been cataloged in the archives of this blog.  Inexplicably, 2018 was somehow bypassed in Cook's Chronicles.
Some of the faces have changed, and this year, the soups changed, but the friendships remain.
So without further ado, we bring you Soup Run 2020!
Joined this year not by Baby New Year, but Baby Yoda!
Barry, he be pimping.  Sean, he be trying to just figure out how he got stuck next to the guy wearing the pink hat on a road run.
As readers of this blog are well aware, the driveway at Dunstable Road rivals the greatest ice crags of the arctic.  It's swallowed many a car with its icy grips and pinions.
This day, it wouldn't grab an errant E Streeter running, other than John himself, who chose to boldly run down the skating rink while the rest of the team opted for the more cautious pathway. 
First Town Line Victory of the New Year is always a big deal, not to mention the first of a new decade.  Sean wasted no time muscling aside those who stood in his way to claim First Victory.
Karen staged a mutiny and convinced everyone to extend the course this year, so we ventured, once more, into the Land of the Lost.  Don't ask.  There's no dinosaurs, just pigs.
They say you need to stop and smell the roses, just to appreciate the world around you.
That holds doubly true for the wonders of nature and the snowscapes off the backroads of Westford.
As any experienced runner knows, where there's one town line, there has to be another to get you back to your destination.  The key is knowing where they hide.  Who took the second one?  It'd be hard to say, if there wasn't film evidence to support the results.
Back at the Piekos Homestead, it was time for the breaking of bread and the slurping of soup.  This year, these Friends were joined by Jennifer Aniston.  Again, don't ask.
10 years burning down the road, nowhere to run, ain't got nowhere to go
- Bruce Springsteen, 1984

Over the course of the last decade, the mileage, bad jokes and camaraderie have remained constant.  We've had a diverse array of friends join us off and on throughout the decade.
Five of us, including the Founders of the Feast, John and Karen, have been there for all 10 of the Soup Runs.
We never quite know exactly what the future holds for any of us.  They say nothing is certain.
What is certain, though, is that friendship can last forever.  You just have to feed them. Not just soup, either.
We've lost some friends along the way, taken from us too soon, like many of our family members.
But as long as we're physically able, we'll still be gathering for these types of runs.  It's not the mileage, the terrain, the physical achievements - it's the opportunity to still bring a group of ragtag wanderers together for a brief period of time to bond over a common interest.  In this case, soup.  Or running.  One of the two.
Most of us have known one another for over FOUR DECADES.  And we can still stand being around one another.
The locations may change, the participation may ebb and flow, but the relationships endure.
Here's to another decade of stories, friends, family, good health, and good soup.
Happy New Year to all!

When I was a little kid
I never liked to eat
Mom would put things on my plate
And I'd dump 'em on her feet
But then one day she made this soup
I ate it all in bed
I asked her what she put in it
And this is what she said:

"Oh, chicken lips and lizard hips
And alligator eyes
Monkey legs and buzzard eggs
And salamander thighs
Rabbit ears and camel rears
And tasty toenail pies
Stir 'em all together
And it's mama's soup surprise
- Bruce Springsteen, Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips, 1991

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Ecstatic on Watatic

This one's been sitting in the queue for a bit, mostly because of computer issues loading pics through the blogging software.  But all is well now, and I wanted to share a family trip up Mount Watatic in Ashby/Ashburnham this fall, mostly as a way to brag about my awesome family, but also to show off a hidden treasure in our neck of the woods for the interested hikers.
The gateway to the main trail is a monolithic, multi-ton split rock, which, quite frankly, has that Lord of the Rings Battle at Amon Hen feel to it.  Sadly, no Uruk-Hai in sight this day, just my Fellowship.
Mount Watatic boasts an elevation of 1,832 feet, and is part of a group of summits known as the Wapack Range, which starts in Worcester County, and extends into southern New Hampshire.
Other sister mounts in this range include Mount Wachusett, which we E Streeters have run up numerous times, and Pack Monadnock, which Barry, Scott and I sorta ran up once and declared we would never do so again.  And thus far, we've held true to that pledge. (It was hellacious.)
Everything was going great on this family hike, lots of laughs, great exercise, tremendous bonding time.  And then came the behemoth in the next picture - the Midgard Serpent, the Anaconda of Ashby, Nagini from House Slytherin, Snake Plissken himself.
Not sure I've ever seen Heather and Jack move so quickly up a hill.
Here, Andrew and Katie stand watch to make sure the python doesn't make its way uphill in pursuit of the ladies.
Finally, we reached the summit
For decades, the 280+ acre mountain was used as a ski area, but that recreation ended somewhere around 1989.
Now it's just a terrific one day hike.  Moderately challenging, but very family friendly - dog friendly too!  Wasn't able to determine the meaning of the name Watatic, but I'm assuming it's of Native American origins.  Anyone?
As always, I needed to seek out the reference marker.
Walk softly, and carry a big stick.
My world
Front and back and front again, courtesy of Katie Durkin, Audubon photographer
The young lovers, ready to scale whatever mountains they encounter, together
And this last pic on our way down, I had to take/share, just because I was feeling knotty.
That's a wrap on Watatic!  Highly recommended for a single-day climb.  Just make sure to stop up top and take in the views and appreciate this wonder in our extended backyard.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Like A Rolling Stone

We could have named this blog post after any one of hundreds of Bob Dylan's greatest songs - Ballad of a Thin Man, I Shall Be Released, My Back Pages, and on and on and on.
But for a myriad of reasons,we figure Dylan's most iconic anthem - pegged by many rock aficionados as the greatest song of all time - is the one that would aptly help pay tribute to my brother, Jim Cook, who packed away his planning books and called it a day, retiring from the Lowell Plan after working in city planning for more than 40 years.  Besides the Dylan nod, the title also pays homage to one of his other favorite bands, that featuring Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and company.
But Things Have Changed, and Jimmy walked out the doors of the Lowell Plan on Friday afternoon, leaving it in the more than capable hands of incoming director Allison Lamey, along with Germaine Vigeant and Melissa Suprenant and the numerous board members of the Lowell Plan and the Lowell Development and Financial Corporation.
He was all thumbs up as he got ready to step away from his desk for the last time.  (He left rotating pics of his grandchildren as a screen saver on his computer.)
Prior to picking up the reins at the Lowell Plan, Jimmy worked for more than a decade for the city of Lowell, serving as Assistant City Manager under former managers Joe Tully and Jim Campbell.
Through a Simple Twist of Fate, he joined the Lowell Plan in 1990 and has been involved in some manner, in dozens of city projects since, including the construction of the Tsongas Arena, Lelacheur Park, and many more All Along the Watchtower.
Having known Jimmy since pretty much the day I was born - he's SIGNIFICANTLY older than me - I grew up with the non-Lowell Plan version.
For me, I recall the brother who would have his mega-sized headphones on, air guitar playing on his tennis racket, and singing into the glow-in-the-dark traffic light at the end of the pull fob that turned his overhead light on.
The problem with that story, though, was that while Jimmy was singing along to the Dylan or Bruce Springsteen song he could hear at deafening levels in his earphones, the only thing the rest of us could hear was Jimmy's voice -sans music or tone.
Trust me on this.  Jimmy's singing would make Bob Dylan sound like Michael Buble.  It was piercing.
My mother used to stand in the bedroom below Jimmy's, trying to get him to come downstairs for dinner.  She would take the pole end of a broomstick and bang it against the ceiling to capture his attention.  Her ceiling was pockmarked with dozens of indentations from the other-business end of the broomstick, battle scars of Jimmy's frustrated music career.
Eventually, my father would install an electronic buzzer that was used to great glee by all who needed to summon Jimmy away from his music.  It was droning and effective and could be heard past the ear-bleeding levels of Bruce's latest release.
Growing up, Jimmy was notorious for skipping our Sunday meals - not because of the company, but because of the food.  He usually shied away from the turkey or roast beef dinners with all the fixings, choosing instead a steak bomb from Johnny's on Chelmsford Street, a veal cutlet from Santoro's on Gorham Street, or his standby favorite, hot dogs from Elliott's.
And yes the urban legend is true.  He had Elliott's hot dogs delivered as his meal to his 1988 wedding to Candy. 
It was Jimmy who took me to my first concert - David Bowie.  And my second - Queen.  And my third - the Who (the less said about that security breach, the better).  And fifth and sixth - Bruce Springsteen.  And probably dozens more after that.
My parents are both deceased, so I think it's safe now for me to say Jimmy helped sneak me into my first nightclubs while underage.  Not for the drinking, mind you, but for the music.
Music has provided the soundtrack behind the scenes for pretty much Jimmy's entire life.
I expect his time spent listening to concert downloads and outtakes will dramatically increase now that he's going to have more time on his hands.
You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun
Look out the saints are comin’ through
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue
It's Not Dark Yet, but he's heading home, and looking forward to being able to spend time with his family, especially his six grandchildren.
Wish him well, won't you?

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Give Pierce a Chance

Time for Andrew and I to conquer one of our October mountains, a tradition we've tried to maintain off and on for many a year.
Me, I grew up with the White Mountains as part of the backstory to my summers and falls, thanks mostly to my older brother Gerry, who took me camping up there many a weekend.  Gerry and I didn't usually hike up mountains, so much as explore the trails of the White Mountains, especially throughout the Kancamagus Highway.
I've tried over the course of a few years to get Andrew (and anyone else from the family who wants to join us), to get a decent hike in every year.
Little did I know what Andrew and I would be getting ourselves into this time.
With the urging of climber-in-chief Donna Corbin, we decided to check out Mount Pierce this year.  It's supposedly named after President Franklin Pierce, the only U.S. President born in New Hampshire.
A member of the Presidential Range in Carroll, New Hampshire, Mount Pierce - known Once-Upon-A-Time as Mount Pleasant - checks in at 4,310 feet, making this Andrew and my official first 4,000 footer.  We took the Crawford Path option to work our way up.
Within the first half mile, we came across the footbridge over Gibbs Brook and its accompanying cascades.  This would not be the first water we'd see on the trail this day.  Not by a long shot.
About 2.7 miles later, we achieved the summit of Pierce.
This was not a mountain to climb or descend without the aid of some type of stick.
Behind Andrew, in the foot of the valley, is the gorgeous Mount Washington Hotel.
Despite appearances, I didn't need my stick to stay upright.  It was just a good opportunity to soak in the glorious sights.  And yes, I know I'm wearing jeans, a true climber's no-no, but there was no rain or snow in the forecast this day, so I knew I didn't have to worry about wetwear dampening my experience.
Summit-side, one of the many cairns that dot the mountaintop.
Throughout the Appalachian Trail are hundreds of these type cairns, or stacked rocks that mark many of the paths.  For actual hikers, the cairns are usual used as a navigational tool, delineating a specific trail.
Off in the distance, you can see Mount Washington way behind Andrew.  No snow on the caps this day, though there had been some there four days prior, we learned, thereby explaining the constant mud paths and trickling water trails throughout both the ascent and descent.
In the immediate background is the peak of Mount Eisenhower, about 1.6 miles away.  Had we gotten a much earlier start on the day, we could have done both summits, but alas, daylight hours were not in our favor.
Because any time I summit a mountain, I like to find the proof that I've reached the top.  Here, courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey is the elevation marker.
The father-son mountaintop combo shot -2019
The winds atop Pierce were Fierce, and absolutely required the donning of our coats.
The views atop Pierce are panoramic, and on a fall day such as this, allow you to absorb exquisite foliage palettes, and reaffirm why it's so rewarding to live in New England, which offers so many varying landscapes and adventures.
After posing for our fair share of iconic mountain men shots, it was time to head down, and this time, we opted for a different trail, one that eventually winds down to the Mizpah Spring Hut. (More to come on that)
Makeshift bridges and staircases help you navigate the extremely technical rockface portions of the trail, particularly those of steeper slope.
We made it to Mizpah (Hebrew for watchtower), where I found an information plaque with a local flavor.  One of the benefactors of the hut was a resident of Holden, neighbor to my wife's hometown of Paxton.
More than a hut, All Along the Mizpah was a great place to just relax for a few moments.   We did NOT partake in the freshly-made brownies, though they were definitely tempting.
So in trying to keep this blog educational as well as entertaining and chronicling, turns out Crawford Path is the oldest continually used hiking trail, established in 1819 by Abel and Ethan Crawford, the pioneers of the White Mountain tourist industry.
Overall, the six mile trek was quite humbling for both father and son.  It was definitely a workout for our quads, and being the runners we are, we found the differing usage of the leg muscles in this capacity quite taxing at times.
That does NOT, however, mean we weren't all-in for one of the more challenging workouts with a rewarding payoff waiting up top.  Au contraire.
Mount Pierce was definitely worth taking a chance on.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Getting Righteous

Been away from blogging for a while, but an Unchained Melody brought me back to the keyboard to share some terrific tunes from a rock and roll icon, and at the same time, fill you in on one of the better kept secrets for live acts in this area, smack dab in the home of the American Revolution!
First off, a bit of history that you not only wouldn't know, but might wish you still didn't know after reading through.
File this one under the TMI header.
Once upon a time in the summer of 1991, there was a young couple in the earliest weeks of their courting.  This pair of a Big City Slicker and a Small Town Girl had been set up on a blind date by a duo of high school friends of mine (looking at you Darlene and Nat!)
Anyway, Paxton native Jackie Nicholson was house-sitting for a co-worker in Lowell's Pawtucketville neighborhood, and invited me over for dinner- chicken parm, with especially chewy brownies for dessert, in case you're wondering. After the dinner, we watched a movie together - me for the first time, Jack for a repeat performance of Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.)
Sappy date movie, I know, but once we got past Oda Mae Brown, Henry the VIII and Tarzan being a bad guy, this particular flick also marked the first time Jack and I said "I love you" to one another. And we didn't need a pottery wheel to get there.  A turning point in our blooming relationship, yes, and from that point forward, Unchained Melody which accompanied the aforementioned pottery scene, was claimed as "our song."
It was also played for our first dance together as a married couple on our wedding day the following August, an anniversary of which is coming up in just a few days.
As luck would have it, the crooners of that Unchained Melody blockbuster tune, the Righteous Brothers, were in nearby Lexington on Sunday at Cary Hall.
And my bride and I were all kinds of down with getting Righteous along with another 800 music fans.
My workplace was well-represented at the performance hall, with Ellen Wright from Middlesex Community College's Corporate and Community Education division staffing an informational table and filling show-goers in on all things MCC.  Nice job, Ellen, and Revolutionary work from Judy Burke for linking the college up with Cary for its fall concert series!
Pete Lally, the President of Spectacle Management, which oversees the venue, along with, among others, its sister showcase in the Mill City, the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, welcomed concert-goers to the sold-out performance. 
Some Cary Hall fast-facts for you:
It was built in 1928 with a donation from the two daughters of Isaac Harris Cary, a prominent Lexington resident.  The Colonial styled building has hosted community events for more than eight decades, and is home to the Lexington Symphony.
This particular date, it welcomed the Righteous Brothers, the 2019 edition.
The original duo - Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield (seen above in the backdrop video montage) - began performing together in 1962.  They recorded together for decades before Hatfield's death in 2003.  Medley's bass-baritone voice, coupled with Hatfield tenor vocals, combined for some of the most unforgettable singles of the past half century.
Three years ago, Medley decided to "get the band back together" and recruited Bucky Heard to hit the high notes.  Heard had previously been covering a slate of Journey tunes with another band.  The pair has been touring now for three years, and is enjoying a successful extended stint in Vegas during the fall and winter months.
Heard's vocals on songs on Sunday such as Roy Orbison's Crying, and the operatic Nessun Dorma were crowd-pleasers and genuine gems.
For a flavor of the duo's vocals take a click on any of the hyper-links below for 
quick video peeks at some of the highlights from the powerful performance

The band also took a moment to recognize all of the veterans in the audience, raising the house lights and asking them to stand and take a bow.
The group then feted the veterans with a pair of covers of Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and Bill Withers' Lean on Me.

And then they proceeded to plow through a bevy of their own most memorable tunes including:

From another Patrick Swayze flick, Dirty Dancing

And, of course, the song Jackie and I had waited 27 years to see performed live

(We didn't get a chance to dance this time, for fear of obstructing others' views)

On the way out the door, we bumped into old friends and dancing buddies Chris and Jeannine Yianopoulos of Dracut, two of the many packing the rafters at Cary.

All in all, a Righteous summer afternoon in Lexington, and a perfect date with my bride.

This one's for MY Soul and Inspiration, Jackie

Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?