Monday, December 8, 2014

Local ski hill

This is the local ski hill in my memories of Danvers. This is where I learned to ski. This is where I skied for years and years with family and friends.

I love this 1954 photo, which captured the scene very well. The photographer (David Brewster) was standing on the flat area at the top of the slope – the place where we started each downhill run.  Last year his son Dave digitized his father's old slides and shared this with me. Such memories!

The rope tow ran along the right side of the open slope. In the photo I can see (faintly) a few bodies coming up that tow, and I know that the little figures at the bottom of the hill are approaching the rope and getting ready for the up-hill ride.  The rope tow engine was, in those days, a Model T Ford that sat in a shed at the top of the hill, behind and to the right of this photographer.

The view here is eastward, towards (unseen in the distance) Summer Street in north Danvers. On the right in the distance would be the St. John's Preparatory School property; on the left, Bishop's Meadow. By 1971, bulldozers and other large earth-movers were re-shaping this landscape, preparing to build Route I-95.

This ski slope disappeared in the construction.  In fact (I discovered today while staring at a Google map of the area) I-95 now runs right through this location, though hundreds of feet lower. Much of the hill, containing good gravel, was re-distributed elsewhere, leaving behind a valley and a much steeper slope on what was left of the old hill. That new slope dropped 300 feet, my father said. He attempted to ski there, but highway officials discouraged the practice.

What hill was this?  We called it "Locust Lawn" because of the old estate that had once been built there. Some people called it "Nichols Hill" because so many generations of our family had lived on or near it. Older maps mark it as "Dale's Hill," probably for a similar reason. Today the fragment of it that remains is called "Conifer Hill."

Update: On Thursday December 11, 2014, the Danvers Herald published my column about skiing on this hill. The online version was posted December 14. See  Remembering Danvers: When family ran local ski hill.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Seasonal change

The first real snowfall of the season arrived the afternoon before Thanksgiving, transforming our neighborhood into a bright, white wonderland. I had barely had time to roll up and put away the hoses that had, in the previous season or two, been handy for transporting water from our rain barrels to our lawn and garden.

This seasonal transition, and the way it almost catches me unprepared (even though the general timing of it, in the big picture, is quite predictable), reminds me of the old days in Danvers. My mother used to comment about the overlapping of the seasons. She meant particularly the seasons of my father's favorite sports: sailing and skiing. There was a scramble each fall to get ready for ski season because he'd continued sailing until the last minute. Getting the boat hauled out of the water, brought home from Marblehead, and stored in the barn took up some of the weekend time that otherwise could have been spent in ski-trail maintenance and preparation of the rope tow. (My family ran the ski tow at Locust Lawn Ski Club in Danvers). The same problem happened each spring. My parents loved spring skiing, and delayed preparing for the sailing season, causing a last-minute scramble to get the wooden sailboat ready for the first races in Marblehead.

I am writing a column this week about skiing at Locust Lawn, remembering the fun and convenience of that local ski hill.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Gingko trees

These bright yellow ginkgo leaves caught my attention yesterday near my home in western Massachusetts.

I recently enjoyed an illustrated talk about the history of the ginkgo tree by renowned botanist Peter Crane, Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, and former director of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. He has written a book,  Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot.  I attended his talk because I was curious to learn whether a story I'd heard in my childhood contained truth or not.

A large ginkgo tree grew near our home in Danvers. I liked its fan-shaped leaves, which were unlike those of any other tree.  Its name was also unusual: "gink-go."  I never had trouble remembering the distinctive name of this tree with such distinctive leaves.

My mother said we were lucky to have only one ginkgo tree. With multiple trees we might have to contend with stinky fruit. She said it was important not to have male and female ginkgo trees in the same neighborhood. Then there would be fruit. Huh?  I couldn't quite believe her. That idea was just too strange. As far as I knew, trees were not male or female. (But I kept my thoughts to myself.)

Dr. Crane confirmed that there are male trees and female trees, and the ginkgo fruit has an unpleasant smell. My mother was right. Ginkgos are unique trees, unrelated to any other trees living today. They have a very long history, and many examples have been found in fossil records around the world.

Personally, ginkgo leaves are special to me for another reason. Beautiful yellow ginkgo leaves have been selected by my daughter in northern California as a backdrop for many photographs of her children, starting with this one of her first child at age one week:

I'll fly to California this week to join him for his 9th birthday.  Perhaps we'll play together in the ginkgo leaves.