Urban Explorations

Being of the moment, now


Soon the child’s eye is clouded over by ideas and opinions, preconceptions and abstractions. Simple free being becomes encrusted with the burdensome armor of the ego. Not until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has been withdrawn. The sun glints through the pines, and the heart is pierced in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise. After that day, we become seekers. – Peter Matthiessen

Years ago, I caught a vague, gossamer glimpse of the man I was to become. Or perhaps I should say the man I am still striving to become.

In The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen sought peace and self-reflection in the upper Himalaya. The book changed my life, planting the seed of desire to fashion my own writing on his elegant prose, and more importantly, to go to Nepal.

And now, decades later, I’ve done both those things and continue to seek out Matthiessen’s writing for inspiration and guidance. I turned back to The Snow Leopard again over the weekend as Meenakshi and I took our bikes out for the first ride of the season with Janelle and her brother Aaron and their friend Courtney.

Matthiessen had passed away the day before and though I had never met the man nor heard him speak, his death weighs heavily on me.  The kids tear heck over the pedestrian bridge that spans the Merrimack River, yelling and pedaling hard, April wind blowing warm and thick though the city valley. The trails are packed this day; punk kids testing their summer attitude, families blinking at the sun, wondering if this really is the end of this long winter and runners of all shapes and sizes in jeans and tech gear huffing along the path.

Manchester is never going to be mistaken for anything but a bump in the road, an old red brick rest stop. But today anything seems possible.

Meena pulls up next to me and we watch the kids, all pinks and purples and blues, oblivious to the graffiti; in their hearts there is nothing but speed and young muscle and joy.

We all stop for a moment a watch a ragged flock of pigeons floating on wires above the low river, the city our backdrop. But the kids are noisy and the birds want nothing to do with us. And I think of a quote from Matthiessen:

“Where to begin? Do we measure the relaxing of the feet? The moment when the eye glimpses the hawk, when instinct functions? For in this pure action, this pure moving of the bird, there is no time, no space, but only the free doing – being of this very moment – now!”

Being of this moment, now. The birds fly off and so do we. The raw power of the bike under my feet, the pull of the water below and the pure simplicity of  human experience surround me. I’ve found now in many places in my life. I’ve found it in the view of Mt. Everest from the top of an icy ridge and in the look in Janelle’s eye as a bright green grasshopper lands on her hand. I’ve found it in the streaks of red and green of my wife’s wedding sari and in the taste of a simple cup of coffee on a cobblestone street in Rome.

But it is elusive. Oh, how I wish that now could be with me all the time. But today at least, I’m here, in the moment, and I’m just a sliver closer, perhaps, to Matthiessen’s words. I roll with those kids, and with my wife, and the sky is blue and our shoulders ache and I think maybe this is what he meant all those years ago. I think of that writer, up in the silver hills of the Dolpo following the Snow Leopard’s tracks – I think maybe this is what he felt.

Maybe now… is just peace.

Categories: Press and Promotion, Updates and Plans, Urban Explorations | 2 Comments

Toddler days; we start ’em small here at Buffalo and Tough Cookie central

Enjoying fall at the edge of Tower Hill Pond in Auburn.

Enjoying fall at the edge of Tower Hill Pond in Auburn.

Happy Monday everyone! Janelle and I took the whole gang out for a hike in Auburn on Sunday, traversing the nearly five-mile Tower Hill Pond Trail in some fantastic fall weather. It was good to get outside and feel the pleasant creep of sore feet.

Meena came, and Janelle’s aunt Beth and her friend Peter. But most gratifying was the presence of toddler Josie. It was her first hike and she loved it. (And even hiked some of it!) And with no baby backpack at our disposal, when Josie got tired we just carried her, which gave our arms and shoulders a good work out as well!

Winter might be just around the corner, but New Hampshire is working hard to keep it at bay just a little longer. If you’re looking for a mostly flat, beautiful leaf-peeping hike here in the southern part of the state, it doesn’t get much better than Tower Hill.

If you go: Tower Hill Pond and the trails around it are used in the winter for snowmobiles, but are perfect now for mountain bikes, jogging or hiking.

Directions: Take Route 101 to Exit 2. Follow Hooksett Road to Old Candia Road. Take a left and go under the highway and up Tower Hill Road. There are three main trailheads on the other side of the tunnel. All of them will lead you to the pond.

Tough Cookie and Peter help toddler Josie up the incline to the pond! Go Josie!

Tough Cookie and Peter help toddler Josie up the incline to the pond! Go Josie!

Categories: Urban Explorations | 1 Comment

Urban Explorations: The Manchester Ledge pulls us in

Disapproving of the "art" that now covers the ledges.

Disapproving of the “art” that now covers the ledges.

“Ugh, it smells like sewage combined with that Massachusetts seashore smell,” Janelle says.

I have to laugh. “What, like dead fish?”

She nods and holds her nose.

We are deep in the man-made slash that used to be the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company quarry. They smashed granite out of this earth to build their mills 150 years ago. It is a strange, mysterious place, a football field worth of ravine carved out of the granite. The chopped walls, now covered in graffiti, rise up around the bowl. In some places, like where we were able to scramble down into the ditch, the walls are only six or ten feet tall. In other places, the cliffs are sheer and easily 50 or 60 feet high. According to the history of this place (or legend, in a place like this the difference between history and legend is thin) the bottom of this pit was much deeper once. It was filled in about 30 years ago to keep kids from diving into the sitting water from the cliffs above; keep them from doing this because there were drownings.

This is a scar, still fresh and angry. This is the place where the city came from, where after the quarry closed a swim club called the Brownies would perform dives for crowds; a place where teenagers did and do come to play and sadly sometimes die, and now nature slowly, painfully stretches out to try to reclaim what we took.

It could be a beautiful place, like a mini Flume Gorge. It has that potential, that air of natural wonder, even despite its proximity to a ski hill and reservoir. But instead, typically, Manchester has left it to its own devices. After removing the stone and filling it in, after shutting it down and off, after trying with no success whatsoever to keep people from coming here, the Granite Ledge struggles once again against encroachment; this time against graffiti and litter. Piles of spray paint cans and energy drink bottles are strewn throughout the ravine, floating in green slimy outflow bubbling up from some hidden cavern below and trickling down toward the row of homes that line the western end of the gorge.

Janelle and I swing around the eastern side of the bowl. Looking up from the bottom we can see the electrical wires and tow lines from the ski area. The pool of sitting water that remains is mostly slush now, and the retreating winter is uncovering all manner of peculiar objects: tennis balls, paint trays, brooms, a football. We pick our way to the other side of the ravine and look up at the cliffs that give The Ledge its moniker, and I talk to Janelle about The Brownies. The daredevil divers would leap from the cliffs above into holes cut in the ice below. Their strange antics caught international attention and crowds in the thousands would gather along and around the cliffs to watch their ice shows.

Now, just ghosts. And litter.

After a while, we scramble back up a short section of wall, complete our circuit of the ravine and leave The Ledge to time once again. Along the way, we fill our daypack with as many empty bottles and as much garbage as we can safely tote out. We stop at the playground to toss the garbage and Janelle makes a beeline to the monkey bars. I join her and we swing around for a while, filling our lungs with spring air, considering the place where we just came.

“Not bad being out here,” I say hopefully, “any woods is good woods?”

She smiles. “Hey, for a Thursday after school, I’d say it’s pretty great.”

Inside the bowl

Inside the bowl

Tagged ledges

Tagged ledges



Categories: Urban Explorations | 7 Comments

Urban Explorations: Making a Point to visit Massabesic Audubon Center

A thick fog shimmers in the camera flash giving Battery Point an eerie look. Janelle takes pictures of the ice

A thick fog shimmers in the camera flash giving Battery Point an eerie look. Janelle takes pictures of the ice

As evening settles and an already deep and eerie fog appears to thicken and congeal around us, the girl is most interested in the ice.

There at the glorious tip of Battery Point at the Massabesic Audubon Center, we have the icy lake to ourselves. Almost on a whim, we decided to take a late-in-the-day hike; homework finished, house chores completed, mostly everybody else watching football.

A wide, well graded and straightforward trail led us down to this place. The high temps and odd fog have turned some parts of the trail into a snowy soup. No snowshoes were needed, but the slushy mix makes the hike longer than it normally would have been. The center is located on an old farm on a peninsula of land that narrows down into the main body of the lake. Now, as Janelle explore the point, I open a thermos of tea and sit back and breathe deeply.

Battery Point used to be a grand picnic spot, with a pavilion that looked like a lighthouse and comfort areas. Now, only the brick pillars near the water remain. The rest of the point is open grass. For an amazing vintage shot of Battery Point, click here: Vintage Battery Point

The lake is not quite frozen enough to walk on. It looks like a patterned quilt in bumpy shades of blue. I can see the pull the lake has on the child as she scrambles down near the shore, getting as close to the patchwork ice as she can to take pictures or just find peculiar ice formations.

“When can we walk on the water?” she asks over her shoulder.

“Another couple weeks anyway,” I say. But if weather patterns continue like this, who knows, maybe never. “Tell you what, we’ll bring two cars next time and hike out here, then walk across the lake to a car and drive back.”

This works for her. “Watch this,” she says. She’s pried a helmet-shaped chunk of ice off a rock and tosses it into the lake. The chunk shatters, but cracks the water ice into thin beautiful ribbons that spread out over the lake surface like a deep blue spider web.

“Whoa, cool,” she says. Then pauses. “Guess it is too thin to walk on now.”

And so the afternoon goes. We have headlamps so we’re not concerned about the dark, and as we make our way home, Janelle occupies herself with creating “snow-cones” by wrapping icy snow in fallen leaves.

“Why do you like ice so much” I ask her.

“I just like water. ” She shrugs. “All kinds of water.”


Audubon Center trails are well signed.

Audubon Center trails are well signed.

If you go: The Massabesic Audubon Center is located in Auburn, just off Route 28. The center itself is free, though it was closed during the time we were there. Trails are accessible even after center hours, however. Park in the lot across the street, walk straight up to the main doors and turn left toward the open field for trails. There is a kiosk nearby with trail maps. For more information or hours, the center’s link is here: Massabesic Audubon Center.

Our hike: The Yellow Trail to Battery point and back. Trailhead is near the kiosk.

Our miles: About 3.4

Pictures link: Massabesic Aububon Center, Battery Point

Want to see a really cool pic of what Battery Point used to look like: Vintage shot

Categories: Urban Explorations | Tags: | 6 Comments

Urban Explorations: First snowshoe of the season at Piscataquog River Park

Janelle and Meena motor down through the new snow in Piscataquog River Park.

Janelle and Meena motor through the new snow in Piscataquog River Park.

The pull of fresh, unspoiled snow was too strong to resist Sunday so Janelle, Meena and myself headed out to Piscataquog River Park for our first snowshoe of the season, and Janelle’s first snowshoe ever! The half-foot of fluffy stuff was perfect and Janelle took to the different type of hiking fairly easily. We practiced turning and hill climbs, with only a minimal amount of falling face down in the snow. Here’s a little photo essay of our hike. If you’d like to see more pictures from the day, follow this link: Piscataquog Snowshoe Hike

If you go: Piscataquog River Park is a little known jewel in Manchester’s outdoors crown, but the park is getting more popular every season. A good starting point to explore the park is West Side Arena. From there to the Merrimack River, a paved and graded trail runs about two miles through woods and backyards. Plus, side paths lead down to the Piscataquog River from various points in the park.

Janelle practicing her hill climbing.

Janelle practicing her hill climbing.

Heading park the baseball fields.

Heading past the baseball fields.

Showing off her mad snowshoe skills.

Showing off her mad snowshoe skills.


Upcoming adventures: One of our New Year’s resolutions is to improve our running and track skills.

So, with that in mind, Buffalo and Tough Cookie (along with Meena and Aaron) will start 2013 by running in the Millennium Mile in Londonderry, a one-mile downhill sprint.

The race is a great way to begin the new year and we’ve love to see you there. Come run with Buffalo and Tough Cookie on New Year’s Day. The race is free for kids 11 and under, and only $15 for adults.

Hey, it’s only a mile! You can run a mile, can’t you? We’d love to see you. Here’s a link to the website and registration area: Millennium Mile

Come run with us!


Categories: Updates and Plans, Urban Explorations | Tags: | 9 Comments

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