The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 23, 2006


A new stage of life

Four teachers retired this week from the Carlisle Public School, as teachers have done ever since one-room schoolhouses dotted the town's roads and fields. But retirements, then and now, are as different as slide rules and computers.

Old Miss Wallace, who taught your mother arithmetic, might have enjoyed her remaining years rocking in her rocking chair, but that scenario hardly fits today's active retirees. My neighbor, a recently retired teacher, observed that, "65 is the new 43," meaning that he and his colleagues in their 60s are fit, alert and looking forward to another 20+ years without lesson plans, correcting papers, attending meetings and waking up to the alarm clock.

Carlisle's latest retirees — Philip LaPalme, Carolyn Platt, Sara Bysshe and Tom O'Halloran — are the last of 13 teachers who, in 2002, accepted the early retirement incentive option in the Carlisle teachers contract. They say they look forward to family time, travel, visiting museums, gardening, golf, fishing and catching up on reading for pleasure.

These days, retirement isn't only about golf and gardening, though. It's about having choices, lots of them, and staying active. Perhaps in an extension of the American work ethic, teachers choose to tutor kids, edit textbooks, consult with educational organizations, and still find time to take courses in European history and volunteer at church or in town government. Blessed with high energy levels, good health and financial stability, some teachers carry facets of their profession into retirement. LaPalme, for example, is considering getting his personal trainer's license. Music will continue to be part of O'Halloran's future — teaching, playing in orchestras and mentoring the new music director at the school. Platt will consult, but it is a "very tiny thing" that will not conflict with her plans for travel.

This is not to suggest that retiring teachers should not enjoy their golf games and travel. Almost everyone in the work force envies their free time and wishes they too could retire. But when it comes right down to it, a part-time job with flexibility for the leisure activities retirees have so richly earned can provide spending money for that long-awaited trip to the Grand Canyon or the Grand Cayman Islands.

Positioned right behind this year's cadre of retiring teachers is the first wave of baby boomers, who are creating even more choices for their active retirement. They have no intention of taking it easy. In fact, a recent University of Michigan survey showed that the percentages of boomers who expect to work past normal retirement age — continue to rise. "[Boomers] are actually creating something entirely new a stage of life that hasn't existed before," said one commentator

Carlisle retiring teacher Sara Bysshe took a measured approach to her future: "I will not do nothing, but will not rush into anything." That sounds like good advice — something a favorite teacher might have told you.

This our fathers did for us

A few weeks ago the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF), the private, non-profit land trust for Carlisle, held its annual meeting. It was, as usual, a low-key event, everybody in jeans and khakis, with trail walks and bird watching, kids and grownups taking a spin on the pond in kayaks, then gathering for lemonade and ice cream from Great Brook Farm, an informative speaker on the agricultural history of the spot, and plenty of friendly town gossip amid the intermittent line of showers and quickening northwest breeze that kept the mosquitoes at bay.

The ordinariness of the meeting was highlighted by the many other people using the property at the time, walking around and through the meeting, sometimes stopping to listen, more often looking quizzically at our group on the knoll as they passed. The obviously heavy use of the property, and the matter-of-fact way users encountered each other, spoke volumes about the success of this particular experiment in the co-existence of open space conservation, public access and agricultural use, just as the authors of "A Pattern Language" imagined in pattern #7, The Countryside.

The property is the Cranberry Bog, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary as a town-owned agricultural and passive-recreation property. Encompassing approximately 300 acres in Carlisle and Chelmsford, and abutting as it does the State Park, the Cranberry Bog is one of the glories of the Carlisle landscape. Whatever the season, it is a place where the visitor breaks free of the forest long enough to see the passage of time in the weather and the wildlife. The encounters with snakes, dragonflies, muskrat and red-winged blackbirds are both expected and surprising. The intensity of the goldenrod and purple loosestrife against the green backdrop at high summer, and the pink-red of the cranberries carpeting the water at harvest, transfixes. The scent of fox grapes on the crisp air after the first frost and the honking of wild geese circling down to land on the pond at dawn, after a hard night's migratory flight, transports. The living connection to the agricultural past, as farmer Mark Duffy hangs on through the wild swings in the cranberry market and the squabbles over water rights in Chelmsford, is tangible. The bees coming to and from the hives and the friendly encounters among dog walkers from many surrounding communities add a metronomic regularity. Cross-country skiing over the dikes and through the pines at the end of a winter blizzard takes one out of time entirely and into another realm.

When the Cranberry Bog was purchased, state funds were expected to help defray the expense. For a variety of bureaucratic, jurisdictional, political and personality reasons, that didn't happen. So for years the purchase of the Cranberry Bog was second-guessed as a kind of failure, or at best considered an embarrassment. Twenty years on, as the purchase bonds have been paid or nearly paid, we can see more clearly. The acquisition of the Cranberry Bog was a bargain and a defining moment for this community. We forget, at times, the painful births of great public lands. The development of Central Park in New York, the creation of the National Forests and the purchase of Alaska were each treated in their way as great public folly at the outset. That period is clearly past for the Carlisle Cranberry Bog. While some of those who labored to preserve this land for agriculture and wildlife and public access still remain among us, let's acknowledge what they achieved. As John Ruskin put it in another context, "See! This our fathers did for us!"


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2006 The Carlisle Mosquito