Friday, November 9, 2007
Now that the baseball season has ended with that special hometown team of ours sweeping the Series, those of us who are avid Red Sox fans can finally get a good night's sleep and refocus on some of the important issues facing our town. (Let's hope that next year the games won't start at 8:30 p.m. and run, sometimes, past midnight.)
There is a lot going on in Carlisle these days — planning for footpaths along the sides of the roads leading out of the center of town; the appointment of a Town Honor Roll Committee by the Selectmen to study how to revamp the Veterans Memorial on the Green; concerns about school building projects both in Carlisle and at CCHS, as well as the problem of what to do with the 1908 Highland Building on the school campus; development of affordable housing on the Benfield Land and resolving the Coventry Woods 40B project which seems to be caught up in litigation. And overhanging all of these projects is a potential revenue shortfall.
The Pathways Committee is meeting with town center residents to work out the details of constructing pathways along Concord and Lowell Streets. I hope that this committee, which has been pushing ahead on bicycle/footpaths for the past 12 years, will find creative ways to solve easement and surfacing issues and finally be able to give Carlisle a safe, walkable town center.
The recently formed Town Honor Roll Committee will be looking into what type of Veterans Memorial should be erected on the Town Green. There are those who wish to preserve the wood and glass structure, while others have proposed a new granite-style structure. Upgrading the type of wood and glass structure that we have now would qualify for CPA "historical" funding.
A serious question is whether to build a new school in Carlisle for $30 million to replace the aging Spalding Building, while at the same time replacing the decrepit Concord-Carlisle High School for $100 million, of which Carlisle's share would be about $17 million after state reimbursements. Can Carlisle handle such expenses? And what about the former Highland School, which many feel is a historic site that should be preserved? There is an architect living in town who has studied the school building dilemma and believes there might be a way to renovate the Highland Building while connecting it to the Robbins Building for school use. Another suggestion is that it be turned over to the Carlisle Historical Society and perhaps renovations would also qualify for CPA "historical" funding.
The Housing Authority is making headway on the 26-unit affordable housing project to be built for seniors on the Benfield Land on South Street. Chair Alan Lehotsky reports that the group is looking for a New England architect and hopes by late winter to have picked a design. Already people have signed up on a waiting list to be considered for residency. The Coventry Woods 40B Development off Concord Street, on the other hand, is under litigation, with three suits pending. One wonders what the costs will be to the town.
Finally, according to Tim Hult, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, we will be facing a short-term revenue shortfall, caused in part by a slowdown in new construction. But looking beyond next year's balance sheet, a slowdown of growth could be beneficial. New residents require new services, including more police, more teachers, and at some point, an expanded school. Carlisle should not be dependent on tax infusions from new construction, but learn to live in a slow-growth or no-growth environment. Meanwhile, we move ahead on a challenging array of issues and problems.
Carlisle: Are we living in paradise? (and how would we know?)
We live in desperate times: discord between faculty and administrators at the school, plans for new school buildings, more 40B housing, rush hour traffic in the town center, rising tax rates, rising school costs, regional drought, tumult in the financial markets, ongoing foreign wars.
Yes, we live in desperate times, unless, that is, we are living in paradise: tendrils of morning mist on the Concord River quieter than the untroubled ripples from our canoe; the fiery leaves of the first-turning maples standing in golden swamp grasses; sunset on the Cranberry Bog where the dark bodies of geese glide down from the luminous sky to land with an unseen plash on the black waters of the holding pond.
If we turn our gaze backward, Carlisle of old seems even more Elysian — a virtual Valhalla unplagued by development and environmental degradation; a Shangri-La of open fields and farmhouses where the youth of the town held socials in kitchens under the benevolent gaze of fond, non-competitive parents.
But then again, present times are not so bad. After all, the Red Sox are world champions now, if only for a brief year. The Patriots are apparently on another victorious course. When have times been better? How about just three short years ago — 2004 — when the Sox and the Patriots won it all. Do we really want to go back to, say, 1986, the last year the Celtics prevailed (and the Sox — I can still see the Buckner Bobble in vivid, endless detail)? And it's not too hard, for those of us who have seen a thing or two, to imagine telling a grandchild about those first years of the 21st century when New England was the land of champions, we still drove our own personal cars, and Logan Airport had not expanded to Hanscom Field and Foss Farm.
So which Carlisle do we live in? The tranquil beauty of a rural town on a hill, rich with health and quiet breathing? Or the crabbed streets of fiscal and social restraint, where ingenuity and self-reliance barely keep out the rising tide of civic destitution and decay. Or are both worlds eternally present, each shot through with echoes of the other?
I teach a course on the Bible, and of necessity one of our first readings touches on the Garden of Eden, which scholars translate as "delight." There are other biblical paradises: the land flowing with milk and honey, the Galilee of Jesus, the New Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation. The first three have vanished, lost mostly to human error. Adam and Eve did not know where they were, of course, until they were banished. The moment we become aware of perfection, perfection fades. Paradise, the Bible seems to say, lies behind us, or before us, but never precisely with us. Human sentience, then, not labor or childbirth pangs, dooms us.
I write this during the remnant wind and rain of Hurricane Noel that has altered into a nor'easter off the Atlantic coast. All morning in the grey light leather-colored oak leaves have scudded by the window on muscular gusts to land on lawn and blueberry bush. Golden pine needles have been raining on the bright green grass. Somewhere a bough breaks off; a weakened trunk twists open and the heartwood fractures. The interwoven vines have withered, and the dark oaks have now mostly scattered their high-held baskets of leaves. The green world lurches once more to desperate ruin.
And yet, amid the general destruction, the hearty leaves of Japanese maples still flare blood red, and the fire bush and rhododendron still glow thickly green. So we arrive once more at the bountiful thanksgiving of bare November perishings.
© 2007 The