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The real Santa Claus came to Bolton, Massachusetts today!
We all know that Santa hires "Mall Santas" to go around and represent him during this busy season. But that didn't happen today in Bolton. Yes, I was granted an early wish as the real Santa decided to make a surprise visit to Bruce Slater's Great Brook Farms. And there were none of those pesky photographers to get in the way of my own camera and Santa. Bruce's wonderful store was filled with happy children and adults. There were cookies and candy canes and hot cider and a fireplace. What a wonderful treat!
If you have never been to Bruce's store, you should pay a visit. We had met Maria, the new chef, last year and tasted her wonderful german cooking. So we had to try her pulled pork BBQ. We got a pound to go and it was fantastic. Many of you who live around here are probably familiar with Firefly's BBQ in Marlborough. I almost always get their pulled pork platter and had thought it was great. But the pulled pork from Bruce's was quite a bit better. I could taste the smokey flavor of the pork and the sauce was less sweeter and more spicier than Firefly's. It also wasn't swimming in sauce. It looks like we are about to have a new weekly takeout habit.
So back to Santa. Was he really the genuine article? I am well aware that many decry the Santa tradition as detracting from the religious aspects of the season. Perhaps they feel that Santa is part of the "commercialization" problem of Christmas. Still others feel that Santa is a great big lie and that we harm our children by letting them believe in the lie.
There's a word that describes these people: humbugs! What's wonderful about being a child is that you still have your imagination! As we grow older, this is one of the first things we lose, right along with our childhood innocence. But is what we imagine not real? Do children end up traumatized because their parents perpetuated a grand lie for so many years? Silly! Dr. John Condry of Cornell University interviewed more than 500 children who learned "the truth" and there was not one child who was angry at his or her parents. The most common response was that children felt more mature. My own experiences attest to this finding. We have a Christmas Eve tradition of over half a century of dressing up as Santa for the family and handing out and opening presents. Two years ago my oldest daughter knew it was me and helped me dress that evening. She felt so completely special. She had "grown up". If anyone should be traumatized it should have been me the parent. But even that I cannot complain about because it makes me proud to see my children reach new stages in life.
I haven't yet reached the point where my children don't believe in "The Real Santa". And, truthfully, I hope I never do. What's special about Christmas and Santa is that they are within us. In our adult hearts, I believe we mourn that we lost our gift of imagination and our ability to believe in things beyond ourselves. This is the lie. For it is a fact that there is much that exists beyond us. Yes, it kills me to not be able to tell my daughter that the new microscope came from me. But it also makes me happy at the same time. What keeps this tradition going is that as adults we desperately want to believe!
Christmas doesn't have to be about over-commercialization. Years ago I would have a tradition of frantically shopping one or two days before Christmas and would wrack my brain trying to figure out what to buy for everyone on my list. As I got older, things changed. The spirit of giving is with me quite a bit. And now I regularly see or think of things that would make my loved ones smile. They don't need to be expensive gifts or require trips to a crowded Walmart on Black Friday. This is one of the wonderful advantages of the Internet. You can shop from the comfort of your own home. You can save money and repurpose items from Ebay. Or you can even make your own gifts. The spirit of giving is really what Christmas is about for me. It's a spirit that should be with us all year long. Christmas gives us an opportunity to renew that spirit.
So, Christmas morning I will come downstairs with the kids and my wife (and my mother-in-law) at 6am. They will open presents. I will show them the half-eaten cookies on the kitchen table and the carrots on the back deck.
And I will smile.
While I am a Dad now, I still believe. For what I didn't tell you was that Santa today pulled me aside and told me to take the letters my children brought for him and put them in their stockings on Christmas morning. I know this Santa cannot go to every house in the world. He needs parents like me to help him do his work. So, why do I believe? I kept looking over at Santa today. He was so kind. He had such a mellow voice. He had a real and old beard! He smiled! He seemed so genuinely happy to be around all the children. He greeted each child in such a special way.
And I kept looking and sneaking a peek.
As we were preparing to leave, I looked once more and Santa gave me a wink!
He knew I believed.
External Link: Great Brook Farms
Many of you have probably heard of the famed Arnold Arboretum in Boston. When we were living in town, we frequently made trips there and the highlight was the annual lilac festival, the one time of the year you were allowed to bring in food. Probably less famous, even to those who live around here, and certainly smaller, is the Acton Arboretum. Situated on 64 acres near Acton Center off Taylor Road and Route 27 (Main Street), it's an oasis even for an area that has lots of conservation land. It's also inspiring. The gardens have given me ideas for what is possible on my own property and it may do the same for you. For those of you looking for prime portrait locations for your family, this place cannot easily be beat. There are a fair number of apple trees which is a first hint of the history of the land. There are daylily, hosta, herb, wildflower, and rhododendron gardens as well as a newly planted lilac garden. Specimen trees dot the landscape, though they aren't as rare or numerous as their cousin in Boston. There are small ponds, climbable trees, stone benches, and more.
The upper gardens are most active and visible. The paths that wind into the woods and transport you to other beautiful gardens are somewhat hidden and add to the mystery of the place. There's also a relatively new footbridge that winds over streams and through wooded wildflower garden that is currently being worked on. This trail connects to the Highland Loop which leads to a secluded bog (another piece of history). Further hints of its rich history are the stone walls and the old foundation surrounding the herb garden.
I have heard some comment on dogs running loose. They should come to Stow's Delaney Project where you cannot help but step into dog poop and the trails are rundown and dusty. This is absolutely not the case here. The people are friendly and the dogs are friendly and mostly they are on leashes and if not they are responsive to their owners. People pick up after themselves as there is no litter anywhere even though picnics are allowed and there are several picnic tables available for use. It's completely free to the public.
The arboretum has a rich history which you can find on the member application on the site linked below. In short, during the American Revolution it was owned by Joseph Reed who fought at the North Bridge and the Battle of Bunker Hill and came home to a heroes welcome: most of his land was sold for nonpayment of taxes! It seems like we are doomed to repeating history as our heros of today frequently come home from war with similar tales. What was left of the land was later sold to the Tuttle family who grew and sold cranberries and apples for over 100 years. The Town of Acton bought the property in the year our country celebrated is bicentennial (1976) and in 1986 at Town Meeting it was designated as an arboretum. It turns out the two arboretums, Boston and Acton, are somewhat related. I am told by Joan Yatteau of the Friend of the Acton Arboretum that the former director of the Arnold Arboretum, Dick Howard, retired to Acton and helped in the early stages of development. In addition, two students at the then Landscape Design seminar at Radcliffe College helped to develop the master plan as part of their degree program. What a wonderful story of a wonderful project!
Image: Allium is a member of the onion family and is particularly attractive to shoot. Here, I was giving my friend Larry some pointers on how to use his new Nikon D200 with my Tamron 90mm/2.8 Macro lens.
External Link: Acton Arboretum Official Site