Christmas in Cambridge MA

I hadn’t been back to the States in 5 years, so I planned Christmas with family in Massachusetts for 2021.

Despite, and perhaps because of all the Covid constraints, it was one of the best holidays I’ve had.

I flew Lufthansa, leaving through Germany (thus adding an hour to my flight time), and experienced a delay in the first leg, from Marseille to Munich. The airline personnel shepherded us 5 French passengers briskly through Munich airport to make our connection to Boston, for which we were very appreciative.

I arrived in Boston with no problems (I had correctly filled out the myriad forms necessary these days!). The 23rd of December in Boston was very cold, and it snowed that night. Our first excursion, for Christmas eve, was to dine at my nephew’s (Nicolas) wife’s (Ellen) parents’ home in Providence, RI, a bit over an hour away. We started the day with everyone taking Covid home tests to ensure everyone’s health. We piled into the family mini-van (we were 7, including the two sons, Adrien & Davin, and my two sisters, Suzanne, who lives in Cambridge, & Cathy, who had flown over from France earlier) for our first foray.

On the way down to Providence was a spot we targeted for a winter hike and tailgate lunch: Jamestown, Rhode Island, where my father’s parents had a summer home, and we 3 sisters had spent our childhood summers. We drove to coastal Beavertail, where we used to picnic, which now has been designated as a State park.

Despite the chill and snow, we happily re-discovered this beautiful and rugged piece of New England’s shoreline. It was utterly unrecognizable to us, who only knew it on summer evenings, now covered in snow with silver solstice skies.

My great-nephew Adrien is an avid birder, and informed us about the birds we saw. There were hundreds of winter sea ducks, among them eiders, harlequins, surf scoter, buffleheads and mergansers. There was an soft whistling sound (sort of like whale song) coming from the rafts of ducks. Searching the internet for an explanation, I found that there is a sub-species of whistling ducks, of which the Harlequin is one. I presume the Harlequins were the source of the eerie soundtrack.

We tramped along the coastline, looking out to sea (Beavertail faces not only the Naragansett Bay but the Atlantic ocean as well) and getting very cold. I loved the austere landscape of canted, black sedimentary rock, the grey Atlantic, and the distant horizon. Though I really don’t care to live in cold climates, I am ironically most attracted to the landscapes formed in these places.

Christmas Eve with Sharon & Dan and Ellen’s brother’s family was warm and welcoming, and crowned with a splendid array of sushi. As wonderful as the Mediterranean cuisine can be, I sorely miss Japanese fare.

On Christmas day, as well as several other holiday days, we walked along the nearby “Rail Trail”, a “Greenway” that runs west for 48 miles. We only explored the Alewife brook section, which offered pleasant pathways along and over small ponds. The weather had turned milder, but when we first visited, a thin layer of ice still covered the waterways. Ducks and Swans provided unwitting amusement as they skated over the surface, poor things. Yellow, golden, and feathery brown shrubs populated the winter trail, along with red-berried bushes, all of which created a harmonious palette.

Also within walking distance of North Cambridge is the Mount Auburn Cemetery, where ostentatious Boston-Brahmin tombs dot a beautifully landscaped natural zone. Once again Adrien embellished our experience by identifying the many birds that take advantage of this city sanctuary.

On New Year’s Eve, we made an excursion to “World’s End” (how many of thus-designated places are there in the World?) in southern Massachusetts. A narrow peninsula reaching out across Massachusetts Bay, this park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 19th century. Built by glacier-formed drumlins, the park has grass-covered rolling hills and silvery salt-water marshes. We were blessed by the same weather we had the whole Christmas week—misty, white-skied and still. apart from some blurry New England mansions on the near shores, this made for perfectly- obscured views of what would normally be the Boston skyline, which suited me fine: I could pretend we were in someplace far, far away from the human presence.

We saw both sea- and land-birds in the mixed habitat, most spectacularly, a peregrine falcon perched atop a bare tree (I saw it dip its wing, for some avian reason, into the sea). Another lunch in plein air and home again.

There was plenty of bird action back in Cambridge, thanks to Adrien’s many feeders (and a freeze-proof bird bath!). A flock of rambunctious robins dominated the bird water. House finches, sparrows and tufted titmice populated the feeders; bluejays emptied the peanut department. We even were treated to a tiny Carolina wren hopping along the back porch floor.

I had planned to take the train the New York City for a few days, but Covid complications put the kibosh on that. Thus were my holiday plans simplified. Spending time catching up with family, preparing meals together and going for hikes around Cambridge turned out to be the recipe for a very satisfying trip.

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