Walking the Cape Cod Rail Trail

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Shortly after dawn on Sunday, Daniel Dejean and I set out to walk the Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT), not just to walk on the trail, but to go the entire 22.3 miles.

I like to walk long distances at a brisk pace, but I was worried about going with an accomplished marathoner, one who would probably be bored with my pedestrian pace. But Daniel seemed quite happy to walk instead of run.

In the beginning we had the trail to ourselves. Perhaps others were deterred by the hour or the temperature just below freezing? In any case, it was heavenly. We enjoyed the exercise, the views, and the conversation. For equipment, we took along one not-smart phone and a fancy watch that didn’t work.

Taccuino Sanitatis

Taccuino Sanitatis

For six hours, we saw a side of Cape Cod that you miss completely if all you know is Route 6, the beaches, or the residential streets. Since the trail is elevated, it offers a better view than that afforded by many forest trails. We saw natural wetlands and cranberry bogs, salt marshes, meadows, forest, creeks, the bay, and the back sides of houses, churches, and businesses. There’s a winery that I didn’t know about.

We talked about what we each liked and didn’t like about life on Cape Cod, music, art, movies, growing up, religion, Borges, Deleuze, Piaget, and OULIPO. We also had good stretches of silence, just listening to the birds and the wind, or walking without listening at all. Amazingly, we avoided the political discussions that seem to dominate the ordinary day.

A long walk imbues your body with a rhythm that offers peace and balance. We joked about Daniel’s fancy electronic watch, which told us all kinds of things, but seemed incapable of  communicating the time of day. We saw it as very postmodern, or perhaps Buddhist, in its rejection of our chopped up daily lives.

Setting out

Setting out

Our overall pace was 3.6 mph. That’s faster than Google walks, but still fairly relaxed. Around 17 miles we each began to feel the stress on our bodies. Daniel revealed that he feels the stress at the same point when running a marathon. It’s interesting that it occurs at the same distance, but of course half the time when running.

As the sun rose, we began to see more people. There were people walking their four-legged masters, babies in strollers, people in wheelchairs, couples, groups, and solitary walkers. Each of them were experiencing a slice of Cape Cod that is hard to find in any other way.

I don’t know that any of them planned to walk the entire route as we did, but I’m sure they each felt some degree of balance as articulated by Taccuino Sanitatis. This is an 11C Arab medical treatise by Ibn Butlan of Baghdad which sets forth the essential elements for well-being, including balance of activity and rest, food, fresh air, and state of mind. Daniel pointed me to that.

Before the railroad came, Cape Cod was accessible only by boat or stagecoach. Passenger rail service from Boston to Provincetown started in 1873 and became a major factor in the Cape’s growth as a summer resort area. But when the car bridge over Cape Cod Canal opened in 1935, passenger rail service soon came to an end. The cars were a boon for tourists and tourist services, but they also began to destroy much of what makes the Cape so special. Residents and visitors who see the Cape mostly from their cars or selected recreational areas miss a lot.

The rail corridor was purchased by the Commonwealth in 1976. A portion of that was converted to a rail trail, which now runs from South Dennis to Wellfleet with side trails going off to Chatham and other areas. Daniel’s uncommunicative watch told us that the trail on the rail bed was a way to step back in time, to connect to some of that earlier Cape Cod life, and to experience a more balanced way of life.

What do Boston & Cambridge have to say to Champaign Unit 4?

violin_may06Ann Abbott inspired me to say more about the connections between the Boston desegregation experience in my last post and that of Champaign Unit 4.

I’d have to say that Boston is a good example of how not to do it. As I said in that post, Judge Garrity made the correct, and only legally justifiable decision, but rulings alone cannot accomplish much if there is widespread resistance, especially from political and religious leaders, school officials, and media. The racism thwarted integration of the schools, and in the process did major damage to the school system and to Boston as a civilized city.

In contrast, just across the Charles River, Cambridge managed relatively successful desegregation during the same period. Cambridge adopted a “freedom of choice” or “controlled open enrollment” desegregation plan in 1981. Parents would specify a list of  the schools they wanted their children to attend. Their preferences were followed as long as explicit desegregation controls could be maintained. There were no guarantees of attending any particular school.

Graham_parksBecause the program was coupled with interesting magnet programs at every school, there were many viable options for families. As parents we almost welcomed the fact that we didn’t have to make the final choice between the Maynard School’s dual language (two-way Spanish-English bilingual) program, Tobin’s School of the Future, with innovative uses new technologies, the Graham & Parks Alternative Public School, with its open education plan (see mural above), or the closer by Peabody, Fitzgerald, or Lincoln schools, each with things to recommend it. It helped that Cambridge did not have the urban sprawl of midwestern cities, which meant that unlike Champaign, Cambridge offered several schools within walking distance.

Although not without its problems, this plan was effective in substantially desegregating Cambridge schools, and maintained public support and involvement with the public schools. It’s not surprising then that Robert Peterkin, Superintendent, was called in as a consultant on the similar plan in Champaign. The story in Champaign is still unfolding (as it is in Cambridge and Boston as well). But if I had to draw lessons today from these three experiences, I’d say that it’s essential for Champaign residents today to avoid the disastrous path of resistance that Boston experienced

champaignThe Champaign school district has been struggling to address concerns such as too many black students in special education and discipline referrals; too few in gifted and honors classes; and black students being bused out of their neighborhoods. Responses such as denying the problems or siting new schools outside of black communities (though still technically north side) remind me of Boston’s response. Everyone would benefit if the school system and residents were to embrace not only the technical details of the Cambridge (or similar) plan, but also the spirit that saw how desegregation could enrich the learning for all.


Don’t blame Judge Garrity for the failure of school busing in Boston

W. Arthur Garrity Jr., the federal judge whose order to desegregate Boston’s public schools triggered mob violence and an image of bigotry in the city that prided itself on being the cradle of American liberty, died Thursday of cancer.

Garrity’s death at 79 came two months after the Boston school board voted to end busing for integration, 25 years after Garrity’s order launched a tumultuous period in the city’s history.

via W. A. Garrity; Judge Desegregated Boston Schools – Los Angeles Times.

garrity1I moved to the Boston area on the first of June, 1974. On June 21, Judge Garrity filed a 152-page opinion, in which he ruled that the School Committee of the city of Boston had “knowingly carried out a systematic program of segregation affecting all of the city’s students, teachers and school facilities.” The ruling was unanimously affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals. It ordered the School Committee to desegregate Boston schools by instituting student assignment, teacher employment, and facility improvement procedures, as well as the use of busing on a citywide basis. When the Committee failed to present an adequate plan the court assumed an active role in in the desegregation, a role that continued for fifteen years, my entire time of living in the Boston area.

The Community Action Committee of Paperback Booksmith, a bookstore in the area, published the decision in 1974 as The Boston School Decision. Publishing a lengthy court opinion may seem like a foolish business decision, but it was in fact a courageous and consequential act to inform the public debate. I still have my well-read copy.

Following the decision, there was resistance, violence, and white flight. When regular drivers refused to drive buses for schoolchildren out of racism or fear for their own safety, brave people, such as my friend Henry Kingsbury, volunteered to take their place. Given all that and the fact that 30 years later, the Boston schools had become even more segregated than before, one might consider Judge Garrity’s decision to be a failure. A persistent myth arose that this was an example of social engineering gone awry. For example, Bruce G. Kauffmann, in “Judge took Beantown for bumpy ride in 1974” describes it as “a liberal judge’s infatuation with experimental social engineering programs.”

school-busBut Garrity was both courageous and correct. The problem was not his, nor anyone else’s, attempt to engineer social relations. For twenty years after the Supreme Court had ruled that the legal maintenance of segregated schools violated the US Constitution, and even more, the fundamental values of the United States for simple justice, the Boston School Committee and other political leaders steadfastly resisted every attempt at incremental reforms. Ideas about placement of schools, magnet programs, voluntary busing, and so on, which might have led to gradual and peaceful integration, were subverted or outright blocked.

The decision demonstrates conclusively that the School Committee had consistently and deliberately acted to thwart Constitutional guarantees of equal rights, not only maintaining the “separate” aspect of Jim Crow, but failing also at any semblance of the “equal.” Schools designated for Black children were not just segregated, but denied resources in terms of teacher preparation, class size, curriculum, materials, physical plants, and other necessary tools for learning.

Given the entrenched racism, and the clear history of subversion of basic civil rights, Garrity had no choice. Unfortunately, the failure of leadership in Boston, both Black and White, pro-and anti-desegregation, led to undermining Garrity’s decision and the earlier Brown V. Board of Education decision.


Garrity, W. Arthur, Jr. (1974). The Boston School Decision: The text of Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr.’s decision of June 21, 1974 in its entirety. Boston: The Community Action Committee of Paperback Booksmith.

Weinbaum, Elliot (2004, Fall). Looking for leadership: Battles over busing in Boston. Penn GSE Perspectives on Urban Education, 3(1).

The birth of computer networking

I had arrived at Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) in the summer of 1971, knowing of the important work there in artificial intelligence, computer simulations in psychology, and natural language understanding. But I understood only vaguely the explosive potential of the work on computer networking.

Computer Networks – The Heralds of Resource Sharing was a movie made to accompany the public demo of the ARPANET at the 1st International Conference on Computer Communications in Washington DC in October, 1972, about a year after my arrival. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t finished in time for the demo, but it was released before the end of that year. I didn’t have anything to do directly with the movie or the work described, but knew many of the people and projects that are featured.

The movie represents both a thoughtful account and a primary source itself for the general history of computing and communication. It also tells us about successful collaboration–how participants at the time themselves described it. I think it also gives a good account of the motivations behind the ARPANET, forerunner of the Internet, and a good basic description of how it works.