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Travel: New England Traditions

Travel: New England Traditions
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by in Mar 2011

From swan boats in Boston to sugaring in Vermont, generations of New Englanders know these traditions mark the change of season.

Make Way for Swan Boats
At the Boston Public Garden, we can all be children.

Crusty Bostonians can be sentimental, too. They hang onto things for generations. That’s what has helped preserve their hometown’s architectural distinctiveness when almost every other city in America looks like Houston.

And one of those things that Bostonians hang onto is the ritual of riding the swan boats–those pretty, pedal-powered throwbacks that seasonally circumnavigate the manmade pond at the center of Boston’s lush and beautiful Public Garden.

People who once rode these icons with their grandparents now take their grandchildren. And kids who live in an age of Xbox like it, primed by the Robert McCloskey classic Make Way for Ducklings and excited by the real-life mallards and swans sharing the lagoon with them.

“We got so close to the ducks that we could see their flippers,” gushes 7-year-old Elisabeth, who’s just gone for a ride with her second-grade class. She saw the lagoon’s two swans, too, she says, but “the swan on the boat was too proud to answer.”

It figures. When Robert Paget designed the first of the swan boats in 1877, laying boards across two rowboats, he was inspired by the Wagner opera Lohengrin, in which a knight in shining armor rides a boat drawn by a swan. So for his own version he had a copper swan made to hide the pedal-powered paddlewheel.

Today there are six boats in service, the granddaddy of the fleet now 93 years old. They’re still driven by pedal power (though the swans are fiberglass). And the fourth and fifth generations of Pagets run the concession, which operates from Patriots’ Day weekend in April till mid-September.

“One of my favorite places to stand is at the exit on the dock,” says Lyn Paget. “People are out there only for 15 minutes, but in that 15 minutes the experience they get is the same experience people have been getting for 135 years.”

She pauses. “There aren’t a lot of things you can completely replicate from your childhood,” she adds. “This is one you can.”
–Jon Marcus

A Taste of the Growing Year
Flower shows give us our first blast of bloom.

For New England gardeners, flower shows are our sneak previews. We flock to the interiors of convention centers, warehouses, basketball arenas. Outside, the weather’s usually bad; indeed, we prefer it that way. We’ll wade through deep snow if necessary, our tickets already in hand, eager to get inside, ahead of the crowd.

A few feet past the entrance, though, we stop, stunned by a blast of bloom, overwhelmed by this tsunami of green. Add the burble of falling water, the cooing of doves, the scents of lemon blossoms and eucalyptus, rose geranium and damp ground, and we forget that the floor is concrete, the sky a maze of ductwork and spotlights. This is our first taste of the growing year, and it nearly chokes us.

What to look at first? Some turn left, others right; children disappear, to be found only later, happily watching butterflies or koi or Lady Amherst pheasants. There are scores of gardens, and every one, large or small, woodland or patio, vegetable patch or parterre, is perfect. Every leaf is in place; spires of delphinium and foxglove reach for the sky; streams cascade over rocks and magically return to their starting points.

We see it and we want it–that’s the exhibitors’ art. And the vendors’, too. When we’ve examined every rose-covered pergola, each flowering tree, the water lilies and the bonsai, when we’re sure there’s nothing we haven’t seen, or bent to smell, we wander off down the aisles of offerings. We stop and admire a greenhouse the way someone might a luxury sedan at an auto show, but, being New Englanders, we settle for buying a single gardenia blossom the way our fathers always did.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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