Cold Common

Cold morning. Glove-cold. Bright clear sky. The blue-disc sun is warming if you step into its 98-million-mile-away rays, exactly, but otherwise the air is frigid. This is weather for staying in. I didn’t see any random walkers in the South Common Historic District. One man in a jacket over hooded sweatshirt bent forward a bit as he carried two large handled bags down Highland Street.

On Gorham Street, next to the former rectory of the Church of St Peter, there’s a remnant of the church with historical references in stone. Sometimes in the early morning or on weekends I walk into the parking lot where the church once stood and try to imagine the huge structure that once enclosed that volume of space, which on the ground doesn’t feel as large as it was when it was contained within granite walls under a soaring ceiling and retained much of its openness inside. Without the enclosure, the parcel of land becomes another related place in the area of streets and sidewalks, building frontage and landscaped plots. It’s the church of open air now.

That will change when apartments are built on the site. A different purpose will be delivered to the land. New residents will join the neighborhood. The space will be taken up by smaller structures, stacked for efficiency, one atop another. The character of the piece of land will change, but the memory of past use will remain. With digital technology, some day soon it will be easy to pick a location and see the various iterations of activity that occupied it. With a laptop or hand device at home or on site with a smart phone you will be able to click through something like the visual biography of an address to see what and who was there as far back as the records go. You’ll be able to reflect on who else felt a cold February morning like this one in this place, 50 or 150 or 500 or 5,000 years ago—who else passed through this small piece of the Earth with a mind in motion.

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