Walking the dog on the South Common around suppertime for the past few days has been like traversing a stretch of desert. The cut grass on the south slope above the playing field crunches underfoot because it’s so brittle. Someone once described the hillsides in California as being the color of mountain lion haunches—and that’s what big patches of the Common resemble. Kids crowd the blue-painted pool all day and into the after-supper hour. Once in a while the lifeguard whistles for order in the water. Under the pine trees and broad crowns of other trees people stretch out in what shade they can find. Through the last burst of sun clusters of hearty soccer players with or without shirts kick through the dust in mid-field. Drained plastic water jugs pile up near the benches. In a cove of trees near the pool operations building along South Street, an impromptu picnic takes place. Lawn chairs get formed up in a circle. The basketball court is quiet at this hour. The construction workers building the new sidewalk along Thorndike Street have quit for the day; their heavy equipment stays overnight on site. There’s no music even though the park is busy. Years ago, there might have been a boom-box, but everyone now has earphones and carries the music-maker in his or her pocket. These days are summer days right out of central casting, like an old-fashioned summer and maybe predictive of warmer seasons as the climate continues to change.
Was it just last summer that Hollywood was filming “The Fighter” in Lowell? The Rogers School parking lot on the Highland Street end of the Common doubled as the staging area for the film. Mark Wahlberg parked his super-expensive car in front of the school. A friend of mine at the Post Office today told me that the film is due for release this coming November. That fits with a rumor I read that the film was being postioned as an Oscar vehicle for Mark W. When I read a few of Dick’s early Tweets from Cowley’s history of Lowell, I thought of the Common, with the Eliot Church rising on the Summer Street side. The sign in front that remembers Rev. John Eliot’s work right here in the mid-1600s always makes me stop and consider the layers of history on the spot. Some of the painters from Western Avenue ought to come out to the South Common on days like this and paint fast in the open air to catch the humanity of Lowell in 2010 the way artists like Reginald Marsh captured New York City in all its rambunctious humanity in the 1930s.