Moving at a different pace in Boston

Moving Field Guide at the Boston Nature Center

Campers travel like seeds in a Moving Field Guide at the Boston Nature Center. Photo by Jessie Scott.

Every time I make my way to Boston I’m always charmed by the historic and stunning architecture, the quiet coffee shops and bakeries, and the comforting sounds from the occasional sea gull. This is, of course, only one side of a busy city and I’m quickly reminded of how anxious I feel when behind the wheel and navigating the other cars, buses, bicycles, and sometimes people that dart out in front of oncoming traffic to make their way onto their destination. It’s definitely an urban environment, perhaps not quite as fast-paced or as loud as others, but still very, very urban. But if one drives away from downtown, not too far, you can stumble upon parks and outdoor centers and green spaces that provide more than an escape from the hustle and bustle: here we discover new ways of connecting with where we live and resurfacing some of our histories that have been forgotten or built over.

Circling up to start a Moving Field Guide at the Boston Nature Center. Photo by Jessie Scott.

This past week, Cassie and I had the chance to head up to Boston for a few days to do work in some of these outdoor and community spaces. We had a similar trip about a year ago, both thanks to one of our partners from the US Forest Service: Jessie Scott. Jessie’s official title is Urban Connections Coordinator. In his own words, he connects people. This time Jessie connected us to the Melnea A. Cass center and the Massachusetts Audubon/Boston Nature Center. In both places, Cassie, myself, and our constant friend and partner from the US Forest Service Mark Twery, facilitated a few different Moving Field Guides to youth and educators of all ages.


At the Cass center our Moving Field Guide took us through a large, local park; an interesting site to witness both our natural and built environments coexisting. It was clear that this place was a gathering for the nearby neighborhoods, as we shared the park with young men playing basketball, older men and women sharing stories on benches, and even a woman who insisted on chatting with me while walking her dog (and while I tried to build a dance with about 6 young boys). Our other site, the Boston Nature Center, was home to a summer camp program in which our Moving Field Guide was one of the activities scheduled. Spanning two days, and groups of young movers ages 5 to 14, we went on three different Moving Field Guides and hiked their ‘Snail Trail.’ Each of these walks produced new discoveries: in what information the youth were bringing to the walk, the ways in which the information was translated into movement, and the choices made when shaping their dances.

Moving Field Guide: Melnea A. Cass Center// Boston, MA from Dance Exchange on Vimeo. Videography by Mark Twery.

Towards the end of our walks at the Boston Nature Center, Mark would bring us to a large Sugar Maple tree. Here, we would discuss the history of that place and all of the things that this 150-year-old tree might have seen. This really put things in context for me. All of the beautiful spiraling vines, and sumacs, and native and non-native plants that were in this park were so young compared to this tree. I imagined the hospital that existed before the nature center, and the farm that stood there even before the hospital. Time became something that was intrinsically connected to place, and I was even more drawn into the details of the canopy of leaves, the sky, the ground, and all of those people there with me.

Off the trail Cassie and I had a full schedule too. One evening we were able to have dinner with former DXer Peter DiMuro, who now is in a leadership position at the Boston Dance Complex in Cambridge. After giving us a tour of his new dance home, I was again drawn-in to the history and beauty of place, this time captured through the architecture. The care, and detail, and specificity that went into the making of these buildings reminds me of a term I’ve heard primarily in reference to more natural environments: ‘slow growth.’

It’s this sensitivity to time and place that I’ve brought home with me from Boston. Over Labor Day weekend, I’ve gone to gay softball games, spent time at home nesting with my dog Lucas, and walked down many of DC’s streets drinking in the details of row-homes, bars, and stunning museums and monuments. It’s brought a new appreciation for where I currently live and a fascination with what has come before, what is happening now, and the potential of what could happen here at home. After a long day of Moving Field Guides and sunshine, Cassie said, “How lucky are we that we get to be outside and in places like this. There’s not enough of that in the world.” I think she’s right. Even if the place is your own backyard, being somewhere that asks you to consider the history and futureness, in addition to the now, is a rare treat.

I’m happy to be home, moving at a different pace, and I look forward to another trip to Boston…and more breakfasts at Flour.

About Matthew Cumbie

Matthew Cumbie (Associate Artistic Director) is a dance artist and collaborator who currently lives in Washington, DC.