Expect to See Marvels: Take a Tiny Adventure

I sat by the wide Charles River in Boston early yesterday, and listened to the gentle lapping of water on the rocks at my feet. The Red Line train trundled over the Longfellow Bridge to my right; the sailing center dock bustled with activity to my left. Traffic, a helicopter, construction sounds. My city. I hadn't expected to be downtown that morning. But it was the perfect opportunity to have a Tiny Adventure.

Michael Nobbs has been encouraging his listeners to take tiny adventures this month. For him they are a way to fuel his creativity within the boundaries of limited energy.

I consider a Tiny Adventure to be a step outside of the ordinary; a mini vacation; saying yes to the life you already live. And if possible include good food. Or at least good coffee. On my way out the door, the early morning sun illumines the familiar weeds I meant to pull. Instead I notice and stoop to their level to take a photograph. Or I pay a visit to the underside of a bridge I usually only see when I drive over it. A Tiny Adventure is a way to catch the unexpected slant of our daily round in the midst of the ordinary. (And perhaps put off the weeding.)

So I found myself heading into Boston early yesterday to take a family member to work. They'd stepped off an international flight the evening before and I thought it would bless them not to wrangle with their usual bus/train/train/walk. I also had somewhere in mind for a really good coffee to fuel their busy-day-with-jetlag. A newly favorite spot: Tatte Bakery & Cafe on Charles St.

As the traffic accumulated I realized my passenger didn't have time to come for coffee themselves but that I could deliver some to them and still get them to work early. My youngest, who was along for the ride, and I then drove Charles St (no parking), the perimeter of the Public Gardens (always find parking), and set ourselves up with a luxurious two hours on the meter. It was an exquisite summer morning and we decided to enjoy our errand. We strolled to the cafe and noted the street waking up: Mr DeLuca setting out his fruit; the pizza shop window full of neatly spaced rounds of dough stacked in trays. The slanting light illuminated the uneven red brick sidewalk and the always-lit gas street lamps glowed unobtrusively in the sun. 

Tatte Cafe is a Parisienne-style marvel of white tile, scrubbed wood tables, wildflowers, and such a variety of retro lighting. It is happily loud with morning hubbub and piled with sweet-smelling wonders. We selected a poached pear muffin, tiny and un-American, ordered a flat white, snuck some photographs, and left with our prize to walk the length of Charles Street to the river. We crossed the construction site-bounded pedestrian bridge, suspended over the curve of Storrow Drive traffic, and descended to the relative peace of the Esplanade. At the sailing center, the front office radioed my family member and they burst through the swing doors, radiant in their red uniform, hugged us, marvelled, and whisked off with the piping coffee to their first sailing appointment of the morning. Then our Tiny Adventure really began.

We sat. We looked. I photographed. We dawdled back across the bridge and back to the street. We peeked up an elegant stairway just visible through an open door; and down through an iron railing to a sunken garden with a shady pool. We noticed that the pizza dough piles were gone and the window was smattered with flour, the kneading table being right up against the glass. Hands free, I took the photographs I had 'seen' on the way down the street: the marvellous flowers in front of the vintage Post Office, the bust of a fine French lady in the jeweler's window.

And of course we got food. We sat at a high-stooled table in the heart of Tatte, played The Shape Game on index cards with ink pens that I always carry, watched people, and enjoyed our fare. I noticed that the popular muffins were all gone. A Spanish tourist borrowed one of our stools, knelt on it, and fervently photographed the attractive scene. So I photographed them. Between bursts of customers, a bored waitress behind the counter stared vacantly. I would love to have drawn her sculptural face. We continued our wander back to the car, checked the parking meter's time, and snuck into the Public Gardens for a last bit of people watching by the Make Way for Ducklings statue. Back home, the weeds no longer glowed in the early sun. It was the flat light of late morning. But the butterfly bush was alive with visitors and I enjoyed capturing them too.

Click on any image to see full-size and the whole as a slideshow:

Expect to See Marvels

I suppose I could just say, "Yeah, I dropped so-and-so off at work, got them coffee and went back for some myself. And the traffic was awful."  We don't always have time, but life holds so much more when we make an opportunity to look twice, put aside busyness, and enjoy the familiar in a new way. 

Like the characters in the 50s children's classic, Plenty to Watch, look around the edges of your day and expect to see marvels. Right where you are.

Lighting at Tatte Bakery and Cafe, Charles St, Boston

A Tiny Adventure Defined

  • Something that helps us see the world a little differently
  • Something out of the ordinary but simple and uncomplicated
  • Something you anticipate and plan, or embrace as it happens upon you
  • Includes a creative act. Record your adventure in some way: photograph, draw, film, write
  • Share what you recorded with another

(Adapted from this podcast)


I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!