Friday, May 29, 2015

Honeysuckle at Work

The car windows were open, the scent of honeysuckle flowing in with the early morning air. So when I was walking to Metro yesterday, on impulse, I snatched a sprig of the plant and took it to work.

I almost forgot it when I arrived at the office. The stem had gotten wedged in a nether region of my bag, the newspaper and file folders of papers almost burying it.

But it revived when I stuck it in some water, and I stationed it as close to my nose as possible.

All day long the honeysuckle brought the outside in. I would catch a whiff of it when I was on the phone or sending an email, when I was reviewing notes for an article I'm about to write. And every time I would feel my shoulders drop a little in response.

It was a busy day, trying in some ways. The scent of honeysuckle helped me through it.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Now You See It ...

Walking to Metro this morning I noticed a rubble-strewn lot where a block of low-slung buildings used to be. They were ugly little buildings but still ... they existed — and now they do not.

Change is our reality, our destiny, what must be embraced.

I wonder if walking helps us better withstand the inevitable comings and goings of life? Not that there's anything especially marvelous about walkers, of course, but because we are bopping around all the time we are also looking around all the time. We notice the old cars and the new shutters. We see the world in all its transitory glory.

The empty lot I passed today will one day be an apartment or office building, part of the new development taking place near the Reston Wiehle Metro station.

Or take this scene. Every day construction workers dismantle more of the barrier wall for I-395 near my office. Eventually they will install steel beams and girders and a new neighborhood will rise over the top of a busy highway.

Now you see it and now you don't. And walkers see it (or don't see it) first.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015


We have come to that point in the month, in the season, when blossoms hang heavy over fence rows and window boxes; when the air itself has taken on the heft of summer and given up the thin, clear bell tones of spring.

It's always welcome, this time of year, as if we have been waiting to get back here forever, as if this is the season, the only one. And in some parts of the world it is. I can say this now having been to a place where heat and humidity are a way of life, where some people have never worn a pair of closed-toe shoes.

But in those places, in warm places, there is not the same glad recognition of difference we have here. There is not the memory of frost-hardened ground when digging in the warm soil of spring. There is not the acrid taste of snow displaced by honeysuckle on the tongue.

So here we are, finally, in this season of abundance. Stay a while, I want to say, holding fast to the profusion, knowing as I do that holding on defeats the purpose.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

That May Morning

When the weather is exquisite, most any walking path will do. I put this philosophy to the test a few days ago and did not find it wanting.

I started from a Target parking lot, a paved path around a containment pond where there was immediate gratification in the form of a trilling mockingbird. The bird perched on the lower limb of a small, low tree, which gave me a chance to stand and watch (as well as listen to) his performance. I almost clapped when he was done.

The path led to a new concrete sidewalk along a two-lane road. It was the kind of area we have many of in the suburbs, the kind you drive past on your way to somewhere else, the kind filled with self-storage units and auto body shops.

A sad little road if you were traversing it on a gloomy March afternoon. But on a sparkling May morning, the water spurting up in the sterile office park pond could have been the Trevi Fountain. That's how intoxicating it was to be alive and walking on this late spring day.

(Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Art of Eating Crabs

Yesterday there was a graduation in Maryland, so after the congratulations and the photographs and the appetizers it was time for the main culinary attraction — that would be the Maryland blue crabs.

They start off blue but by the time you eat them they are red from the steaming and the seasoning. And eating them is an art. First you pull off the legs, then you find a little tab on the underside of the shell that opens up the critter — almost like a can with a pop top. Then you scrape off the gills and eat the meat inside. You save the claws for last, cracking them with a nutcracker or pounding them with a mallet. The meat is delicious!

Yesterday I sat next to some accomplished crab pickers who made the difficult look easy and left a pile of picked-clean shells. "Eating crabs is not just about eating," said one of the experts. "It's about sitting around and talking, the whole experience."

And this was true. Because it takes so long to eat a crab — and because you have to eat so many of them to fill up — the meal is long and the stories fly. We talked about history and the Bible and Willie Nelson and the singer Meat Loaf, the stories unspooling, the crab shells flying and the perfect May day winding down into dusk.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Still Life

Still life at dawn. It's happening as I type these words.

While I think and pause, fingers above the keys, the morning proceeds as it always does.

Writing imposes order on chaos — or it often seems that way. But nothing can compare to the order of the day, to the reliability of the silent house, the roiling tea kettle, the first birds, the shapes emerging from darkness.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Running Late

I have a watch with more beauty than brains, a timepiece whose oblong shape distorts the minutes and even the hours. Glance at it quickly and it's easy to think you're running late.

But when its strap broke last week I missed it more than I thought I would. Even a vague notion of time is better than no notion at all. I was reduced to taking out my cell phone (usually tucked away in a sleeve of my purse) and glancing at its digital display.

Doing this got me thinking about how much harder it is these days to say "I lost track of time." Most everyone has a cell phone, and cell phones not only tell you precise minute and hour but they also automatically spring ahead or fall back. What has happened to immersion, to flow, to losing oneself in a task?

My watch is back in business now, but the questions remain.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Posture of Africa

The motions of weeding are simple: Reach, grab, pull and throw to the side. The question is whether you perform this operation standing up, kneeling or sitting down. Given the buggy nature of the territory, given the topography of my garden (the weeds are scattered across a wide area rather than concentrated in one patch), I decided the other day to weed while standing.

This entailed not just standing, of course, but bending and straightening. And bending and straightening. And bending and straightening. And ... you get the picture: Now I can barely bend or straighten at all!

Which brings to mind not just the weakness of my flesh but also the posture of Africa. My visit last winter was brief but long enough to see that the average Beninese spends much of his or her time bending over to wash clothes, sweep or tend a fire.

The Africans I met have no need of exercise classes or Fitbits. No "Absession" or "Buns, Hips and Thighs" for them. They walk to the pump, tote the water, pound the yams. They bend and crouch and stoop all day long. And when they wake up the next day, they have no trouble getting out of bed — if they have a bed to get out of, that is.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What Light Reveals

Already the sky is lightening. The birds — not just the first, brave one, but a chorus of them by now — are making dawn an aural as well as visual event.

I revel in the extra light — and the warmth and humidity that go along with them. But it struck me the other day that early mornings this time of year resemble a public beach at low tide. The waves pull back to reveal not just a whelk or a sand dollar, but a sandwich wrapper and a bottle cap. The flotsam of the day, that which is better left hidden.

Early light shows us the dog walker in pajamas, the late-arriving teen, the neighbor dashing out in robe and slippers to scoop up the morning paper. It shows us the blurred eyes of the commuters; in fact, it makes our fellow passengers on the platform more individual and real because we see them as more than just vague shapes.

I have this thought every year, appreciating the mercy of darkness, its absolution. Some morning duties — even and including the trip to work — are best done under its cover.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Reston Walk

On Saturday I walked a Reston trail, leaving from the park-and-ride lot, traipsing along Lawyers Road for a few hundred feet and then entering the sort of alternative walker's universe that exists off-road in many places — if we only know where to look for it.

It was muggy and still with sunlight moving across the paved path like swells on the sea. Cardinals and robins darted in and out of the bushes or soared from one tree perch to another while a crow cawed plaintively in the distance.

A well-trod dirt footpath angled off the main trail. It looked so inviting — like the road to an enchanted castle in the forest — that I just had to take it. I strolled alongside yards and houses, past tennis courts and pools. I crossed two streets and interrupted more than one spiderweb before I reversed course and walked back the way I came.

It was just as special going the opposite way, with fetching twists and turns, a tiny bridge over a mossy-rocked brook, and newborn plants in secret gardens. It was proof to me of nature's variety, and proof too that if we look for a place to walk one we can usually find one.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

A Fuller House, Again

The house is asleep in a way it can only be when there are young people inside. The kind of oblivion they can muster spreads through the walls and settles on an older inhabitant, makes me feel drowsy too, like I could easily crawl back under the covers and sleep for a few more hours.

I marvel at the way a house can change its moods and mettle. Is this serene room the same one that housed a playpen in the corner? Or an impromptu dance concert on the floor?

I grew up in several houses; my kids have only had this one. To them it will always be home. But to me it is many homes.

It's the place we moved with a six-month-old baby, certain we'd made a mistake, that it was far too much house. But it's also the place that seemed impossibly crammed eight years ago, stuffed full of kids and books and clothes and shoes.

The clothes and shoes, they will always be with us, but the children, they are gone. Even the one who's asleep upstairs is gone, though she's here for the summer. I know how the empty nest can fill again and I won't be surprised if this one does. What I marvel at is the constancy of the dwelling as life swirls in and around it. Sometimes I just sit here and try to take it all in.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Parade of Humanity

It was one of the crazy-quilt walks that make you glad to be living and breathing on this earth. It is Police Week here in our Nation's Capital, and E Street was clogged with the men in blue honoring their fallen comrades. I strolled past police of every stripe and family members wearing t-shirts with slogans like "In Search of Heroes." I stepped over wires and past big banks of lights; noticed a box of white candles and another of red roses.

By Seventh Street I'd moved on to the hustle bustle of Chinatown and Penn Quarter. Feeling flush, I pulled two dollars from my purse to buy a copy of Street Sense, a newspaper written and sold by the homeless. My salesman was hawking another publication, too. "I used to be a cowboy," he said, "and I've written this book. You can buy it on Amazon."

Turning the corner I found myself in the middle of a line of wheelchairs; maybe these folks were heading to the Police Memorial, or maybe they were bound for the corner, where they would buy a book by a homeless cowboy poet.

As for me, the work day was draining away. In its place was a parade of humanity— and the precious walking time to take it in.

(View from another D.C. walk.)

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Foxes

We were in a stand off, the fox and I. He had darted out from a small stand of trees in the neighbor's yard, angling to cross the street and enter the woods beyond. I was in his way.

For a few seconds we took each others measure. I saw a sleek animal with perky ears and a bushy tail. He saw a long-legged creature with wires coming out of her ears. Neither of us was going anywhere.

I thought about my initial few fox sightings in this neighborhood, maybe half a dozen in the first 10 years. Now I spot a fox every few weeks. And last month, on one of the first warm days of spring, I saw a den of baby foxes a few feet off the Cross County Trail. They were sunning themselves on a rock, clambering over a tree trunk and batting at each other in a most fetching way.

Will foxes soon be as common as deer?  I hope not. I hope they stay elusive and cunning, playful and bold.  I hope they stay wild — for at least a little while longer.

(The baby foxes are in the center of this photo; you have to zoom in.)

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Happy Birthday, Dad

Dad would be 92 today; it's the second May 12th we've had since he's been gone.

Looking for a picture to post, I came up with this one. Dad with his brother Kenneth, who was 12 years older and a model to Dad in many ways. Uncle Kenneth took a teenaged Dad on a trip out West in 1938. They saw Mt. Rushmore — before it was completed.

Sons of an itinerant minister and one-time railroad man, these boys got the traveling gene. Between the two of them they racked up most of the 50 (then 48) states and many countries. They even traveled together as adults, visiting London and Paris and Copenhagen.

I like to think of them together now, faces young and unlined, smiling in some heavenly version of a selfie, about to jet off to a place that none of us still-living folks can even imagine.

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