Friday, April 17, 2015

Compressed

Our late start spring means daffodils and cherries and pears all together.  It means the new spring green of the tree buds popping quickly, banishing winter grays and browns in 24 or 48 hours.

Wood poppies join the sweet woodruff. Forget-me-nots crowd the periwinkle.

It's compressed, intense, riotous. It's spring, finally.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Capitol and the Copter

I'm setting aside other post ideas today to write about one of the zanier things that's happened lately in the nation's capital. I speak, of course, of the 61-year-old mailman who landed his gyrocopter on the west Capitol lawn to draw attention to the need for campaign finance reform.

The Secret Service didn't intercept him, nor did NORAD. People in the area (if only I had been on one of my Wednesday walks!) told the Washington Post that the craft looked official with its Postal Service logo. Only when officers surrounded the craft did one bystander realize that "it was someone doing something crazy."

When I lived in New York, people were always doing crazy things. Now that I live in buttoned-down D.C., the crazy things happen less often but are more notable. A farmer driving a tractor to the Mall and threatening to blow it up. A number of White House intruders, one of whom made it all the way to Obama's quarters before being noticed. An intelligence agency employee who accidentally crashed a drone on White House grounds.

I'm tempted to say "only in D.C." ... but I won't!

(The lawn in the foreground = copter's landing pad.)

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Truth and its Consequences

The Nobel Prize-winning author Gunter Grass died in Germany on April 13. His obituaries note the profundity of his novels as well as the shameful secret he carried into his late seventies: that Grass, the moralist who scolded Germany for its Nazi past, was himself a member of the SS.

Years ago I read The Tin Drum, which hardly makes me an expert on the author or his work. I write this post only to mention a comment (quoted below) that I read in his Washington Post obituary — that whether you praise or condemn Gunter Grass, his secret past may well have been what inspired his art.
"If Grass had not been living with this wretched little skeleton in his closet, he might never have written a word," journalist Nathan Thornburgh wrote in Time magazine in 2006. "Instead a haunted Grass cranked out a series of brutal novels about the war [that] helped his entire country stave off collective amnesia for decades."
Such is the power of art to wound, to salve, to ignite, to free.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lincoln Cottage

One hundred and fifty years ago today, President Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater. He was carried to a house across the street where he died hours later.

I pass the theater often on my walk home from work, pass it without looking, without thinking, pass it apparently without photographing it — since I've looked through all my photos and can't seem to find one picture of the place.

The house above meant a lot to Lincoln. It was his getaway, his Camp David. Now called the Lincoln Cottage (located on the grounds of the Soldier's Home), it was where he escaped from the city to write, to think, to spend time with his family. He would sometimes ride the three miles from the White House to the cottage unaccompanied — and he survived at least one assassination attempt en route.

Death was in the air here, too. The Lincoln Cottage was located within the grounds of a military cemetery and fresh graves were being dug at an alarming pace. But Lincoln treasured the relative tranquility of the place and wrote the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation here. This humble house gave him peace.





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Monday, April 13, 2015

Smooth Move

This week Metro returns to automatic train control on the Red Line. Sounds insignificant — but it isn't. Since the accident in June, 2009, that killed nine people, Metro conductors have used individual controls for stopping and starting. And stopping and starting. And stopping and starting.

Which means that some operators hit the right point on the platform first time around, and others — uh, do not.

Which means that some passengers keep on reading the paper, using their phones, playing Sudoku, while others — the ones with weaker stomachs — sit very still and hope for fresh air soon.

The automatic train control promises a less herky-jerky traveling experience. Legato not staccato. But this will be available only on the Red Line (which shares no tracks) until 2017, when the Orange, Silver, Blue, Yellow and Green Lines follow suit.

I ride the Orange Line for a dozen stops, the Red Line for two. I can't wait for my short, smooth ride.




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Friday, April 10, 2015

Chilled Blossoms

The cherry blossoms will peak this weekend, but I was downtown yesterday. So I hiked over to the Tidal Basin in the cold mist. And once there, I walked all the way around it, because that is what you do — even if it's 45 degrees.

There was the same beauty, the same pageantry, the same fairytale canopy of white blossoms to stroll beneath.

There was a couple posing for an engagement photo, shivering in a sleeveless dress and thin cotton shirt while the photographers shouted at them to embrace one more time.

There were three guys snapping shots of a pair of tennis shoes atop an ancient gnarled trunk.

There were clots of tourists at the predictable places, the Martin Luther King statue and the Jefferson Memorial, following guides with furled umbrellas.

But because of the weather, there was also space, open pavement, more than one empty straightaway.

The blossoms, mostly open, entirely chilled, looked like they'll last forever. But I know better. This time next week, they'll be gone. 


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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Warming Up

Yesterday's walk was cold and damp. Tourists were unprepared, wearing thin windbreakers and cotton sweaters with no buttons. Anyone who had a hood was wearing a hood. It was that kind of day.

I had 30 minutes and wanted to make the most of them. And it wasn't actually raining (as it is now). What else to do but walk as fast as I could without running, stoke the human engine? Pull my hands into my sleeves, cinch the belt as tight as possible... and go. 

Traffic lights work against this process, since it's all about momentum. But once I was on the Capitol grounds I was warmed up within minutes. 

The transfer of movement into heat is one of those daily miracles. Yesterday it came in very handy.


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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Inside Out

I write from home this morning, not always a given these days. What I see as I look at the French doors is a reflection of the piano light, the only one I flipped on this morning.

If I were to sit here long enough I would see that light, and the open music book (Schumann, "Forest Scenes") it illuminates, fade away. In its place, the cloudy day outside.

It's not unlike a church at night, stained glass windows gleaming into the void. Dark on the inside without the sun to flood through them.

From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. we see ourselves; from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. we see the world. At this time of year  an equal measure of both. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Baltimore Before Breakfast

Yesterday I drove Celia to campus after a quick Easter visit. We left before dawn and I was back in my home office as the work day started.

A drive that early seems almost not to have happened. As the hours passed, as I wrote and edited and answered e-mails, snatches of those highway moments  slipped into my brain unbidden, like the vaporous trails of dreams scarcely remembered upon waking.

Was I really just rounding the curve after the split? Did I zoom over the Patuxent River, which I vow to explore more thoroughly every time I cross it? Was that lumbering car trailer alongside me for far too much of the way? The tunnel, the straightaway, the toll booth? Yes, yes and yes.

But by nightfall those early hours had left a weariness in my bones. The morning drive was real, for sure. Today, just the usual jaunt on Metro, a much tamer way to start the day.

(This is not the road to Baltimore.)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Monday

Yesterday passed in a blur of family and friends, of early rising, early church, roasting and baking, stirring and stuffing. For many, today is a holiday, a day off work or school, time to ease back into ordinary life, to put aside the apron — or the bunny ears.

Claire and Celia assure me that no animals were harmed in the taking of this photo — unless you count excessive treat consumption as harm.

We have often wondered if Copper feels embarrassed by some of the costumes imposed upon him through the years. The only one we were sure about was when we dressed him in a hot dog costume one Halloween. That was ... until yesterday. These bunny ears are a close second.

(Photo: Claire Capehart)


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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Poised

On a walk yesterday I saw the forsythia, its stems plump with blooms held in check. I saw the red furze of the maples budding. The few daffodils were hanging their heads in the chill breeze that blew in. They were waiting too, waiting for the warmth to return.

Downtown, I hear, blossoms are already unfolding. But here, where I live, on this Easter Saturday, it is still a day of waiting.

The whole of this winter-gouged, potholed world is poised for spring.

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Warm Morning

Sixty-two when I woke up, the first warm morning in a while. Taste of rain in the air. A breeze that stirs the ornamental grass and clatters the wind chimes.

There is warmth that builds steadily through the hours, from a chill sunrise to a parched afternoon. And then there is warmth given from the start, a gift to utilize or to squander.

Today we have the latter — and it brings a coziness to the house. We're here already, no need to strive, to be hopeful about the angle of the sun or the tilt of the wind.

It's the difference between a day that grows into itself and one that starts off fully formed, has everything to lose.

This, of course, assumes warmth to be desirable, which is not always the case. But on this April 3, after this February and this March, it most certainly is.

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pain and Perspective

Today I think of Emily Dickinson's line, "After great pain a formal feeling comes." It was "only" a toothache, but for last two days it brought me great pain. And though I have not exactly experienced the formal feeling that Dickinson felt in its wake, I have felt relief at the return of normal sensations.

What little thinking I could do when in its throes, I pondered what it would be like to live always in such misery. Some people do. Can we not all forgive them for ending it?

Great pain brushes small concerns aside. It is both a great equalizer and a great perspective-bringer. None of us asks for it. But it's a part of life, and from time to time, we are forced to remember that.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Just a Walk Around the Block

Had to mail a package yesterday at lunchtime, and though I didn't have long I thought I would stroll for a few minutes before returning to my desk.

I walked east toward the Capitol, all swathed in scaffolding (look closely; you can see a worker in a day-glo yellow jacket).

Then behind it past the Supreme Court and Library of Congress, then in front of it where I snapped this shot before heading back down First Street to my office.

Not bad for a walk around the block!


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