Thursday, February 23, 2017

Snowdrops: A Beginning?

Last evening on the way home from work I realized that I had the time and the daylight to take a walk on a Reston trail. It's the path that I'll call CCC (Cross County Connector; see yesterday's post!) because the last part of it merges with my beloved Cross County Trail.

What a walk it was! The birds were singing, the sun was lowering and the flowers were blooming. Great clusters of snowdrops peeping up not from the snow (which has been scarce to nonexistent this year) but from the leaves and brown grass. 

These are wintry flowers, white and delicate, but they are further harbingers of the season. They are proof that this balminess, this lovely light, is not just a preview but maybe, just maybe, a beginning.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Name That Path

A recent walk through the Folkstone woods led me past a shady glade and creek curve where the girls used to play. They called it Brace Yourself. Maybe there was some feat of derring do they had to perform there, walking across the creek on a log or picking up a crawdad. I'm unclear why they gave it that name, but the point is that they did.

Brace Yourself got me thinking about the joy of naming places. I remember doing that when I was a kid. There was the Valley of Eternal Snows — a sheltered cove in the Ware Farm field behind our house, a place where I had once found some dirty snow late in the season.

And then there were the Block-up Boys — not exactly a place, I know. They were the bullies on the street who wouldn't let me ride my tricycle to the top of the hill. (So there was a place involved, sort of.)

When we name a place we make it our own.  We look at it with fresh eyes; we see it whole. Why do we stop doing this as we get older? Do mortgages and responsibilities drive it away, this penchant for staking imaginative claim to the places we love?

I made a tiny vow right there at Brace Yourself. I decided to start naming the bridges and paths, the springs and glades. Even if no one else ever hears or knows these names — I will.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Preview

The witch hazel is an early bird. I've seen it bloom when there's snow on the ground. No surprise that it's erupted in yellow blooms these winter-spring days.

Looking at the witch hazel, being outdoors over the weekend, with the plants stirring and the birds singing — it's enough to bring on a bad case of spring fever. Or at least to make us ask, Is this it? Is it really spring?

Of course we have some cold, gray days ahead, but in late February one can hope.

I guess the best way to think about this unseasonable warmth is is as a preview, a glimpse of what lies ahead.

Religious imagery is not always what comes to mind first with me, but for some reason I'm thinking about the Transfiguration of Jesus, when he appeared to his apostles all radiant and glowing from within. That, too, was a preview, a taste of the beyond.

Which is all to say that a preview asks us to see and appreciate, not grasp and pin down.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Staying on Track

Yesterday, a return to a favorite hike, the Cross County Trail between Colvin Run Mill and Georgetown Pike. The path was busy with mountain bikers, runners, families with grandparents and kids — including one grandpa who stepped off the fair-weather crossing into this stream.

He righted himself quickly and kept on walking. That's the spirit: staying on track!

I hope I do that when I'm a grandparent (which, with a married daughter and son-in-law, may not be too far in my future). The key with the hiking and the crossing is the keeping-on part.

Yesterday made it easy: a springlike day that made an unexpected step in the creek not the worst thing in the world.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Urban Trail

Ellen and I met for brunch in Bethesda yesterday — our favorite meeting place between Annapolis and Reston — and afterward I slipped on my tennis shoes, took off my scarf and jacket and walked four miles on the Capital Crescent Trail, one of my favorite urban walks.

It was 70 degrees, and the path was clogged with joggers and strollers and bikers and dogs. A carnival atmosphere — and everyone in amazement that we could wear shorts and t-shirts instead of parkas and gloves.

What to say about such an amble and such an afternoon? Only that it was filled with the life force, was virtually overflowing with it. And everyone I saw — whether zooming by on a bicycle or being pushed in a wheelchair — seemed to feel the same way.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Winter Bounty

This morning as I was making tea (in the daylight, for a change), I happened to look out the window as the rising sun struck the top of the oaks and drenched them in pale light. It was a simple moment but a lovely one.

Winter helps me see more clearly. It strips away pretense, withers it and blows it away. It leaves behind only the most essential.

This is a thought I often have this time of year, but for some reason this morning it hit me how it's in thinning, in pruning — in loss — that we realize our bounty.

It's hard if not impossible to see the structure, the underlying architecture, when it's covered over and plumped up. But when all is laid bare and worn down — then we can see.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Pulling for Pansies

Every fall landscapers engage in the delightfully doomed act of planting pansies. False hope, I say to myself. These flowers will never make it.

And, for the last few years, I've been right. Cold temps and frigid winds nipped the plants, and come spring, there was nothing left but a few withered stems.

But this year the pansies are thriving. Look at these babies, resplendent in their midwinter glory.

I used to think I didn't "deserve" spring if I hadn't suffered through winter. Blame it on Catholicism — or on living in Chicago for a few years.

This year I consider any escape from winter a gift from the gods. I'm pulling for pansies.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Making Change

One of the things  I like about my job is talking with people on the other side of the world. It's an instant way to get perspective.

For one thing, they're just ending their days while we're just beginning ours. For another, they are dealing with problems we can barely imagine, problems like trying to keep food cold to prevent spoilage. (Pakistan loses almost 50 percent of its crops after harvest.)

I just heard a man who's on the leading edge of change in that country, someone who tries to convince people they don't have to do things the way they've always done them, describe walking into a cold storage facility filled with rats and mold. "I almost vomited," he said.

But he saw the potential and made the connection that created change. These are not huge shifts. They are pebbles tossed into streams.

Toss enough of them, though, and you change the flow.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Radical Love

Usually on Valentine's Day I write about personal love. And I'm certainly thinking of it today, feeling grateful for my family and friends, all those I hold dear. But these are extraordinary times, and they call for the most radical and extreme of actions.

They call for love.

"If we are stretching to live wiser and not just smarter," says Krista Tippett in her book Becoming Wise, "we will aspire to learn what love means, how it arises and deepens, how it withers and revives, what it looks like as a private good but also a common good."

Tippett, the host of NPR's "On Being," describes the love shown by 1960s civil rights workers, their belief in the "beloved community" that meant they were fighting for equality with courtesy and kindness.  "This was love as a way of being, not a feeling, which transcended grievance and painstakingly transformed violence," Tippett writes.

Though her book was published just last year, it already seems to hail from another era, a time when were not yet as deeply divided as we are now. Tippett doesn't address the division as much as she would had she been writing a year later, but reading her book makes me think about how much further we'd be if treated each other with courtesy and kindness.

Maybe love is what we need, love translated into forbearance and understanding, into biting our tongues and holding our applause. Divisiveness got us into this mess. Maybe love can get us out.

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Monday, February 13, 2017


I just finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, a big-hearted book that picks you up and carries you along with it. It took me to the Africa I visited two years ago, to the sights and smells and bribes and chaos of Nigeria, just one country east of Benin.

And it took me to an America where newly arrived immigrants braid hair in low-end salons,  hoping for a break, a toehold — anything to avoid being sent back.

And finally, it took me to the book's own beginnings.  In the Acknowledgments, Adichie thanks her family and friends, editor and agent. She thanks the latter in particular for "that ongoing feeling of safety." And then — she thanks a room — a "small office filled with light."

It's a twist on Virginia Woolf's "room of one's own," but singles out what for me is most important — the light. I type these words in a light-filled space of my own: windows beside and ahead, glass all around, reflections of reflections of reflections.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Speaking of Sprinter

These days, seasons are separated not only by hours but also by miles. Yesterday's snow squalls left no trace in my work neighborhood, but by the time I reached home it was a wintry world: snowy lawns and decks.

It's a reminder to me of the slender margin between liquid and solid (just one degree, of course), darkness and light, goodness and evil.

Which makes me think how little separates the winner from the loser, the saint from the sinner. Though I'm not a black-and-white believer — I put my faith in those endless shades of gray — there are lines and there are divisions. And sometimes there is nothing in between.


Thursday, February 9, 2017


Not the kind that pushes off from a block and streaks down a track. The kind of sprinter I have in mind is a season strung between spring and winter, a new hybrid that moves from balmy to brisk in a matter of hours.

Yesterday on my way to work I saw yellow petals on the sidewalk. I imagined a van unloading plants for a catered event, or a landscaping truck with pale forsythias ready for bedding. Surely these petals had no local source. It was February 8, after all, and I work in a concrete jungle!

But something — hopefulness? — made me look up. And there, on top of a Crystal City wall (Crystal City is very good at walls) was a bright yellow jasmine vine spilling over the stone.

Today, a cold, raw wind is blowing, and it's spitting snow. The jasmine vine is shivering. But no need to worry — by Sunday it will be 70 again. After all, it's sprinter.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Perpetual Motion

A walk yesterday to Long Bridge Park, which is a bit of a misnomer since there's not really a bridge and barely a park. But who's counting when it's 70 degrees on February 7?

What Long Bridge is, though, is window on the perpetual motion of a busy American city.

The walk adjoins the train tracks, and yesterday, in just 10 minutes, I saw a freight train, Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express commuter express all chugging along.

East of the train tracks is the George Washington Parkway, where I would later spend close to an hour inching my way home. But at 1 p.m. the traffic is moving, and the cars are like flies skimming the surface of a pond where stately swans (the trains) hold the eye.

Finally, there are the planes taking off and landing at National Airport, just across the way. The low jets fill the sky as they roar heavenward.

It's an invigorating stroll. I'm moving, the trains, planes and cars are moving. I try to catch all three in my gaze at the same time, to savor their motion and amplify my own.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Happy Blog Day

Seven years ago on this day there were several feet of snow on the ground in northern Virginia. I had been housebound for two days, had cleaned closets and made soup, caught up on work and phone calls. So I did something I'd wanted to do for years: I started this blog.

It was a leap of faith and of certainty. It was a grand adventure. Could I post daily? Well yes, I could. Could I post pictures as well? (This shows my lack of technical confidence!) Yes, I could do that, too. Has this become what writers are told they must have now — a platform? Of sorts, I suppose, although being a walker hardly sets me apart!

What the blog is most of all is a continuation of the almost daily writing I've done since I was 15. It's an outlet, one I protect and carve out time for, and it's a collection, now almost 2,100 posts. I feel motherly toward it. Like my book, the blog is a child to be loved and nurtured.

Sometimes I have nothing much to say here, sometimes I can't type fast enough. But I keep plugging away at it. And there's something to that, I guess.
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