Friday, June 24, 2016

Brahmsian Coda

The skies were stormy and the air was leaden, but the legs needed to be moving and the W&OD was right there. So on the way home from work yesterday I slipped off my jacket and necklace, laced up my running shoes and took to the trail.

The music was beside the point when I started. I knew that movement alone would work its magic. So I let my little iPod do its own thing. And what it did was play Brahms.

He's my man, of course, but I don't turn to him like I used to. He is a bit, well, heavy. And you have to be in the mood for him. But I was, and he delivered.

It was the last movement of the First Symphony, which my high school youth orchestra played the year I joined. Brahms is not easy, especially when you've only just taken up the string bass. My stand partner wrote "a la fakando" beside the notes of one especially difficult run. Let's just say I did little for that piece but provide a low hum.

But being part of an orchestra that could play such music was enough to explode my adolescent brain. And now, when I listen to Brahms, those early memories of music-making create a powerful listening experience. I was lucky that the final moments of listening happened in the car, after the walk was over. There I could air conduct to my heart's content.

It was a very good walk, with a perfectly Brahmsian coda.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rain and Memory

Thunderstorms belong to the afternoon. The buildup of heat and humidity, the pressure and then the release.

This morning was an anomaly. Cracks of thunder before 6 a.m. Copper pawing at the door, wanting to get to his safe spot in the basement. Driving to the bus in a downpour and seeking high ground to park the car.

Here's where local memory comes in handy. The lot I use now was once flooded, cars submerged. Unsuspecting commuters had done just what I did today, raced up and parked and caught the bus. But on that day storm drains were clogged and rain fell several inches an hour.

When I pulled in this morning I noticed another driver who'd done the same — bypassed the closer, lower spots. I guess he remembers, too.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Strawberry Moon

I'm late writing about the moon that graced our solstice, the moon that woke me this morning with its light so late it was early. But it was still there at dawn when I went out to walk, the day already fully present but the orb still high in the sky. And it will be there, though not quite as full, tonight.

The solstice has passed, but the days are still long, the summer still gathering speed. When I went out to spray the flowers night before last, I spied the first firefly.

Good that it came the same night as the strawberry moon, the same day as the latest shadows.

Good to know there's still plenty of summer ahead.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016


On a week when I originally thought I'd be riding the train again I'm back on the bus. A closer reading of Metro's scheduled shut-downs and closures showed that I'd be unable to make a connection I need to make to reach the office.

The bus isn't a bad option; in fact, it's better in many ways. But the schedule is limiting and it makes for quite a scramble in the morning. No more bucolic drives to Vienna via Vale and Hunter Mill Roads.  No more give in the day. It's regimented from beginning to end.

But the change does one very big thing: It keeps me off Metro. And around here, that's the new name of the game.

The general manager recently pleaded with riders of three affected lines to find alternative transportation. The patchwork system of shuttle buses could only support 30 percent of the usual daily riders, he said. According to yesterday's reports, that's about what happened. Seventy percent of the people who usually ride those trains found other ways to work or telework.

So Metro has become a public transit system without a public. And my commute, like so many other people's, is all about Metrovoidance!

(Metro during the "Safe Track" program: They don't keep those lights low for nothing!)


Monday, June 20, 2016

Profusion, Variety

Walks these last few weeks have taken me past banks of honeysuckle and riots of knockout roses. Along the roadside are stands of chickory with these little pink flowers that I pull up when I find in the garden but which look fetching in combination.

Beside the footpaths are Queen Anne's Lace, daisies, buttercups, pink wild beans and swamp milkweeds (had to look up those latter two). Everywhere I look, a riot of blossom and green.

Nature's combinations are infinitely more stunning and artless that anything a florist shop could produce. It is the original beauty, the beauty of nature, which lies not just in profusion but in variety, and in a variety of profusion.

It lies in the palette of colors — the yellows, violets, pinks and mauves. It lies in breadth of textures, from smooth to fuzzy. It lies in alternating heights and shapes and sizes.

It is all the little things that add up to the whole. Each detail essential to the main.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

On Father's Day

Dad was not a stern father. He was not a slippers-and-paper father, either. He was relaxed and easy in his skin, most decidedly himself in every way.

For me, he became most fully a father when I was an adult. Our closeness blossomed later in life, after his first heart attack. I think of all the years his bypass surgery gave us. More than two decades made possible by that operation and others that came later.

Dad seldom complained about the indignities of old age. Sometimes he'd make a joke about them, like the time he was entering the hospital for one of said surgeries and he pushed the revolving door all the way around to the outside again and kept marching away, a grin on his face.

But he went back, of course, did what he was supposed to do, and cheerfully. He always found a way to keep going, and to keep laughing. So I know that's what he'd want us to do, too.

Today, though, I can get a little sentimental. I don't think he'd mind.

(Dad in 2011, photographed in front of his childhood home.)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sodden Sugarland

I went back to the Sugarland Run Trail this morning and found a different place altogether. The trees were still labeled and the path still shady, but the storms that moved through last night had swollen the creek and matted the undergrowth.

If you peered closely you could see which direction the flood waters had been flowing; the tall grass was bent that way.

And about halfway along I ran into a front end loader pushing the remains of a downed tree to one side of the path. It was revving and scraping and doing its backup beep — and was not at all what I expected to find in this sylvan setting.

But it cleared the path, and the driver waved me through, and soon I was on the way again, as if the rain and the downing had never happened.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Glass Houses

I work in a box made of glass. Glass windows, glass doors, glass walls. I worry that one day I'll be daydreaming and walk right into one of them. Where are bird stickers when you need them?

The glass begins in the lobby, where two sets of clear doors must be pushed or pulled to enter or exit. The lobby is so bright that I slip on my sunglasses the minute I step out of the elevator.

The glass continues upstairs where it's easy to see who's in or out, who's meeting or on the phone. It's that kind of place, which is to say transparent and modern and open and good. We're all the same here, the glass box seems to say. We understand each other. We do not throw stones.

Except that the writer in me wants to be tucked away in a study carrel on the least used floor of the most arcane library in town. The writer in me wants shelter and coziness, dim light and nonreflective surfaces.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Out There

A light rain this morning, almost welcome after some hot dry windy days. It's so still that even the birds are hushed. The deck is mottled, not soaked as much as dampened.

We are past the middle of June, the solstice almost upon us, and I'm still snatching summer in dribbles and drabs. Here a 20-minute walk, there a 20-minute bounce, dining al fresco on the deck.

I've found a spot in the office where I can stand and look out the window almost unobserved. I go there when writing headlines or doing other creative work. My eyes stray from the page to the trees blowing green and the clouds puffy white. 

There's the summer! Right there, just beyond my grasp. One of these days I'll catch up with it.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Small Flags Flying

Last week I drove through the neighborhood in the slanting late-afternoon sun to see small plastic flags flying at the foot of every mailbox. They hadn't been there when I left in the morning but there they were, a full week before Flag Day.

Turns out they were a gift from our representative, but that's not what struck me about them then or now.

What I've been noticing is that, although they all started at the same place they have ended up all over. Some are hanging from the mailbox, others are attached to the lamppost or planted near the house. Mine is in the fern garden.

They have, in short, been individualized. How very American of us. It's what we do best.

I thought of this idea last week, and planned to use it to celebrate our individuality. But now, flags are flying at half mast. Now I'm once again thinking about how the push for independence and autonomy that makes us strong has also made us vulnerable.

The flags are still flying, in all their unique positions. I hope they always will.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Name That Tree!

It was already in the 90s by the time I took a walk on Saturday, and I'd forgotten to wear sunscreen. Which is why when I found a shady side path angling off invitingly from the sun-stricken W&OD, I took the path, gladly.

It's called the Sugarland Run Trail, and it meanders along behind Carlisle Street to Elden Street in Herndon. There are frequent glimpses of Sugarland Run gurgling beside the trail.

With a name like "Sugarland," I half expected a Candyland Board with Gumdrop Mountains and Peppermint Stick Forests.

What I found instead was almost as good, because this little woods comes complete with tree labels. In addition to the usual white oaks and red maples, there were a slippery elm, a pignut hickory, an elderberry, a hackberry and others, all neatly labeled and described.

I wish all community forests did this. If they did, I'd finally learn the names of the trees I walk among, these old friends, and soon the forests of my mind would be filled not just with "trees" but with green elms and American sycamores. What a rich place that would be!

(The path looked somewhat like this, but without the leaves and with the labels.)

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Being Social

Yesterday's National Press Club workshop reminds me how much I love the company of writers. Talking shop was a great way to end the week.

After my panel ended a second one convened, this one on social media. I meant to stay. The crowd was buzzing and the speakers seemed fabulous. But it was Friday afternoon, downtown D.C. was beckoning and (this will sound very fifth-grade of me) I really really wanted to be outside.

No matter. Live tweets from the panel, a twitter chat at work, and the fact that I spent an hour mining tweets from last month's summit in Bangkok so I can write about it have all made the case.

Seems that there's a little Twitter bird following me these days, tugging at my sleeve, and he won't let go until I give him what he wants.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Long Bridge Park

I had time for only a short stroll yesterday at lunch, so I walked north along Crystal Drive, thinking that I'd go up and back a few blocks, enjoy the spectacular weather and be back at my desk in 20 minutes.

And then I found Long Bridge Park. It was like one of those dreams I would have when living in a studio apartment where I'd suddenly discover a roomy annex, a secret second bedroom accessed through the closet.

Discovering this highly walkable park on the same side of the road as my building, a place I didn't even know existed and don't even need to cross a street to reach — well, it was pretty exciting for a walker in the suburbs.

Arlington is technically a suburb, of course, but I work in its urban southern corner, tucked up against highways and parkways, train tracks and runways. To learn that I can walk out my door, turn right and hike a half mile or so to be in a public space, to have a dead-center view of the Washington Monument (set off yesterday against cloudless blue sky), to see planes tilting at takeoff and trains rumbling along train tracks and all of this from a paved and cindered path — well, it was almost too much for my walking soul.

Needless to say, my lunch break was a little longer than intended. I walked to the end of the path and back. There are trails yet to explore in the park and signs yet to read ... but I've found another walking route in Crystal City.


Thursday, June 9, 2016


Mornings have changed since Metro began its Safetrack program. (Safetrack could also be called Slowtrack, or, more appropriately, Slowtrain.) I rush to leave the house in time to get a parking place at a lot that fills completely before 6:30 a.m.

It's not a peaceful way to start the day, but it is what it is.

And so I begin to see this work space, overhead-lit and open as it is, as an oasis of calm. There are the windows pouring light into the room, and there is the fact that until about 8:12 the overheads remain off. There are the small, clattery sounds of other people arriving, getting settled, making coffee. And there is, most of all, the work.

When it's interesting (as it often is here), the calm continues as the day wears on. Because there's nothing so quieting as absorption.

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