Friday, September 22, 2017

Gone for the Season

The hummingbirds are gone for the season. I had an inkling of this last weekend with their even more voracious feeding. It looked as if they were stoking up for the long journey south — and apparently they were. Something in the light has triggered their departure. They won't return until late April.

In the last few years I've seen a lot of hummingbirds. The two feeders off the deck rail reel them in, and in April there were five breeds to ogle at Arizona's Ramsay Canyon.

Watching them closely dispels some notions. Hummingbirds are pugnacious creatures, always fighting among themselves. In this way, they remind me of humans. Also in their greediness. But unlike humans they are capable of breathtaking flight, of suspension in air.

Hummingbirds make a high-pitched squeak that I thought I heard several times yesterday. But every time I looked up the feeders were empty. It must be the small peep of the robin or chickadee that I'm hearing — not the hummingbird. I'm surprised by how much I miss them.


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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Backward Glance

A couple days ago on a walk around the block, I came across the end of a beach volleyball game in Crystal City. Couldn't resist snapping a photo of the sand. To heck with the game, it's the sand I love, the sand I crave. So, on this last day of summer ... a backward glance at this summer's beaches.

I had my Florida beach fix in August, days of sun and surf with tropical breezes and breathtaking sunsets.
And then, I took in a bonus beach in Bangladesh. Cox's Bazar is the longest natural beach in the world., and we managed to find a spare hour to visit it despite our crammed-full schedule.

I'm thinking of it now, the width and the breadth of it, the people and animals we met: a young girl selling shells, a labor trafficking victim who'd gotten a new start in life as a photographer, a merchant hawking pearls, a yellow dog.

It was a different kind of beach experience, no towels or chairs, no umbrellas, no skimpy suits. It was a rock-strewn beach with dark, hard-packed sand. But it was glorious just the same.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Turn, Turn, Turn

Last night's episode lasted two hours. As I drifted in and out of sleep (it was a long day), I witnessed rounds of mortar fire, heard old tapes of Johnson with McNamara, learned more about the Gulf of Tonkin error. Where have I been all these years? Obviously, not learning about Vietnam.

The conflict of my lifetime is being plumbed every night this week with a new Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary, "The Vietnam War." Like a good baby boomer I'm watching every minute of it.

How strange to hear those voices again, Kennedy's "heah," Johnson's twang; to see the faces that I remember from black-and-white newscasts. The history of our youth is strange. Is it history, if we've lived through it? Of course it is. It's just that we've lived long enough for it to become so.

My favorite part is the ending of each episode and the music that accompanies it. Last night's was "Turn, Turn, Turn," the Byrd's version. I like the harmony, I like the lyrics (hard to beat Ecclesiastes). It's playing as I write this post. "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven."

(Looking for an old photo from roughly this era — and this is the best I can do. Blurry is better in this pic of Mom and me on my high school graduation. Go Blue Devils!) 

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Coat Tails Flying

I saw him from the bus window, a lone biker on a share cycle, not his own road bike. He was wearing no helmet and his hair was in a bun.

What caught my eye, though, was his suit jacket. It was flaring out behind him as he rode, and it made him seem, though he was suited for a day in the office, about eight years old.

He was any kid on the way to the park or the pool on a delicious summer afternoon, all his life before him. He was free! But better than that, he managed to capture this feeling on the way to work.

He was not practicing safe behavior. There was no bike helmet in sight. But I couldn't take my eyes off him. We were behind him all the way down Clarendon, as I watched his coat tails fly.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Earth from Saturn

When the children were young and studying the planets, Suzanne decided she didn't like Saturn. "It's a show-off, Mom," she said. All those rings, you know.

I've been thinking of Saturn the last few days as images of it were beamed back by the spacecraft Cassini, which plunged into the planet's atmosphere on Friday, ending a splendid 20-year mission.

For decades Cassini has been enlarging our knowledge of the solar system, taking us to Saturn's cool green moon Titan, and, with its Huygens lander, actually touching down on the moon's rocky surface. Cassini discovered plumes of water vapor spouting from another moon, Enceladus, and made many other discoveries.

And then there were the photographs Cassini sent back. The rings and moons and other planets. My favorite is the NASA pic I've reposted here.  Earth is the tiny speck on the lower right-hand side of this photo.  Beautiful, yes — and very, very small.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Bountiful Begonias

Some years it's the impatiens that rule the yard, other years the day lilies shine. This year, it's the begonias that are taking my breath away.

They're big without being leggy. Their whites, pinks and reds are brighter, more intense. They are, hands down, the most attractive flowers in the neighborhood. And I don't just mean my begonias, the ones in pots on the deck (pictured here), but the ones at the neighborhood entrance and all over the area, they're gorgeous, too.

Begonias have long been the workhorse annual of the garden. They are cheerful whether dry or wet, and they last well into the fall. There's a tendency, to discount them, much as we do the always willing friend.

So today, I break ranks, take notice and find the time to say, thank you, begonias, for a summer's worth of bloom.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Sky Bridge

A late walk last night, strolling through sunset into nightfall. Crickets were chirping, bats were swooping and down at the corner the second-bloom honeysuckle was wafting its delicious scent over the distinctive odor of the manure fertilizer some homeowner had just spread.

We aren't used to barnyard scents here in the suburbs. A few miles down the road is a little farm park where I used to take the children when they were young. There are plenty of pungent odors there.
But here it's a sanitized suburban aroma.

But I was soon past it and on my way back. The day was darkening, and I couldn't keep my eyes off the sky. Maybe because it was the lightest thing to look at — or maybe because I was listening to Chabrier on my iPod and thinking about Dad playing the same music decades ago.

What a link music becomes, a bridge between the living and the dead.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Meta Me

This blog grew from a habit of daily writing, a habit that began when I was in high school and a student teacher made us keep a journal. This would be a commonplace book of sorts, the teacher said. We could use it to reflect on the books we were reading, the lives we were living. Decades later I'm still on assignment, still scribbling to make sense of things.

One thing I hadn't done much is to read the journals I've written. Except for the odd case when I needed to check a date or a fact, I've tucked each book away as soon as I finished it and moved on to the next one.

Until recently, that is. For some reason I've gotten interested in what I wrote last year or the year before. These are not exactly page-turners — I know how they end! — but I'm finding it a useful way to herd stray thoughts and gain perspective.

So even though it's the ultimate meta exercise — not only do I analyze my life while I'm living it but then I read the analysis! — I'm pressing on. It's a meta me!

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

In the Dark

One of the things that pulls me into the office early is the ability to work in the dark for an hour or so. It's so calm here in the lamp light, the overheads quiet and still. Desks and file cabinets are dim shapes. There's a fuzziness to things that allows for slow absorption.

This morning it's even cozier because of the rain. With a bit of imagination I could be working in my living room, lit only by the glow of a computer screen.

But soon the switch will be flipped and light will flood the room. The desks and file cabinets will jump to attention.

I'm steeling myself already ... but with any luck I have a few more minutes in the dark.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Weighing the Differences

It will probably take months to digest all the sights and sounds of Bangladesh, and the feelings I had experiencing them. Strolling to work this morning in a light drizzle, I noted the lack of people, the lack of goats — the lack of life.

It's a safe, clean, sanitized world here. We've made it that way, we want it that way. I'm not complaining.

But there is a jumbling, jarring craziness there that I miss. Horns honking, buses flying, rain falling. Life lived in the open, nothing much left out. Now that I'm back here in the relative quiet, I'm weighing the differences.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Birds in the Eye

Everyone asks where the birds go in a hurricane, the weather man said, then immediately answered his own question. They go to the eye. They leave their home and move with the wind. They seek safety in motion.

So into yesterday afternoon's pictures of sheeting rain and furious gusts came an image — blue skies and calm winds. An over-the-rainbow extravaganza with Disney-like birds flitting from bough to bough while a tempest raged around them.

Not exactly. The real eye was significantly less dramatic. But the palms stopped blowing and there was an eerie silence. I saw no birds.

Hurricanes have to be one of nature's strangest phenomena. Waters sucked out of harbors, fish flapping, the eye wall, the eye — and then, a complete reversal, the back side of the storm. Winds shift direction and waters surge in, strengthened and pushed by the gale. 

And what of the birds then? They stay with the eye, they fly with the eye. They've learned something most of us never do: to find the calm center, to stay the course.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Feeling for Florida

The picture taking up much of today's front page features a white whirling dervish of a storm swirling toward a slender green peninsula. From this vantage point, Florida seems nothing more than a vulnerable appendage, a state that should be retractable, though what it would retract into I am not sure. Georgia, perhaps?

My recent trips to Florida have made me fond of the place. It's a beach lover's paradise, and its tropical air and foliage set it apart from the rest. It's another world for me, and it's threatened like it hasn't been in decades.

The picture leaves little to the imagination. It's hard to see how Irma could do anything but clobber the state. All we can hope for now is that there be as little loss of life (none, please!) and property as possible. Now we're all feeling for Florida.


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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Faded Flower

The wonder of it all is why we're not all sick more often. Or at least that's what I think when laid low. I mean, think of the germs we come into contact with on a daily basis. Think of our valiant immune systems, fighting them off.

But sometimes, our immune systems come up against something they can't surmount. That's what's happened to me since I returned from Bangladesh. While I'd like to think this is something I picked up at home, all signs point to it being a souvenir of my wonderful trip.

I've been remembering the last couple of days. Should I have peeled that apple before eating it? It came from the swanky Dhaka hotel, so I didn't. Or did I ingest a smidgen of non-bottled water when brushing my teeth?

Questions without answers. All I know is that I feel a lot like the faded flower pictured here. Nothing to do but hang on, wait it out — and keep pumping the ginger ale.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Feeling Rocky

Not sure whether the virus I have now originated in Bangladesh, the airplane (most likely culprit) or right here at home, but whatever the source, it has laid me low. I have a pile of work to do and lack the stomach (literally) to attack it.

Instead, I'm forced to bed, hoping to avoid yesterday's fogginess but not quite sure that I can.

To help the time pass, I'll remember some of the sights I've just seen. Fantastical images of a world that already seems a million miles away:

A rainbow at the end of our boat trip through the Sunderbans.

Jute drying in the sun. 

A magical garden of hanging plants.

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