Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Before the Gloaming

It was almost 7 p.m. when I parked the car on Soapstone Drive. There are pull-outs there for trail access, for bluebell viewing in April and sultry strolls in July.

This was for the latter. It was impromptu and it was divine.

I slipped off my jacket, laced up the pair of spare running shoes I keep in the back and took off on an almost empty Reston trail.

I walked east, and the air sung around me. Crickets were tuning up for their evening chorus and the swamp radiated with heat and insect buzz.

Fifteen minutes in I joined the Cross-County Trail, my first time on it in months. I walked across a bridge that smells of creosote, spotted a stand of Black-eyed Susans in the meadow.

It was Thursday. Light was golden before the gloaming. I was almost home.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Watch the Midwives

When I was expecting each of my babies, especially the first, I was physiologically incapable of watching any scene of childbirth in a movie or television show without completing losing it. I was not an especially weepy pregnant woman, but there was something about the magic of it all that moved me to tears every time. Matter of fact, it still does.

So imagine a TV program that features at least one and maybe more scenes of childbirth in each episode. It's a "two hanky" affair if ever there was one.

But there's more to the British drama "Call the Midwife" than a good cry. Set in the East End of London during the postwar baby boom, the show (based on the memoir of real life midwife Jenny Worth) follows the adventures of a team of nurse midwives (some of them nuns) based in the convent Nonatus House. It's a cast of lovable characters serving poor women who have more children than they know what to do with but who are treated tenderly and with great compassion.

There is no malpractice insurance, no planned Caesarians. The midwives take it all as it comes, encouraging the mothers through difficult labors that would be treated in an operating room these days. And there are plenty of historical back stories, too  — polio makes an appearance, as do thalidomide babies.

But what makes the show so special is its big heart, its voice-overs at start and finish (done by Vanessa Redgrave), its frequent insistence that it's really all about love.

There is something so old-fashioned and inspiring and true about the show that watching it makes me feel like a slightly different (enlarged? more tolerant?) person.  Call the Midwife? For me, it's Watch the Midwives.

(Historic dockyard Chatham where "Midwives" is filmed. Courtesy Flickriver)


Friday, July 22, 2016

Happy Jeweleye

A jewel of a day to many would be one with pleasant temps and low humidity, a puffy-cloud, blue-sky day. Today is not like that. It is muggy and hot. The insects are singing their fevered chorus and the birds are chirping listlessly in the background.

But to me it's a jewel of a July day. Perfect in its very July-ness. Yes, there are heat warnings. But this is summer: It's supposed to be hot.  And yes, we move more slowly now, but isn't that one of summer's great gifts, that it's andante instead of allegro?

So here's to summer, to the heat and humidity, even the torpor. Happy Jeweleye!


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dew Point

The technical definition of dew point is the temperature to which air must be cooled in order to reach saturation. My weather sources tell me that dew point is a more accurate measure of moisture in the air than relative humidity. A dew point of 60 is comfortable; a dew point of 70 is not.

But I like the sounds of the words, both alone and together. Dew. Point. Dew point.

And I like the images they connote: A summer lawn glistening with moisture. A summer evening filled with cricket and katydid song. A summer morning dash in my nightgown for the newspaper. It's covered with moisture. I shake off the plastic bag before pulling out the paper to read.

Before I'm saturated with the day, I'm saturated with the dew. That's my dew point.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Heavenly Surprises

Twice within 12 hours I've been surprised by heavenly bodies. Well, not completely surprised. I knew each time that there was a sun or a moon in the sky. But surprised in that I wasn't expecting to glimpse them when I did, and that perhaps because of this — or perhaps not — I was swept away.

Last night I walked in perfect air, perfect temperature, a glorious midsummer evening. I admired the light as I walked east, thought about how fetchingly it struck the great old oaks and maples, how beautifully it bathed our neighborhood.

But when I reached the other end of Folkstone, I caught my breath. There was the sun, the source of all this beauty. Even though I'd been walking in its light the whole way I'd somehow forgotten. And there it was, the setting sun.

This morning it was the moon that surprised me. I hadn't realized it was almost full, and still up, when I took my early walk. Once again, a turn to the west took my breath away. The globe was suspended in a sky of pale blue, centered between banks of trees. A spectacular sight. A morning treat.

It is, perhaps, a sign of my discombobulation, these heavenly surprises. But maybe not. Maybe it's just natural beauty at work.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016


On Sunday I spirited Suzanne away for a few hours of shopping. She bought a handmade wedding gown in Africa, but since then she's bought little else, so we looked for dresses, tops, slacks — not just attire for the rehearsal dinner and other parties but outfits she can wear to work, too.

It's such a lovely, old-fashioned tradition, collecting pretty new things to take into your new life. I remember the dresses Mom bought me, her use of the word "trousseau," which seemed old-fashioned even then.

When I stood in the dressing room with Suzanne I felt  Mom's presence more than usual. I thought of all the times we were in dressing rooms together, laughing, sighing, asking each other, "How do I look?"

As Suzanne checked the mirror for length and fit, I kept thinking of her younger self running in the backyard, a trail of curls bobbing in the breeze, then years later sprinting up a hill during a cross-country meet.

But every memory, every glance, was doubled, because with each memory I could feel Mom's gaze in mine. I reminded myself that I'm the old(er) woman now. That it's Suzanne's trousseau we were shopping for, that in what seems like no time a lifetime has passed.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

A Summer in Moments

This morning I caught a glimpse of two birds in flight. It was impossible to know their type, only that they were silvered on the wing and had a radiance most possible when the sun is low in the sky.

Here we are in high summer, a summer of discontent and national tragedies, a summer when it's easy to feel befuddled and confused. There's hardly time to absorb one reality before another asserts itself.

For me, summer has always been a time of healing. It must go back to long-ago school vacations. Summer was a time when we could get back to ourselves. Long books, late nights, deep pools — of water and of thought.

Now summer is over in the blink of an eye. It must exist in moments. Biting into the season's first peach. Feeling warm sand between the toes. Watching late light slant through the poplars. Or seeing two birds in flight, with silver on their wings.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Outside Office

Working on the deck for a change, breeze blowing, crows cawing, Copper (newly shorn and feeling frisky) resting near my feet.

It's clouded up here, and there's enough moisture in the air to make me sleepy, even at 10 a.m.

After almost three months of working inside an overly air-conditioned building, it's good to work with the sun over my shoulder and bird song in the air.

And good too, to lift my eyes from the screen and page to admire the day lilies and cone flowers, the begonias and the pot of campanula.

It's summertime and the working (outside) is easy.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Morning Walk, Evening Prayer

From this ...
To this ... 
Metro closures have one silver lining. They push people out onto the streets where they might actually ... walk!

That's what I did this morning, hoofing it from Pentagon City to Crystal City — which is not the metropolis-to-metropolis trek that it sounds like but a mile-long stroll.

It was the best way to start a day, even in this heat and humidity. I plugged in my earbuds and took off. I passed the bustle of Metro, crowds surging on and off of shuttle buses, then turned left on 15th Street, seeking shade wherever I found it.

In my ears, "When at Night I Go to Sleep," also known as "The Evening Prayer" or "Abendsegen" in German, a lovely melody from "Hansel and Gretel" by Engelbert Humperdinck. For some reason I played this melody when I got off Metro a stop earlier in the city and walked from Chinatown to the Law Center. So it has become my go-to walking-to-work piece.

And it is blissful, calming music. Full and rich, perfect for tuning out the world while at the same time plunging into it. I arrived physically wilted but mentally charged. Maybe I'll get off a stop early more often.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Endangered Fireflies

Preserve the magic — that's what I took away from a recent Washington Post article on the declining population of fireflies in our heavily developed cities and suburbs.

Fireflies — or lightning bugs, as I grew up hearing them called — are harmed by pesticides and insecticides. If you're spraying for mosquitoes, you're getting rid of fireflies too. The greatest threat they face is the loss of their habitats, as fields and wetlands fall to the bulldozer and crane.

Seems like I see fewer and fewer flickers every summer. Though it's tempting to say it's part of growing up and growing older, losing the wonder and all of that, this article helped me realize that it's not just in my head.

There really are fewer of these precious, ephemeral creatures in our lives. But we can bring them back — not by clapping hands but by living more lightly on the land.

(Photo: Audubon.com) 


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Savoring the Summer

I join the morning as it moves slowly over the drowsy suburbs of Washington. I see it clamber up a bank of clouds and shimmer as violet curtains part to make way for the sun. The sunrise is so vivid that it colors even the dark leaves of the shaded maples.

I walk without earphones, listening instead to the avian chorus. Those birds; they always know what to do, rising early to claim the day.

It was still dusk when I left the house. Bats darted through the air, foraging for last-minute snacks. A slow-moving skunk lumbered across the road. Squirrels scampered up trees, chattering to their own.

Last night's walk took me from daylight to darkness; today’s from darkness to daylight. I think about how lucky I am to see one day out and another day in, to savor the summer in its passage.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

New York Walk

I started running when I lived in Chicago, but I started walking when I lived in New York.

I had walked before, obviously, but not "seriously." In New York, everyone walks. Not for a stroll after dinner and not for their health.

Walking in New York is the purposeful stride from Point A to Point B. It's hoofing it because the Uber or cab won't come. This is Walking 101.

Of the 20 hours I was in New York over the weekend, I spent eight sleeping, five birthday-party-ing and four — four precious, wonderful hours — walking.

I hiked from 37th and Eighth Avenue to 115th and Broadway — and was making my way back downtown when I met Ellen and Phillip in the 80s on Broadway, then Eric on a cross street with the car.

It was the shortest trip I've ever made to the Big Apple. I wouldn't want to take a shorter one.

But it was, I"m happy to say, long enough for a long walk.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Second City

It's not a compliment, and Chicago has seldom taken it as one. Sure, the name has come to mean the comedy troupe not a comedic trope, but still ... the City of Big Shoulders doesn't like to come in second in any way.

I learned on last Monday's boat tour, though, that Chicago was first called the "Second City" in 1890, when it came in second to Philadelphia in U.S. population.

That the metropolis had grown so quickly after the devastating fire of 1871 — which killed 300 people, scorched 2,000 acres and left a third of the city's population homeless — made it a good kind of "second city." But subsequent references have left a lot to be desired.

Today I travel to New York for an overnight stay. It will be my second city of the week. So there you go, Chicago. For me, for this week (and this week only), you're the First City. And New York, sorry, you're the Second.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Back to Vienna

A brief lull for Orange Line riders in Metro's Safe Track program (I can't believe we're all calling it that! what a triumph of marketing?) allows me to come and go through Vienna. I was almost going to say "my beloved Vienna."

Maybe that's a bit too strong, but such is the lure of the familiar and comfortable that I almost thought of it that way this morning. There is the familiar parking garage, open and above-ground unlike the one at Wiehle-Reston. There is the bridge over 66, the newspaper hawkers, the buses roaring to their bays.

I got to take the morning drive along Vale and Hunter Mill Roads, the road muggy and shaggy with summer, the turns a delight.

It was only a commute, but it felt like a homecoming.


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