Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Six Twenty-Eight

I'm learning a little more about Metro's new Silver Line every day: where to stand on the platform so  I can transfer easily downtown; how to negotiate the confusing, multi-level garage; and, this morning, how to avoid the garage entirely.

There's a free parking lot near the Reston Wiehle station, actually a series of parking lots. I've known about them for years — they were originally intended as park-and-ride lots for bus riders — but it suddenly dawned on me that they're just a couple blocks from the new Metro station. Maybe they're not open anymore, maybe they're reserved — or maybe they're a way to save $4.85! 

Today was the day to find out, so I left the house a little after 6, pulled up to the lots about 6:20 and found ... pandemonium. Cars pulling in, cars circling, cars like vultures searching for carrion. I tried one section of the lot and found it completely full, then headed back the way I had come in to explore the other side. It looked tight. Most spots were taken but there, off to my left, wasn't that an opening? Yes! It was! I pulled in quickly before someone beat me to it.

As I was walking to the station I fell in step with a fellow commuter who told me that this lot "always fills up by 6:28. Those cars there are the last ones that will find spots."

Why 6:28 and not 6:29 or 6:31 I never learned, but the man seemed quite sure of himself. A full lot by 6:28 a.m.? Why not?


Monday, September 29, 2014

Walking to the Potomac

Yesterday a hike from Colvin's Run Mill to the Potomac River, eight miles round trip on the Cross-County Trail. The river is the trail's northern terminus and you have to work a little to get there. Floods have taken out part of the gravel walk along the stream and there's a stretch where you must clamber over rocks or turn back. Combine that with two fair-weather creek crossings and I used up my courage quotient for the day.

The destination was worth it, though, walking along the roiling waters of Little Difficult Run as it makes its way to the river, plunging and skipping over rocks, through channels narrow and deep. (Hard to believe it's the same rivulet that meanders through the neighborhood.)

And then coming finally to the Potomac, the orange and yellow kayaks glimpsed through the trees, Maryland on the other side. The stateliness and otherness of a river. And a walk that made the destination matter.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Changing of the Guard

The small peeps of the hummingbird have given way to the eponymous "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" of that small bird. The chickadees will be with us all winter, and if last year was any indication, other birds will crowd the feeder and suet block: cardinals, grackles, woodpeckers, maybe even a bluebird or two.

But I'll miss the hummingbirds, their aerial displays, the way they dive-bomb each other, claiming all the nectar for their own. I'll miss seeing their tiny outlines as they perch on the wire of the tomato cage. Who knew they could perch?  They seem the very embodiment of perpetual motion.

Now they're whirring their way to their winter destination in Central America, propelling their impossibly tiny bodies across the Gulf of Mexico fortified with nectar, insects and what I can only think of as hope.

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Friday, September 26, 2014


"I produce nothing but words; I consume nothing but food, a little propane, a little firewood. By being virtually useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself."

Philip Connors, Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout

I've just started reading this book, which is a meditation on solitude, a history of wildfires and fire control in the American West, and (at least in part) a paean to Aldo Leopold, the great conservationist I discovered a few years ago. It's written by a guy who sits in a tower looking for wildfires in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.

Talk about dreams of escape — this is certainly one for me. Purposeful, sporadic work, enforced alone time, the splendor of creation. But for now, my secondary landscape will have to be the one I create every time I lace up my running shoes and step out the door.

Walking is for me a way to be "useless in the calculations of the culture" so I can become "useful, at last, to myself." Walking is also low-tech. It produces nothing, consumes little. But it is rich in what matters most: the time and space in which to observe, think, slow the wheels of time.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rain Power

I don't love the rain but I do appreciate its force and manner, the way it reminds us of elemental things, of topography, for instance.

My neighborhood is laced with the tributaries of Little Difficult Run, and when showers are heavy these timid trickles become raging torrents. I've seen bridges lifted off their moorings and deposited downstream. I've seen small lakes form as creeks flood their banks and become rivers. I've seen trees topple, their roots torn from rain-loosened soil.

Today's deluge is not enough for that. But it's enough to make me remember.

(Before the storm.)

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I'm Stumped

On one of my favorite, most well-trod routes, I start on the street and end up in the woods. The last part of my walk winds through the "Folkstone Forest," a straggly stretch of trees that lines the road and leads to the common land meadow.

It's not a forest in the classic, fairy tale sense, but a neighbor has gone to the trouble of printing up a green sign that says "Folkstone Forest" and hung it from a branch, so who am I to contradict?

The little trail I take is lined with fallen logs and dignified by a small plank bridge. But by this point in my walk I'm ready to be home. The playlist is winding down, the work is waiting. So of course it's then, when I'm not paying attention, that I run across the tiniest little nub of a tree stump.

Can I tell you how many times this stump has tripped me up? Too many to count. So now I look for it. I check out the smooth dirt path for the aberration, the knob. It's become a game for me, to find the stump before it stumps me. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. The stump keeps me humble.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014


It was a day of balancing — darkness and light, summer and fall. And for me, a day of driving eight and a half hours from Kentucky to Virginia.

Fall comes early in the higher elevations, and the hills were brushed with yellow. Yellow from the thinning trees, from the just-turning leaves, from the goldenrod. Yellow set off by the shaggy gray limestone cliffs that line the road.

A drive is a balancing act, too, a passage from one place to another, holding each in mind as you pass between the two.

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