Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

The candy is hidden so there will be some left for tonight. There's a plump pumpkin for carving. And the yard is covered in crisp brown leaves.

I took this photograph at a pumpkin patch Suzanne and I visited three years ago. I remember even then the preciousness of time with her. (Peace Corps was already in her plans.) The preciousness of that time, telescoped as it was then, and especially as it is now during her leave, is just a compressed version of all the precious times we spend with those we love.

The ripe fruits of autumn remind me how important it is to store up those times. Store them up as a plant does, capturing sunlight, soil and rain.


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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dancing Bones

Advanced beginners' tap is, at least for me, more about the advanced than the beginners. There's a lot of fancy footwork, quickly executed. Balance is required. The kind of balance you have in your 20s or 30s but not — ahem — later in life.

Relax your toes, teacher Candy said last night. You need to relax your toes inside your shoes and then you'll be able to move more smoothly. She broke one complicated step down into its components, told us the movement was like a ribbon unfurling.

There were other suggestions —jump down not up, take smaller steps. But the one said most often was "keep smiling." That wasn't hard. The woman next to me was wearing dance tights with skeleton bones. Suddenly I saw a parade of dancing, prancing skeletons, out for a night on the town.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How to Live? Walk.

I've been reading about the 16th-century writer Montaigne, who invented the essay, from the French essayer, to try. The idea of "writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity has not existed forever," says Sarah Bakewell in her book How to Live or A Life of Montaigne: In One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. "It had to be invented. And, unlike many cultural inventions, it can be traced to a single person: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne."


"Unlike most memoirists of his day," Bakewell writes, "he did not write to record his own great deeds and achievements. Nor did he lay down a straight eyewitness account of historical events." Instead, he used ordinary topics — friendship, names, smells, thumbs, wearing clothes — as a way to explore the question "How to live?"

Here are some of his answers, according to Bakewell: Pay attention; read a lot; wake from the sleep of habit; see the world; reflect on everything and regret nothing and, finally, let life be its own answer.

I've been taking notes, as I often do, and there are many passages I've recorded to reflect on later. Here's one of my favorites:

Montaigne did not brood in his tower, Bakewell writes. "He liked to be out walking. 'My thoughts fall asleep if I make them sit down. My mind will not budge unless my legs move it.'"

Every hike, saunter, amble, walk and run I take tells me he's onto something there.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Trail Thoughts

Yesterday's trail hike took me from Lake Accotink to Byron Avenue Park, almost to Old Keene Mill Road. This is true terra incognita. I could as easily be in Maryland or Delaware or Pennsylvania as Fairfax County.

The trail has its own rites and its own rhythms. It mesmerizes. There is the creek gurgling in the distance, the sound of a distant mower, a faint cricket chirp. My feet rustle through the leaves. I pass a few people, not many on a Monday. A gaggle of school children, a couple of lone mountain bikers, exercisers sprinting up the stairs near the dam.

But for the most part, I'm alone, notebook in hand, writing down the thoughts when they surface. Because out on the trail, they always do.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Decoration Inflation

It used to be a pumpkin beside the door. But the ante has been raised and now more houses than not feature dangling skeletons, inflatable jack-o-lanterns or witches that have flown — splat! — into trees. Some neighbors string orange lights or garland their mail boxes with autumn swag.

I enjoy these tokens of the season — because they're fun and they add variety and texture to life — but I bristle at decoration inflation, at a decorating season that stretches from October 1 through mid January.

So I've established a modest compromise. A few fall tokens (all of them souvenirs of when the girls were young), an autumn wreath and, come mid-December, colored lights around the door and on the front bushes. It's decoration without inflation.

(Claire made these tombstones from paper and croquet wickets when she was in fourth grade. )

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Outside In

It's cold enough that the heat came on, and hot air ruffles the leaves of the peace plant. I had to look up the name of this plant. I've had a smaller one for years, but never knew what it was. Now that I have a large one (given to us at Dad's funeral), I feel a greater responsibility to it, am working harder to keep it healthy, to coax its airy white flower — which shoots up, seemingly out of nowhere — in bloom.

In from outside is the cactus, the large fern and — new this year — a hardy, happy thyme plant. (We'll see how long it's happy inside.) They join a profusion of cut flowers — bouquets from Suzanne's arrival — all making the house cheerful.

As flowers fade outdoors they bloom indoors. I'd rather have the profusion of summer, but when that's not possible this is the next best thing.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Seasons of Hope

I spotted these trees on a walk two years ago and have never forgotten them. The way the living tree flames out behind the dead ones. The promise of new life hidden in each glowing leaf.

As leaves fall it is easy to be melancholy, but I remind myself that until they do, the new ones cannot grow.

What this tells me is that each end is also a beginning. That there is no season without hope.
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