Saturday, February 13, 2016


On February 13, 2006, my children were in fifth, ninth and eleventh grades — all still at home.  My parents were alive and going strong. Copper the dog had not yet come to live with us.

On this day, a Monday, I got off  Metro three stops closer to home, walked into a new office and started a new job. I was editing a magazine, which meant not only writing and line editing but also working with designers and a printer. I'd never done anything quite like it before.

The months and years have passed, the magazines have gotten to the printer (on deadline!) — and the job has remained.  It's changed, of course. Now I edit web stories, press releases and media advisories; I keep tabs on videos and tweets and Facebook posts. I've adjusted, I guess you'd say.

I try not to think about what I would have done instead. This job has given me an income and security. It has given me the flexibility I needed to raise children and tend parents. But I'm a freelancer at heart and don't always measure success in the conventional manner.

Still, today I raise a glass — a bit tentatively and not without irony, but I raise one just the same. Ten years is a long time to be at a job. It's a milestone worth celebrating.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Ripples in Space

Yesterday's announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves, a phenomenon that Einstein  predicted but which had not been observed until now, does not exactly make me slap my forehead and say, "I knew it, I knew they were going to figure that out one of these days."

I had no idea that gravitational waves were even in the maybe column. Physics for me will always be a high school class I somehow registered for without the required calculus and Mr. Taylor peering over his glasses to say, "Miss Cassidy, WHY are you in my class?" 

But after reading about the "chirp" scientists heard after converting gravitational waves to sound waves, a "chirp" that had for decades eluded them, I wanted to learn more about gravitational waves, these "ripples in the fabric of space."

"Gravitational waves provide a completely new way of looking at the Universe," Stephen Hawking said upon learning of the discovery. "The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionize astronomy. This discovery is the first detection of a black hole binary system and the first observation of black holes merging."

Black holes merging. Ripples in space. Kinda puts everything else in perspective, doesn't it?



Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Climate of Reading

The Wind is Not a River is not a book to read in the winter. When his plane is shot down, journalist John Easley bails out and lands on Attu, the westernmost of Alaska's Aleutian Islands and the site of the only World War II battle fought on U.S. territory.

Easley has come to report on the war but instead finds himself in a damp, cold place known as "the birthplace of winds." He survives by eating mussels and coaxing fire out of grass and driftwood. He wraps up in a parachute to sleep.  He is never really warm.

When I read this novel I find myself pulling up the covers or tightening my scarf. Such is the power of fiction to take us out of one place and plop us down in another.

But I must choose books more carefully. Read in the warm months, this book would be a cool breeze. Read in the winter, it's yet another nail in the coffin of cold.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Passage to Spring

Lent arrives early this year — before Valentine's Day. This is cruel timing for those of us contemplating a 40-day ban on chocolate.

But if it gives us an early Easter and an early spring (not that those two necessarily go together ... ) then bring it on.

Meanwhile, the wind is howling in from the west and roads are slicked from last night's freeze. This will be the coldest week of the winter. A fitting time, then, to begin a spiritual pilgrimage, a journey, a passage.

I always remind myself that "lent" comes from the word "to lengthen." Seen this way, then, lent is a passage to spring. It is a time of lengthening days, of birds on the wing. A time of promise that soon we'll be green and growing again. 

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Back to Africa

Time for a mental vacation. I'm heading back to Africa for a few minutes, to Parc Pendjari in northwest Benin, bordering Burkina Faso.

It was a last-minute addition to our itinerary, something we undertook because we found a family of five to tag along with. They had hired a guide and driver — the only way to see the park — and let us join their group.

We saw elephants and baboons and a young cheetah. We stayed at a lodge that seemed lifted from a novel: a circular, open-air lobby with small cottages clustered around it. Our twin beds were draped with mosquito nets, and there was a shower with running water.

After lunch and siesta we clambered back on top of the van and rode through the countryside as the sun sank lower in the sky. A sea of grass waved around us; the whole world seemed made of it.

It was a moment out of time, one I return to often, a moment of tamed adventure. The wild around us, the promise of rest to come.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Sculptural Snow

A walk over the weekend took me past snow piled in fantastical shapes. Snow like the wind-scoured face of an ancient mountain. Snow like an architecturally inspried installation of an avant garde exhibition.

What snow we have left has blackened caps and sides. It has hardened into peaks and valleys. It is nothing like what fell here 17 days ago.

What's left now are the remnants of plowed mountains, covered with exhaust and road soot. It's snow as refuse, snow as sculpture.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Now We Are Six

The recent blizzard reminded me of this blog's beginnings six years ago today during the snowstorm known as "Snowmageddon." (This year's blizzard name, "Snowzilla," just hasn't caught on.)

Had we not received two feet of snow in 2010 I would probably not be marking six years of A Walker in the Suburbs in 2016.

But we did, and I am.

To celebrate the day, I turn to A.A. Milne, who not only wrote Winnie the Pooh but also this lovely poem:

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six
now and forever. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Pure Possibility

End of the week. End of ideas? Probably not. They will emerge again, maybe even in a few minutes. But this is the time I have to write, this crazy early time, propelled by sleeplessness to grab the few moments I can reasonably (or not so reasonably) claim.

What is it that makes these morning minutes so sacred? It is, in part, the quiet. Others sleeping. Tea steeping. The duties of the day still a couple of hours away (unless I check work email!).

But it is also a sense of anticipation, of having another day. A day that at this point is still pure possibility, not yet freighted with what might have been.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Late Walk

The snow didn't just melt yesterday, it evaporated. It left us in a great sigh of fog and cloud. A late walk convinced me of this, put me in the midst and the mist of its vanishing.

Along the shoulder, snowbanks receded, and rivulets streamed across the pavement. The air was alternately cool and warm, pockets of moisture and of scent.

Car lights cast rainbows in the air. I kept my distance, knowing they couldn't see me. But I marveled at the diffused light they cast, and used it to find my way.

In the west the clouds parted just enough to showcase the sunset, its pinks and violets a simmering, shimmering band of unexpected color.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dreams of Spring

Punxsutawney Phil has spoken. We will have an early spring. Time to commence some serious daydreaming.

In my mind's eye I see the three-inch daffodils out by the front tree emerging unscathed from the (rapidly melting) snow. I see them grow taller and plumper by the hour soon to erupt in yellow flower.

I see the hydrangeas, not frost nipped this year, exploding in riotous pinks and lavenders.

And the rosy-flowered tree behind the garage, the one that was blooming a few weeks ago, it has somehow gotten a miraculous second wind.

But for now, the snow still lies deep in woods and fields. And all my dreams of spring lie buried beneath it, buried beneath a thick white coverlet.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Next Day

Common wisdom says the mileposts of grieving are the big days, the first Thanksgiving, Christmas or birthday without your loved one. My sister and brothers and I have passed all of these in the first three and a half months.

What I've learned, though, is that grief is a wayward thing. It sneaks up on me when I'm waiting for a Metro train or rummaging through a drawer to find an emery board.

It's there in the earrings Mom brought me back from Ireland in 1998 or any of her sweaters I couldn't bear to give away. I bury my nose in them sometime, inhale the faint odor that was her closet.

Mom was a dignified person, alone in her being. She was not big on hugging. My deep connection to her was expressed in words and deeds. But I miss her now in a physical way. 

It's the riddle of the ages, the riddle of corporeality. What we love of a person is so often the mind, the spirit. But it's a spirit that must exist in the flesh, in a body that moves in this world. Which is why, in the end, it's the worn wallet or tattered address book that brings us to tears.

(Mom with her sisters and brother; she's second from the right.)


Monday, February 1, 2016

February 1

No one inhabited a birthday as Mom did February 1. "It's the worst day in the world for a birthday," she would moan. Cold and snowy or gray and bleak. She hated winter, especially toward the end of her life, and it seemed a personal insult that was born smack dab in the middle of it.

But perhaps because she was so vocal about the day, I've associated it more closely with her than I would otherwise. And in a way it suits her. There's a no nonsense quality about it, a black-and-whiteness. It is strong, a proper reflection of her character, and like her has had to endure a fair amount of adversity.

So now we come to February 1, 2016, the first February 1 without her on this earth since 1926.  It is a mild, sunny day, one Mom might approve of.

Happy 90th birthday, Mom! It's hard to express how much I miss you.

(Mom with her namesake, my daughter Suzanne, 1989)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Places to Go

On Wednesday, a stretch of clean, dry pavement appeared — and I took it. The block of E Street between Third and Fourth, where scarves once garlanded the gingko trees, was the first clue that the walk to Metro Center would be manageable.

And it was. Only a few iffy crosswalks and curbs but otherwise blissfully snow-free stretches of sidewalk with the typically eclectric street life. Barristers with briefcases trudging meditatively through Judiciary Square giving way to raucous, red-shirted Capitals hockey fans pouring into Verizon Center.

Not as many tourists as usual, which meant a higher incidence of purposeful striding. Much like my own, I'm embarrassed to say. We walk quickly because we have Places to Go.

I wonder how many of us are going to the same place — a warm two-story colonial in need of repair; a kitchen that's seen better days, a fleet of cars that must be jockeyed in and out of the snow-walled driveway depending upon who's leaving first the next day. A room full of steam and cooking smells and "how are you's." A place that makes the walk —and  the whole day — worthwhile.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bird Cloud

It was not the best idea to pick up Annie Proulx's Bird Cloud last night when I couldn't sleep. I thought it would lull me back to dreams, much as it had the evening before.

But not this time. Last night I was farther along in Proulx's Wyoming house-building saga. I wanted to know what would happen to the concrete floor that was poorly poured — and the color of liver. I wanted to understand how she could have spent most of her (considerable) income on a place that turned out to be uninhabitable from October till May due to wind and snow-packed roads.

I still haven't gotten a satisfying answer to the last question (though it made me feel good that someone so accomplished could also be so gulled.) As to the first — well, I know she found a floor fixer who gave up his Thanksgiving (for a mere $40,000!) to sand, polish and stain her floor to a dull, serviceable brown.

Along the way, I read lines like this:  "Bird Cloud was to be a type of poem if a house can be that. After Bird Cloud was finished I knew it was a poem of landscape, architecture and fine craftsmanship..."

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