Thursday, September 29, 2016

For Kathy

Today's post is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Kathy Minton, who passed away on September 21. Kathy was a fellow walker and reader, a lover of books and of life who was taken from us far, far too soon.

We became friends as young editors, she at Working Mother, me at McCall's. We quickly realized we had a lot in common and lived only a few blocks apart, so we'd stroll home together through Central Park, talking all the way.

Kathy was hands down the fastest walker I've ever known. A native New Yorker, she could navigate her way through Fifth Avenue crowds at rush hour, sidestepping the slow pokes and adjusting her stride to catch every green light.

A few years after I left New York, Kathy was offered the perfect job — director of literary programs at Symphony Space. She stayed there for the next 25 years, producing the Selected Shorts program and many other literary endeavors, making her living from books and ideas.

But she always made time for walking, so whenever I'd go to New York I'd get in touch with Kathy and it would be just like the old days: a fast walk, a good talk.

I'm a believer, so I'm trying to imagine Kathy in a more perfect place. But it's hard to do. It's hard to imagine her anywhere else but New York.  So what I wish for her instead is a perfect New York walk. A crisp fall day, an open stretch of sidewalk, and plenty of friends to share the trail.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Rescue Trail

The commute continues to exhaust and befuddle. It took me two hours to get home last Thursday and almost that long last night. I arrived at the Reston North Park and Ride lot just as the sun was setting.

I had my bag, having parked in the garage, but the round trip there and back would have taken 15 minutes, and in the interest of working in a walk before it was completely dark, I decided to stroll bag in hand (or, I should say, bag on shoulder).

It was a wonderful time to be on the trail. The sun had come out late in the day, and people were making the most of it. There were bikers and runners and walkers. There were commuters in work clothes and exercisers in sweats and spandex.

Goldenrod and grasses hung their heads over the pavement in a shaggy profusion. There was a stillness to their beauty, and it calmed and centered me. What a difference the walk made, better than a drink or a drug. It wasn't magic; it was the trail.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Bring on the Light

Maybe it was the debate last night or maybe it's just that time of year, but this morning there was no hesitation. I had barely opened my eyes when I came downstairs and plugged in the full-spectrum light that gets me through the winter.

The lamp adds minutes to the morning, tweaks circadian rhythms and helps banish the winter blahs.

It could be a placebo, but I've written enough about seasonal affective disorder to believe that light makes a difference.  So here I sit, a bit warm, if you want to know the truth, because it isn't cold out there yet, just dark. Very, very dark.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Milkweed on the Fly

A bushwhacking expedition wasn't on Sunday's list of activities, but on the way back from breakfast I noticed a brown Fairfax County Park sign in a place I'd never seen one before, at the intersection of Fox Mill and Waples Mill Roads. We doubled around and pulled into a small lot that used to be in front of a great wall of bamboo.

A man was there weed whacking. He stopped and talked, said he lived nearby and was trying to make the area presentable. He pointed out a barely discernible path through the meadow. Bamboo never totally leaves a place, of course; it just bides its time. For now, though, the little park is walkable.

A quarter mile into the tangle of grasses and weeds, there was a small, clogged pond and a stand of cat tails. Milkweed pods filled the air with their fairy fluff; I tried to photograph each cottony morsel as it flew by.

It was next to impossible, but I had fun trying.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Things to Come

Well, the jig is up. The summer jig, that is. It's in the 50s as  I write these words on the deck, swaddled in my warm winter robe, the fuzzy white one. No slippers, only my outside crocs. I could use a pair of fuzzy socks, too.

Copper, however, is in his element, prancing in the bars of sunlight that stripe the back yard at this time of day and year.

He responds just to the weather at hand, which, if it were the prelude to a hot summer day, would be just fine, no problem. But I know what he doesn't: that this is just the beginning of the chill, that there will be rain and snow and early darkness.

Sometimes I long for an animal brain.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

In Focus

I walked early today, not still-dark early, but I-don't-have-to-be-in-an-office early. Which is a great kind of early.

The air was cool enough that I had closed windows an hour or so earlier, cool enough that I wished for a moment I'd worn long sleeves.

But not for long did I think this, because a walk, among other things, is a warm-up. It takes that which is cold, stiff and fuzzy — and renders it warm, limber and clear.

It creates new internal weather; it can bring a whole day into focus.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Late Light Walk


It was almost 7 p.m. last night but the air was so fresh and still, so lit up from the inside, that I just had to pull over and walk through it.

Luckily, I was near a Reston path. So I laced up my spare tennis shoes and hit the trail.

I've just been reading Annie Dillard (more about her in a later post) and am sorely conscious of how beautifully light can be described.  So let me just say that I felt as I was walking through a painting by Thomas Cole or other Hudson River School painter. I felt that the light was shimmering all around me, that it was bouncing off the trees and the darker shapes and illuminating them, too.

It wasn't quite as dramatic as these photos (snapped, ironically enough, quite near the Hudson River, on the train trip home night before last) but it had some of this drama.

It was dark by the end of my walk, but that didn't matter. I was all lit up inside.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beyond Comparison

Penn Station, New York, N.Y. , 6:45 p.m. I mill around by the big board that announces train tracks. It's a people watcher's paradise: a mix of commuters and long-distance travelers, people with big bags and small bags and pillows and backpacks. People with coffee and salads and bagels to eat in the train or take  back to the folks at home. Every so often a train will be announced, followed by a predictable swarm to E10 or W13 or whichever gate has been tagged.

Fast forward three hours. Union Station, Washington, D.C., 10 p.m. The train arrives right on time to a station that is far too empty, far too clean. It even smells of disinfectant.

I could go on ... but I won't. It's home now. Or at least the gateway to home. And it's almost beyond comparison, the two cities are so different.

Let me just say this, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson or whoever said it of London ... He who is tired of New York is tired of life.


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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Two Thousand!

It's a big day for the blog — its two thousandth post! And it passes this milestone in the Big Apple, the perfect setting for a celebration.

It's fitting — because this is where I lived when I started making my living from writing. It wasn't much of a living in those days. McCall's Magazine barely paid its young editors enough to live on. I had a second job as a live-in "mother's helper" for a crazy and lovable family on the Upper West Side to make ends meet.

But I was living the dream: writing, editing, soaking up the sights and sounds of the city and walking everywhere.

I still write and edit every day, but the setting has changed. As much as I love New York City, I doubt I could ever live here again.

It's part of me now, though, just as these two thousand blog posts are.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Long Walk in the Big City

Yesterday I took a long walk in the big city. I started in the theater district, made my way south and west to pick up the Highline, which is now available at 34th Street!  From there (where I snapped this picture and then very quickly ran out of charge), I strolled to Gansevoort Street, then down Jane to the West Side Highway and over to the long, skinny park that runs along the Hudson.

The sun was flirting with us, in and out from the clouds. At times it seemed as if it would pour. But it didn't (until today), so I had five blissful hours of ambling.

It's really the whole package that does it to me here in the city. It's the energy of the people and the place. It's all the hundreds of details — from the grumpy Penn Station employee yelling at a woman who could hardly lug her suitcase ("Why did you pack so much?") to the crazy wedding parade I found myself swept up in at the end of the day (complete with a kazoo band).

It's good to be here. Life enhancing, as a matter of fact.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

All Aboard

Heading to New York aboard the Acela Express, three  hours to the Big Apple. It's work that takes me there this time, but I've built in a few hours to walk.

It will be the perfect way to calm down after a frenetic morning of packing, texting — and learning about last night's Chelsea bombing. I can already imagine the relief of moving quickly down an avenue, the creative chaos of Manhattan setting the pace.

For now, there is the slightly bumpy ride of a fast-moving train, the only sounds those of keys clicking and newspapers turning. (I'm in the quiet car.)

It's a rocking motion, and would, if I gave it half a chance, lull me to sleep.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Rose Hips

Overnight, it seems that fall has moved in. A clammy, chillier air,  and the back lawn is scattered with leaves. The mums don't look so out of place now, and for some reason the climbing rose has produced a bumper crop of rose hips.

What a strange and lovely name, rose hips. I look up the etymology, learn it is a 16th-century alteration of the Middle English "hepe" and the Old English "heope," meaning seed pod.

Rose hips are invested with all sorts of nutritional properties, have far more Vitamin C than oranges, for instance.

If I had worlds of time, I'd collect the rose fruits and make tea or jelly. The garden has produced nothing else much that's edible, apart for oregano, mint and thyme.

Instead, I'll snap a photo and write a post. It's another way to preserve the goodness of the rose.


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Thursday, September 15, 2016

On Foot

Metro's massive rehab project has me once again scrambling for a way to work, switching up my commute. Today a predawn bus and a walk to the office from Army Navy Drive.

Crystal City is not what I would call a walker's paradise. It's honeycombed with expressways and hotel driveways. But hey, it has sidewalks and, more to the point, it's my work 'hood. So I'm getting to know it, block by block.

This morning a welcome breeze, a dearth of traffic (it was early) and 70-degree temps made the stroll delightful. I passed dog walkers, joggers and a few people who looked like they had yet to go to bed from the night before.

In other words, a motley crew — and fun to observe. Just further confirmation that it's the right way to start a day, on foot.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Found Time

Sometimes when I wake early I think it's because there is something I need more than sleep. That something would be time.

I've never been a prima donna kind of writer. I fold personal writing into my day: dashing off a post before dawn, scribbling thoughts in my journal on Metro. I have no backyard cabin or artist's garret (I wish). The living room is my "office," and my writing time is whenever I can find it.

Still, there's never enough time. So every week or two I don't fight the early waking as much as I might. I come downstairs and grab the two hours or 90 minutes or whatever scrap of time insomnia has given me — and use it to read and write.

I might start the day a little tired, but I've filled a greater need. I've lost sleep — but I've found myself.

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