Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Aftermath

Two days of weather and it's raining not just drops but petals.

Blossoms fall from the trees, cling to sidewalks, cars — and park benches, too.

A house I passed yesterday in the twilight caught my eye, its front lawn covered with vivid pink petals, from a Kwanzan cherry, I think. If I'd had time I would have stopped and snapped a picture.

Instead I remember this: an ordinary house, a tree branching green, a yard with pink snow.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

A Pageant of Green

On a walk this weekend I notice not just the pinks, purples and blues — but also the greens. Not just one but many, the trees as variegated in spring as they are in fall.

The delicate veil of the new weeping willow. The shiny darkness of the budding holly. The praying-hand buds of the tulip tree. The juvenile leaves of the red oaks, formed but not yet fully.

A ring of green around the meadow. A scarf of green tossed carelessly across the roof.

A pageant of green, freshened by rain.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Urban Density

An article in the this morning's Washington Post gives a new meaning to these words. Not density of people, density of trees. Turns out that in the District of Columbia and its suburbs, trees are a true marker of income. Where the tree cover rating is 82 percent, median household income is over $200,000; where the rating is 48 percent, median household income is $36, 250.

Trees aren't cheap. At least they haven't been for us. And even with pruning, watering and fertilizing, the trees in our yard are dying much faster than we can replace them.

I learned from the article that D.C.'s overall tree canopy has declined from 50 percent in 1950 to 36 percent today, a change due mostly to development. (In the suburbs it may be the opposite, because many neighborhoods here used to be farms with tillable fields and open meadows until the houses went in.)

After reading this article, I feel like taking off for the closest woodland path. I'd rather not think of trees in socioeconomic terms, but now, unfortunately, I will.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Grass Moon

It's not green, not blue, either. It's a brilliant white, brighter than any recent winter moon. It's the Grass Moon, a springtime orb, arriving just as the grass is starting to grow again and the mowers are humming and before we've grown tired of that weekly ritual.

 I learned of the Grass Moon by reading my favorite go-to weather site, the Capital Weather Gang. It will be a beautiful full moon tonight, the "Gang" told me, the Grass Moon. So I tiptoed out the front door at 9:30, trying not to rouse the dog, and stared at the moon peeking through the branches of the dogwood tree.

It was doubly framed, this moon, first by the tall oaks and then by the white blossoms of the tree. The moon shed enough light that I could make out each separate flower, could notice the details of branch and bloom, could have probably (if I'd wanted to) knelt down and counted each blade of grass.

It was a moon that brought the rest of spring into focus.

Wikimedia Commons: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Quite a Track

When I don't have time for a long walk at lunch I "just" walk around the Capitol. This can be an exercise in frustration, as I thread my way past bomb-sniffing dogs, bicycle-riding police officers, sign-toting protesters and press-conference-giving legislators.

Most of all, of course, there are tourists. They stroll, they dawdle, they pose for photographs. As well they should. That's what they're here for, and our city is enriched by them, really it is.

But when the Capitol loop is your lunchtime walking track, and you want to round it twice before going back to your desk, well, it's easy to stew and fume at the congestion.

Whenever that happens, I try to step back and remind myself where I am. And if I have a phone in hand (as I did one day last week), I become one of the picture-taking multitudes, too.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013


In this season of flower and shoot, consider the redbud tree. Its bloom is not red at all, but a vivid  shade of lilac. Like jewel-tone azaleas, this plant does not mess around with pale pastel. It is bold.

But it's not the bud of the redbud I want to talk about, it's the trunk — often gnarled, like the most venerable of the Yoshino cherries.

When I see a twisted trunk I think of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio:
On the trees are only a few gnarled apples that the pickers have rejected. ... One nibbles at them and they are delicious. Into a little round place at the side of the apple has been gathered all of its sweetness. One runs from tree to tree over the frosted ground picking the gnarled, twisted apples and filling his pockets with them. Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples.
In spring our eyes are drawn to extravagant bloom and brilliant color. But underneath are the crooked trunks, which are beautiful all year long. They are sturdy in their imperfections. They are as sweet as twisted apples.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Boogie Wonderland

Never underestimate the power of soundtrack. The tunes in the ear set the pace, set the mood and sometimes make the day.

Take today, for instance, a gray Tuesday. Ho-hum. But over the weekend I watched a French movie, "The Intouchables," which featured some of my favorite old Earth Wind and Fire songs. I already had most of them, but after Saturday night I also have "Boogie Wonderland" on my iPod. So that's what I listened to on the short walk from Judiciary Square to New Jersey Avenue.

Impossible to walk to this song. You bop. You bounce. And you try, very hard, not to dance.

But don't take my word for it. Listen (and watch) for yourself.

(See what I mean. Even the trees are dancing.)

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth and Water

It's Earth Day, and I'm thinking about water. More specifically, about a presentation I went to last week at the law school where I work in which students discussed the human right to water. This is new terminology for me. A human need, yes. A human right, well...

But I'll let that pass for the moment as I think of my far-flung child, my oldest, living in a place where water — and lack of it — is very much on people's minds.

The other night she called, and it was a bad connection. "I think it's because of the rain," she said, voice jubilant. The rain, which was finally falling there on the edge of the Sahel. The rain that hadn't fallen in months as the temperature soared. "It's good for the plants," she said, understated as usual since it's also good for people, whose wells won't go dry, who no longer have to choose between cooking or washing their clothes, who now have enough to drink.

One day a year we honor the planet, with all its strengths and all its frailties. But this is hard to do in a land of plenty. Where resources are scarce, every day is Earth Day.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Other Cherry

To visit the Tidal Basin in late March or early April is to walk through a tunnel of ethereal white blossoms, to be transported into the soul of early spring. The Yoshino cherry trees never fail to transfix and amaze a winter-weary populace.

But there is another blooming cherry tree, a later arrival, whose beauty I appreciate more each year. It's the Kwanzan, its blossoms pinker and more vivid than the Yoshino. The Kwanzan have a warmer hue and a more generous, sturdy flower. Fat-fisted, big-hearted —as awe inspiring as their cousin, maybe even more so.

I'm looking at ours right now. I didn't understand what it was when we bought it, thought we'd purchased a Yoshino, and the first year or two was disappointed with its late, scarce bloom. But this year it has come into its own. Right now it's wagging its head in the cool, brilliant sunshine. Look at me, it's saying. Have you ever seen such a sight?

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Friday, April 19, 2013


As I write, the entire city of Boston is on lockdown. All businesses, offices and schools are closed. No public transit, no street life. Seven and a half million people told to stay inside as police comb the streets looking for the second suspect in the marathon bombings.

Across the country, a town leveled by a fertilizer explosion searches for victims and buries its dead.

And finally, an Elvis impersonator who struggled with mental illness is accused of sending Ricin-laced letters to the president and other officials.

Try putting this in a novel and your editor (if you had one) would protest. Unbelievable! Too much! Take some of it out!

But this isn't a novel.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Stem, Bud, Leaf

I write about this hedge every year. It's a welcome subject today, when there are so many things I'd rather not write about. So many sad and unnatural things.

The hedge, on the other hand, spends its days just being a hedge. It was trimmed earlier in the season, so it has the sad openness of a little boy after his first haircut, curls heaped around the chair.

But the haircut has not deterred the hedge from performing its hedgely duty — the steady transformation from brown stem to pink bud to green leaf.

Some years it takes weeks for this to happen, and I hold my breath. But this year it took only a few days. An ordinary miracle.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

White Violets

An oxymoron, I guess. A rarity, for sure.

Find a field of violets, and the ratio of white to purple will be roughly the same as this one.

But finding a field of violets isn't easy. Too often the sweet flowers have been weeded or mulched or mowed into oblivion.

The owners of this house have the good sense to let their violets bloom free. (No, it's not our yard — I wish our weeds were this attractive.) And they've been rewarded with the rare white variety. Not many of the flowers, just enough for contrast, just enough to let us know they're still around. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Post Boston, Post 9/11

The Saturday before 9/11/01 I went to the National Book Festival. We milled around the Capitol grounds, soaking up the literary ambiance. Books and book lovers as far as the eye could see. Paradise!

Two days later the world was a different place. I thought to myself, there will be no innocent crowd scenes again. No more National Book Festivals — or anything like them. Gatherings will take place, but we won't participate in them the same way. We'll always be looking over our shoulders, bracing ourselves for a pop or a crack or a boom.

The reality has been far more complicated. I've gone back to the book festival and many other happenings on the Mall. Just last weekend I was standing with throngs of others at the base of the Washington Monument as Claire completed the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler. I plan to be waiting for her at the finish line of the Marine Corps Marathon in October. It's been 11 and a half years since 9/11. Sometimes I forget.

But the Boston Marathon bombing has made us remember all over again, remember that we live in a different place than we did on September 10, 2011; remember the silent, cloudless sky, the Twin Towers incinerated, the Pentagon on fire.

Remember that innocence, or what we had left of it, is gone forever.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Goals and Deadlines

On this national deadline day, a few thoughts on reaching goals. How what keeps us going is setting new ones, and what happens when we don't know what the next new one should be.

The natural world may be of some help here. It's all about growth and change: bud to flower, flower to leaf. Waves rolling in; waves rolling out. The steady rhythm of the tides.

But all of this within seasonal cycles.

Nature doesn't mind repeating itself. But it does so with endless variation.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Pear Trees

It's the most suburban of neighborhoods, a place of happy families and dogs and swim team cheeriness. It's tidy and cultivated.

Except every spring when the Bradford pears bloom. Then it's magical. The natural world has taken over and I hardly notice the vans with sports stickers.

The white trees, the way they bend over the road.  Their lacy branches and dark trunks. The ethereal effect of it all.

Spring reminds us of what is invisible the rest of the year.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Sound of the Season

What happens when you jump from winter to summer overnight? When you move from a few brave daffodils and halfhearted forsythia to flowering cherries and Bradford pears; to hyacinth, forget-me-not, periwinkle and violets — and, most especially, to budding maples and poplars and oaks.

What happens is perhaps summed up in one word, actually one sound. Awwwwwww choo!

Once or twice in this blog I've written about our late, great parakeet, Hermes. He was a talkative little guy who had a dozen or so words in his repertoire. But the sound he made most often was the human sneeze. He heard it enough that he figured it was our call.

There's a reason for that.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Wild Ride

The magazine I edit is stored in the second (deepest) level of the parking garage under the building next door. Ferrying our shipment of magazines from truck to cage involves a handcart that slides under the pallet so it can be lifted and pushed to its destination.

But when its destination is down two steep ramps and there are more magazines than usual, it's a wild ride.

"This weighs 1,200 pounds," said the driver when he surveyed the scene. "You want me to push it down that ramp?"

"Yes," I nodded, adding something vague about how there must be more boxes this time, the delivery is usually no problem.

The driver used the side of the ramp to slow the momentum, but there was still a point when I thought we might have a runaway pallet on our hands. "This is like a ride at King's Dominion," the driver said.

The boxes eventually reached their destination, but it would take another guy and another handcart to finish the job. Along the way I moved some pallets and boxes myself.

Woke up this morning with aching arms and back. What gives? I thought at first. Oh, that's right, it was yesterday's delivery. It was a wild ride.

Photo: bestcardboardboxes.com


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Seize the Day

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough
And stands along the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide

Now, of my threescore years and ten
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
A.E. Housman

I kept thinking of these words yesterday, of how beauty is bounded by time, how all things precious are. And so this seasonal ritual is not just spectacle, not just renewal, it is reminder.

The blossoms are fleeting; they, like us, will come and go. But we're here, and they're here.

There's nothing left to do but seize the day.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Blossoms for the People

I used to wait for the perfect photograph, hold my camera steady until a split-second unobstructed view. But on today's early morning stroll around the Tidal Basin, I didn't mind including people in the picture. It was the people I noticed most.

The joy on their faces, not a sour look in the bunch. These are cherry blossom devotees, early risers,  up before 6 to be downtown before 7.  Joggers, bikers, picnickers, photographers — all here for one reason, to get their fill of beauty.

Here's what they saw:

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Southwest Wind

Spring rode in on the tail of the southwest wind. And it rode in at full speed.

Whitecaps danced on the Potomac, and greening willows swayed in the breeze.

Cyclists on the Four Mile Run Trail (one of whom was me) felt like they were on stationary bikes, so strong were the headwinds they faced. They pedaled hard but barely moved forward. A strange and unnerving sensation. Exhausting, too.

The Four Mile Trail winds through Gravelley Point Park, which lies along the approach to National Airport. Which means that when I looked up from my torturous ride, I saw this.

If I was having so much trouble steering my bike, though, how difficult was it for the pilots to land? Hmmm. Maybe not such a good day to be at Gravelly Point Park. And so I pedaled away as quickly as I could. Which wasn't very quickly.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Mulching Season

I have a complicated relationship with mulch.

When we first moved here 24 years ago, I saw in mulch all the suburban ills — the false tidiness, the compulsive behavior of gardeners who seemed to have nothing better to do than spread the stuff halfway up their tree trunks.

These were days of high complaint for me. I missed the small New England village we'd just left. A place where houses sat right on the side of small lanes — and mulching, when it did occur, was done discretely out back.

Flash forward almost a quarter of a century. The small town idyll mourned and missed but ultimately abandoned. And the years that passed have not been kind to our yard. It's obvious we have used no lawn service, no chemicals, either — unless you count lime.

Mulch covers a multitude of sins. Also, of course, it keeps weeds at bay.

Now I walk past yards aromatic with the stuff, gardens darkened with the best, shredded kind. And I wish not for a mulch-free yard, just the opposite. I wish for a yard already mulched. For mulch that doesn't lie in bags in the driveway, for mulch that's already been spread.

Lo, how the mighty have fallen.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

On the Path to Spring

The rain that was supposed to come today arrived last night instead. We have sunshine and fuller air and only a faint breeze stirring the holly.

Winter has hung on longer than usual this year, and any warmth is welcome. I remind myself what it will feel like in August, the blanket of humidity that will descend upon us then, how even a half-mile stroll will be a walk through wet cement.

Doesn't matter. I crave warmth anyway. At this point I'm an animal emerging from hibernation, shaking my coat, searching for a rock to bask upon.


Thursday, April 4, 2013


I discovered them last year and have imagined them many times since. Not exactly Wordsworth's daffodils, but close. They have the same careless profusion, the same grace and glee. They come to a world stripped of color; they are the opening salvo of spring.

Even knowing they were there, I was still surprised by their number and color, by the way they've threaded themselves through the woods.

And I wasn't the only one. There were other walkers on the path, nodding, pointing, savoring their glory.

I almost took another picture. But I'd taken several last year. So this year's pilgrimage was just to look, to imagine, to store them up like sunshine and good times. To keep them in mind as the poet did, for a "vacant" or "pensive mood."

And that's where they are now, and where they'll stay.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Beyond the Horizon

Three walks yesterday: One in the morning, one at lunchtime, one in the evening.

In the first, the sun blared in from the east, blotting out all color on the Mall. The darkness in this photograph is deceptive. The place was flooded with light. But as I stepped in front of the Capitol, the rising sun seemed to disappear behind the building, and the birds, lively at that time of day, flew in and out of the rays.

It was only when I looked at the photo again today that I noticed the aura that emanates from the Capitol Dome. As if the sun was rising right behind it, as if the city ceased to exist beyond that horizon. Not just the city but all known inhabited places.

What lies beyond is terra incognita. A steep cliff and then nothing. Unknown lands. A blank slate. The future.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Waiting for Spring

An early morning trip to see the cherry blossoms. The only pink I see is in the sky. The buds, tight-fisted, will hold out a few days more.

They are bundled up as warmly as I am in coat, scarf and gloves.

But they'll be worth the wait. They always are.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

No Fooling

Easter's proximity to April Fool's Day this year — plus a sermon yesterday mentioning how an agnostic might think that Jesus' disciples hid his body to build the case for resurrection — makes me ponder faith, naivete and what it means to believe.

As the mother of a teenager I'm accustomed to defending my church-going behavior. It's not hedging bets, not really, but at some point I think we choose to believe.

This may not be faith. But it's close enough for me.


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