Saturday, August 31, 2013

Silver Maple

I saw them on the drive Friday. Trees with leaves that are green on top but glint silver when tickled by the wind. Leaves with flip sides that shine like the scales of a fish.

Silver maples thrive in wetlands, I've learned; I know them from the mountains of Kentucky. I remember my parents pointing them out to me on those interminable Sunday drives.

Since then I've reveled in this botanical knowledge and in the secret beauty these trees possess. Leaves hiding their loveliest feature, revealing it only when the wind blows.

(It's hard to find a picture of a silver maple with its silver showing.)

Friday, August 30, 2013

Same Route, New Light

I drove to Kentucky yesterday — but left Virginia about six hours later than I usually do. The Blue Ridge were not the morning smudge on the horizon they usually are; they were full-bodied mountains rising in the west.

The little trail at the White Sulphur Springs rest stop had no trace of morning mist. It was shimmering in the midday sun.

And that last hour to Lexington was strangely peaceful, with darkness closing in fast.

All along the way I marveled at the road. I knew it was the same one, the map told me so. But the light said something different.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

House Keeper

To be alone in a house that once was full is to feel tender toward it, to show it greater care than usual. So you scrub the floor of the pantry closet and purge its contents. The kitchen faucet is now shiny and spotless, and the bedrooms are freshened by clean linens. This is not their usual state.

You are hoping that this is not the way you'll always be. You'd like to have some of that old devil-may-care attitude, the one that helped you shrug off the untidiness and the disorganization. The years of toys ankle deep in the dining playroom, the piles of shoes by the front door.

Not the toys and the shoes themselves, mind you, just the ability to forgive them for standing between order and disorder.

It struck me yesterday that I am a house keeper. Not a housekeeper. The word break is crucial. I'm not a professional. I'm an amateur, one who comes to the task not from duty but from love.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Late Summer Color

Purples and yellows splash color into the late-summer garden. Chicory blooms blue along the roadside. And for contrast, the bridal-veil white of clematis paniculata.

Summer may not have been hot this year, but it has been colorful. Plentiful rain has kept the grass green, has meant no watering, no parched soil.

Wildflowers scarce in other seasons are emboldened this year.  The soil has a memory, especially when it rains.

Late summer color softens the blow, warms these days of waning light.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

A Building is Born

This morning on my way to work I didn't have to cross the street and cross it again a block later. I didn't have to walk around a construction site. It seems that finally, finally, the new building is finished.

I've watched it fall and rise again, gutted, framed and windowed. The old building was indistinguishable from its brothers, another stone box. This new version is mostly glass, it seems. Shiny and bright, but I'm wondering how it will hold up.

No matter, though. I'm just relieved that my path here is not impeded, that cranes don't swing across the sky, that First Street no longer narrows to one lane.

It happens all the time, I know, but usually not so close to home. And when it does, it's worth mentioning: A building is born.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Volunteer

I didn't plant this flower, didn't even notice it until last week. A volunteer, I suppose, a morning glory that decided to glorify us on its own, not sought out, not planted (its seed nicked and soaked as the instructions on the morning glory seed packet suggest).

Instead, it grew from escaped seeds, from flowers settled two, three summers ago, blown to the other side of the deck stairs, cosseted by leaf mold and azalea shade. Its green tendrils twined around the evergreen branches, spiraling up and around, through sunlight and darkness. Invisible for one season at least, maybe two.

And now, finally, it finds itself here, at the rag-tag end of summer, glinting in the sunlight of an August morning.

The volunteer proves that nature has its own designs and humans are often not a part of them. Beauty, however, often is.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Empty and Full

Yesterday we drove Celia, the youngest, a few hours up the road to college. For the first time since we bought this house in 1989, I awoke to no children living in it.

Until this morning the adrenalin carried me along. The list-making and packing, trying to make her transition as smooth as possible. But now the adrenalin is gone. The children are, too.

All the years of other-oriented living, of pushing my own needs aside for theirs, they haven't come to a complete halt, of course, but they have come to a new phase.

I think of those amusement park rides that begin with a slow boat float through a cool tunnel only to shoot riders down a channel of water with a stomach-churning drop and a plume of spray.

What I thought would be easy turned out to be hard. Very hard. And at the end of the ride (the end of one phase of the ride, I should say), I'm exhausted, curious, wistful.

I'm empty — but I'm also full.

The van on the return trip. Those bags are empty — but the car is full.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Almost Morning

Though waking up in the wee hours has its deficits, it also has its benefits. And one of them is watching the sky lighten, the trees gradually emerge from the dusk, each individual branch making a pact with the light. Yes, we are here.

Today it was after 6 a.m. when this happened. And even now, as we edge toward 7, the morning is still uncertain, unknowable.

Soon the sun will glance through the front oaks and sparkle on the dew. I'll walk out the door with music in my ears, lace up my shoes, trot down the street and put a stamp on the day.

But until then it is still almost morning. A time of infinite possibility.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Smooth Ride

Road so rough it broke the car wheel. Road that had to get worse before it would get better.

Most of the summer they've been stripping years off Fox Mill Road, layer upon layer of pockmarked macadam. Until finally they got to that ripply layer at the bottom, the one you wonder if you should actually drive on but always do because for a few weeks it's the only road there is.

For years I've pondered when this hilly, winding relic would be repaved. Even to the point of thinking the non-repair was strategic, a way to lessen the traffic. (And I'm not so sure that it wasn't.)

But finally, this summer, the trucks appeared, the orange cones. For once I didn't sigh at the sight of them. And then, a few days ago, I turned right, braced myself for the bumps and found ... brand-new pavement, white and yellow lines fresh from the paint truck.

A smooth ride!

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Leaving in Darkness

This morning I left the house in darkness. I navigated the front stoop steps in darkness, fumbled for the car key in darkness, backed more slowly down the driveway — that's right — in darkness.

Inky skies, illuminated instrument panel, sipping my tea as I cruised through silent neighborhoods. The road ahead of me opened only a glimpse of the miles ahead; the rest of the way was shrouded, unknowable.

Beginning the day in darkness gives the eyes time to adjust — the soul, too. I savor these moments of peace.

Still, the best part about leaving in darkness is arriving in the light.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Running Late

The morning has come and gone and I haven't yet written a post. I don't even have a good excuse. Busy at work, busy at home, but those conditions are hardly unusual.

Sometimes things just don't get done in time.

Maybe it's because we're in the last two weeks of August, Congress is not in session (not that my blog has anything to do with the legislative branch!) and D.C. is in a sort of cloudy haze.

Or maybe it's because I jumped into other projects earlier than usual.

Whatever the explanation, I'm running late. So I'm posting now, before I'm even later!


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Place, Unexpected

So I'm reading along in Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies, a re-telling of the last months of Thomas Cromwell's life, riveted by her story of intrigue in the court of King Henry VIII, not expecting a discussion of place, when I find this:
He [Cromwell] is buying land in the lusher parts of England, but he has no leisure to visit it; so these farms, these ancient manors in their walled gardens, these watercourses with their little quays, these ponds with their gilded fish rising to the hook; these vineyards, flower dens, arbours and walks, remain to him flat, each one a paper construct, a set of figures on a page of accounts: not sheep-nibbled margins, nor meadows where kine stand knee-deep in grass, not coppices nor groves where a white doe shivers, a hoof poised; but parchment domains, leases and freeholds delimited by inky clauses, not by ancient hedges, or boundary stones.
 Here is a longing for place that is ancient but real, the pull of the city-dweller toward the bucolic retreat, the dream of land when land is owned but not possessed.

How many of us moderns feel the same?

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Run, Don't Walk

Sometimes it's harder to walk fast than it is to run slow. So more often than not these days I find myself running. Not like these college girls, fleet of foot, majorly in shape.

No. I'm talking about a middle-aged version of running. Plodding, for sure.

The fast walk must balance speed with dexterity. The roll of the foot, still earthbound. Keeping the pace when gravity argues against it.

Whereas the run, after a while, becomes habit. There is a rhythm there that moves you forward. Kind of like living.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Solar Cell

A chill in the air this morning reminds me that we're closing in on fall — without really having had summer.  A few days of weather in the upper 90s, but for the most part relatively cool and rainy.

Most people rejoice. They say we've lucked out. But if you love the summer and don't mind the heat,  coming to this point in the year with a brisk wind and low humidity feels like cheating.

Where are those long langourous afternoons? The scent of the water as it flows from the hose? The long hot walks down the Mall?

Maybe they're in the future. If not, they're in memory.  Meanwhile, there are still black-eyed susans and sitting on the deck at noon, a human solar cell, storing up heat for the winter to come.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Liftoff and Letdown

Yesterday I had the pleasure of going through airport security twice for the same flight. I'd left something in the car. Later in the day, while waiting for a connection in another airport, I walked past an even busier security checkpoint, people rushing to lace up their shoes, stuff toiletries in bags, zip laptops into cases.

That flying is an exhausting, dehumanizing experience is news to no one. But you forget just how exhausting and dehumanizing when most of your trips are by car.

In exchange for the miracle of flight, we have the humiliation of full-body scans, the inconvenience of unpacking what we just packed and stuffing it into gray bins, the thrill of padding barefoot along the airport floor.

A reminder that even though we soar through clouds, our fears and troubles usually keep us earthbound.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013


A walker notices boundaries. Often in the suburbs these boundaries are sidewalks, and often in the suburbs these sidewalks are edged.

And so ... a brief meditation on edging, on the dividing line between concrete and soil, on the tendrils that can spread themselves across the border and on the neat way some homeowners have of highlighting this divide. 

The tool (perhaps it's called an edger?!) that wedges itself between lawn and walkway or the whirring blade that separates weeds from lawn. Surely these are born of a need to cultivate, to order and refresh.

Though it's easy to trip on edges, to twist the ankle or wedge the shoe, one has to admire the diligence with which some homeowners keep the wild world at bay.

I used to think edging was silly. Now I'm not so sure.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

The Growth of Shade

As trees lean taller into themselves their leaves cling more certainly to each other. The sun, shut out, slides graciously away. What is left, of course, is shade. A thicket of darkness on the lea side of morning.

The growth of shade brings contentment, air cooled by absence of light. A shady street is anything but shady. It is proud, its houses shielded from the street and the glances of strangers. It is green and settled.

A neighborhood rich in shade is rich in so much else.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mini Reunion

The last high school reunion we made a vow: Get together more often than every 10 years. And now, only two years later, we're making good on our promise. Tonight, 35 proud (!) graduates of Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Kentucky, will gather at a local watering hole to check in with each other again.

Some of these people were good friends of mine in eleventh and twelfth grades (when I transferred to a new school because my family moved a few blocks away). Others are acquaintances. But all of us shared a moment in time, and it was apparent at the last reunion how much of a bond that is.

With my youngest child just out of high school now I conjure up memories of my own secondary school experience, some pleasant and some painful. But all of them increasingly precious as the years roll on.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Big Sky

There is the Big Sky of the West, mesas hulking in the distance, red rock, cloudless sky, the tang of  wild sage.

But what I had forgotten is that there is also the Big Sky of the beach, the vast horizon beyond the breakers, the vistas north and south, clouds looming in the late afternoon sky — seeing the weather before it arrives.

Here too is a vast panorama, scenery that takes me out of myself, the curve of the earth implied but not stated.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sun on Water

The sun rises and sets every day, of course, but in my regular life I don't see it.

It's an everyday miracle hidden behind hills and houses and daily routines.

But here at the beach I have time to watch the sun as it moves through the sky. Faraway star, morning beacon, evening entertainment — it disappears, finally, behind banks of clouds. But first a light show, late rays on water, glorious, best viewed in silence.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Return

Walking an unfamiliar route can mean a longer jaunt than expected. Landmarks beckon: Just one more block. The temptation is to run too far down the beach or path. And then .... you have to walk home.

Yesterday I ran out and lost steam. The landmarks that flew by the first time passed more slowly on the return. On the other hand, it was on the return that I savored the sights I had sped by earlier.

I've always wondered about the different ways we perceive time on a journey. It often seems faster on the way home, perhaps because the sights are more familiar. But when you run one way and walk the other, the reverse is true. The return takes longer — but gives more.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Brown Study

In Victorian novels characters are apt to be caught in a brown study. It's a state of deep thought, a reverie, perhaps with a slightly gloomy cast, though more abstracted than anything else.

I put the phrase "brown study" in the same category as "wool gathering" -- though the latter means indulging in idle fantasies or daydreams. It's less furrowing of the brow and more staring at the clouds.

Both conditions have a certain fuzziness about them, though; both connote a cocoon of thought, whether stimulating or soothing.

Both are lovely, fanciful ways of taking leave -- even if just momentarily -- of the here and now.

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Away Message

Every month at work I receive an inbox full of away messages courtesy of an e-newsletter my office sends out. While I typically think of these as an annoyance and delete them without a second glance, the last time I decided to read some.

I decided that there's an art to the away message. Some are terse, no nonsense: I am away from the office until August 19.  I will answer emails when I return.

Others offer a ray of hope: I will be away until August 19 with limited access to email. "Limited" is not defined, of course. Does this mean a response later in the week? the day? the hour?  I've had all three experiences.

Many propose alternate forms of assistance: If you need immediate help, please contact ... Often these substitutes are obvious ones, the colleagues anyone who's in touch with you would already know. But listing them in the away message provides some coverage, some control.

The best away messages are the ones that already carry some of that devil-may-care vacation spirit. "I'm in Bora Bora till the cows come home. Deal with it, wage slave!"

These are the messages that can cause a contagion of sick days. They are not polite, not corporate. And they don't end with "Thanks" or "Best" but with "Ciao" or "Later."

The away message of my dreams.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Taking a Stand

I'm writing this post standing up. More and more often it's the way I like to be, to write, to edit. A tall desk, a place to lean, the words flowing out (am I just imagining this?) a tad more freely.

There's a reason for this, probably age related, though I'd just as soon not think about that. Sciatica, a pain that starts in the back, rolls down the legs, makes sitting uncomfortable.

Though pushed to stand by necessity, I find it has other charms, keeps me a little more alert, a little more aware of the world around me. It's an observation-stimulant. I'm more vigilant, not quite as easy in my skin.

And of course, the vantage point can't be beat. When I'm standing up, I can see farther down the road.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Two for the Road, One at Home

Yesterday I haunted the Air France website, checking first to see that Celia's flight to Paris had arrived, then to see if her flight to Africa had taken off and, finally, to be sure that it had landed.

It did! She arrived in Cotonou, Benin, on Beninese Independence Day. Her big sister was waiting for her. What seemed preposterous two years ago — that I would have even one daughter in Africa — is now even more so. I have two!

Two girls on an adventure, two girls buzzing around on the backs of motorcycles (trying not to think about that part), two (girls) for the road.

Luckily, I also have a daughter who travels more conservatively, who even as a toddler would ask, "How we get home, Mama?" when we were on vacation.

We need both types: the micro and the macro. The ones on the road and the ones waiting for them back at home.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Seasonal Confusion

A walker knows what time of year it is, feels it in her bones, knows it because she's out in the elements and notices the first brisk winds of fall, the tang in the air that means winter is near.

But lately this walker is confused.  On my morning walk from Metro to the office I thought it might be early fall. Gray skies, drizzle, an occasional leaf pasted to the sidewalk.

No, it's still summer. A strange summer, to be sure. But only August 1.

I glance up at the sky, pull my sweater tighter around me, and make my way quickly inside.

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