Friday, February 28, 2014


A quick glimpse back at older posts today to make sure I hadn't written another called "Seven." And  I haven't. "Seven Times Seven." "Mornings at Seven." But not just "Seven." So here we go.

Seven is not the time, though close; it's 7:40 this instant. Seven is not the number of days or weeks or months until something important happens.

Seven is the temperature outside. Seven, which divides evenly into 28, which is today's date. February 28. Almost March. And it's seven.

I will say no more.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014


I've flown more in the last year than I have in the previous three combined. I'm not jetting off to exotic locales, but riding regional jets to places like Charlotte and Chicago en route to Lexington.

While the experience is still impressive — the roar of engines, the compression of space and time, the glide through clouds — there is, as any frequent flier knows, much to dislike about modern air travel. The last trip to Kentucky brought several of these to the fore: the crowding, the delays, the crazy and demeaning check-in process. Sometimes you have to remove your shoes and sometimes you don't. Why is that?

All this is to say that the other day, as I watched a jet stream in the sky, I was ready to start rhapsodizing about the freedom of flight, being above the clouds, the amazement of it all. Then I remembered Monday evening in Chicago — a couple hundred people waiting on a single flight attendant. Or the delay a few weeks ago in Lexington when the airport ran out of de-icing fluid.

Suddenly, I was back in 11 B, knees knocking up against the seat in front of me, stomach churning, certain we would never, ever reach O'Hare Airport.

Next time I glimpse a plane in flight, I'll imagine the people inside, legs cramped, palms sweating, heads aching. It may seem they've "slipped the surly bonds of earth" ... but they haven't.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Top Button

Slogging through snow on my way to work this morning, burrowing my chin deeper into my soft, warm and utterly indispensable purple-and-blue patterned wool scarf, I paused for a moment to appreciate an essential item — the top button of my winter coat.

It's a wool coat, aubergine, medium-lined, not the uber-heavy long black number I wore in New York. This is the coat of a suburban commuter, exposed to the elements in moderate doses. It's a coat that's been pushed to its outer limits this year.

And nowhere has it been pushed more than its big, top, purple button. This is the lynchpin, what keeps me going, what ensures that the scarf is up tight around the neck, what anchors the ample  collar that can be turned up to keep the cold breezes at bay.

Since I like a lot of scarf between my neck and the elements, the button is pushed to its limits. Every time I fasten it, I think, it's bound to give way soon and — horror of horrors — I'll actually have to do some sewing.

But so far, it holds. I cinch my belt tighter, zip up my boots, trudge to Metro — and remind myself that spring is right around the corner.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Playlist

I remember when the girls made them. Or when their friends did and gave them as gifts. I’d find them all over the house, compact discs of indeterminate vintage, with titles like “Pump Up” or “Race Day” written in marker ink.
 I came late to the playlist, the homemade CD; came late to the careful choice of music, to plotting it out in my mind before putting it together. To walking with it, seeing how it flows, then tinkering some more and burning it to a disc.
But once I did, I began to see the value of it. The playlist reveals both the giver and the recipient; it shares what can’t be touched or seen but must be felt. It is the gift of music, of course, but more than that. It is music personalized. 
You don't give a playlist to just anyone — just as you don't knit a sweater for a stranger. There is an implied intimacy there, an understanding of interest, an appreciation of taste.
I came late to the playlist, to seeing it as an act of love. But that’s what it is.


Monday, February 24, 2014

A Dusting of Snow

A dusting of snow. That's something we've heard this winter — because along with the foot-plus of the white stuff "Snochi" brought us — and the two inches or six inches or (add your total here) we received in December, January and February, we've also had our fair share of dustings.

It's hard not to think of confectioner's sugar in these instances, sifting it onto a pound cake or sheet cake or, as I've done once or twice when ambitious, stenciling a design of powdered sugar.

The snow-dusted yard is still itself. The tufted grass, the untended garden, the fallen log, the bare patches — these are not obliterated as with heavier snow fall. They are highlighted, accentuated.

But they are also beautified. In all their imperfections.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Old Vine

Lexington is an insider's town. The one-way streets, the unmarked country lanes, the walled gardens — they come from long knowledge.

I noticed this yesterday as I was driving a route I hadn't driven in years and on a hunch found the way to Old Vine. Not new Vine, the yin to Main Street's yang, but Old Vine, which veers off its namesake at an improbable angle.

Inner cheers when I found this shortcut. The raised fist of victory. But I knew it wasn't my superb navigational powers that led the way. It wasn't a hunch as much as it was a long-buried map of the city that I carry around inside me.

I found Old Vine because I grew up here.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Landscape of Childhood

In My Life in Middlemarch, Rebecca Mead writes:

"[George] Eliot found regenerative inspiration in the remembrance of the landscape of her childhood. Her love for the deep green England of Warwickshire was the foundation of her belief that the love we have for the landscape in which we have grown up has a quality that can never be matched by our admiration of any environment discovered later, no matter how beautiful."

Mead quotes Eliot from The Mill on the Floss:
"These familiar flowers, these well-remembered bird notes, this sky with its fitful brightness, these furrowed and grassy fields, each with a sort of personality given to it by the capricious hedgerows — such things as these are the mother tongue of our imagination ..."
And later, this line, which I quote in my own book: "We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it." 

I read these passages on a bumpy flight to my hometown, sick at heart, sick in stomach, but imagining the balm that awaited me — my own "furrowed and grassy fields." And knowing there would be some comfort there. And as always, there has been.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wee Hours

The wee hours have become my home away from home, when I wake, willingly or not, to start the day. I've come to like these times: a cup of tea, laptop, writing this post. Sometimes an early walk when the morning is still fresh beneath my feet.

But when the wee hours are spent at an airport or Metro, they are not as enjoyable.

It's then (now!) that I imagine how I'd like to spend them — curled up in lamplight, journal at hand, a few ideas rumbling around the old noggin, a shaggy dog at my feet.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Armchair Travel

Time for a mental vacation, which for me means remembering a physical one. A drive through the European countryside. That's canola, I think, a bit blurred on the bottom, shot from a moving vehicle.

A few miles down the road, the fields gave way to a village.

And then, a city.
Like any foreign travel, it was a revelation. I strolled on ancient streets, laid my eyes on sights I'd always longed to see. There was time to write and to blog and even to get lost.

When I came home I was not quite the same person I was when I left. Travel is like that. Even armchair travel. 

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Backyard Moguls

It has been noted elsewhere that throughout most of these Winter Games, the temperature in Sochi, Russia, has been higher than in many parts of the United States. And the major weather delay there so far has been due not to blizzard but to fog.

Still, to the viewer back home, the snow-peaked Causcasus, the high-tech ski suits and the sound of cowbells can only mean one thing: It's cold!

So, I pretend.

Olympic viewing has also skewed my sense of place. When I look at the lumpy snow in my backyard I don't see wind-blown drifts. Instead I see moguls.

This is a temporary phenomenon. I don't expect it to last.

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Monday, February 17, 2014


I know. I tend to rhapsodize about the snow. I like how it gilds the everyday, how it covers imperfections, changes patterns, shakes up routines.

But one thing I don't like is what it does to walking trails and paths. Here in the suburbs, walkers are always at the mercy of the automobile, but never more than when snow and ice take our paths away. Suddenly, all walking is street walking, which is fine when there are shoulders and gravel berms, not so good when those are buried under mountains of plowed snow.

Thursday, after a foot fell, I stayed inside, but by Friday I was itching to be out again. Streets were full of slush; my shoes oozed.  On Saturday, more snow, but it wasn't sticking, so I ran gingerly through flurries. Yesterday, finally, a still cold with dry pavement, a boon to the ice-phobic.

Our paths are still covered, but I'm not sidelined. At least until the next flakes fall. We're expecting more snow tonight.

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Still Life with Snow

Out and about yesterday, noticing with each turn how snow transforms the landscape.

First, it softens. That which was sharp is rounded; that which is sparse is full. It is landscape's pancake makeup, its concealer, hiding blemishes, wrinkles and lines.

Next, it obscures. Mounds of white stuff pad corners so I can't see around them. Parking lot mountains loom where I least expect them. Shortcuts disappear; only the straightaways remain.

And of course, it beautifies. It does so with utmost nonchalance, but it does so just the same. The little triangle park in Lexington, a bench and a lamppost, of no particular note, becomes a still life. The snow drapes itself like an expensive fabric; it sees more in us than we see in ourselves.


Friday, February 14, 2014

After Love

In memory of the poet Maxine Kumin, who died eight days ago, and of St. Valentine's Day:

After Love

Afterward, the compromise.
Bodies resume their boundaries.
These legs, for instance, mine.
Your arms take you back in.
Spoons of our fingers, lips
admit their ownership.
The bedding yawns, a door
blows aimlessly ajar
and overhead, a plane
singsongs coming down.
Nothing is changed, except
there was a moment when
the wolf, the mongering wolf
who stands outside the self
lay lightly down, and slept.

Maxine Kumin, “After Love” from Selected Poems, 1960-1990. Copyright © 1970 by Maxine Kumin.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Pause

Four years and a week after Snowmageddon we finally achieved the right mix of temperature and liquidity, of moisture from the Atlantic and cold from Canada. The models were right on — and we have a humdinger of a Nor'easter.

It began last night as I drove home from work, the first flakes dancing in the air, hardly visible in the looming dark. "Be where you need to be by 7 p.m.," the meteorologists said, and I barely made it, arriving home with only minutes to spare.

The coating I went to sleep with has, uh, filled out nicely during the night, and outside is 10 inches or more of the white stuff. The last time we had this much snow I started a blog. This time I'm just aiming to get the laundry done.

But house work, creative work — none of it matters.  What matters is the pause, the break, the caesura.

No one is going anywhere. And that's fine with me.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Day Job

Eight years ago today I began working at my current job. This is a fact I'll ponder today — but it's one I notice every day, given the framed snapshot of the girls on my desk. It's 2006, our summer trip to California, and they are 11, 14 and 17.

What I'm thinking about now, though, is not just the improbability of their current ages — 19, 22 and 25! — but the fact that for half the years I've been working this day job, I've been writing this blog. I like the heft of this ratio, and will like it even more when it grows from 1/2 to 3/5 or 3/4.

This is not to disparage the day job but only to say that for me, and for many others, the creative work that happens before and after the eight hours is what matters most. It's a funny, bifurcated way to live, straddling worlds, but there are compensations.

I savor them however I can.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mottled Sky

Most color has drained from the earth. Now that our white snow cover is gone (though not for long perhaps?), we are left with brown leaves, gray trees — a monochromatic world. On walks these days my eyes are drawn toward the sky, source of light, source of color.

Here, from yesterday, a swirl of blue and white, which brings the word mottled to mind. Splotched, blotched, swirled, streaked.

I like the word mottled, mostly because it reminds me of soft skies like these. But also because I like how the word sounds. Like marbled, which reminds me of sleek granite or fine paper. And rhyming with coddled, as in egg, or child.

But mostly the word, like the sky, stands on its own.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

A View in Mind

Cold and snow have hemmed in my walks and runs, have kept me close to home. But yesterday I broke free. Not that it was much warmer than it has been, but it wasn't snowing or sleeting (yet) so I left the neighborhood for a familiar route.

I darted across the busy street to the trail on the other side, the one with cut-out hedges, the one that always makes me feel like I'm in a maze or a tunnel of English hedgerows. When that trail ended I was at the crest of a rise, where I can see for miles on a clear day.

It wasn't clear yesterday, but no matter. I have that view in my head. I could see the Dulles control tower, the blue hills beyond it. I could escape the immediate and enter the faraway.

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Winter Morning

Gray, leaden skies today and snow in the forecast. I'm remembering a warmer morning, with open skies and a spectacular sunrise. One I almost missed until I spotted a streak of orange out the front windows and walked out on the deck.

It was the big show that morning, skies streaked orange and gold, clouds purpled at the horizon. Birds were at the feeder, grackles and chickadees, and in the distance the sounds of other birds, crows cawing, the cackle of a pileated woodpecker.

Everything was alive and singing — the birds, the wind stirring the winter brambles, even the sky, changing by the minute, the sun impatient to start the day.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

A Walker Continues

The snow has clung to every available surface. The most spindly branches of the forsythia have “Vs” of snow, and I can imagine the accumulation, patient and slow, crystal attracting crystal until little pockets formed. I hope this blog will be the same, a slow, patient accumulation of words. 
Four years ago today I started this blog with a post entitled "A Walker Begins." Since then, there has been a "slow, patient accumulation" of at least 20,000 words. Other than that, "Walker" hasn't changed much, other than my learning how to make the photos larger. One of these days I'll figure out how to switch templates, which will make it easier to follow and comment.

Otherwise, I imagine I'll keep plugging away as I always do: walking, thinking, noticing.

Writing about the world in an attempt to make some sense of it — though not too much, of course.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Touch

Reading on my Kindle (see previous post!) these recent weeks means I spend more time touching screens. There's my smart phone screen and my iPod screen, each requiring a different sort of touch.

The phone, especially its keyboard, is best when I get a rhythm going. If I misspell the words, auto-complete makes up for it ... unless it substitutes something completely nonsensical instead.

The iPod is the size of a large postage stamp and is best approached with a smooth but pinpointed movement. If not I may end up with a Broadway musical when I want medieval chant.

As I've become acquainted with the Kindle, I see that it's the most sensitive, the most eager to please of all the screened instruments. Even if my index finger only hovers above the gadget, it thinks I'm ready to turn the page.

Virtuoso pianists are often said to have a  "good touch." Something in the way they stroke each key creates a warmth of tone. The piano keys are not pounded, they are caressed.

I think we modern-device users are developing a skill we could use elsewhere, if we chose. I think we should all learn to play the piano.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Out of the Woods

I just finished reading Lynn Darling's Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding, a book about discovering a sense of direction in midlife.

When her daughter left for college, Darling moved to an off-the-grid house near Woodstock, Vermont. The woods were cool and inviting, a place to sort herself out. But Darling always became lost in them. So she took a survival course, learned to use a compass, acquired a topographical map. She found landmarks, charted distances from her house to a neighbor's. Gradually she learned the nuances of wayfinding, when to trust herself and when to trust the map:

"Maps, I know now, are not static. Walk in a place long enough and you see all the mistakes that have yet to be corrected, the disconnect between the three-dimensional reality on which you walk and its two-dimensional representation. Walk in a place long enough and even the most accurate maps fail to represent what is actually there."

As I read her book — on my Kindle — I pondered my own wanderings, the paths I'm following and the ones I am not. I thought about how important it is to stay limber as we grow older, to keep pushing ourselves in directions we have not gone before.

It took three-quarters of the book, but I finally performed my own little bit of technological wayfinding: I learned how to highlight the passages I enjoyed so I could find them later. A small achievement, but an achievement just the same. So, courtesy of Kindle's "highlight" feature, here's Darling again:

"Getting older is largely a matter of getting over yourself, of stepping out of your own way, the better to see the world through a wider lens than the narrow preoccupations of self had ever provided.
I wasn't any of the things I had strived to be, or tried to escape. I was just a walker in the woods, who had learned a thing or two perhaps about finding her way, one who would get lost again and again."

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Trellis

The roses are gone but the trellis remains.

It's the order within the chaos. The frame inside the thicket. The brown beneath the green.

It's a glimpse into the essential order of things.

Summer obscures the trellis. Winter bares it, softens it, gives us a chance to admire it, too.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Snow in Kentucky

Weather forecasts told us the rain would freeze, that sleet and snow would fall, so in anticipation of being sidelined today, I went for a jog yesterday in what I thought was light rain.

Not for long. As I ran, the rain grew heavier and colder, it took on substance. It didn't hollow out so much as beef up. It meant business.

This was not January's fluffy stuff. This snow has clung and settled. It has hemmed me in — at least for the morning.

But afternoon is almost here.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Coverup Redux

A postscript to "The Coverup" below.

Last night I covered my Dad, who's in the hospital. I thought of all the times he covered me.

I thought about how life comes full circle, and how, even in the sad times, there's a fullness to it. Something deeper than joy or sorrow.
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