Wednesday, April 30, 2014


It seems as if we've gotten all our April showers in the last two days, last night in particular. Walking to and from Metro in these downpours has made me ponder the efficiency — or inefficiency — of my umbrella.

The way I look at it you have a choice. You can either have a small umbrella with you at all times, a folding insurance policy, or take along a large one when the weather calls for it.

I've opted for the former. It's easier to maneuver, fits in a pocket or bag and is light to carry.

But what it boasts in portability it lacks in coverage. It's the diameter, I guess. There simply isn't enough nylon to keep all the drops at bay.

I think there's a life lesson here; I'm just a little too soggy now to figure it out.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dogs Wearing Clothes

Our little ragamuffin pooch Copper was glad to see me when I walked in the door Sunday night. I gave him a hug and a pat, and yesterday, when we had more time together, I told him what I really thought about the dogs of New York.

They're cute, I said, and you would probably like to sniff them out. But then again, you might not take them seriously because ... they wear clothes. I mean, not just the random pampered poodle, but the perky bichon and the elegant whippet.  I would say about a third of the canines I spotted in the Big Apple were wearing something other than their leashes.

Dachshunds were the best dressed. They wore knitted shirts and tuxedo vests. And one dog (not a dachshund) in Washington Square Park was decked out in a plaid shirt and tennis shoes. This dog also walked on his hind legs.

I've heard there's a new movement afoot to accord animals the rights of people. If not the rights, then at least the wardrobes. At least in Manhattan. 

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Stopped in Their Tracks

On the High Line yesterday nature-starved New Yorkers clustered around a red bud tree as if it were a work of high art. It halted them mid-promenade — the beauty of the nubby blossoms, the radiant color against the neutral palette of lower Manhattan.

I compare this tree with all the wild red buds I saw driving through the hills of West Virginia ten days earlier. Brilliant volunteers alone and unnoticed, living out their bloom on lonely hillsides.

Not this tree. It's well loved, earnestly photographed. And it's no volunteer. Even its position — pushing up through the rails of an abandoned railway— is no accident.

New Yorkers stride nonchalantly past soaring skyscrapers — but a single tree stops them in their tracks. It's a reversal worth noting.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

West Side Story

I used to live in the West Village. Now I'm a visitor here. It's taken a while to adjust to this fact. "A while" is an understatement. We're talking more than two decades now!

It must be the timelessness of the place, the winding streets that began, they say, with cow paths. The bohemian flavor that lingers amidst the wealth and Starbucks.

But it's not just the timelessness that draws me back. It's the new features, like Hudson River Park, a ribbon of asphalt and greenery that runs from 59th Street to the Battery. To stroll or bike here is to be of the city but not in it. It's to be moving as the river flows, as the city itself moves, poetry in motion.

Every time I visit, I add another chapter to my own West Side Story.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Big Apple Bound

Back in the salad days of freelancing, I made routine trips to New York City to visit my editors. We would have expense-account lunches or just chat in their offices, and in between I would walk up and down the streets and avenues.

It was rejuvenation in more ways than one. I usually came back with a few assignments — and even more important, with a lot of creative energy.

I no longer make my living as a freelancer, though I still make my living from words, and today I'm attempting to rekindle a bit of that excitement. There will be a conference and editors — and more to the point, there are still those streets and avenues (to say nothing of Central Park).

So while I will listen and take notes and learn how others are weathering the changes in our profession, I will also pound the pavement. I'll be a walker in the city instead of the suburbs.

That's how it all began.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Smell of Cut Grass

If greening is here, then mowing can't be far behind. And indeed it is not. Where I live, the mowing season has definitely begun.

Mowing is one of the yard chores I like best — in part because I can zone out while doing it. But also because of the wonderful aromas it stirs up.

I've been conducting my own little fragrance test lately, and in a highly unscientific fashion I concluded that the cut bluegrass I inhaled deeply while in Kentucky last week smells better than the cut grass I know at home.

As it turns out, the explanation for this must lie in my head — not my nose. A few minutes online convinced me that the lawns in Virginia are as likely to be composed of bluegrass as the lawns in Kentucky.

So it's not the grass type that's making the difference. There is something else here. A whiff of nostalgia, perhaps?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I noticed it ten days ago on the drive to Kentucky. I was heading west on I-64, about an hour outside Lexington, when something caught my eye. It was the pasture to my right. It was as if someone had taken a green crayon ("spring green" by Crayola) and scribbled furiously on the grass.

One minute it was brown and dull, winter's leftover. The next it was verdant and bright, an advertisement for spring.

Nothing else had changed; the highway was still gray and the sky was still blue. But I had crossed some sort of line. The stealthy greening that had been happening for weeks — some of that time beneath the snow — had suddenly revealed itself.

 Meteorological spring had long since passed, but this was the real thing.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Resurrection, Continued

As it happens, the priest based his Easter sermon on the article mentioned below. There was no equivocation from the pulpit — not that I expected any. But there was this comment: that we need no proof, no scientific evidence, to believe. All we need is faith.

Having my father on the other side now — someone who lived so fully on earth in his human "skin" — makes me think and hope that all that love, all that energy, has gone somewhere. That it exists in a form I can't access at this point makes sense to me.

Last Friday I stopped by the church for a few moments. I had driven home from Kentucky that day and missed the service I usually attend. By instinct I headed for the small chapel, what used to be the main sanctuary before the grand, new one was built.

The minute I stepped into that welcome darkness I was struck by the aroma. It was the Easter flowers. They had already been delivered — all the lilies, azaleas, hydrangeas and hyacinths — and were being stored in the chapel until the great Easter vigil celebration Saturday evening. The fragrance was almost overpowering, but I inhaled deeply anyway.

It was a preview, a welcome aromatic reminder, of all that lies in store.


Saturday, April 19, 2014


Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. It is also April 20, exactly a month after my father passed away. I've  been thinking of this coincidence —3/20 and 4/20 — and of the leap of faith required to believe in bodily resurrection after witnessing first-hand a bodily demise. 

It is, I suppose, an appropriate time to be pondering this eternal mystery. And an article in today's Washington Post convinces me that I'm not alone.
As Easter approaches, many Christians struggle with how to understand the Resurrection. How literally must one take the Gospel story of Jesus’ triumph to be called a Christian? Can one understand the Resurrection as a metaphor[?] ...

Here's what I've decided. And it solves no great theological mystery. It's only what I have to get me through:

It is no metaphor to me that Dad is gone — nor is it metaphor that he lives on. There is real, tangible proof that he does.  He is there in the World War II books and the multiple DVDs of "Twelve O'Clock High" (his favorite film and one he believed everyone should watch. "It's not about war," he told his friends. "It's about leadership.").  He is there in the bell he installed on the back door so the cat could be let in. He is there in the statue of St. Francis, one of many items he planted in the now overgrown garden. Most of all he is present in all of his friends, in my mom and in each one of us, his children.

You may have to look harder for him now — you couldn't miss Dad before; he was always the life of the party — but he's there, I'm sure of it.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Cut-Through, Continued

As it turns out, Parker's Mill Road does have a sidewalk, at least in part. And today I took that sidewalk out into "the country," which is surprisingly close to this part of Lexington. The fences are black instead of white on this road — though less than a mile away are the famous white fences and red accents of Calumet Farm, home of many Derby winners.

But today I was the one doing the running, not just the thoroughbreds. I trotted down Parker's Mill into Cardinal Valley Park, following the signs that said "Walking Trail," and found myself on a beautiful paved path that ran a mile or more. Trees arched over the trail and it was pleasantly busy with dog-walkers, amblers and what appeared to be an entire high school track team.

It was late afternoon. The sun was warm and slanting, the air cool and refreshing. And there settled on me that kind of well-being that it's tempting to call "runner's high" — but is more than that, I'm convinced; is some amalgam of fresh air, exertion and the mind-jostling that comes with movement.

Whatever it is, today it was made possible by the cut-through. As I climbed back over the fence toward home, I gave a silent cheer.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


A couple days ago, I parked and walked on Lane Allen, a hilly road I've grown fond of on recent visits to Lexington. It has a tree-canopied section — the most treacherous of all, of course, no shoulder, no sidewalk but on the north end some trampled grass, the pedestrian's makeshift sidewalk.

On this particular walk I turned and looked behind me, back to Parker's Mill, an even hillier, sidewalk-less road, and noticed that the field behind St. Raphael Church abutted property I thought was along my usual route.

Yesterday I tested the theory. This involved tiptoeing through a backyard, scaling a fence, crossing a  creek and almost entering a horse pasture by mistake. But eventually I found my way to the church property (they won't mind trespassing, I reasoned) and over to Lane Allen.

 It was a small discovery, but it made me unreasonably happy. Now I can take a beautiful walk without driving to it. Now I know the real lay of the land.  I'm that much closer to being a walker in this suburb.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Heedless Birds

The birds woke me this morning. Well, not really. But I was conscious of them at an early stage of awakening. I was thinking about their bravery. They have no choice but to be themselves. And that, as we know, is not always easy.

This time of year birds are heedless. It’s springtime and they’re taking chances. Bumping into windows, buzzing cars. They are high-wire artists, full of song and derring-do. They have mating on their minds, of course. They will stop at nothing to find their lady (or gentleman) loves. They may as well be deer dashing across the highway. But if I ran into a bird I wouldn’t dent the car.

So add to the list of spring marvels the madness (and madcapness) of birds. They flit, they soar, they perch on electric wires. They throw their slight bodies gladly into the world.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dean's Ravine Today

Yesterday there were balmy breezes, scented air. The wind scattered petals over greening lawns.

Today it's cold and snowy. The daffodils hang their heads. The red buds are coated in white.

It's all part of the process, I know, two steps forward, one step back.

But it's chilling — in more ways than one.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Mrs. Dean's Ravine

Mrs. Dean has been gone more than two decades now, but her garden is still thriving — a legacy for its current owners (who have lovingly cared for it) and those who live nearby.

It starts off innocently enough: daffodils and forget-me-nots.

But it soon slopes down a steep hill into a bowl-shaped parcel studded with red bud and dogwood. It's a secret garden, a natural ravine designed to look as wild as possible. I'm glad I could see it as it's just coming alive to spring.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Blue Grass Stakes

The Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May — but in Lexington it's the second Saturday in April when all eyes turn to the track.

That's when the three-year-old Derby hopefuls race in Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes. Yesterday's winner, Dance with Fate, may not race next month, but that didn't dampen turnout — it was the second largest crowd in history. The 77-degree temperature didn't hurt.

So there were picture hats and tailgate parties and that familiar damp smell under the grandstand. There was the fine dirt flying up from galloping hooves down the back stretch. And there was the crescendo roar from the crowd when the thoroughbreds crossed the finish line.

Not that I was there. I'm just imagining it.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Cherry Blossoms!

It was the end of a long day, a long week — and it was a long walk, too. But I left the office yesterday a little before 5, cruised through Judiciary Square, the Penn Quarter and onto the Mall. By that point the mood was decidedly celebratory.

And even though I said I wouldn't do it again, I walked all the way around the pink-petal-rimmed Tidal Basin, joining the throngs on one of the first warm days in the nation's capital.

It's worth noting that unless you want to rent a paddle boat, strolling is the only way to see the cherry trees in their glory.

So I did. As did everyone else.  Babies in prams, bikers in spandex, bureaucrats in blazers — we were all ambling for one purpose: to see the cherries in peak bloom and welcome the spring.

It has been such a hard winter ... but now it's over.


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Thursday, April 10, 2014

After the Deluge

The pipe burst on Friday, the day after I sent the magazine to the printer. I was working at home, but colleagues noticed water seeping under my door and puddling on the carpet. They called facilities, which sent personnel, shop vacs, large fans, drying machines. My desk and file cabinet were put on blocks.

The hard work paid off.  Other than a few water-damaged boxes (which I've tossed) the place looks better than it did last week.

The waters came, raged and departed.

They left behind a stiller, calmer world.

(This may not look still and calm, but compared with last week...)

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spring Coat

The one I remember was teal and beige, nubby and flecked. It was lightweight and lined. It was essential in the way that white gloves were once essential.

It was my spring coat.

I thought of it this morning as I trudged to work in my winter coat. It's what I turn to when the temperature is in the 30s, which it was when I left the house.

But it's ten degrees warmer here in the city, and the coat suddenly seems a relic, an anomaly, something that should be buried in the back of the closet.

What I need today is a spring coat, a bridge from season to the other.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Big Blue

This is not a sports blog, of course, but I must say a few words about the University of Kentucky men's basketball team. They lost last night 54-60 to the University of Connecticut Huskies in the NCAA final.

The team's energy felt different right from the opening buzzer. Key players seemed off, were in and out of the game. Free throws missed as often as they hit. The Cats had finally met a team that closed as strong as they do. Stronger, in fact.

If this was a decade ago, we'd be shaking our heads at what they could do next year, this young, freshmen team. But this group is a one-year wonder. Most of them will be gone next year, in the NBA, most probably.

It's hard to say that "one and done" is a failure when this team made it to the finals. But it's not the kind of basketball I grew up with.

Still, I have to say it one more time: Go, Big Blue!

(A UK dormitory building snapped from the UK Library.)

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Small Pleasures

The rain has been heavier than forecast and the temperature colder.

Birds like it, though. They're glad to have moisture and birdseed in the feeder and, best of all, a nip of suet.

But for the rest of us it's a day to stay inside, count our blessings and be grateful for small pleasures.

That's what I'm doing.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Going Solo

An early walk this morning, and along the path I kept bumping into groups of runners. Each cluster of three or four would ask me if others were up ahead. I smiled and pointed behind me. Yes, they were all there, the pack.

I was glad to be of help — but even happier that I was running alone and not with others.

I belong to a family, a workplace, a church, a book group, a writer's group and a tap dance class. But organized running is not for me.

Trail time is for thinking, listening to music, putting the day into perspective

And these are tasks best performed alone.

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Friday, April 4, 2014


I heard them last night, the tiny, vocal frogs we know as spring peepers. Their chorus is a sure sign of spring.

They're late this year, the little guys. Waiting for warmth, I imagine. We all are.

But who among us makes such music of our contentment?

If I read about peepers (and I think I did long ago) I would learn that their sounds are mating calls — not some existential expression of delight.

Still, after a long winter, in the just-dark of a warm spring evening, existential delight is what I hear.

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Yes, They Can!

I think the daffodils heard me. I wasn't at home in the light to photograph them. But here's what their brethren downtown are doing.

And elsewhere in the District, things are popping out all over:

Let's just see winter try to make a comeback now!

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Come On! You Can Do It!

Is it any wonder that shy spring flowers are timid after this winter? Even as late as Sunday they were being pelted with snow, sleet and freezing rain.

Somehow — the angle of the light, the lengthening days — the world is still preparing itself for the new season. There's that promising pink haze at the top of the tall trees, the way buds look 80 feet away. And there are green shoots and flowers pushing up all over town. Rumor even has it that the cherry blossoms are primping for their big show.

But here on the shady side of morning, the daffodils are looking less than sure of themselves. Yesterday I bent low, snapped a few shots, and gave them a pep talk. "Come on, guys. You can do it!"

They had nothing to say for themselves; only hung their heads a little lower. But I have confidence in them. Sixty-degree temperatures are forecast again for today. It's only a matter of time ...

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Grieving Season

It's a day of pranks and foolery, only I don't feel like laughing. Used to be people wore black armbands, heavy crepe. There was a period of mourning, a time set aside for grief.

But we live in a 24-hour news cycle. The days pass in a flurry, blur one into another. Emotions are fluid. We go back to work, we soldier on.

Grief lingers, though. It is with me in the morning, when the house is quiet. It is with me at night, when I wake up hours before the alarm. It shows up in the work day, too, sometimes when I least expect it.

It's not an efficient emotion, not something that can be rushed through or even measured. And it has no short-cuts. Perhaps because it concerns itself with eternity.

So I guess it's up to each of us now, to give ourselves the time we need. To give grief its due.


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