Saturday, August 30, 2014

This Feather Floating

This hour along the valley this light at the end
of summer lengthening before it begins to go

W.S. Merwin, Seasons

I read these lines this morning and find in them some consolation for the days that are passing, that are spinning us so surely into fall.

For how better to face the next turn than to capture what is fleeting, to pin it down on the page?

this whisper in the tawny grass this feather floating
       in the air this house of half a life or so

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Friday, August 29, 2014

ISO Abacus

I noticed this morning that yesterday was my 1,400th post. A nice, tidy number, with those fulsome zeroes so easy on the eye and the mental calculator. Plus for those of us religiously inclined, a multiple of seven. No wonder the number is pleasing to the eye.

Speaking of numbers (which I hardly ever do), this week I had another page-count panic. The magazine that I edit was coming up two pages long.

This time there was an easy fix. But with the previous issue the confusion was even greater. First I thought we were short, then long, then short again.

Which is why, after resolving this issue's overage with the designers, I told them that for my next birthday they could give me a calculator. Or an abacus.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Invisible Community

It was the hour before dusk on a day that felt more like summer than fall — prime walking time.  I drove past fast-walkers, slow-joggers, stray commuters like me, just heading home. I thought about the community of walkers, one that's often invisible to the amblers themselves but, ironically, quite obvious to the drivers.

The car-bound cover more ground. Their range lets them see the patterns in the strolls, the commonality of purpose. In one block is a lone faithful runner. In another, an old couple strolling slowly. They may not run into each other, but they are all there.

Since almost anyone who walks in the suburbs drives in the suburbs, we have many chances to see beyond our routes, to know that even if we feel alone, we are not. There are others hitting the pavement too. And in some strange sort of way, we are one.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Residual Delays

This was one of those mornings on Metro. Not the worst, certainly not the worst. But a lurching, stop-start, running-late kind of morning.

Often when this happens the explanation is "we are experiencing residual delays due to an earlier incident." So I've been swirling that phrase around in my mind this morning. Residual delays. Residual. Delays.

In this case residual means what is left after the larger part is gone, of course, but there is another definition of residual, one used in the entertainment industry — payments for past achievements.

What are the residuals of riding Metro? It's greener and healthier — I drive less and walk more — those two come immediately to mind.

But aren't there delayed residuals, too? Metro gives me time to write and read and think. A friend of mine, a poet, has completed a book's worth of verse in her last few years on the Red Line. I write in my journal, rough out essay ideas, edit articles.

Though it often tries my spirit, there is no doubt that Metro nurtures my mind. Not shabby for a delayed residual.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Midday Rush

It's what I'm in today, this moment. Despite best intentions, the silent prayer before rising, the attempts at perspective. Some days, even gorgeous ones like today, even early in the week, are stretched before they begin.

I knew my day was headed for this when I couldn't open my office door because of all the page proofs stuck beneath it. Knew it when I saw the lines I'd have to cut from several pages. (Strange and old school to be saying this in digital space, where lines don't much matter — though characters do.)

Just barely time now to lift my head, make the list, complete each task as carefully and methodically as I can, then move on.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

A Little Enchanted

Like many children, especially now grown-up ones, I spent hours reading fairy tales. I don't remember special favorites, only the joy I knew at the covers of the books, some of them still vivid in memory. Those stories took me to another shore, and then, when it was time to come home, they deposited me safely back again.

I know there are theories of why fairy tales are good for children, that they allow kids to face fears and work out complex feelings. But over the weekend I read the best explanation yet of what fairy tales meant to me. It comes from an essay by C.S. Lewis:

"Fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted."

So here's to the real woods I walk in that will always be touched with magic, and here's to the magic of this lovely explanation why.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Where the Rain Begins

Last evening, after a long day at the office, I was sitting in the car waiting to turn left from the park and ride lot when I saw the rain begin. It was less than 50 away from me. I could see it sheeting the cars paused on the other side of the light but it hadn't yet reached me.

At first it was like that infinite pause between when you cut your finger and you start to feel the pain from the cut — there's often a lag there. On the other hand, there was a fellow-feeling with those cars drenched before mine, a sympathetic pain, almost flinching from rain that was not yet there.

Then I watched the rain advance across the pavement, fat drop by fat drop until finally it was pounding, pouring, a deluge.

I drove the two miles home with the wipers on full blast, and then, by the time I pulled in the driveway, it had almost stopped again.

I love the mercurial weather of summer, its flightiness, its lack of steady intentions.

And last night I loved watching the rain begin.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014


My business has a lot of them. I'm under pressure from one right now. Enough so that I postponed  this post until I spent a couple hours on an article I'm writing.

Deadlines are funny things, often self-induced. But once set they are hard to ignore.

They are the impetus and the framework. The hammer on the anvil. The doer of the action. They are the outside force that propels the inward adjustment.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Walking home from the Silver Line yesterday and driving to the Orange Line this morning, I noticed the journeys have something in common.

Like any trip, they are not just one long sweep of motion; they are segments cobbled together by time and movement.

I hadn't driven to the Vienna Metro (Orange Line's last stop) for almost four weeks, so I saw it with fresh eyes: the Fox Mill Road segment, up one hill and down another; the Vale portion, before the big turn and after it; the straightaway that is Hunter Mill Road; the short stretch of Chain Bridge; the newly repaved and bicycle-laned Old Courthouse, then the turn onto Sutton, Country Creek and right then left into the parking garage.

Walking gave me these eyes, let me see the drive in segments as I would a stroll. I'm grateful for that.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Run to the Bus Without Tea

I gave up caffeine nine months ago, but when I don't have time in the morning for a cup of my special decaffeinated blend, I am brain-fogged, blindfolded, cobwebbed in the head.

Can there be a tea addiction without caffeine? Could I have a taste addiction?

There is something about the warmth and the flavor and the sweetness on the tongue. Something bracing and forward-thinking about it. Something settling and stilling about it, too.

I check the hours of the cafe on campus. They open at 8. Yes! My blog post will be short; my tea break will be long. The answer to the questions above: yes and yes.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Winning the Match

With a daughter in Benin, West Africa, I've been reading a lot about Ebola, especially the cases in neighboring Nigeria. So far, that country seems to be staying on top of the disease, but health experts are watching it closely because the nation is so populous. If Ebola spreads there, loss of life could be catastrophic.

Learning about the doctors fighting Ebola and dying from it — in some cases without even gloves to protect themselves and stem the contagion — brings to mind a favorite novel, The Plague, by Albert Camus. Its central character, Dr. Bernard Rieux, tends the plague-ridden in the town of Oran, Algeria. On the night of his friend Tarrou's passing —Tarrou who had helped fight the plague and was its last victim — Rieux seeks to understand human suffering:
Tarrou had "lost the match," as he put it. But what had he, Rieux, won? No more than the experience of having known plague and remembering it, of having known friendship and remembering it, of knowing affection and being destined one day to remember it. So all a man could win in the conflict between plague and life was knowledge and memories. But Tarrou, perhaps, would have called that winning the match.
At the end of the novel, the reader learns that Dr. Rieux has been its narrator, that "he resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people, so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in times of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise."

Photo: Katie Esselburn


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mockingbird's Place

On vacation I finished reading Marja Mills' The Mockingbird Next Door: My Life with Harper Lee, a memoir about living next door to the reclusive writer in Monroeville, Alabama.

Nelle Harper Lee and her sister, Alice, were already up in years when Mills met them while reporting an article for the Chicago Tribune. From those first contacts a relationship formed, and in this book Mills tells the story of the sisters' old-fashioned life: visiting friends, feeding ducks, and living with the books and memories of decades in their hometown.

Although Lee quickly denied having authorized the book (a controversy that has probably boosted sales), I read the memoir enthusiastically anyway. Not just for a glimpse of the author but also for a portrait of the place that she enshrined as Maycomb in her novel.

"It's the old Monroeville — the old Maycomb — that lives on in the imaginations of so many readers," Mills wrote. "It's the people and the places the Lees saw out the windows of the Buick all those years later." Mills refers here to the drives she took with the Lees and their friends, expeditions that helped her appreciate a vanishing way of life.

"Nelle's portrait of that community was so richly detailed, so specific and true to the small-town South during the Depression, that something universal emerged and, with it, the remarkably enduring popularity of the novel."

I like thinking that what makes To Kill a Mockingbird great us is not just the characters — but also the place they inhabited.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Commuting on Foot

Yesterday I walked once again from the Wiehle Metro station to my car in a parking lot four miles away. Why is this worth mentioning? Only for this — that I am, finally, commuting on foot in the suburbs.

This is not an accomplishment to be shrugged off. And I don't mean it's my own personal accomplishment but an evolution in the way we live. That I can step off the train and travel on my own steam to the next destination is a marvel, given the way I started living here 25 years ago.

Then I couldn't leave the neighborhood on foot because of cars barreling down narrow, un-shouldered roads. Now sidewalks and bike lanes take me to the grocery store and pharmacy; let me tap into Reston's trail system, which used to be a tantalizing but unreachable distance away.

So to all forms of walking I celebrate here  — ambling meditatively through the woods, running pell-mell through the meadow, strolling briskly through the city — let me add the walk which is not a destination in itself but which has a larger purpose. It not only takes me out of myself; it takes me home.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Canopy Walk

As walks go, this was a short one, only about 80 feet. But it was 25 feet above ground — and it swayed as I moved. Up there amidst the live oaks and cabbage palms, I was not just in the foliage but of it.

Florida's Myakka River Canopy Walk was modeled on canopy walks in the South American rain forests. It's humble and natural and sturdily built (or at least I pretended that it was).

A 76-foot observation tower on one end let me climb up through the trees to glimpse a panorama of forest and river. I was above the canopy rather than under it.

My knees quivered and I thought about the fear that comes not just from height but from exposure. I felt a kinship with creatures that hide under rocks or brush.

Enclosure is safe. Exposure is dangerous — and exhilarating.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Drenched Garden

Spongy mulch, dripping ferns, glistening flowers.

The summer garden got a good soaking yesterday, and this morning it is renewed, refreshed, restored.

I'm still thinking about the tropical gardens, though, the orchids and bromeliads, how they draw their sustenance from rainfall cupped and gathered, how they use it to make food.

Plants of the air, plants of the earth — water common to both.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Return: Some Perspective

A rainy-day return to the office. Low light, lowered expectations; today's goal to survive. Grateful for a certain rainy-day coziness and the quiet required to work hard and long to meet deadlines.

Just coincidentally, I was reading a passage from  Shirley Hazzard's Transit of Venus as I disembarked in D.C. "Girls were getting up all over London. In striped pyjamas, in flowered Viyella nightgowns, in cotton shifts they had made themselves and unevenly hemmed ... They were putting the shilling in the meter and the kettle on the gas ring. ... "

Ah, I'm feeling better already. I have a store-bought cotton nightgown. I have an electric tea kettle. I pay for gas by the month not the morning.

Hazzard continues: "It is hard to say what they had least of—past, present or future. It is hard to say how or why they stood it, the cold room, the wet walk to the bus, the office in which they had no prospects and no fun."

Oh dear. Have I ever thought like this? Of course. Poor me, back from a lovely vacation to my comfortable office! Poor me, paid to write and edit!

Hazzard has put it in perspective: It could be worse, and it has been.

"Poor me" better get busy.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Backward Glance

I was out early today, pounding the hard pavement instead of the hard sand. Hard sand softens footfall; hard pavement does not.

But here in the suburbs hard pavement is often the only choice.

I'm glad my thoughts are not yet hard. They are still vacation thoughts — dreamy, slow and in no hurry to return to reality.

So here, in their honor, a vacation photo.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Beach Traffic

Foot traffic on a beach goes two directions— up and down along the strand and back and forth from towel to surf.

When I walk the beach I take the former. I'm a woman on a mission, moving quickly, arms swinging. I'm not alone in this purposeful movement. There are bikers and runners and beachcombers, all of us with goals in mind.

The bathers, on the other hand, amble easily toward the waves. They stop and start. They turn back. They pose for photographs. They brake for sand castles. 

Yesterday on the beach a man performed the slow, intricate steps of tai chi. He summoned up the calm of the ocean into his arms and legs. He was going neither up and down nor back and forth. He wasn't going anywhere at all. He was simply being.

This is what I take with me from the beach.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Summer Radio

I had forgotten what it was like —the splash of pool or surf, laughter in the distance and always, always the radio. In many ways it was the sound of summer, the low simmer of pop tunes from the transistor.

With the advent of the Walkman decades ago and for many years now the iPod, music is only in our  ears and not our neighbor's. But this week I've lounged beside a pool and listened to tunes from the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Can't remember the songs themselves; they weren't important. It was the whole experience: the scent of sunscreen, the movement of breeze, the heat of the sun. The radio sounds just completed the circle.

It's the sort of summer I always remember, and this year it's summer still.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014


Gone are the oaks and maples I know at home. Here instead are palms, palmettos, banyan trees and mangrove swamps. Humid, lush, bright.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Leaping Lizards

Alliteration aside, these critters really do leap. This little guy did. I was inching close to another reptile, a slender, smiling chameleon (they're all slender and smiling to me), when I was startled almost to camera-dropping by this lizard.

One moment he was on the pavement and the next he was on the trunk of a palm tree, where I snapped this photo. And he stayed there long enough that I could snap several more.

There are no lizards where I live so I've been enjoying the fauna here. I probably look as strange to natives as the squirrel-gawking visitors to D.C. do to me.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Snowy Plover

The beach steward approached me politely. "Do you see them?" he asked, pointing to what appeared to be a tiny clump of sand. "The snowy plover chicks, do you see them?"

And once my eyes figured out what to look for, I did. They were fluffy and small, puff balls on stick legs, running crazily around the sand. They were, I have to say, incredibly cute.

On earlier walks I'd noticed the roped-off sections of sand. Every beach has these areas now, for sea turtles or shore birds. But this was the first time I'd seen the animals a sanctuary aimed to protect.

"They're an endangered bird," the volunteer said, "And these chicks have just hatched." Apparently, the tiny birds feed on insects only three to five hours after they hatch. They are independent little creatures, highly suited to survival, except that they camouflage themselves so successfully that beach walkers accidentally step on them. More beach walkers mean fewer adult snowy plovers.

"We've increased their  survival rate by 80 percent," the volunteer said, explaining how he sits beside their nests for a few hours every week, keeping watch on the young birds.  "Sometimes the mama birds buzz me, or even peck at me."

Not a problem though, he shrugged, then gestured at the beach around us. "Not a bad place to sit for a few hours. ... And the babies only need about four weeks until they're big enough to be safely on their own."

"Here, read this," he said, handing me a brochure. "You'll become a snowy plover expert."

I wouldn't go that far. But I sure have become a snowy plover fan.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Scattered Clouds

The forecast when I landed Friday was for "scattered clouds." A pleasant forecast, one I seldom think about — until I'm in the air.

Scattered clouds from above are steppingstones across a stream of blue.

They are tufts of cotton, shredded and fine.

They are companions, markers to the landscape below. They shadow and define it.

They are harmless, these scattered clouds, because they are not above me but below. They don't block the sun.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Back to the Beach

You know the ocean is there before you see it. And you would know it it even if you didn't know it. The sky is lighter, and there is a vacancy to it. The surf is calling.

The roads that lead to the beach are in a hurry. The cars that ply them are laden with suitcases, floats, bicycles and kayaks. The cars are in a hurry, too.

But not the people. Those already here have traded hurry for calm. They saunter down the boulevard, amble idly down the strand.

But not this person. The beach rhythms are not yet mine.  I want to check in, lug my bags up the stairs, throw them in a corner, pull on my suit and run to the beach.

So that's just what I did. And now I'm becoming one of those calm beach people, too.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

The Wild West

All this walking in the suburbs is fine — until the suburbanite can't find her car. Yesterday I parked in  the new Reston-Wiehle Silver Line garage. I had errands to run after work and with easy access to the highway (which the station straddles) I was looking forward to an easy afternoon.

That was before I stepped out of the elevator on level A3 and realized I had no idea where I parked. The three-lane exit I spotted was nothing like the one-lane entrance I'd used at 6:12 a.m. But before I could panic, I spotted two yellow-vested Metro employees on golf carts.

"Can't find your car?" the older one asked, in what sounded like a Greek accent.

"No," I said.

"No one can," he said. "Jump in. I'll help you find it."

 For the next ten minutes we trundled around the garage, and he regaled me with stories of car misplacements. "Many people think they parked here but actually parked in the other garage," he said, shaking his head. Maybe he was making this up, but it made me feel better. At least I was in the right garage.

Aren't these spots for hybrid cars?" I asked when we were on the highest level, A1. "No rules now," he said. "This like Wild West."

A few more loops of the garage and there was the car, right where I left it — on Level A3 of the Wild West. It was a wild ride.

(W.H.D. Koerner, Cattle Stampede)


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