Saturday, February 28, 2015

Visiting the Past

I've lately spent a few hours in the cool, quiet recesses of the Smithsonian Archives. While this conjures up images of dusty stacks, in reality the building is new, open and sunny. Researchers sit in a glass walled room where archivists can keep a watchful eye. No pens, no purses, no coats or scarves. We stow our belongings in lockers and bring only pencils, paper, laptops and cameras.

What emerges is time and space for the quiet pursuit. The here-and-now drops away; the long-since-past emerges. It's a nice place to spend some time, the long-since-past. I read about the 1918 flu and Model Ts and old roads on the prairie, two tire tracks amid waving grass. It was a place where you could buy an acre of land in Falls Church for $125 and build a house in ten days.

I leave the archives with my mind spinning. Once I walk out of that glass room, I'm not in the past anymore. But I'm not quite in the present either.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 27, 2015

To Lengthen

As the first week of Lent draws to a close I remind myself — as I do always this time of year — that the word "Lent" comes from the Angle-Saxon word "to lengthen."

Days are growing longer. This is not only a season of spiritual renewal but of natural renewal, too. 

I need this reminder. The witch hazel, earliest harbinger of winter's end — whose late February blooming (pictured in Monday's post) is usually a surprise — is as brittle and dead-leafed as it was a month ago. If the crocuses and daffodils are stirring to life I wouldn't know it — they're buried under half a foot or more of crusty snow.

But the forsythia branches have a yellow glow about them, a fullness. The late winter sun feels warm on the skin. And up high the tree buds are swelling.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Snow and Stillness

How still are mornings that start with snow. How peacefully they begin.

I hold my breath in the quiet, wanting it to last. I hear the furnace hum, watch snowflakes cling to oak knobs and holly leaves.

I need the stillness of snow, even now, as winter dwindles. I don't need its cold and discomfort but I do need its quiet purposefulness.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mind Travel

Almost March, and winter shows no signs of waning. I look for signs of spring, but buds are tight-furled, crocus biding their time.

I find a place in the mind whee I can be warm and free. Where I can walk for hours without tiring. Where I can be myself.

I feel the sun on my skin and the sand between my toes. I savor the freedom of the beach, its great gift, that it calls us to be who we are, no layers, no pretenses. It scours us clean and leaves us open to sound and light — and always, above all, to possibilities.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Millennials and Books

Talk about surprises, I almost missed one, tucked as it was beneath the Oscar photo. But the headline in yesterday's Washington Post was unmistakable: "Wired millennials still prefer the printed word." This according to textbook publishers, bookstore owners and the people themselves, those born 1980 and afterward — my kids, in other words.

They may text and snap-chat and send pictures by Instagram, but turns out they also like to read books. They learn better, they say, because there are fewer distractions. (Those who multitask while reading a printed book: 1 percent. Those who multitask while reading an e-book: 90 percent.)

A pilot study at the University of Washington found a quarter of students who were given e-textbooks for free still opted to buy the print version. Pew studies show the highest print readership rates among 18- to 29-year-olds.

That last statistic is hard to believe, but even if the data is slightly stretched, it's still heartening to think that those who come after us will thrill to the smell of a new book, will feel the heft of one in the hand, will appreciate its superior knowledge delivery system! Maybe the sky is not falling; maybe the good old codex will be around a bit longer after all.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 23, 2015

On Surprises

In the end it's not about which movie won or lost. (Or at least it isn't to me; I'm sure it is to the producers and directors!) It's about seeing the movies beforehand, keeping my own little tally. It's about settling in to watch the festivities and see what the evening has in store.

Of course, what it has in store is pretty much the same from year to year — bright lights and gorgeous gowns, highly scripted performances. And then there are the acceptance speeches, our best hope of real human emotion. Last night didn't disappoint. There was J.K. Simmons telling us to call our mothers. There was an excited Eddie Redmayne sharing his award with ALS sufferers. And then there was the director of "Ida," the Polish film about a nun discovering her Jewish past, which took the award for best foreign language film.

Pawel Pawilkowski told his Polish film crew to have a drink. He mentioned his late wife and parents, who were very much a part of the film, and his children, "who are still alive." He fought against the music that was trying to drive him offstage. But his words stuck with me:

"We make a film about silence and withdrawing from the world and the need for contemplation – and here we are, at the epicenter of world noise and attention. Fantastic — life is full of surprises.”

Life is full of surprises, and sometimes even the Oscars are.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

To Ruminate or Record?

A journal can be a rumination, a venting, a hymn of praise. Or it can be a list, an outline, a series of observations.

For the last two days I've been reading the diaries of the late Ira N. "Gabe" Gabrielson, first director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and noted conservationist.

In 1966, Gabrielson sold his home, garden and lovely bamboo-fringed pond to the Fairfax County Park Authority. He and his family continued to live in the house for years, but after his death the property became a tiny tucked-away park called Gabrielson Gardens. I stumbled upon it this fall and have been interested in learning more about Gabrielson ever since.

This week I visited the Smithsonian Archives and began to read Gabrielson's diaries. There is much to learn about the man. But one thing struck me immediately: In his journals he lists the vegetables he harvested and the birds he spotted. I think about the thoughts, ideas and feelings I write in my own journal. It's another model. Both are time-honored. But this morning, after my usual entry, I noted that two bluebirds and a red-headed woodpecker perched on the deck railing and nibbled some suet.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Remembering the Colors

Too cold for me here. I'm going back to Africa. Not just for the hot sun and the balmy breezes, but for the colorful, always-summery cotton fabrics.

No more wool sweaters, high turtlenecks, thick socks. No more layers. I'll live in the land of eternal heat with a pagne to cover me. Before I visited Benin, I never knew how versatile two meters of cloth could be, how from them you can fashion a headscarf, a skirt, a towel or a baby sling.

Because I visited during the dry season, the African landscape was mostly brown. The color came from the clothes. Not just the women's but the men's too. Bold patterns, bright hues, unusual combinations — I was filled with joy just looking at a street corner or a market, seeing the swirl of colors gathered there. And remembering them now warms me up completely.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Moving Quickly

The story today is the cold.

Record-shattering. Bone-chilling. Cold I must soon confront.

Which raises some questions: Why do I have no corduroy pants that fit? What can I wear that is warm enough for this craziness? And most importantly, when will it ever be spring?

Until there are answers to these questions there is only one course of action — plunging in. No, I won't be skating anytime soon. But I will be walking, running, moving quickly. That's my way to get through the winter — and the cold.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Winter White

A light snow, easily cleared, meant a long walk yesterday — and a chance to contemplate how much better winter looks when it's wearing white.

There is a time in late November when bleakness is becoming — bare trees, barren fields, a monochromatic palette. A soothing contrast to summer greens and autumn golds.

But by mid-February, bleakness is boring. The eye craves contrast, softness. It looks for shelter, for cover.

In the language of fashion, winter white is that which is worn after Labor Day — creams and oysters and parchments. But in the language of weather, winter white is the mantle only snow can bring. And finally, it's here.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fox Prints

Our first real snow of the season — white, fluffy, measurable — and my first real glimpse of it out the front window. As I open the blinds a fox darts across the driveway from the right. He was spry, lean, red, dashing. He was moving from one stand of trees to another, to the woods behind the house across the street.

Maybe I startled him, or maybe not. Maybe he always moves that quickly, bushy tail flying. A wild thing for sure. But a wild thing with proprioception, aware in his animal way of how easily he was spotted.

I wish I could have caught him on camera. His redness so much redder against the sparkly whiteness of the snow. But my camera was many steps away.

Instead, I made do with the prints he left behind.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 16, 2015

Laughing in the Face of Winter

The best story I have about the weekend's bitter cold weather happened as I was walking into the grocery store Sunday morning. I had dropped by after church to pick up bagels but was sorry I did. The parking lot was a sheet of ice, and the snow melt being tossed onto it by a earnest employee was being blown right back into the guy's face.

Snow and ice bring out the little old lady in me. Instead of darting from one errand to another, which is my wont, I do a mincing two-step. My theory is simple: I would like to keep darting from one errand to another. I would like to avoid breaking my leg or wrist.

I was aware there were people behind me but I didn't recognize them until I was walking in the door. It was the older woman and her son (son-in-law?) who had sat in the pew in front of me at church.

The woman seemed a bit remote during the service, but when a frigid gust struck her, she shouted "whoa" and then exploded with the most authentic, daring laugh. The temperature was in the single digits and she wore no hat or gloves; the 30-mile-per-hour wind was picking up the edges of her brown cape and tossing them around. But she treated the dangerous cold as a petty nuisance, a slightly unruly child. She laughed in the face of winter. She's my new role model.


Friday, February 13, 2015

The Company of Writers (Again)

I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. The company of writers is unlike the company of other folks.

Others may take issue with this, of course, may say it's the company of actors or stamp-collectors or plumbers that does it for them. And they would be right. It's the company of those with whom you feel an affinity. Or, to put it another way, writers are my people!

Take last night's bunch. We talked of safety in university laboratories, the manufacturing of steel, a murder in Centropolis, Kansas, in 1905. One of us read poetry aloud, from a memoir penned in verse. Another passed around a coffee table book on the Chesapeake that was back in print after 20 years. Still another talked about her plan to bring computers to African kids.

I don't mean to brag here, but writers have many interests. They ask good questions. They are curious. They are also endangered, now that book publishing is in free fall and newspapers and magazines are fading away. So we also traded frustrations, gripes, gallows humor.  But somehow the upshot of it all was overwhelmingly positive.

It was a cold, blustery night. I had worked 12 hours. I should have been exhausted.

I wasn't.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Science of Walking

When I'm sluggish or stuck, when the ideas in my head have congealed into a hopeless mess, I take to the trail. Thoughts arrive as gifts, flowing from the rhythm of the stride and from the scenery I pass at the pace of footfall. When the brain stalls, the feet step in.

Seems like magic — and maybe it is. But it's neuroscience, too.

Evidence is mounting that exercise is good for the brain, that it may even stave off Alzheimer's. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, exercise not only triggers the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus but it also acts as "a kind of brain fertilizer, helping the brain to grow."

The scientist Frederick Gage, says the Journal, has suggested that "new cells arise from long walks because, in an evolutionary sense, our bodies associate the exertion with moving from an existing territory, which had perhaps become depleted of food or too dangerous, to a new, unexplored territory whose details must be learned. In anticipation the brain releases new cells and growth factors, which create a more plastic state and make possible new neural connections."

My exercised brain tells me he might be onto something.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Of Lions and Lambs

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. 
Isaiah 11:6

 The program has been on my computer for a while, but I'm only just starting to learn it. InCopy works in tandem with the InDesign program. It protects design files while allowing editors to make changes directly in them.

While I don't plan to do away with paper proofs, learning to make changes myself frees up the designers and guarantees more accuracy.  It means I won't hesitate to remove the dash I just added in the last round of page proofs because I decided the comma was better after all.  It gives me a little more control.

More to the point, it brings words people and image people closer together. The lion may lie down with the lamb — which is how I thought the Bible verse read until about ten minutes ago, when I looked it up.


Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Grisly Discovery

I woke up this morning to the news that human bones had been found alongside a trail in my neighborhood. A walker noticed the bones on Sunday, called police, and yesterday the remains were tested and found to be human. That's all we know for now.

I walk those trails all the time. We all do. Copper sniffs seemingly every tree and bush. Apparently he missed a spot.

The police have asked anyone with information to call. Here's what I'd like to say: This is our safe, snug little corner of the world. Please let there be some logical and non-scary explanation for this. Please let our woods remain the quiet sanctuary they have always been. Please don't let this happen here.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 9, 2015

Double Feature

When I was a kid you saw two movies for the price of one. Yesterday I two movies for the price of two — thanks to some felicitous timing at a gem of a small theater.

This place has smallish screens and no stadium seating — but four of the eight nominated feature films were playing there plus some selected shorts (which attract the die-hard fans).

What joy to find a good seat (on the right hand side two seats in), to snuggle down so my head was resting on the back, to stuff my windbreaker behind me for extra comfort — and then to enter the two fantasy worlds created on screen.

I left the movies as I always do, slightly stretched, slightly dazed, open to possibilities. A double feature is a short vacation.

(Photo: Courtesy Cinema Arts Theater)


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Five Years Old

If it was a child it would be getting ready for kindergarten, grasping one of those fat pencils with a chubby fist.

If it was a dog it would finally be settling down, chewing fewer slippers, ruining fewer rugs.

If it was a house it would be settling into its foundation, growing into its lot, needing a fresh coat of paint on the trim.

But it is instead a blog, a body of work, an electronic oeuvre — and I'm not sure what it's ready for, other than continuing.

I began A Walker in the Suburbs on February 7, 2010. Happy Birthday, blog!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Stayin' Alive

My soundtrack this morning is courtesy of our parakeets, Sid and Dominique, who chatter and chirp and sing. They are cheerful little creatures, supplying much entertainment. I could spend hours just watching them climb and preen and jump from one perch to the other.

The birds outside are just as busy. They flit and feed and hop along the deck railing. Right now a red-headed woodpecker is chipping away at the suet block. It's vital protein for these chilly mornings. After he flies away, I spot a cardinal in the back of the yard, bending the forsythia branch with his tiny weight.

I turn my gaze back to the page. This is my work. Not as direct as the bird's daily toil. But just the same — it's what I do to stay alive.

(Photo: Claire Capehart)

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Remembering Snowmaggedon

Five years ago today the first flakes flew in a storm called Snowmaggedon, which dumped close to three feet of snow here before it was done.  It was, next to a couple of rough Chicago winters, the most snow I had ever seen. It closed schools and offices and slowed life to a pioneer pace. It spurned removal; some neighborhoods weren't plowed for a week.

Though grocery shelves were empty and some folks were climbing the walls by the time it was over, it was for me — and for many — the pause button I'd been waiting for.

There were long lazy hours for reading and writing, for making soup and baking rolls. Time for walking down the middle of a busy road because it was impassable for cars.  Time to start this blog.

It was, in short, the world upside down and white. Will it happen again? Not this year, from the looks of it. But the groundhog predicts six more weeks of winter. We can always hope.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Full Moon

Perhaps we're in the midst of a celestial spitting contest. Or maybe it's compensation for a long, cold winter. (I know, I can't complain about winter; I missed three weeks of it!)

But whatever it is we are enjoying not only glorious sunrises but also spectacular moon rises.

While some people spied last night's orb orange on the horizon, I didn't see it until I left the grocery store. It was big and white by then, surreal, disorienting. So outsize I mistook it at first for an earthbound thing, a construction light. But no, it was our dear old moon.

My last full moon was in Toura, Benin, on the edge of the Sahel, where it lit the village paths and huts. A moon there is a practical asset, a streetlight, a directional. The moon here is just another heavenly face. Good for the soul, which is good enough for me.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Sunrise Photography

Vienna Metro, 7 a.m.

A train lumbers into the station and a swarm of thickly clad Northern Virginians scampers to board it. It's 25 degrees outside; our breath makes clouds in the morning air.

I take a seat on the right hand side just in time for the big show — the winter sunrise. Clouds pile up and fan out, a medley of pinks and blues. On the horizon, a gash of gold.

The photo I take is grainy, a blurry likeness through smeared glass, with train lights reflected back at me. An imperfect replica, captured with a click (since I forgot to switch my phone to silent).

Two minutes later, the man in front of me takes out his smartphone, snaps his own sunrise shot.

If I do nothing else today I will take comfort in this — that someone else noticed the day unfolding and took the time to make it his own.


Monday, February 2, 2015

How a Trip Becomes a Story

Our bus trip took 12 hours, then we took a bush taxi. We saw elephants, hippos, baboons, a cheetah. The beach was deserted, and the hotel looked like an antebellum mansion, complete with Spanish moss.

After a while, a trip becomes the stories we tell about it. What we say, what we omit. What we remember, what we forget.

Here are the cotton fields, the market, the red striped cathedral, the old bridge and the pigs rooting beside it.

What was once a place alive and breathing, filled with wood smoke and goat bleats, is now a sheaf of digital images — and the stories I tell about them.

blogger counters