Monday, September 28, 2015


I missed the moon in its blood-red rising. By the time I caught up with the orb, it was higher in the sky. This is better than I anticipated. With cloud cover for most of the day, it was unlikely I'd see much of the moon at all.

But the clouds provided a soft-focus backdrop and the moon glowed brighter than I had seen it shine in a long time.

I think the eclipse had already begun when I took this shot. The moon was just starting to disappear — though behind clouds or earth's shadow — or only in my own imagination — I could not tell.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Of Loss and Reminders

Yesterday the law school where I work lost a dear and long-treasured colleague. My office was responsible for pulling together the announcements of her death and building the In Memoriam page to record the notes that began pouring in the moment people heard of her passing.

This morning I was reading these lovely tributes. Over and over again they testify to what matters in life: the care and concern for others. This was a woman who touched everyone who knew her. She was always there with a laugh or a roll of the eyes. She was not smooth and perfect; she could be as frazzled as the rest of us. But she kept on trying until the end.

I notice that the comments come from a complete strata of the place: from the childcare center and  the board of visitors, from the library and the accounts office, from the student life people and the professors.

When someone this good goes (and long, long before her time; she was only 45), there is a huge void. And in the void there is a reminder: This is how to live your life.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Papal Aura

It is difficult to know that the Pope, the bishop of Rome and shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church, will be speaking less than a mile from where I'm sitting now and there's no way to be present for it.

Even being on the West Lawn of the Capitol to see the Pope on Jumbotron is not an option. Those tickets went in less than an hour.

So this morning I'll watch via live stream on my computer as the Pope address the U.S. Congress. I'll sit quietly and absorb the papal aura. Watching clips from his appearances yesterday it's hard to be unmoved by the outpouring of love and admiration for the pontiff, and by his smile and jauntiness in return, by his relish for the crowd and his appreciation of the American spirit.

Already some have attributed a stateside miracle to His Holiness. Roads are empty, Metro cars, too. The Pope has given us what we thought was impossible: an easy commute. If he can do this, who knows what else he can accomplish? 


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Finding Time

Walking is often a way for me to handle hard times by absorbing myself in activity, observation and rumination. Everything from real trials to an ordinary bad day can be smoothed and put in perspective by stretching the legs — and the imagination.

But what if time constraints take that walking time away? That's what's been happening recently. And, as is so often the case, the walking time is waning at the very time I need it most.

There's only one thing to do, and that's to pound the pavement as if my life depends upon it. Because, in a very real way, it does.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

R.I.P., Robert E. Simon

Robert E. Simon, the founder of Reston, Virginia, died yesterday at the age of 101. Simon was a big thinker — and the big plan he had for the parcel of hunt-country land in western Fairfax County was that people should be able to live, work, shop and play all in the same place.

What held his vision together were the Reston Trails, lovely paved paths that wind their way from village cluster to village cluster, passing lakes and wetlands, woods and meadows.

The Reston Trails are my stomping ground. I've walked them for more than a quarter century now, walked them in all weathers and moods. I've pushed my babies in strollers on them and, later, watched my kids bicycle ahead of me on them, still wobbly but proud to be training-wheel-free. Now I walk them in this new phase of life, my children living their own lives away from home.

While I've used the paths to muse and find some quiet time, the point of Reston was actually just the opposite. "Community," Simon is quoted as saying in an obituary in today's Washington Post. "That word is the whole discussion. ... I think having facilities readily available for people of all kinds, from little kids to the elderly — that's the most important thing of all."

(Lake Anne Plaza, Reston's original village and the home of Robert E. Simon.) 

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Ponds and Flow

Yesterday's walk took me past a couple of ponds. One of them sports a new fountain, a spray of water that gives the old farm pond an aura of glamour and glitz.

But the explanation is far more humble. It's to aerate the lagoon, to make it healthy, to remove the green slime that fouls the waters of the murky pond next door.

Airflow is not only healthy for humans; it's good for water, too. So even though I preferred the pond in its still state, I'm glad to see it's looking clear and scum-free.

Bubbles matter. Flow matters. For ponds and for people, too.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Mozart's Jupiter

Just back from a run with Mozart in my ears. Last movement of his last (41st, Jupiter) symphony. What a piece of music this is! Listen closely and you can hear the Romantic period bursting right through the Classical form, mowing down the guard rails with its energy and passion.

Bold, contrapuntal, complex — the sound comes from so many different directions that it feels like the inside of my head will explode, that my earphones must be smoking as I jog along sedate suburban lanes.

But they're not, of course, and I try to maintain a poker face, offering no clue to the musical miracle taking place between my ears,  to the near dissonance at minutes 5:40 and 8:40, to what some describe as a "cosmic" coda.

Instead, I exert every effort not to air-conduct as Mozart carries me surely from the first clean melody all the way to the exuberant and triumphant finale. Every time I listen I'm enlarged, calmed, emboldened, amazed.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Spun-Gold September

How quickly we embrace perfection and come to expect it. I'm talking about this week's weather. Cool nights for open-window sleeping. Light-sweater mornings.  Days that start with enough coolness to refresh but that warm up nicely by noontime.

These days give us stability, they give us versatility (we can wear skirts or trousers, shorts or jeans), they give us perfect temperatures for walking, sleeping and waking.

The funny thing is how quickly we get used to them — or at least I do. Oh yes, another day in paradise.

So I'm trying to appreciate every spun-gold September day.  Even if I'm stuck inside for all of them.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Urban Obstacle Course

My one-mile walk to Metro in the afternoon is a study in pedestrian behavior. I became interested in this when I lived in New York, where a rush-hour stroll down Fifth Avenue can be an exercise in start-and-stop frustration.

There are fewer people on D.C. streets but sidewalks can be narrower and walkers slower. So at 5:30 p.m. I must still employ some of the skills I learned in New York: looking for openings in a crowd, gauging the approach of the walker ahead of me, looking down at crucial moments so as not to engage in one of those awkward dances where no one knows whether to go left or right.

If everything works according to plan, I can make it from my office to Metro Center in the same time it would take on the subway.  This produces a lot of satisfaction, some welcome weariness and a renewed appreciation of pedestrian flow.

It's an urban obstacle course, completed for the day.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Alarmed Dreams

Lately I've been sparing myself one of life's annoyances — I've not been setting the alarm. This is because I wake early anyway and must be at the office late. But this morning I was back to the familiar insistent beeping. An early dental appointment requires the utmost punctuality.

One difference between non-alarmed and alarmed wake-ups is that dreams seem closer to the surface with the latter. This morning's was, ironically, that I had missed the very dental appointment I woke up early for. There was no real reason supplied, just inertia, lack of interest — which, if you're going to miss a dental appointment is an excellent reason to do so — but my subconscious was not buying it.

So here I am, still groggy, needing to leave in half an hour. Because if I don't, my dream will come true. And not in a good way.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Cicadas in the City

Out the door and down New Jersey Avenue. The familiar arching trees shade the hotel and taxi stand. The Capitol lies ahead; its scaffolding gleams in the noonday sun.

I run for every light, avoid the waits, move as much as possible. It's the pace that does it, I think — a steady cadence does much to loosen the joints and free up the mind. But scenery helps also, and yesterday's was perfect. Blue skies, cicadas still singing, all the bustle of early September.

For many years I mourned New York City. Washington, D.C., could never measure up in quirkiness or energy or street life. But in the last several years I've mellowed to D.C. I appreciate the cicadas, for instance, and the tall trees that shelter them. Their crescendo is the sound of hot southern cities, a sound that says slow down. No one heeds it, of course, but at least it's there, mixed in with car horns and sirens.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

High Season

This is the high season for trail walking. Chilly mornings give way to warm, dry afternoons. The air has a freshness to it, which energizes and motivates. It pushes us up and out, makes us move even when we don't much feel like it.

I feel like trail-walking this morning but new responsibilities have me in the office today. If I'm lucky I'll pound some pavement at lunchtime, and that will energize and motivate in a different way.

But for now I'll dream of a clearing in the forest, a hard-packed path winding out from it, oaks and maples and hickories arching over browning ferns and reddening blackgum. The trail won't yet be covered but there will be enough leaves to provide a crunch when I walk. A soundtrack for the stroll.

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Time, Place and Prairie

Last weekend at the National Book Festival, author Marilynne Robinson said some things about time and place that I'm still thinking about.

On time: She sets her books 40 to 50 years in the past, she says, because she likes to write about a period when people had less access to each other, more privacy; when they couldn't always be reached. "I think it made people think differently," she said. "I like people who think long thoughts."

On space: A native of the East, the Berkshires, Robinson had to learn to read the landscape of the Midwest. "I find the prairie very beautiful," she said. But there was was not an automatic affinity. "I wanted my soul to love the landscape."

In time, she said, it did.

Time for place. And a place that grants time.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Step It Up

I heard the surgeon general about midway through a punishing nine-hour drive spent completely on my posterior. A day of little walking for me, in other words. Just the opposite of what the nation's highest health official was asking us to do.

Half of all Americans don't get enough exercise, he said. And there's a cure for that, a simple cure: take a walk. Walking 20 minutes a day can reduce our chances of getting such chronic diseases as diabetes and hypertension. It improves emotional well-being and keeps us sharp as we age.

But even with all these benefits and more, enough people aren't walking. So the surgeon general is on a mission. Twenty minutes a day is all it takes, he says. Surely we have that much time. As for other excuses — there's no safe place to walk in one's community, for instance — part of the Step It Up campaign is to re-think the way Americans live and work, to call for more public transportation and walkable communities.

These are laudable ideas, and I'm with him ... well ... every step of the way.

(A highly walkable community in the Czech Republic!)


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Place of Memory

A trip to Kentucky, one I wasn't planning to make, has put me in the place of memory. I came to see my mother, who is improving though still in the hospital. What I found is so much more. It always is.

To be in her house without her is to imagine a future where she is memory. Unimaginable — except it was precisely what I was thinking about when I began the drive out on Monday. Perhaps because I was trying hard not to frighten myself, I arrived here unprepared for the memories this place evokes. By the time I pulled off the interstate onto Paris Pike it was as if I had flown here rather than driven. There was that same abrupt displacement, the same new ways of seeing it provides.

There was Loudoun Avenue and Dad's old neighborhood. There were the charming cul-de-sacs off North Broadway. And then downtown, the one-way streets still two-way in my mind.

Even the summer air — breathed in deeply after leaving the hospital at 9 p.m. — even it belongs here and nowhere else. I struggle for a way to explain this that makes sense. Is it the way air currents move across old bricks? Is it the breezes that spring up in bluegrass pastureland? Or is it simply because it comes from the place of memory?


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Old House

This house was built in 1740. It belongs to my friends Annie and Pete, who laugh when they lead a tour. "It takes about 30 seconds," they said.

The house is small and beautiful, with original beams, slanting floors, and a spirit that comes from standing long upon this earth. It is the small of age and utility, the small of cozy evenings and dark afternoons. You duck your head to go from the front room into the back, to hike up the steep stairs to a loft that was once reached only by ladder.

Being in this place gave me a taste of what it must have been like to live in the 18th century, the quiet thoughts, the belief in soil and rainwater, the everyday glimpse of mountain and field. Poor in so many ways, to be sure — but rich in so many others.

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Teenage Forest

"We call it a teenage forest because it's messy," the ranger said. "There's a lot of stuff lying around that you could trip over."

It's not the most scientific explanation I've ever heard but it made me laugh, as I thought of some teenage rooms I have known. So I took a photo of this teenage forest, of the downed trees, crowded saplings and logs like random tennis shoes.

But the forest grows up too. The mature growth crowds the patchy sunlight that allows young trees to grow. The old growth forest is placid and lofty and purposeful.

Not nearly as much fun, though.


Friday, September 4, 2015

They're Baaack!

A late start for me today, and a late start for school in Fairfax County this year. September 8 is as late as it ever can be. But it's happening soon. I know this not from the clock or the calendar but from the rumble on the street.

They're baaack. The big yellow buses. I just saw two of them roll down the road behind the house and another one has been parked on a neighborhood side street for the last week and a half.

How can school buses still incite stomach-curdling anxiety after all these years?

Must be powerful, this back-to-school dread, even though once the first day or two was behind me I always enjoyed the back-to-school earnestness of September. I think it's not just the start of school but the end of summer that the buses signify. The end of late nights and freedom. The beginning of tight shoes and regimentation.

But ... the shoes had to be tight in the beginning or they'd be too loose later on. And the days had to be regimented or we'd all be a bunch of uneducated hooligans. So as much as I hate to say this ...  They're baaack — and it's about time!

(Big yellow bus from the inside. Courtesy Wikipedia.)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Plant a Billion

Every year the yard becomes a bit brighter, the sun more inescapable. Every year the pools of light go up against the patches of shade. And the light is winning.

While this is comforting in a metaphorical, good-versus-evil way, it does not bode well for the tall oaks. There's another one dead this summer, and another that is ailing. Is it drought or cold? Improper care? Lack of mulching?

None of the above, I imagine. It's probably old age, the natural life span of this venerable fellow. Eight decades are enough; he's had it.

But a report yesterday in Nature puts my yard in perspective. A team of scientists aided by satellite measurements and computer models found that there are a little over 3 trillion trees on Earth, 422 per person, a lot more than previously thought. But apparently not nearly enough, because we are losing 10 billion trees annually. Trees counteract global warming by capturing and storing carbon dioxide. We need trees now more than ever.

The Plant a Billion Trees Campaign aims to plant a billion trees by 2025. It has ten years and hundreds of millions of trees to go. Makes my tired oaks seem pretty insignificant. 


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Bonus Week

Labor Day is as late as it can ever be. School buses stand at the ready. Pools are getting that tired, slimy feel they have late in the season. The mint and basil plants have bolted. The woods are strung with spider webs.

In other words, summer is winding down. But we have a gift this year, a string of hot, high-humidity days; an extra shot of summer — a bonus week.

I try to save the weather, store it in some psychic, seasonal account so that when the frigid wind blows in my face as I walk north on Second Street I will be ready for it. I will be filled with summer, wearing an armor of remembered warmth.

Surely the only way to enter the next season is to be completely through with the one that went before. This week we have seven extra days to accomplish this feat.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Remembering the Beach

Thinking back to my beach walks, to the surf booming and lapping — to my right on the way out and to my left on the way back. The brightness of those mornings, the people I would see, some ambling along sipping coffee, others pounding the hard sand all decked out with pace-measuring equipment.

There was everywhere to look and everything to see. There was the sparkling gulf, the waves leaving foam on the shore. And then there were the shorebirds, the best show in town — gulls, terns, sanderlings, piping plovers, wheeling and swooping in tandem with an occasional loner breaking out of the crowd, soaring into a blue vastness.

I like to imagine the seaside now that I've been back three weeks, now that my nerves jingle-jangle as I walk and my head is full of commas, dashes and semi-colons. I like to remember the different life I had there, and the slow, steady purr of a great ocean.

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