Friday, January 29, 2016

Places to Go

On Wednesday, a stretch of clean, dry pavement appeared — and I took it. The block of E Street between Third and Fourth, where scarves once garlanded the gingko trees, was the first clue that the walk to Metro Center would be manageable.

And it was. Only a few iffy crosswalks and curbs but otherwise blissfully snow-free stretches of sidewalk with the typically eclectric street life. Barristers with briefcases trudging meditatively through Judiciary Square giving way to raucous, red-shirted Capitals hockey fans pouring into Verizon Center.

Not as many tourists as usual, which meant a higher incidence of purposeful striding. Much like my own, I'm embarrassed to say. We walk quickly because we have Places to Go.

I wonder how many of us are going to the same place — a warm two-story colonial in need of repair; a kitchen that's seen better days, a fleet of cars that must be jockeyed in and out of the snow-walled driveway depending upon who's leaving first the next day. A room full of steam and cooking smells and "how are you's." A place that makes the walk —and  the whole day — worthwhile.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bird Cloud

It was not the best idea to pick up Annie Proulx's Bird Cloud last night when I couldn't sleep. I thought it would lull me back to dreams, much as it had the evening before.

But not this time. Last night I was farther along in Proulx's Wyoming house-building saga. I wanted to know what would happen to the concrete floor that was poorly poured — and the color of liver. I wanted to understand how she could have spent most of her (considerable) income on a place that turned out to be uninhabitable from October till May due to wind and snow-packed roads.

I still haven't gotten a satisfying answer to the last question (though it made me feel good that someone so accomplished could also be so gulled.) As to the first — well, I know she found a floor fixer who gave up his Thanksgiving (for a mere $40,000!) to sand, polish and stain her floor to a dull, serviceable brown.

Along the way, I read lines like this:  "Bird Cloud was to be a type of poem if a house can be that. After Bird Cloud was finished I knew it was a poem of landscape, architecture and fine craftsmanship..."

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Making it Official

Yesterday morning the plows made it through, so four days of newspapers landed in the driveway with a thud.

We weren't exactly information starved over the long weekend. I always enjoy the hyped-up local TV and radio news before, during and after a snowstorm. And there's the Capital Weather Gang, my go-to website with more analytics and blizzard models than you'd ever want to know.

Still, it was a relief to get the print product, to see this recent meteorological event dubbed one "for the ages". It was almost (not quite) as if seeing it in print meant it really, truly happened. At the very least it was verification and retrospection.

But, this being a lively and full house, the papers were soon scattered across the counter and coffee table. Drinks were set down on them, breadcrumbs shaken on them.  And more than anything else, they — their late arrival, the news they bore — became part of the memory of this moment.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In Praise of Friction

Yesterday I trudged over snow banks to reach the main street in the neighborhood, which was plowed and salted down to pure pavement.

It was just above freezing and last night's black ice had melted, so I had the confidence to run/walk my usual loop. Along the way I strode through sprinkles of salt crystals and the occasional glob of sand. My feet thrilled at their rough grip, at the surety of resistance, knowing that they were not going to slide out from under me.

Ah, friction! How overlooked you are, how simple but how necessary. How seldom we celebrate your presence, the way you connect us (people and animals) with the tangible world.

Given a chance, our eyes may stray to the slick, shiny surface.  It glitters, it attracts. But what thrills us most is the dull, the solid, that which keeps us in place in a tilting world.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Nowhere to Go

Here in our little corner of the world neighbors plow your driveway because they have a snow blower and you don't.  It's that kind of place. There's a lot of kindness here — and a lot of plowed-out driveways.

But it's a classic case of all dressed up and nowhere to go.

Because every one of these neatly dug out, snow-walled stretches of pavement ends in — a snowbank.

The little plows have arrived but the big one has not.  So I remain blissfully snowed in with the driveway clearing, the pantry emptying and my hopes high. Not for a rescue. Oh, no. But for another day of being snowed in.


Sunday, January 24, 2016


I've lost track of the tally, but somewhere between two and three feet of snow fell between Friday afternoon and early this morning. The storm has moved on now, leaving a world transformed.

The cars are mountains in the driveway. The inverted birdbath a pyramid of white. Tree limbs are sugar frosted.

Inside, we are transformed, too. Or at least I am. Every time we're pelted like this I'm a little more humbled, a little more gladdened.

Blizzards are good for the soul — as long as the soul is housed in a body that's housed in a heated home well stocked with food!


Saturday, January 23, 2016

... The Storm

I was working outside yesterday morning, trying to bundle the last of the leaves into bags, when I saw the first flake fall. It could have been a cinder from an errant chimney, or a bit of fluff from a milkweed pod.

But it was, of course, a snowflake. As benign and unimposing a beginning as you could imagine. I thought at first I might have imagined it. But then there was another, and another.

Even so, it was a gentle prelude, giving no hint of the long, strong storm that would follow. It's been 22 hours and it hasn't stopped. From such a simple beginning this whole white world was wrought.

January 22, 2016 1 p.m.

January 23, 2016 11 a.m.


Friday, January 22, 2016

The Calm Before ...

A gray sky, a Christmas morning anticipation. The snow is coming, the snow is coming.

It's coming to cover the leaf piles and the brush piles, the trails and the sidewalks. It's coming to bury the daffodil shoots that began emerging from the ground in December. It's coming to cover the yet-to-be-picked-up leaf bags and the two cars that aren't in the garage. It's coming to transform the peeled brown landscape into one of perfect white.

I have books to read, chocolate to eat and movies to watch. The house is packed with people and with food. I'll bundle up and take a walk soon, because there won't be a chance to take another for quite some time.

Meanwhile, in the heavens, a great storm gathers. The systems have converged, as have the models. What started as a rumor, an office "have-you-heard" on Tuesday, is now (almost) a reality. 

It's the calm before ...



Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wednesday Walk

There wasn't much time, a window between 1 and 2. I left a pile of papers on my desk, a long list of to-dos. Wrapped a scarf around my neck and found a brisk playlist. Bernstein's Overture to Candide followed by a Renaissance number followed by one of my faves, the last movement of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony. 

It was my standard stroll: left on E and right on New Jersey, the trees overhanging the sidewalk there, the circular drive of the Hyatt Hotel, the Capitol swathed in its scaffolding. Around it to First.

A flock of blackbirds flung themselves at the Japanese pagoda tree. They appeared to be eating something. Does that tree have fruit? Must investigate.

The Supreme Court loomed ahead in all its stony majesty.  No crowd there today, no protesters, barely a guard to be seen. I thought as I always do at the trail spot — how beautiful D.C. is in winter, the contrast of dark trees against white buildings.

Behind the Capitol, two vehicles normally used to ferry tourists sat forlorn and unused, nose to nose. A police officer tugged at his parka, flapped his arms. On this day there was one enemy, and it was the cold.

Still, a few brave swaddled souls were walking about as I was. Most of us caught each others eyes and smiled. It was that kind of day.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In a Dark Wood

The library wants its book back so I'm returning In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing and the Mysteries of Love by Joseph Luzzi. But not before noting a few passages here. One is this:

"When he [Dante] accepted that he would never return to Florence he figured that he did not have to keep writing the books that other people wanted; he would write the books — the book, actually — that he alone believed in."

That book, of course, was The Divine Comedy.

Another passage:

"That is the real magical thinking of grief. That other life that death throws you into — the one you wanted nothing to do with — is actually one you can build upon. For it contains the gifts that the person who loved you left behind."

As I continue to live "that other life," a life without Mom, I'm finding that the gifts of words and writing, the gifts she gave me, bring comfort and courage. It's not quite as tidy as it sounds here, but it's close enough.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


For the most part this has been a warm, muddy winter. The backyard is a squishy, soggy mess, and the sections of living room floor not covered by carpets bear little brown doggy paw prints that must be constantly wiped up.

The warmish winter means that gloves spend more time in pockets and skin stays less chapped. It means that I'm not pummeled by bitter winds or enervated by long commutes in sub-freezing cold. I like these things.

But now that temps are in the teens and 20s, I'm remembering that there are advantages to seasonable cold. For instance, the ground is frozen. I can throw Copper the ball and neither one of us needs to wipe our feet when we come in.

And backing down the driveway past the two other cars is no longer an obstacle course — because there is a strip of frozen ground on either side that gives me more leeway than I usually have. It's the winter shoulder. And I'm glad it's here.

(We're not quite as frozen as the photo above would have you believe — not yet!)

Monday, January 18, 2016


On Saturday, a long walk on a Reston trail. Past the wildflower garden, the playground and a newly flooded lowland. It was almost 50, warm enough that the jacket I started out with was soon looped around my waist and my hands pulled free of the running shirt's built-in mittens.

Ten minutes in, I reached the closest stretch of the Cross County Trail. It's lined with interpretive signs, including one for a meadow, its pastel drawings out of place in the muted, tall-grass, cattail landscape. There are some steep hills in that area, and I looked up at houses that line that section of the trail, their decks a distant border to this natural world.

At the top of a rise I parted company with the CCT and went left to Lake Audubon, sparkling in the winter sun. The trail there runs alongside boat slips and red, green and yellow kayaks pushed up along the hill. You can walk almost completely around the lake — I almost have — and still not be back where you started from. So I made it to some strangely placed orange safety cones — and decided it was time to turn around.

On the return I noticed an angled tree swathed in eye-popping green moss, and a miniature waterfall  draining from the swampy lowland into the even-lower stream — subtle snapshots I hadn't seen going the other way.

I write this on a blustery morning of single-digit wind chills. But in my mind it's that mid-January morning with all its warm, dripping beauty.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Rich, Deep Well

This time last year I was in Benin, West Africa — zooming around on zemidjans, glimpsing a baby cheetah in the wild, strolling past roasting pigs' heads. Another world, a world I'm glad I saw, especially now that part of that world has come to live with us.

And, because I've seen this world, it lives within me. Its sights and sounds are a bulwark against the sanitized air of the everyday.

So today when I'm crammed into a Metro car or dealing with yet another work crisis, I'll think of the  vast grassy emptiness of Park Pendjari, stretching all the way to Burkina Faso. I'll conjure up the palm trees lining the beach road from Ouidah to Cotonou. I'll recall the thrill and terror of the long dark zem ride to the bus stop in Nattitingou.

I wasn't always comfortable over there. I said my share of Hail Mary's. But the trip is a rich, deep well of experience. I'm so thankful to have it.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Warming Up in Manhattan

As the temperatures plummet, my pace picks up. I don't walk from parking lot to Metro and Metro to office, I run. It's not the most dignified way to move from place to place, but it's how I travel in sub-freezing weather.

The body is a furnace, something I discovered when I lived in New York, a walkers' paradise. I wore a long black coat then, the warmest coat I've ever owned, toastier than any down jacket or fleece. But the coat was heavy. Putting it on was like suiting up for battle, which in a way it was.

So every workday morning I slipped into battle gear and made my way from 94th and Central Park West to 45th and Park Avenue, right near Grand Central Station. In 10 blocks I would be warming up, and by the time I reached the Plaza I might have to loosen my scarf.

I didn't run those 50-plus blocks, but I kept up a brisk pace. It was a surefire antidote to cold — and now that I think back on it — pretty much everything else, too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tuning and Touch

Having the piano tuned is a cause for celebration. And what better way to celebrate than playing the darn thing. This is a practical as well as an artistic matter. It doesn't stay in tune long, my poor old spinet.

So I sat down last night and started with what I last played — "The Messiah." Picked out the tenor part for "Every Valley," but found it a bit passe. So I dug deeper for some Bach, pounded out the first prelude, then the second fugue.

Emboldened that I could still read the notes (long-term memory is a wonderful thing!), I pressed on, ending the session with a few tunes from the Gershwin songbook.

By this point, the feeling had entered my fingers again, that proprioception that tells me my index finger is about to strike F sharp and my pinkie is hovering over E natural — and if I want the melody to sing out, I'd better work that pinkie.

They used to call it "touch." Maybe they still do. It's what turns notes into music. I got a bit of it back  last night.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Vibration

Some lines of poetry pop up often in my interior monologue. These are from high school, when I first read Edgar Lee Masters' "Spoon River Anthology."

"The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you."

The poem is about Fiddler Jones, whose crops languished while he played music at every party and dance. He ended up with a "broken fiddle, a broken laugh, a thousand memories and not a single regret." It is the epitaph of one who chose the artistic life, or one, I should say, whose artistic life was  chosen for him:

"And if the people find you can fiddle
Why fiddle you must for all your life."

Such is not my fate. No one is dragging me away from press releases to write the Great American Essay. But I do wake up with internal music, a vague but pulsing beat. It says hurry up, get in, get busy. And on days that propel me from bed directly to the office — without even a quiet moment to sip tea and write my post in a dark, quiet living room — this is how I feel: that the earth has kept some vibration going while I was asleep and  when it grew too strong it woke me up.

The vibration is not artistry calling. It is duty calling. I have been reduced to to-do's. How to change the vibration? That's what I'm wondering now.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Circle of Laundry

On Saturday I found myself alone in the house with Claire's laundry. She wanted to run out while it was in process, so I took over while she was gone.

Laundry is not a task I mind. In fact, folding it can be vaguely Zen-like: the warmth of towels hot from the dryer, the scent of fabric-softener sheets rising from them.  And, because it had been so long since I folded my middle girl's shirts and tights and sweaters, I savored this chance to help her out. I noted with pleasure how well she had begun the task, the carefully sorted piles of darks and lights.

I couldn't help but think back to a time when I was washing and drying her baby clothes, the little gowns and onesies, many of them hand-me-downs. How long ago that was, yet how close it seemed. How strong is the chain of caring that passes from heart to hand.

For the last load I threw in a t-shirt and sweatshirt of my own, and before she left that night, Claire handed them to me — clean and fragrant.

She had folded my clothes just as I folded hers. It may not be the circle of life, nothing that grandiose. Let's just call it the circle of laundry.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Thinking Ahead

Yesterday was spent almost entirely inside. A rainy day, the tree still up (a state of affairs that will  end today), laundry chugging away in the basement, a casserole simmering in the oven.

A calm, inward-focused day was the perfect antidote to a long, outward-focused week.

But already I feel the gears groan into action for tomorrow's workday: answering email, sketching the week's to-do list, planning quick dinners and what I'll need to make them before I dash to the grocery store.

What was once a day of rest is now a day of preparation.


Friday, January 8, 2016


It's the first of the year, time of arrivals and departures, of the two-faced Janus, looking back into the past and forward into the future.

Here in the office there are also arrivals and departures. Some are joyful, others less so. I think about a couple of people who will be moving to our suite before retirement. These changes fall into the "not with a bang but a whimper" category. People close to quitting who, if they'd had their druthers, may not have chosen to spend their final months here.

We can't all go out on a high note. Which is why I've been thinking about trajectories lately, what kinds of movements matter. I've seen enough of the work world, with its accolades and its disappointments, to put my faith in a less visible measure.

It's the spiritual trajectory that matters most, I think, the one that takes into account all our efforts and attempts, the dollar we slip into a beggar's hand, the colleague we forgive, the child we comfort — and the times we fail to do these things, too. The journey that underlies all others, our passage through the passages of life.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why Memoir?

Over the last week I've come face to face with my reading habits. I ripped right through In a Dark Wood: A Memoir of Grief by Joseph Luzzi. On its heels, Susan Cheever's Note in a Bottle. I'm just starting Mary Karr's Lit.

This is not a discussion of  individual books so much as what they have in common: the memoir form.

It could be that I read memoir because I write memoir — or at least memoirish. I've kept a journal since I was 16. I've written this blog for almost six years.

But I may also read memoir because we live in a confessional age, one in which the examined self is deemed more interesting than the fictional character. If that is true — and there's much evidence that it is — then does it flow from a dearth of imagination, a surfeit of self-absorption or a quest for understanding?

This is not a new question and my thoughts here are amateurish ones, but it's that last reason that resonates most. There are more and more of us sharing this planet, yet we know and understand each other less and less. Perhaps the humanity implicit in memoir promises relief.  If we can know and understand another, there is hope for us all.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016


I was all set to write about Epiphany, one of my favorite holidays. Day of discovery and adoration. The magi at the stable. And also of epiphany, one of my favorite feelings, the sudden revelation, the aha moment, the emergence of the forest from the trees.

I was helped along by a real surprise, a tree of scarves. Farther along, scarves draped over banisters and railings. On each scarf a blue tag: If you're cold take this scarf. Chase the Chill D.C.

Looked it up, found the page and the mission, saw the skeins of yarn from which some scarves were made. Learned that the "scarf bombing" was long planned for this day, that many fingers flew to bring it about.

A sometime crocheter, I could feel the needles in my grasp, imagine the warm hearts and hands of the knitters. A sudden revelation, an aha moment. All of that and more.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Lost and Found

First days back after long vacations are never easy. Mine involved an overwhelming amount of work, a long and tedious commute and, just for an extra dollop of misery, the coldest temps we've had all winter. It was 13 this morning with a brisk wind making it feel more frigid.

But as I was pushing my way out of the Metro Station yesterday, a young man tapped me on the shoulder. He was holding the necklace that I thought until that moment was around my neck. It's a special one because Claire gave it to me, and it must have slipped off as I tightened my scarf. He didn't have to do that. The pendant could easily have been picked up and pocketed.

As I was putting the necklace away last night, thrilled to have it safely home, I next reached up to take off my earrings and discovered ... one of them was missing too. That was less concerning. The necklace is more important; it's an even trade, I said to myself.

But this morning as I was putting on my coat, the missing earring showed up, too. It must have gotten caught in the collar.

You might think that I would be wearing no jewelry at all today. But you would be wrong. Once again, I'm casting my fate to the winds and to the good intentions of those around around me. It's a risk worth taking!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Eagle in Flight

I knew at once it was something different: longer, stronger, taking up more of the sky.  Broad wings, white head and tail with a supple, muscular stroke. It was over my head and beyond me before I had a good glimpse, but I knew at once this was no hawk.

In a few wing beats it was two houses away, hundreds of feet above me. With shaded eyes I watched it soar out of sight. Surely it was an eagle. I knew of nothing else that would be that imposing, that confident in the sky.

No more than two minutes later the bird was above me once again. It must have turned left at the woods and circled round. Now I had a clearer look, could observe the long, steady flap of those black wings, could be sure that the head was white. Though it was no doubt looking for food, it was calm and unhurried — out for the avian version of a Sunday drive.

I have seen eagles at the lake, at the beach and on a trip to Alaska. But never before had I seen one over the house. It was a good way to usher in the new year, glimpsing such a wild thing in flight. I thought of a passage from Henry Beston's Outermost House, describing a flock of swans: "Their passing was more than music, and from their wings descended the old loveliness of earth which both affirms and heals."


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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Day Two

When faced with a few days of uninterrupted time I sometimes panic. I take a walk, go to the movies, make a call.

Distraction is my currency. I live with it; sometimes on it (sad to say). And the prospect of giving it up is enough to make me create unnecessary distractions of my own.

The job, the commute, the tasks of daily living — these are necessary. Endless tidying and Googling are not.

But eventually I come around, assisted by a pen and paper, an empty screen, a good book.

That is what happened yesterday into today. I read a book (more on that in a future post). I wrote pages in my journal — enough to complete one blank book, so that (I admit a tad sheepishly and obsessively) I could begin a new one on January 1. And I still had time to spend in idle thought.

It's a quiet way to see in the new year, quiet and necessary.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Day One

The first day was a late one, so this post is late, too. But I'm determined to push "publish" while it's still light outside.

It's a cold and cloudy start to 2016, a day that could actually be called wintry after so many warm ones. The sun, still timid, is lost in the clouds. The trees arch bravely over a newly cleared backyard. 

I've spent hours reading and writing and thinking about this new year, what it might offer, how I might shape it. And now, I'll do what I usually do when I've thought too much: I'll lace up my shoes, grab my iPod and take to the streets. A walk — that's what will make this first day right.


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