Friday, April 29, 2016

Bus Warrior

A new job, a new routine, a new commute. After a couple of long, miserable slogs on Metro, I tried a bus that whisks me from a parking lot in Reston to a stop five minutes from my new office. It will be a godsend — if I can figure out the parking.

Because if there's one thing I've learned about D.C. traffic and commuting, it's that every shortcut has already been found, every new route tried. It hasn't been designated the second worst traffic city in the nation (bested only by L.A., I believe) for nothing!

But so far I can say this: the bus is a fundamentally different way to travel. It moves you through space above ground, for one thing. I see the white stones of Arlington in military precision. I see the Washington monument looming in the distance when we stop at the Pentagon.

Connections are clearer, the way road leads to road. It's a good way to begin a new chapter, seeing more clearly, perched high above the fray. Not road warrior but bus warrior.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016


Brackish waters belong to both the sea and the land, and Chincoteague is surrounded by them, by  estuaries and lagoons. In fact (I read on Wikipedia, just checking my terms), the Chesapeake Bay, which surrounds these tidal lowlands, is the largest estuary in the U.S. It's "the drowned river valley of the Susquehanna" — something I never knew but will remember, due to its poetic turn of phrase.

But the word and concept of "brackish" sets the mind to spinning. How often do we run into situations that are a little of this and a little of that; that would be, if transferred into salinity equations, brackish?

Most of the time, I'd say. And that makes the brackish beautiful, which it most certainly is. So even though one is tempted to turn up one's nose at brackish water, to think of it as sluggish and unhealthy, I warmed to it at Chincoteague: the mud flats, the marshy reeds, the waters shining in the late-day sun.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Night into Day

A walk early this morning, a walk from night into day.  The road inky black beneath my feet to start, I rely on memory for the dips and bumps to step around along the way.

No music this morning. I wanted to hear the birds wake up — and I did.

But what I hadn't reckoned on was catching the first crickets of the season. A chorus of them at Harvest Glen Court. They were chirping their little hearts out, glad to be alive on this muggy morning.

I listened to them, thrilled to them, took note.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Routine Change

Ten days after my last day at Georgetown Law came my first day at Winrock International. A welcome sign, a tour, a lunch and a meet-and-greet all made me feel at home. As did lots of friendly people.

Now I just have to remember the new names, learn a new line of work and adjust to a new routine.

Ah, change! Can't live with it; can't live without it.

But of course we all live with it. Every day we grow a little older, a little bit different than we were yesterday. Those of us with children need no reminder that life moves on. But no one can avoid the truth entirely.

A change in routine merely makes more obvious what is true all the time.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Bumper Crop

I've never seen as many violets as I have this spring, and in this I can't help but see Mom's hand. Not that she is any position to command the growth cycles of plants. (If she is, I'll ask her to help our lawn!) But we both loved violets, and I feel her spirit in every one of these pretty flowers.

And then there is our balky lilac bush. Lilacs were another flower Mom loved. In fact, she wanted to carry white lilacs on her wedding day but was told they were out of season so she settled for stephanotis.

Our lilac has suddenly got the hang of blooming after two decades in the ground. Last year it sprouted a tiny cluster of flowers, and this year has more than doubled its blooms. With sunlight streaming into the yard as it does now, it will be no time before the bush is hanging its head with the weight of its sweet, fragrant flowers.

Or at least that's what I'm hoping. So it's not exactly a bumper crop, not yet. But someday...

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Spring Green

While I was gone the azaleas popped and trees reached a critical leafing point. Now when I look out the back windows, I see green.

I didn't see green at the beach. I saw light blue skies and delicate, cream-colored sea foam. I saw pale brown eel grass dried and husky. I saw the occasional flash of scarlet from cardinals and red-winged blackbirds. But in general the beach palette was decidedly pastel.

Today's still rain-drenched backyard is anything but. In fact, it's edging toward primary color intensity. What a nice view to come home to!

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Marsh Sunrise

I was out early this morning for a bike ride around the refuge and a walk on the beach. The sun was rising, and though I missed its first rays on the strand I caught them on the marsh. It was more stunning, if that is possible.

I came to the beach for a few days to clear my head and punctuate what came before from what comes next. In that I was moderately successful. A lot has come before, after all.

But I came, most of all, for the place, for its beauty and rhythms and peacefulness. I've tried to capture it in words and photographs and mindset. And now, I'll do my best to take it back.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Pony Tales

My family has a long history of visiting Chincoteague. We brought Suzanne here before she was a year old, and the girls have visited at regular enough intervals that they have real memories of the place. One of them is a standing joke/question/riff: Are the famed ponies, popularized by Misty of Chincoteague, really wild? With today's post I will answer this question once and for all.

They are wild, within boundaries.

OK, I know this is a cop-out — but it's true. I walked five miles round trip yesterday to a section of the island where they roam free. "Once you cross that fence (there was a cattle guard), you'll be in their territory," the ranger told me.

Fenced wild ponies? An oxymoron, for sure. But I was close enough to feel their wildness, their utter disregard that I was there. I kept remembering the pamphlet warnings. "Wild ponies bite and kick." So I didn't approach or offer an outstretched hand for sniffing.

Instead, I observed. And soon after this mare walked past me she started to trot and then to canter. Her friends soon joined her, a posse of five. I held my breath as they galloped past, leaving a cloud of dust and flowing manes in their wake. They were alive and moving and free. They were as wild as any fenced creatures can be.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Knobbed Whelk

I've been thinking about the impulse to label and categorize. Take this shell, for example. I picked it up today after promising myself I would collect no more. The big bag of shells yesterday should  have been enough. And since today's walk was a much chillier one — stiff breeze blowing, long-sleeved shirt and sweatshirt — my hands would have been warmer stuffed in my pockets. Except they were too busy picking up whelk shells.

But the urge to acquire is often accompanied by the urge to name and arrange, so I stopped in at the Tom's Cove Visitor's Center and picked up a little handout on shells. There are two types of whelks, I learned: the knobbed whelk, which has little points on each whorl, and the channeled whelk, which has grooves instead of points.

Learning its name is a way to honor the shell and its former inhabitant. It helps me appreciate it, which isn't hard given its beauty.

But there is much I still don't know: how a snail created this shell, how its hue came to resemble a thousand sunsets; how the ocean buffeted and burnished it and the waves tossed it up on the shore for me to find — all of those things I'll never understand.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016


As soon as I carved out a week between jobs, I knew where I wanted to spend part of it.

I arrived at Chincoteague before noon and wasted no time pedaling to the beach.  The usual access trail was closed until three so I took the long way around.

No matter. It was a day for cycling — and shelling, sunning and walking on an almost-empty beach.

I strolled almost an hour north absorbing the sun, sand and sea, then turned south and made my back to the towel. The channeled whelks I collected filled a flimsy plastic bag and banged against my leg as I trudged along. I didn't pick up this item, though I did take its picture.

It is, apparently, a channeled whelk egg case. Something I've never seen before.

The shells themselves are in the car, making it oh so aromatic for the drive home.

But that's a couple days away. What I have now is a gift of time — and a place I love to spend it in.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Spring Break

Into my life comes a welcome pause. A few days in between. And I'm starting them off on the deck.

It's a perfect spring morning. Birds are flitting and nesting. Dogwood is blooming. The door is open to the living room. The air is a perfect 70 degrees.

This is not a time of year I usually take off, these precious days of spring. Why not? Oh, too busy, I guess.

Meanwhile, the miracle unfolds, unseen. And I've been all the poorer for it.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Last Day

The office is nearly cleared. Only a few more papers to sort, then a bit of electronic tidying. It's time to end one chapter and begin another.

It's a surreal feeling, one I've grown used to these last two years: the loss of something once integral. I've watched, fascinated and bemused, as the details of my work have evaporated and trailed off, so many ghost vapors.

I'm in a strange position — disconnecting from one place, not yet connected to another.

Isn't that what we used to call freedom?


Thursday, April 14, 2016


The office is almost cleaned out. The farewells are almost said. My work at Georgetown Law is almost done. So I took the afternoon off to see the Wonder exhibit at the Renwick.

I saw shapes, materials and colors that delighted and amused. Insect art, for example:
Or a 150-year-old cedar, hollowed, re-imagined and reconstituted:
And light everywhere, light touching polyester thread to create an indoor rainbow:
For many years I was paid by the word, so "one picture is worth a thousand words" is not a phrase I like to use. But there are exceptions:


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Leaving the Hood

I'm not just leaving a job on Friday; I'm leaving a neighborhood — a lively, jangling, grand and varied neighborhood. A neighborhood where the U. S. Capitol and the city's  largest homeless shelter are both within strolling distance. A neighborhood of posh eateries and soup kitchens. It's a place I've enjoyed getting to know, so walks to and from Metro are taking on a special poignancy these days.

I trudge up the escalator at Judiciary Square into a jostling, careening space. Crowds of workers move in and out of the courts building. A homeless woman smokes or naps on a stone bench. Express newspaper hawkers call out a cheery good morning.

Across the street is First Trinity Lutheran Church, with a sign advertising its Bible study. A few steps away are the trees and railings where scarves were draped last January 6. There is the light I always try to catch, the one crossing Third Street.

The bridge across the highway offers a sliver view of the Capitol Dome. And then there is the construction site, as workers continue to roof I-395 so they can build a neighborhood on top. I'll miss seeing the completion of that project.

Soon I'm walking down the alley that leads to my office, a backdoor approach that's always been my preference. I like slipping into places, like slipping out of them, too.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Slow Greening

When I returned here late Sunday from Lexington, I could tell that spring hadn't gotten much further than it was when I left three days earlier. And no wonder: Virginia had the same cold rain and snow bursts over the weekend that Kentucky did.

Which means that spring is delightfully long this year. The trees, just greening, are paused at a precious and delicate moment. For some, too much cold now means no blooms later on. The hydrangea comes immediately to mind.

For others, though, the cooler temperatures mean a slower greening — a longer run of "spring green," a Crayola color I remember from childhood. It's a hue closer to yellow than to green. "Nature's first green is gold," Robert Frost said. "Its hardest hue to hold."

Some years, that "hardest hue to hold" lasts only hours; other years it might linger for a few days. This year it's going on a week — a slow greening that's a long tease and a rare treat. It's all I can do not to aim my camera at every leaf and tree.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Grand Landscapes

The drive home was through sun and shadow. The snow that was falling on Friday had stuck in the higher elevations and was still there on Sunday. It was a spring day with a feel of winter, a day to process what has happened and what lies ahead.

In this I was aided by landscape. What is it about a glimpse of long distances that airs out the brain?

There is one spot on the road we took yesterday, one that approaches the area from Maryland rather than Virginia, where the view must be 50 miles or more in either direction. From that vantage point, it's easy to see how small we are, how busily self-important.

Spend enough time in the company of grand landscapes, and the trivial falls away.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sweet Adelines

There are more physically demanding jobs, to be sure. Digging ditches comes immediately to mind. But going through Mom's letters and papers and jewelry was a different kind of hard. And at the end of the day we were all in need of a stiff drink and a good meal.

It was snowing, sleeting, raining and hailing yesterday, but we went out anyway, into a hopping downtown Lexington Friday night. After the drinks, the appetizer and the entrees, we were .... serenaded.

Turns out we were sitting right next to dozen or so Sweet Adelines. When I heard the pitch pipe, I knew we were in for a treat. Don't know the name of the song, but it was sublime four-part harmony, barbershop quartet-style, and delivered with a flourish. These ladies could sing! When they finished, the whole restaurant erupted in applause.

It was a cheerful reminder that life offers more than grief and duty. It offers joy, as well.

(The cat did not join us, but she has good taste in beer.)


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Sadness, Shared

It's a rainy day here, a work-plus-travel day for me as my sister and  I drive out to Kentucky together to go through our parents' things.

This is a sad duty, one our brother has borne pretty much alone, so it's time for us to pitch in.

Already I"m imagining the house again without our parents in it. The sofa where Mom and I would  sit and talk, glasses of iced tea on the coffee table in front of us. The chair against which Dad would lean his cane — a cane with a padded handle that he loved and to which he affixed one of those giveaway address labels you get in the mail.

Thinking of the cane, thinking of the emptiness, thinking of how thankful I am not to have to do this alone. It's sadness, shared.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

One Sitting

It's been a while since I consumed a novel in one gulp — but that's just what happened last night. The novel was On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, a 200-page chronicle of Florence and Edward's  honeymoon night.

The novel is set in 1962, a key fact, given the newlywed's lack of sexual experience. The setting is an ironic frame handed to the reader, who knows of the sexual revolution to follow.

What amazed me about the book, though, was not the commentary on sexual mores but the nuance with which McEwan describes the nervous couple's every word and touch. It was as if he was inside their skin — or, I should say, inside their separate skins.

In the final pages, McEwan pans out from this intense closeup. At first this seemed too neat — an easy way to end a book that could have gone on much longer (though it would have kept me up even later!). Upon reflection, though, the denouement is absolutely right. Sometimes our lives rise and fall on a single moment.



Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Late last week I accepted an offer for a new job.  In less than two weeks I will be leaving this office, these colleagues, this way of being.

I started my magazine writing career as a freelancer and always feel like one at heart. So one way to view this job change is as a shift of clients. But to be honest with myself, I know it's much, more more.

A workplace has its way with you. Its dynamics become your dynamics; its mood your mood.  There is no way to erase the fact that one spends many hours a day in one's place of employ. So when a little voice started telling me that it was time to move on, and when that little voice got louder and louder, refused to be silenced, I had no choice but to listen.

It wasn't easy to listen at first. At times it was downright painful.

And when I finally did, what I found was possibility.  An old friend, greatly missed and warmly welcomed.

Monday, April 4, 2016

From the Top

Looking at the springtime miracle, watching it unfold. What I notice every year — and most certainly have written about here before — is how it starts at the top.

Those uppermost branches, the ones that scrape the sky and soak up the sun, they are the first to bud. Everything else follows in kind.

It's an interesting phenomenon, metaphorically speaking (and — given that I've forgotten most of what I learned in Intro Biology — that's the only way I can speak). Flowers, plants, crop, they all grow from the ground up. But blooming starts at the top and works its way down.

There has to be message here somewhere. 

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Friday, April 1, 2016

No Fooling!

April crept up on me this year. I'd started thinking it might always be March — a month of unpredictability and extremes. A month of forced gaiety — of green beer and basketball.

But time has worked its magic. Thirty-one days of earthly rotation have brought us to a day of  foolishness and frivolity.

There's been no chance to construct elaborate pranks -- or even simple ones. It's a day for relief and gratitude. No fooling!


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