Thursday, June 30, 2016

Chicago Bound

Minutiae is the enemy of creativity. Combine minutiae with work deadlines, house and yard chores, event planning and the to-dos of daily living, and you have a perfect storm of — well, I was looking for the antonym of "creativity" and what has come up with is ... reality!

So yes, a perfect storm of reality, or let's just say reality on steroids.

But today's plan is to walk to National Airport (20 minutes on foot), board a big bird and fly to Chicago for a family wedding.

Working now in the shadow of this airport I often think about the people in those big birds as they zoom off to their destinations. They, too, are prisoners of minutiae, prisoners of reality. But as I stare from my office building at the airborne jets, I imagine all passengers are sipping drinks with little umbrellas bound for fun-filled Caribbean vacations.

It's an innocent fantasy. A creative fantasy. The opposite of reality. But whatever it is, today I'll be part of it.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Before a Storm

Yesterday Copper and I stepped out before a storm. He's become an anxious little guy these days, clamoring for company when he senses bad weather. But I thought we could make it out and back before the rain fell.

Once on the leash he pranced and pulled. As usual I made sure he had no contact with passersby. And as usual he seemed oblivious to my presence.

But once we reached Fox Mill Road and turned back for the walk home, the air had taken on that super-charged feel it has when lightning is present. The sky was dark and clouds piled up in the west. I began to wonder if we could make it home in time.

We picked up our pace, I encouraged Copper with lots of "good boys" and "let's get home" — and eventually (in what seemed like an eternity) we made it home.

I'd like to say we dashed in just before the big drops hit the pavement. But that wasn't the way it worked. The storm blew over. Our mad dash was for naught.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Accidental Calligrapher

For the last couple of evenings I've been learning how to write. Yeah, I know. I'm supposed to be a writer already. But I have been learning to write, to form letters slowly and carefully, and it's been alternately painful and exhilarating.

Through a series of events too long and complicated to explain I've been trying my hand at  calligraphy. At first I used a regular gel pen. Not good! Next an inexpensive ink-cartridge calligraphy pen I picked up at an office supply store. Better.

I'm not about to take up a new hobby, but I've been amazed at what a meditative process it is, especially for someone who makes a living from words. That I'm being forced to think about every stroke, every ascender and descender, the width and height and heft of each letter — is, in a strange sort of way, liberating.

It's bringing me back to first principles. To the letters that form the words that carry the thoughts. It's a cleansing of the mental palate, a reminder of how excruciating and precious each letter can be.

(Art: Modern Western Calligraphy, Denis Brown, 2006, courtesy Wikipedia)


Monday, June 27, 2016


In the last couple of weeks I've been scraping, sanding and painting the deck furniture. It's not fun, but it can take on a Zen-like rhythm after a while. Especially the painting. Brush in hand, heat building on a June morning, air buzzing with insect sounds, a lone frog in the background.

I wield the brush as lightly as possible in rubber-gloved hand. The first coat is thick, too thick. The second coat is semi-gloss — ah, much smoother — and shinier, too.

And it was the semi-gloss that I used yesterday to do the touch-ups. Which is, I have to say, my favorite part of the endeavor: inspecting, looking at the whole, spotting the little places that can be improved, and ... improving them.

Maybe it's satisfying because it's a chance so seldom afforded us in life — this ability to go back and tweak ever-so-slightly the choices we made — just enough to make a difference.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Park Within a Park

The Washington and Old Dominion Trail (W&OD) is a walker's delight, a long skinny ribbon of asphalt through the D.C. 'burbs. Its dimensions tell the tale: 45 miles long and 100 feet across!

"Share the trail" is the motto and the practice, and of course it is a good one. But the best way I've found to share the trail is to get off of it. My surface of choice is not the paved path but the horse trail that runs along beside it.

With a surface of cinders or dirt it's easier on the joints. And it puts you even closer to the vegetation, to the sights and smells that are so vivid in high summer.

Most importantly it's away from zooming cyclists, whose "passing on the left" grow a little old after the forty-fifth iteration.

Sometimes the horse trail runs right alongside the paved path and other times it meanders higher or lower. When there's a bridge over a highway it doesn't always take it.

The horse trail, in other words, has a mind of its own. It's a placid alternative, a park within a park.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Brahmsian Coda

The skies were stormy and the air was leaden, but the legs needed to be moving and the W&OD was right there. So on the way home from work yesterday I slipped off my jacket and necklace, laced up my running shoes and took to the trail.

The music was beside the point when I started. I knew that movement alone would work its magic. So I let my little iPod do its own thing. And what it did was play Brahms.

He's my man, of course, but I don't turn to him like I used to. He is a bit, well, heavy. And you have to be in the mood for him. But I was, and he delivered.

It was the last movement of the First Symphony, which my high school youth orchestra played the year I joined. Brahms is not easy, especially when you've only just taken up the string bass. My stand partner wrote "a la fakando" beside the notes of one especially difficult run. Let's just say I did little for that piece but provide a low hum.

But being part of an orchestra that could play such music was enough to explode my adolescent brain. And now, when I listen to Brahms, those early memories of music-making create a powerful listening experience. I was lucky that the final moments of listening happened in the car, after the walk was over. There I could air conduct to my heart's content.

It was a very good walk, with a perfectly Brahmsian coda.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rain and Memory

Thunderstorms belong to the afternoon. The buildup of heat and humidity, the pressure and then the release.

This morning was an anomaly. Cracks of thunder before 6 a.m. Copper pawing at the door, wanting to get to his safe spot in the basement. Driving to the bus in a downpour and seeking high ground to park the car.

Here's where local memory comes in handy. The lot I use now was once flooded, cars submerged. Unsuspecting commuters had done just what I did today, raced up and parked and caught the bus. But on that day storm drains were clogged and rain fell several inches an hour.

When I pulled in this morning I noticed another driver who'd done the same — bypassed the closer, lower spots. I guess he remembers, too.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Strawberry Moon

I'm late writing about the moon that graced our solstice, the moon that woke me this morning with its light so late it was early. But it was still there at dawn when I went out to walk, the day already fully present but the orb still high in the sky. And it will be there, though not quite as full, tonight.

The solstice has passed, but the days are still long, the summer still gathering speed. When I went out to spray the flowers night before last, I spied the first firefly.

Good that it came the same night as the strawberry moon, the same day as the latest shadows.

Good to know there's still plenty of summer ahead.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016


On a week when I originally thought I'd be riding the train again I'm back on the bus. A closer reading of Metro's scheduled shut-downs and closures showed that I'd be unable to make a connection I need to make to reach the office.

The bus isn't a bad option; in fact, it's better in many ways. But the schedule is limiting and it makes for quite a scramble in the morning. No more bucolic drives to Vienna via Vale and Hunter Mill Roads.  No more give in the day. It's regimented from beginning to end.

But the change does one very big thing: It keeps me off Metro. And around here, that's the new name of the game.

The general manager recently pleaded with riders of three affected lines to find alternative transportation. The patchwork system of shuttle buses could only support 30 percent of the usual daily riders, he said. According to yesterday's reports, that's about what happened. Seventy percent of the people who usually ride those trains found other ways to work or telework.

So Metro has become a public transit system without a public. And my commute, like so many other people's, is all about Metrovoidance!

(Metro during the "Safe Track" program: They don't keep those lights low for nothing!)


Monday, June 20, 2016

Profusion, Variety

Walks these last few weeks have taken me past banks of honeysuckle and riots of knockout roses. Along the roadside are stands of chickory with these little pink flowers that I pull up when I find in the garden but which look fetching in combination.

Beside the footpaths are Queen Anne's Lace, daisies, buttercups, pink wild beans and swamp milkweeds (had to look up those latter two). Everywhere I look, a riot of blossom and green.

Nature's combinations are infinitely more stunning and artless that anything a florist shop could produce. It is the original beauty, the beauty of nature, which lies not just in profusion but in variety, and in a variety of profusion.

It lies in the palette of colors — the yellows, violets, pinks and mauves. It lies in breadth of textures, from smooth to fuzzy. It lies in alternating heights and shapes and sizes.

It is all the little things that add up to the whole. Each detail essential to the main.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

On Father's Day

Dad was not a stern father. He was not a slippers-and-paper father, either. He was relaxed and easy in his skin, most decidedly himself in every way.

For me, he became most fully a father when I was an adult. Our closeness blossomed later in life, after his first heart attack. I think of all the years his bypass surgery gave us. More than two decades made possible by that operation and others that came later.

Dad seldom complained about the indignities of old age. Sometimes he'd make a joke about them, like the time he was entering the hospital for one of said surgeries and he pushed the revolving door all the way around to the outside again and kept marching away, a grin on his face.

But he went back, of course, did what he was supposed to do, and cheerfully. He always found a way to keep going, and to keep laughing. So I know that's what he'd want us to do, too.

Today, though, I can get a little sentimental. I don't think he'd mind.

(Dad in 2011, photographed in front of his childhood home.)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sodden Sugarland

I went back to the Sugarland Run Trail this morning and found a different place altogether. The trees were still labeled and the path still shady, but the storms that moved through last night had swollen the creek and matted the undergrowth.

If you peered closely you could see which direction the flood waters had been flowing; the tall grass was bent that way.

And about halfway along I ran into a front end loader pushing the remains of a downed tree to one side of the path. It was revving and scraping and doing its backup beep — and was not at all what I expected to find in this sylvan setting.

But it cleared the path, and the driver waved me through, and soon I was on the way again, as if the rain and the downing had never happened.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Glass Houses

I work in a box made of glass. Glass windows, glass doors, glass walls. I worry that one day I'll be daydreaming and walk right into one of them. Where are bird stickers when you need them?

The glass begins in the lobby, where two sets of clear doors must be pushed or pulled to enter or exit. The lobby is so bright that I slip on my sunglasses the minute I step out of the elevator.

The glass continues upstairs where it's easy to see who's in or out, who's meeting or on the phone. It's that kind of place, which is to say transparent and modern and open and good. We're all the same here, the glass box seems to say. We understand each other. We do not throw stones.

Except that the writer in me wants to be tucked away in a study carrel on the least used floor of the most arcane library in town. The writer in me wants shelter and coziness, dim light and nonreflective surfaces.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Out There

A light rain this morning, almost welcome after some hot dry windy days. It's so still that even the birds are hushed. The deck is mottled, not soaked as much as dampened.

We are past the middle of June, the solstice almost upon us, and I'm still snatching summer in dribbles and drabs. Here a 20-minute walk, there a 20-minute bounce, dining al fresco on the deck.

I've found a spot in the office where I can stand and look out the window almost unobserved. I go there when writing headlines or doing other creative work. My eyes stray from the page to the trees blowing green and the clouds puffy white. 

There's the summer! Right there, just beyond my grasp. One of these days I'll catch up with it.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Small Flags Flying

Last week I drove through the neighborhood in the slanting late-afternoon sun to see small plastic flags flying at the foot of every mailbox. They hadn't been there when I left in the morning but there they were, a full week before Flag Day.

Turns out they were a gift from our representative, but that's not what struck me about them then or now.

What I've been noticing is that, although they all started at the same place they have ended up all over. Some are hanging from the mailbox, others are attached to the lamppost or planted near the house. Mine is in the fern garden.

They have, in short, been individualized. How very American of us. It's what we do best.

I thought of this idea last week, and planned to use it to celebrate our individuality. But now, flags are flying at half mast. Now I'm once again thinking about how the push for independence and autonomy that makes us strong has also made us vulnerable.

The flags are still flying, in all their unique positions. I hope they always will.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Name That Tree!

It was already in the 90s by the time I took a walk on Saturday, and I'd forgotten to wear sunscreen. Which is why when I found a shady side path angling off invitingly from the sun-stricken W&OD, I took the path, gladly.

It's called the Sugarland Run Trail, and it meanders along behind Carlisle Street to Elden Street in Herndon. There are frequent glimpses of Sugarland Run gurgling beside the trail.

With a name like "Sugarland," I half expected a Candyland Board with Gumdrop Mountains and Peppermint Stick Forests.

What I found instead was almost as good, because this little woods comes complete with tree labels. In addition to the usual white oaks and red maples, there were a slippery elm, a pignut hickory, an elderberry, a hackberry and others, all neatly labeled and described.

I wish all community forests did this. If they did, I'd finally learn the names of the trees I walk among, these old friends, and soon the forests of my mind would be filled not just with "trees" but with green elms and American sycamores. What a rich place that would be!

(The path looked somewhat like this, but without the leaves and with the labels.)

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Being Social

Yesterday's National Press Club workshop reminds me how much I love the company of writers. Talking shop was a great way to end the week.

After my panel ended a second one convened, this one on social media. I meant to stay. The crowd was buzzing and the speakers seemed fabulous. But it was Friday afternoon, downtown D.C. was beckoning and (this will sound very fifth-grade of me) I really really wanted to be outside.

No matter. Live tweets from the panel, a twitter chat at work, and the fact that I spent an hour mining tweets from last month's summit in Bangkok so I can write about it have all made the case.

Seems that there's a little Twitter bird following me these days, tugging at my sleeve, and he won't let go until I give him what he wants.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Long Bridge Park

I had time for only a short stroll yesterday at lunch, so I walked north along Crystal Drive, thinking that I'd go up and back a few blocks, enjoy the spectacular weather and be back at my desk in 20 minutes.

And then I found Long Bridge Park. It was like one of those dreams I would have when living in a studio apartment where I'd suddenly discover a roomy annex, a secret second bedroom accessed through the closet.

Discovering this highly walkable park on the same side of the road as my building, a place I didn't even know existed and don't even need to cross a street to reach — well, it was pretty exciting for a walker in the suburbs.

Arlington is technically a suburb, of course, but I work in its urban southern corner, tucked up against highways and parkways, train tracks and runways. To learn that I can walk out my door, turn right and hike a half mile or so to be in a public space, to have a dead-center view of the Washington Monument (set off yesterday against cloudless blue sky), to see planes tilting at takeoff and trains rumbling along train tracks and all of this from a paved and cindered path — well, it was almost too much for my walking soul.

Needless to say, my lunch break was a little longer than intended. I walked to the end of the path and back. There are trails yet to explore in the park and signs yet to read ... but I've found another walking route in Crystal City.


Thursday, June 9, 2016


Mornings have changed since Metro began its Safetrack program. (Safetrack could also be called Slowtrack, or, more appropriately, Slowtrain.) I rush to leave the house in time to get a parking place at a lot that fills completely before 6:30 a.m.

It's not a peaceful way to start the day, but it is what it is.

And so I begin to see this work space, overhead-lit and open as it is, as an oasis of calm. There are the windows pouring light into the room, and there is the fact that until about 8:12 the overheads remain off. There are the small, clattery sounds of other people arriving, getting settled, making coffee. And there is, most of all, the work.

When it's interesting (as it often is here), the calm continues as the day wears on. Because there's nothing so quieting as absorption.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Trees, Today

We have plunged through the humidity and come out on the other side. A morning cool as the underside of a pillow. Trees etched clearly against the sky.

I'm learning on the job now something I must have learned before but understand better — how much carbon trees absorb, the boon they are to our atmosphere. So when I look at them I see not just trunk and leaf, but a busy factory.

On a sultry day it's harder to believe what they do for us, the air heavy with earthly exhale. But on a morning like this I can feel their power, their cleansing power. It's not scientific, of course. It's only metaphor. But it makes me a believer just the same.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Field of Weeds

As part of the backyard beautification project, there is new grass coming up in a spot once covered by gangly forsythia bushes. This should not be a surprise since the area was seeded twice, but it's remarkable to me.

That soil used to pushing up weeds is actually producing grass is not just miraculous but also slightly funny. The grass looks like the interloper.

Years ago a neighbor killed his entire lawn with Roundup and started over. At the time I thought this was excessive, a typical example of suburban overkill (pardon the pun).

Now I think he may have been onto something.

Whether this is due to lawn change, my change or climate change is anybody's guess. But one thing is certain. Soon that grassy section will be full of weeds like the rest of the lawn. It's only a matter of time.

(Copper at play on the weedy lawn.)


Monday, June 6, 2016

Coming Clean

Saturday in the garden: more weeding and mulching. I dug up an especially obnoxious patch of weeds that looked a little like daisies except for the tall, shaggy stem and ugly leaves. Tenacious little devils, their roots were broad and deep.

The Japanese stilt grass had already done an end run around the flower bed so I attacked that too. That led me over to the newly shorn areas of the yard, where there were still sticks to pick up and move out.

By late afternoon my hands were filthy. The fine Virginia clay soil was under my nails and ground into my palms. I thought I might have brushed up against poison ivy, too. So on top of the dirt I could see was the urushiol oil I couldn't.

So I took the Lava soap and had at it. Scrubbed my arms and legs and hands. Used the nail brush and a loofah to scrub away the most ground-in grime.

After 10 minutes I was getting there, and after 10 minutes more, I began to feel really clean.

You hear a lot these days about eating clean — choosing healthy, non-processed foods. Or about being clean — freeing ourselves of addictions or harmful practices.

With all due respect to these interpretations, after a long day in the garden nothing quite compares with the soap-and-water original.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

Indecisive Day

I had no sooner lugged the rocking chair out to the deck when the sprinkles began. Not enough to drive me inside except for the delicate piece of machinery on my lap. But there was a delicate piece of machinery on my lap, so in I came, along with laptop and rocking chair.

Now, of course, the rain has stopped, though the air feels heavy and humid. 

It's looking like an indecisive day. Will I do housework or brain work? My own stuff or work-work? Will I walk or row? Be efficient or lazy?

Maybe I'll do a little of each, a bit of all.

On an indecisive day, that's only to be expected.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

New Favorite Walk

I'd spotted a little street the other day on my way home from the Four Mile Run Trail. It promised shade and walkability, so I decided to explore it yesterday.

I checked a map before heading out and noticed curved streets, a park and a neighborhood named Aurora Hills. That was all the encouragement it took.

 Heading west on 23rd Street I found what seemed to be the area's old commercial center, where you might drop off dry-cleaning or get breakfast in a diner. A few blocks later I passed churches and shade trees and homes that looked like what you'd find on a small town Main Street.

I turned left on South Ives, meandered over to Hayes, 26th and eventually Fort Scott. There was a steep climb up to a park, where I turned around and headed back the way I'd come.

A wonderful neighborhood, with houses tucked up into the hillside, steep approaches and a serene ambiance. I could have been a million miles from Crystal City. But 15 minutes later I was right back in it.

I've just discovered my new favorite walk.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Accessory to the Crime

Walking before dawn. The road is empty and cool, and the birds are chirping like mad. All the familiar ones — robins, cardinals and jays — plus one or two I don't recognize. And then the crows, of course.

Crows have been on my mind since I read an article about one over the weekend. Canuck the crow was caught stealing a knife from a crime scene. Chased by a police officer for about 20 feet, the bird finally dropped the weapon. Turns out, he's a known thief, though this is the first time he's meddled in a crime scene.

Canuck fell out of his nest as a hatchling and bonded to the human who nursed him back to health. Although he's wild, he stays as close to his rescuer as possible, doesn't fly far from the man's neighborhood and goes for rides perched on the wiper blade of his car. There are videos, magazine articles, even a Facebook page for Canuck.

"You're always talking about crows, Mom," said my resident millennial when I shared this story with her. I reminded her that crows use sticks as tools and mourn their dead. She was not impressed.

But I know in time I can bring her around. This is the cat-loving daughter now completely gaga over Copper the dog. She understands the joy of animal companions, what they bring to our lives.



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