Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Clean House

Some days start slowly and quietly, sipping tea while writing a post. Others start with a  brisk walk, or an early getaway to the office to beat the crowds on Metro.

Most days don't start with three strangers scouring my bathroom.

But that's how the day has started. Little time for rumination. It's all about action now, and not forgetting what I was doing before I went to add an item to the master list for hundredth time.

Still, it's a wonderful thing, having other people clean your house. I could get used to it.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Making Waves

These are crazy days. Buying cases of wine at 9 p.m. Forgetting my lunch.  Making lists of lists.

Still, the mind observes. Even when in crazy mode, the mind is active, laughing at its own craziness and finding the world an interesting place to be.

This morning on the radio, I heard a segment on artificial waves, how a company has been perfecting them, will sell its technology to indoor wave pools, the estates of sheikhs. Few details of this report have remained in my brain, but one phrase did. "We're carving water," said the wave creator.

The poetry of that sets the mind to spinning.  An ultimately futile task, one would think. And yet someone makes a living from it.

What do you do? I make waves.

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 29, 2016

Summer, Still

These are the bonus days of summer. Every warm afternoon, every sliver moon peeping through the trees as it rises in the sultry August sky. Every thin crescent moon that sees us through till morning.

Summer has been hot this year, and I haven't minded. It's warmed my bones, and if it keeps warming them a few more weeks, I won't complain.

It hasn't been the most relaxing summer. Creating a backyard wedding venue has taken care of that. But it has been rich in people and in feeling and will not be easily forgotten.

The day lilies are drooping now, the cone flowers are fading. There are a dozen mum plants cooling their heels in the house. They'll be planted when the temperature dips below 90.

Until then, until next Tuesday for sure, it is still gloriously, indisputably ... summer.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Darkness Into Day

Took a pre-dawn walk the other day, so I started with a flashlight, swinging with my stride. A visual metronome, light marker. Its circle of light is paltry, just enough to see the way. But it flows with me, and is comforting.

All around are the sounds of nighttime, crickets chirping. A bat flits through the sky. I think nighttime thoughts, am tuned to every forest sound.

By the time I round the corner toward home, though, I no longer need the flashlight. Without knowing it I've been walking from darkness into day.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy Centennial!

They are a ridge-top trail along an old mountain. A path winding perilously down a near-sheer canyon wall. A hot walk through the hoodoos in Bryce.

These are just some of the strolls I've taken in national parks, which celebrate their one hundredth birthday today.

While it's wonderful enough just to glimpse the Grand Canyon or Zion or Yellowstone, it's even better to walk through these places. To inhale the piney air and feel the sting in your calves from trudging up an incline.

National park hikes are some of the most treasured walks I've ever taken. And today I think of them, and of all the protected natural beauty that makes them possible. Happy National Parks Centennial!

(Photo: Wikipedia)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Burma* Buzz

I'm a tea drinker, but yesterday was all about coffee — and the debut of Burmese specialty coffee on the world stage. I was too busy to sip the stuff, but I sampled some the day before. It's "complex," as they say. A more savvy taster described it this way: hints of chocolate, cranberry and nutmeg.

It was a work function filled with government officials, a former ambassador, and coffee growers from Myanmar.  An odd mix, to be sure, but one that worked. At its root, a simple principle: to connect poor farmers with the flush and fully caffeinated, a feel-good way to spread some wealth.

And it worked. I bought a bag of expensive beans, and so did many others. The coffee sold out.  And the farmers who grew, dried and processed the beans will have more food on the table, more money for their children's school and more to invest in next year's crop. So a lot of buzz, but good buzz.

(*For "Seinfeld" fans: "They call it Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.")

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Wood Smoke

I took a walk last night as the light was fading, the smell of wood smoke in the air. At first I thought I was imagining it. The acrid scent went along well with the slight nip in the air. Was it real? Or was I was so accustomed to the two together that I made it up.

But no, there actually was wood smoke in the air. Neighbors were burning brush in their fire pit — something frowned upon by the home owners association, though you won't catch me telling.

The smell of wood smoke is the aroma of autumn. The only scent more autumnal is the smell of tobacco wafting from the drying barns on Angliana Avenue in Lexington. Barns that have been gone for decades, I believe, along with the tobacco that used to fill them.

Still, wood smoke is an evocative aroma, and one I was happy to get a whiff of last night. It was calming, redolent of campfires and coziness not danger and destruction.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 22, 2016


Looked up from the page I was working on Friday to see these clouds. They looked vaguely Sistine-Chapel-like, with the wispy upper-right-corner one the pointing finger of God and the fluffy white left corner one Adam reclining in his new human splendor.

An exaggeration, of course, and hard to reclaim that Friday feeling on this Monday morning.

But if nothing else it's a reminder of the summer sky, its blue-beyond-blueness, its white clouds shining.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


One of my tasks today is to be a poison ivy spotter. Not a poison ivy eradicator; I'm too allergic to the stuff. But I do have an eye for it. I can spot it glistening in the myrtle or spreading beneath a sea of stilt grass.

Poison ivy vines are another matter. They hide everywhere, including underground, and it's hard to imagine complete eradication. Still, I'm all for trying.

So I've spent a lot of time this morning bending and crouching, looking for three leaves rather than the five, seeing the poison plant as a shark underwater, the spiky leaves the fish's fearsome teeth.


Friday, August 19, 2016

The Venue

Today the wood chips were unloaded. Tomorrow they will be spread and smoothed. There will also be touch-up painting, massive cleaning, planting, you name it.

I just moved my shell collection, a row of whelks atop the deck railing. People may want to set their drinks on the deck railing — although, now that I look at it, the deck railing is warped. Another item for the to-do list, the endless wedding to-do list.

Back in the winter a backyard wedding seemed a lovely idea. The yard was in pretty good shape, I told myself.  (Of course, it was hidden under two feet of snow.) We would just have to take down a few dead trees, be liberal with the mulch and a bit more attentive to the garden and — voila! — instant venue.

Now the wedding is two weeks away and the instant venue is looking pretty shabby. This despite countless hours of yard work, poison ivy eradication, weed-pulling and garden spraying.

One thing I know from meeting countless work and home deadlines, though, is that it will be ready. Somehow, some way, it will cease to be a backyard and become ... a venue.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016


An early walk this morning before the true heat sets in. I think about how well I know this place, my regular route, my neighborhood.

I remember when four sycamores were planted in the yard of the yellow house. It seemed such an extravagance at the time, trees already past the spindly stage.

The homeowner has since moved out, but I can see him there at the edge of the yard, surveying the work, his lanky frame not unlike the tall sycamores.

It is what one hopes for in a neighborhood, that it be layered with memories and associations, so much more than a suburban streetscape. A living, breathing record of life.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reading for Life

An article in this morning's newspaper reports on a study that shows that people who read books survive almost two years longer than people who don't.

Intriguing, to say the least. Do readers stay sharper, calmer, more engaged in life? Or do they simply conserve energy by all that sitting and reading?

The study was conducted by Yale University researchers and published in a journal called Social Science & Medicine. The 3,635 subjects, all older than 50, were surveyed for their reading habits and divided into three categories: those who never read, those who read up to three-and-a-half hours a week and those who read three and a half hours or more.

The conclusion: After accounting for education, income and health, book reading still confers a "significant survival advantage."

I didn't need an excuse, but it's good to have one, just the same.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Triple Digit

After three triple-digit temperature days in a row (that's real temperature, not heat index, which was more like 110), we're having a cold snap today ("only" 95).

I know I should hate it, should be hunkering down indoors with a cool drink and the AC ratcheted to 72, but it's summer, after all, and I think about how cold our winters have been lately and how really, truly, sweatily alive I feel when pulling weeds in a buggy backyard with the sun beating down on my back.

Weird, to be true, but something I dream about when the cold winds blow. Which they will ... soon enough.

(What's blowing these grasses isn't a cold wind but a hot breeze.)


Friday, August 12, 2016

Falling Stars

The Perseid meteor shower had good press this year. Some reports said the celestial event would produce up to 200 shooting stars an hour. This raised all kinds of hopes and set off visions of Van Gogh's "Starry Night."

But this number didn't take into account the ambient light of the megalopolis, the heavy tree cover and the lateness (earliness?) of the hour.

Still, I managed to see a few streaks of light flash across the late summer sky.The first couple seemed a trick of the eye — a blink, a quick gleaming stitch in the firmament. But the last couple were bonafide star blasts. They illuminated not just the night sky, but all the possibilities it offers.

Not "Starry Night" — but not bad.

(Photo: Wikipedia)

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Beach Grass

Still thinking about the beach — the fine white sand, the walks along the shore, the sunsets and early mornings, the downy plovers like so many bits of fluff.

And thinking about the entry to the beach, too, the green bulwark one passes through on the way to the strand.

For Atlantic beaches it's a stroll past dunes and dune grass. But in Florida's semi-tropical clime there are beach grasses and scrubby palms and maybe a spray or two of bright pink bougainvillea.

The path through the grass is not just a prelude and change of scene. It is, I like to think, a place for mental readjustment, too. It's where I shed the landlocked me and prepare for the freedom to follow.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Olympic Teamwork

Yesterday at work we had an Olympic trivia event. I guessed at every question — a testament to how little of the coverage I've watched so far. But last night I made an exception. I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch the women's gymnastic team claim the gold.

It was worth the lost sleep. To see what body, mind and heart can do when working together was inspiring and humbling. 

Amplifying my Olympic frame of mind is the book I'm reading. Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat tells the story of the University of Washington men's rowing team as they prepared for and competed at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. One passage stood out to me this morning: 
"The boys in the Clipper had been winnowed down by punishing competition, and in the winnowing a kind of common character had issued fourth: they were all skilled, they were all tough, they were all fiercely determined, but they were also all good-hearted. Every one of them had come from humble origins or been humbled by the ravages of the hard times in which they had grown up. ... The challenges they had faced together had taught them humility — the need to subsume their individual egos for the sake of the boat as a whole — and humility was the common gateway through which they were able now to come together and begin to do what they had not been able to do before."

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Beachcomber Amble

What is it about a beach that brings out the kid in us? Grownups build sand castles and play paddle ball, lie still for hours in the sun, live outside of time.

Purposeful striders lose their momentum. They don't so much walk as amble. They take on the investigatory zeal of a two-year-old examining each stray stick and leaf.

As the tide recedes they stroll along the beach, picking up clam, coquina and cockle shells. They study them, pocket them or put them in a bag.

If a storm has just moved through, they might find intact sand dollars, lovely pieces of ephemera that somehow last through time and tides.

Then again, they may find nothing much at all, just a few shells that are precious because of the walks they took to find them.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Vacation Effect

One of my favorite scenes in the movie "A Thousand Clowns" happens when Murray Burns is told he must get back to reality. "I'll only go as a tourist," he replies.

As I reenter my real life, I replay that scene, re-embrace that motto.

I look at the parking garage in Vienna, see not the cars but the stripes of light that make a pattern on the floor.

It's not a bad way to live, as a real-life tourist, seeing the world with fresh eyes. It doesn't last long, this "vacation effect." But I'll take it while I can get it.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Siesta Sunset

For Atlantic beaches I rise early to catch the sunrise. But for Gulf beaches, there's no need to join the dawn patrol. The big show is in the evening.

About 7:45 or 8:00 p.m., there's a little rush hour here of folks walking to the strand, some with drinks in hand, all ready to watch the big orb drop slowly into the surf.

Most carry their phones, others have cameras. My first night here I happened upon a sunset beach wedding. Though I usually like to people-watch, for Siesta Key sunsets I keep my eyes trained on the sky. Most people do.

What is it about elemental pleasures that so soothe and satisfy? I'm not sure. But I do know that vacations awaken our ability to seek them out and be part of them again.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Sand

It's the first beach day I've woken up to rain, so instead of rushing off on an early morning jaunt I'm taking a lazier approach to the day. I'm thinking about the walks I've taken here this year and the lusciousness of the sand on this beach.

And it is marvelous. More like flour or confectioners sugar, powdery and fine and so, so white. It never burns the feet. 

To run my toes through it, or my hands when I'm lying face down (well slathered with number 50 sunscreen, of course) is to know the soul of summer.

I found a little brochure written by the Chamber of Commerce extolling the local sand. It's formed almost entirely of quartz, apparently, with very little shell matter, which accounts for its fine-sifted character. 

All I know is that it's soft and warm and enticing. Kind of like a beach vacation.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Horizontal Tree

Trees are lovely and I enjoy writing about them. But they have a design deficit when it comes to blog post illustration. They are, for the most part, relentlessly vertical.

This is, of course, one of their chief attributes.  They stand up straight and tall. They aim themselves heavenward and take our thoughts with them.

But in a blog layout such as this, a horizontal picture suits better than a vertical one. Enter the banyan, a tree that is born of air, that grows not from the ground but from another banyan. A tree that grows not just up but out.

Banyans provide cool gathering places. Whole villages can assemble under their canopies. One of the largest spans eight acres!

And then, there is the banyan's pictorial properties. When you need a horizontal tree, the banyan fits the bill. It is not just shade but shelter.

(Photo: Wikimedia)


Wednesday, August 3, 2016


The afternoon was too warm for a walk, but I pressed on anyway. By the time I'd finished, thunder was rumbling in the distance.

The weather here follows its own tropical rhythm. Bright blue mornings and dark blue afternoons. It's the perfect excuse for indolence.

There's only so much you can do when it's this hot. And there's only so much you can do when rain is pounding the beach and wind is bending the palms.

And so, you do very little. Or try to.

It works pretty well most of the time.

(This lazy canal says it all.)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Bismarckia

I only learned its name today, this plant that I've seen for the last four years I've been coming to this Gulf Coast beach town.

It's a palm that stood out for its blue-gray color, the hue of Nordic seas, a subtle note among the tropical oranges and yellows.

At first it was little more than a tall frond, a shrub. But as the years  have passed it has added to its heft and hue and now stands  quite proudly, as befits its rather hefty name.

I looked it up online. Named for the first chancellor of the German Empire Otto von Bismarck and native only to Madagascar (an odd combination!), this plant is grown throughout the tropics and subtropics.

Which is why I've found it here in subtropical Florida, where a brief rain shower drove me inside to finish the post.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Bird Feet

Here at the beach the snowy plovers have hatched but are not yet able to fly. They skitter around on the sand like so many tiny tumbleweeds. A sign warns beachcombers to beware. They camouflage themselves so well that it would be easy to step on them.

I spotted a couple of these cuties on a beach walk. A small crowd had gathered to watch the newly hatched chicks. Seeing them at their crazy ballet got me thinking about bird feet in general.

Though it's a bird's wings not its feet that most singularly propels it, shore birds are an exception — from gulls hopping up to beg for sandwich scraps to sandpipers running through the surf.

This morning I spied a tern daintily dipping its webbed toe in a tidal pool. I saw a yellow-footed snowy egret with a long white mane like an aging conductor. And I saw a pelican land nose first in the water, its feet flapping behind.

Bird feet were central in all of these tableaux. And I'll think about them long after the beach walk is over.

(A bird on the wing instead of on foot.)


blogger counters