Thursday, September 29, 2016

For Kathy

Today's post is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Kathy Minton, who passed away on September 21. Kathy was a fellow walker and reader, a lover of books and of life who was taken from us far, far too soon.

We became friends as young editors, she at Working Mother, me at McCall's. We quickly realized we had a lot in common and lived only a few blocks apart, so we'd stroll home together through Central Park, talking all the way.

Kathy was hands down the fastest walker I've ever known. A native New Yorker, she could navigate her way through Fifth Avenue crowds at rush hour, sidestepping the slow pokes and adjusting her stride to catch every green light.

A few years after I left New York, Kathy was offered the perfect job — director of literary programs at Symphony Space. She stayed there for the next 25 years, producing the Selected Shorts program and many other literary endeavors, making her living from books and ideas.

But she always made time for walking, so whenever I'd go to New York I'd get in touch with Kathy and it would be just like the old days: a fast walk, a good talk.

I'm a believer, so I'm trying to imagine Kathy in a more perfect place. But it's hard to do. It's hard to imagine her anywhere else but New York.  So what I wish for her instead is a perfect New York walk. A crisp fall day, an open stretch of sidewalk, and plenty of friends to share the trail.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Rescue Trail

The commute continues to exhaust and befuddle. It took me two hours to get home last Thursday and almost that long last night. I arrived at the Reston North Park and Ride lot just as the sun was setting.

I had my bag, having parked in the garage, but the round trip there and back would have taken 15 minutes, and in the interest of working in a walk before it was completely dark, I decided to stroll bag in hand (or, I should say, bag on shoulder).

It was a wonderful time to be on the trail. The sun had come out late in the day, and people were making the most of it. There were bikers and runners and walkers. There were commuters in work clothes and exercisers in sweats and spandex.

Goldenrod and grasses hung their heads over the pavement in a shaggy profusion. There was a stillness to their beauty, and it calmed and centered me. What a difference the walk made, better than a drink or a drug. It wasn't magic; it was the trail.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Bring on the Light

Maybe it was the debate last night or maybe it's just that time of year, but this morning there was no hesitation. I had barely opened my eyes when I came downstairs and plugged in the full-spectrum light that gets me through the winter.

The lamp adds minutes to the morning, tweaks circadian rhythms and helps banish the winter blahs.

It could be a placebo, but I've written enough about seasonal affective disorder to believe that light makes a difference.  So here I sit, a bit warm, if you want to know the truth, because it isn't cold out there yet, just dark. Very, very dark.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Milkweed on the Fly

A bushwhacking expedition wasn't on Sunday's list of activities, but on the way back from breakfast I noticed a brown Fairfax County Park sign in a place I'd never seen one before, at the intersection of Fox Mill and Waples Mill Roads. We doubled around and pulled into a small lot that used to be in front of a great wall of bamboo.

A man was there weed whacking. He stopped and talked, said he lived nearby and was trying to make the area presentable. He pointed out a barely discernible path through the meadow. Bamboo never totally leaves a place, of course; it just bides its time. For now, though, the little park is walkable.

A quarter mile into the tangle of grasses and weeds, there was a small, clogged pond and a stand of cat tails. Milkweed pods filled the air with their fairy fluff; I tried to photograph each cottony morsel as it flew by.

It was next to impossible, but I had fun trying.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Things to Come

Well, the jig is up. The summer jig, that is. It's in the 50s as  I write these words on the deck, swaddled in my warm winter robe, the fuzzy white one. No slippers, only my outside crocs. I could use a pair of fuzzy socks, too.

Copper, however, is in his element, prancing in the bars of sunlight that stripe the back yard at this time of day and year.

He responds just to the weather at hand, which, if it were the prelude to a hot summer day, would be just fine, no problem. But I know what he doesn't: that this is just the beginning of the chill, that there will be rain and snow and early darkness.

Sometimes I long for an animal brain.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

In Focus

I walked early today, not still-dark early, but I-don't-have-to-be-in-an-office early. Which is a great kind of early.

The air was cool enough that I had closed windows an hour or so earlier, cool enough that I wished for a moment I'd worn long sleeves.

But not for long did I think this, because a walk, among other things, is a warm-up. It takes that which is cold, stiff and fuzzy — and renders it warm, limber and clear.

It creates new internal weather; it can bring a whole day into focus.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Late Light Walk

It was almost 7 p.m. last night but the air was so fresh and still, so lit up from the inside, that I just had to pull over and walk through it.

Luckily, I was near a Reston path. So I laced up my spare tennis shoes and hit the trail.

I've just been reading Annie Dillard (more about her in a later post) and am sorely conscious of how beautifully light can be described.  So let me just say that I felt as I was walking through a painting by Thomas Cole or other Hudson River School painter. I felt that the light was shimmering all around me, that it was bouncing off the trees and the darker shapes and illuminating them, too.

It wasn't quite as dramatic as these photos (snapped, ironically enough, quite near the Hudson River, on the train trip home night before last) but it had some of this drama.

It was dark by the end of my walk, but that didn't matter. I was all lit up inside.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beyond Comparison

Penn Station, New York, N.Y. , 6:45 p.m. I mill around by the big board that announces train tracks. It's a people watcher's paradise: a mix of commuters and long-distance travelers, people with big bags and small bags and pillows and backpacks. People with coffee and salads and bagels to eat in the train or take  back to the folks at home. Every so often a train will be announced, followed by a predictable swarm to E10 or W13 or whichever gate has been tagged.

Fast forward three hours. Union Station, Washington, D.C., 10 p.m. The train arrives right on time to a station that is far too empty, far too clean. It even smells of disinfectant.

I could go on ... but I won't. It's home now. Or at least the gateway to home. And it's almost beyond comparison, the two cities are so different.

Let me just say this, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson or whoever said it of London ... He who is tired of New York is tired of life.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Two Thousand!

It's a big day for the blog — its two thousandth post! And it passes this milestone in the Big Apple, the perfect setting for a celebration.

It's fitting — because this is where I lived when I started making my living from writing. It wasn't much of a living in those days. McCall's Magazine barely paid its young editors enough to live on. I had a second job as a live-in "mother's helper" for a crazy and lovable family on the Upper West Side to make ends meet.

But I was living the dream: writing, editing, soaking up the sights and sounds of the city and walking everywhere.

I still write and edit every day, but the setting has changed. As much as I love New York City, I doubt I could ever live here again.

It's part of me now, though, just as these two thousand blog posts are.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Long Walk in the Big City

Yesterday I took a long walk in the big city. I started in the theater district, made my way south and west to pick up the Highline, which is now available at 34th Street!  From there (where I snapped this picture and then very quickly ran out of charge), I strolled to Gansevoort Street, then down Jane to the West Side Highway and over to the long, skinny park that runs along the Hudson.

The sun was flirting with us, in and out from the clouds. At times it seemed as if it would pour. But it didn't (until today), so I had five blissful hours of ambling.

It's really the whole package that does it to me here in the city. It's the energy of the people and the place. It's all the hundreds of details — from the grumpy Penn Station employee yelling at a woman who could hardly lug her suitcase ("Why did you pack so much?") to the crazy wedding parade I found myself swept up in at the end of the day (complete with a kazoo band).

It's good to be here. Life enhancing, as a matter of fact.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

All Aboard

Heading to New York aboard the Acela Express, three  hours to the Big Apple. It's work that takes me there this time, but I've built in a few hours to walk.

It will be the perfect way to calm down after a frenetic morning of packing, texting — and learning about last night's Chelsea bombing. I can already imagine the relief of moving quickly down an avenue, the creative chaos of Manhattan setting the pace.

For now, there is the slightly bumpy ride of a fast-moving train, the only sounds those of keys clicking and newspapers turning. (I'm in the quiet car.)

It's a rocking motion, and would, if I gave it half a chance, lull me to sleep.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Rose Hips

Overnight, it seems that fall has moved in. A clammy, chillier air,  and the back lawn is scattered with leaves. The mums don't look so out of place now, and for some reason the climbing rose has produced a bumper crop of rose hips.

What a strange and lovely name, rose hips. I look up the etymology, learn it is a 16th-century alteration of the Middle English "hepe" and the Old English "heope," meaning seed pod.

Rose hips are invested with all sorts of nutritional properties, have far more Vitamin C than oranges, for instance.

If I had worlds of time, I'd collect the rose fruits and make tea or jelly. The garden has produced nothing else much that's edible, apart for oregano, mint and thyme.

Instead, I'll snap a photo and write a post. It's another way to preserve the goodness of the rose.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

On Foot

Metro's massive rehab project has me once again scrambling for a way to work, switching up my commute. Today a predawn bus and a walk to the office from Army Navy Drive.

Crystal City is not what I would call a walker's paradise. It's honeycombed with expressways and hotel driveways. But hey, it has sidewalks and, more to the point, it's my work 'hood. So I'm getting to know it, block by block.

This morning a welcome breeze, a dearth of traffic (it was early) and 70-degree temps made the stroll delightful. I passed dog walkers, joggers and a few people who looked like they had yet to go to bed from the night before.

In other words, a motley crew — and fun to observe. Just further confirmation that it's the right way to start a day, on foot.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Found Time

Sometimes when I wake early I think it's because there is something I need more than sleep. That something would be time.

I've never been a prima donna kind of writer. I fold personal writing into my day: dashing off a post before dawn, scribbling thoughts in my journal on Metro. I have no backyard cabin or artist's garret (I wish). The living room is my "office," and my writing time is whenever I can find it.

Still, there's never enough time. So every week or two I don't fight the early waking as much as I might. I come downstairs and grab the two hours or 90 minutes or whatever scrap of time insomnia has given me — and use it to read and write.

I might start the day a little tired, but I've filled a greater need. I've lost sleep — but I've found myself.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Back to the Farm

A late day walk yesterday gave me time to leave the neighborhood. I turned right on Folkestone and headed to Franklin Farm. They've mown the tall meadow grass there now, and the field was looking brown and parched. But the sky was blue, the clouds were puffy and the air was exquisite. 

I strolled past the pond and fountain, its spray giving the area a spritz of humidity. Shades of things to come. Our weather will be more summery today and tomorrow.

I saw the little dock where fathers take their young sons to fish, and the shallow pools where turtles sun themselves on the shore.

The last time I took this walk was weeks before the wedding. Busyness has kept me close to home lately. So it was with new eyes, calmer eyes, that I viewed the familiar sites. The trees and fences and backyards I know so well. All of it there for the dog-walkers, the kids on bikes, the moms in spandex — and me.


Monday, September 12, 2016

September's Shoulder Season

There's dried brush along the road now, and sometimes a single red or yellow leaf floats slowly down to lodge on the dry brown lawns.

I wouldn't mind a few more months of 90-degree temps — but I'm in the minority. For many, for most, summer has outstayed its welcome. People long for a little nip in the air, for crisp autumn leaves and brisk autumn breezes.

What we have now is the delicious in-between. Not quite summer, not quite fall. I remember once reading a little essay about this time of year in the New York Times. I've since looked for that piece but been unable to find it.

But what it said, with far more grace than I can muster this morning, is that these are charmed weeks: all the energy of a new year within the frame of September's mellow beauty and equanimity. A shoulder season, a fleeting patch of loveliness and ease.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Rear View Mirror

As the wedding passes into memory, keepsake images flit through my brain. One I keep coming back to is the rear-view-mirror glimpse of the newlyweds as I pulled away from their house last Monday.

I had driven them home after the big festivities, and they were making sure I got safely on my way. I glimpsed at the mirror to see them put their arms around each other and stroll back to the house. It was the perfect coda to a celebration of love and family, and just one of the moments I treasure.

Funny thing, making memories. When you're young the memories seem unimportant. It's the experiences that matter. But as you grow (ahem!) older, you realize that experiences are fleeting — and it's memories that endure. They are the rich rear view mirror of life, a procession of images to relive and cherish.


Friday, September 9, 2016

A Gift

Yesterday's walk from the Rayburn Building to L'Enfant Metro was bright and breezy. It was after 11, and the lunch trucks were already attracting a crowd. I strolled passed the west lawn of the Capitol, down Independence, past the Bartholdi Fountain, under renovation (wasn't it just under renovation a couple of years ago?), along the backside of the Botanical Gardens, their glass windows and dome vaguely Victorian in look and appeal. I passed the American Indian Museum, its sinuous curves and yellow stone a standout in a town of angular white buildings.

It was warm but the air was moving, and it blew the hair off my face. I doffed my jacket and swung it along.

This was no recreational amble. It was a functional walk, a path from A to B, from a work function to the office. But it felt liberating to be out in the late morning bustle. A gift.

It was D.C., it was still summer, it was a good walk.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Without a Net

The tent is down, and the trampoline is back in its regular spot.  But the net is not yet up around it. Which means that last night's bounce was not only in the gloaming but also in the open.

I know the net that surrounds the trampoline is window-dressing at best. It won't stop a hard roll or an errant flip.

But I'm the tamest of trampers. I bounce up and down, up and down. I might do a little air conducting if Brahms or Mozart has me by the collar, but otherwise I'm a cautious bouncer.

Still, I felt a bit daring last night as I jumped for 20 minutes without a net. Not quite ready for the circus yet, but liberated just the same.

(Illustration: Wikipedia)


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

After Labor Day

How quickly one gets used to the unregulated life. Even though last week's wedding preparations kept me crazy busy I was able to complete the tasks on my own time and in my own way. The work world demands a regimentation I've taken great pains to avoid.

It's why I became a teacher after college graduation. I figured out that I could stand nine highly regulated months if I could have three highly unregulated ones to make up for it.

Today I feel the back-to-work burden in my soul. Maybe it's because I'm still half-exhausted from the wedding. Or maybe it's because on the day after Labor Day, the traditional back-to-school day, regimentation is in the very air we breathe.

Since I just completed a major project it feels like this should be at the beginning of relaxation not the end of it.  But when the work engrosses, these feelings pass. And it will. I just have to give it time.

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Monday, September 5, 2016

The Wedding

I didn't give a toast on Saturday night. But this is what I would have said if I did. I would have riffed on the saying "it takes a village to make a child." I would have said that it also takes a village to make a wedding. Everything from the rehearsal dinner on Friday to the dog watching and wedding photography on Saturday was provided by friends or friends of friends.

The marriage itself, of course, is up to the two people involved. But a community has now witnessed Suzanne and Appolinaire's vows. And I could feel the love and support of that community swell up behind me as I sat in the front row watching my daughters, all three of them, walk down the aisle of mulch that we laid only a few weeks ago (again, with the help of family and friends). That love and support is like money in the bank for the young couple, something they can draw on through years of life together.

There is much to say about all of this. Too much. My heart is full right now.

But while the tent is still up (the rental company comes for it today) and the magic is still fresh, let me just say that the backyard will be forever transformed by the presence of those we love who came (some from as far away as Paris) to celebrate with us. Dear family, neighbors who watched Suzanne grow up, friends from high school and college and work and childrearing. Appolinaire's best man Fidel, who grew up in a village not far from him and speaks the same mother tongue.

The big events of life rise up like tall peaks through the fog of daily living. You plan for them, work for them and often wonder if they're worth the effort. But once they happen (and even as they're happening if you're lucky, in moments or snatches of moments), you know they're worth every penny, every hour. Because they stop time; they define and sanctify the everyday.

The wedding is behind us now. But it's all around us, too. And it always will be.


Friday, September 2, 2016

The Big Top

The transformation is almost complete. Yesterday, four men spent five hours putting up this tent, hammering down the wooden floor, stringing the lights, installing the fans, carting tables, tablecloths, plates, cutlery and more to the backyard or the garage.

Yesterday we planted mums, bought food, made favor bags for the guests. Today we'll prepare for tonight's dinner, pick up the beer kegs, move furniture, decorate.

Guests are arriving, family is congregating. Now comes what should be the easiest part but is often the most difficult: enjoying it all.

The tent is helping. Part fairy tale castle and part big-top wonder, it takes us out of the everyday, reminds us of another world — one of ease and jollity and joy.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Errands

It's been a long hot summer, and September has dawned cool and rainy. The plants are lapping it up. The parched soil is getting a well-earned dousing.

The mums I've stored in the basement are up on the deck now, awaiting final placement but getting sprinkled with the real thing rather than a cup of water.

And here at Wedding Central, we're about to run a zillion errands. Homo Errandus, the errand-running human. In and out of the car, in and out of stores, always with the list in hand. The bible. Crossing things off, blessed relief.

Here we go.


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