Thursday, February 2, 2023

Snow Sparkles

Puxatawney Phil has seen his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. Though the two-inch daffodil shoots and the flowering hellebores may disagree with that assessment, the low temps and blustery winds make it easy to believe. 

As I look out my office window this gray morning I see pockets of snow still left from yesterday's dusting, including a thick rind of the frozen stuff curled around the trampoline. It drew my eye before the sun came up, its whiteness gleaming in the dusk.

I'm glad I took an early walk yesterday, while snow still clung to every branch and  twig. As I strolled, the wind blew clumps of flakes off the boughs. The clumps exploded in a fine dust that sparkled in the air. 

(Yesterday, before the melting.)

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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Visits to Grandmother

I awoke to a snow-globe world, a yard transformed by frozen precipitation that, at least as far as I knew, wasn't predicted. It's a perverse way to celebrate what would have been Mom's 97th birthday. She would have hated the snow, as she did all winter weather. Another, better way to celebrate Mom's birthday is with this guest post by her, a tradition I established after she died. In this except from a story Mom wrote years ago she talks about visits to her grandmother Concannon. Mom is pictured above, second from right, with her sisters and brother. 

I can still remember our silent rides to see Grandma every Sunday afternoon. Daddy drove us to her house on High Street in his big brown Pontiac with the yellow wire wheels. My sisters and brother and I would have rather been anywhere else in the world. The dread we felt mounted as we got ever closer to her home. 

Her door was usually unlocked (most doors were in those days), but my dad always knocked gently before he opened it and led us inside. Sometimes our grandmother stood to greet us, but often she didn't get up from her high-back chair at the far end of the room, which to an impressionable child like me looked for all the world like a throne. We each said hello to this tiny woman my dad called Mama and she always answered with a similar hello followed by each of our names. I always wondered if she did that just to prove that she knew the three of us girls apart. 

After we spoke to her, we took our place in one of the small hard chairs along the walls and waited to be called on to speak. Once we were of school age we were always asked what we were studying and what we were reading on our own. I often rehearsed my answers silently on the way over, then gave them quickly and breathed a sigh of relief that it was over until the next Sunday.

Through all those years I watched Grandma and my dad together, mother and son, with so little to say to one another. Each bit of conversation between them was followed by a long period of silence. Although I did learn from listening that they both liked Franklin Roosevelt, were sure no other Irish tenor would ever replace John McCormick and didn't believe in buying anything you couldn't pay cash for, I was never able to figure out if they really loved each other. 

Grandma died when I was a senior in high school so she didn't get to see me graduate from college, the first in our family to do so. I wish she had known. I think she would have been pleased.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Woodland Guideposts

When walking in the woods, my eyes grow accustomed to the lack of signage and focus on subtler clues: boards along a muddy path, a dry gully, the curved white trunk of a sycamore.

Failure to notice these guideposts has consequences, like the boxy bridge I missed on Friday which meant I sidled right into someone’s backyard, complete with kiddie gym.

A woods walk sharpens the powers of observation. It keeps me on task, and for that reason, the thoughts that come seem more my own.

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Monday, January 30, 2023

Mud Seasons

The lay of the land is beneath my feet, the roots and ridges, the mud I'm not always able to avoid. When I lived in New England, mud had a season. It followed winter and preceded spring. But here in these more temperate climes, mud is often with us.

Today, for instance, as I decide whether I'll walk in the woods or on the street, mud must be factored into the equation. Will I squish and squash, or simply plod?

Mud trips me up and slows me down. To avoid it requires detours or balancing on a two-by-four that another hiker has thoughtfully left behind.

On the other hand, mud means warmth ... or at least a semblance of it.
(One of the best mud pictures I have is from a work trip to Bangladesh.)

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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Fits to a T

I entered the woods at the intersection of Folkstone and Fox Mill, a T intersection with more than two choices. Although the driver must turn left or right or left at that spot, for the walker there’s another way; hiking straight into the woods.

And so I entered the park, map in hand, to search for my own Northwest Passage. But I was mindful of that extra option I had at the beginning of my stroll.

Walking is like that. It reminds me of choices I might otherwise miss.

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Friday, January 27, 2023

A Map, A Direction

It's often this way in the morning, the competing urges. Should I walk ... or write about walking? Today's early rising has left me even more muddled. I remembered a website with trail maps from the area, and I've spent the better part of an hour exploring the site.

One of the maps charts a park near me, a park with poorly marked trails I've always wanted to explore. If and when I figure them out, I'll be able to reach the Reston trails without driving to them  — or at least that's the plan.

The map is printed. All that remains is to drink the tea, eat the breakfast ... and set off.

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Proud to be ... Bipedal

In class last night we talked about our earliest ancestors, about Australopithecus, Homo Erectus and the whole gang, the distant relatives on our ever-so-shaggy family tree.

A key trait, of course, is bipedalism, walking on two legs. In Maps of Time, David Christian talks about the hazards of this posture, especially for women, who had to bear children with large heads that required turning as they passed through the birth canal. 

For this, they needed help. Thus did a physical trait engender cooperation, social behavior, the collective efforts of women helping women during childbirth. And later on, the collective efforts of raising young humans, who are far more helpless at birth than most mammals. 

We don't walk on two legs because we're human. We're human, in part, because we walk on two legs.

(One of my favorite toddlers shows off her stride.)

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Black and White and Blue

A winter walk is monochromatic, color drained by sun and shadow, leaving only form and contrast behind. 

This was evident on my stroll yesterday through D.C., from Metro Center to Chinatown, then down Seventh to the Sculpture Garden, where I watched ice skaters fly by. They were a study in black and white, too.

From there I made my way to the Mall and the Monument, where I finally found color ... in the sky. It seemed like an afterthought, though, as if it were crayoned onto an already printed page. 

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Writing in Bed

With Copper gone,  I've no need to rush downstairs in the morning. Which means I can indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, writing in bed. 

Churchill did it. Marcel Proust did it. Mark Twain, Edith Wharton and Truman Capote did it, though the latter said a bed was not required. A couch would work just fine, as long as coffee and cigarettes were available.

I can't relate on that score. More my speed was Wordsworth, who wrote poems in bed but made up for it by walking 10 miles a day, striding all over the Lake District, often with his sister Dorothy. 

It makes perfect sense to me, a great expenditure of energy, followed by an equally great period of rest. 

(Marcel Proust writing in bed.)

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Monday, January 23, 2023

Mourning Copper

When a human being dies there are rituals and ceremonies, ways to process the passing. When a pet dies, not so much. But I've been touched beyond measure by the calls and messages from family and friends that have comforted us these last several days. 

The outpouring heartens me — and tells me how important animals are to us. It reminds me that we homo sapiens are not alone in this world, that we share it with many creatures, and that we could do worse than  look to them for a model of how to live. 

Copper did not complain in his final days. He suffered silently and took life as it came. Yes, he could be silly and rambunctious. Yes, he tested our patience at times. But you always knew where you stood with him. He was always completely and utterly himself. 

So just as we grieve people by recalling their uniqueness, what they brought to the world and how we might emulate it, so do I mourn Copper. 

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Friday, January 20, 2023

Copper Capehart: 2005-2023

He was a ball of fur on legs, a streak of black and white, contrast in motion. Copper was our daughter’s Christmas present, the dog she had dreamed of for years, and he was running away from us as fast as his little legs could carry him. He had slipped out of his collar and was making a break for the territory. He would do this often in the coming years.

That first escape was a shock because we had just picked him up from the shelter. Later escapades were less surprising but more terrifying. We knew by then that he had no fear of cars and we imagined the worst every time he got away.

But ever so gradually he settled down. He used his powerful shoulders to dash down the deck stairs instead of catapulting himself over the couch. He bared his teeth to smile instead of bite. He decided he would stay here a while.

Seventeen years later, time finally caught up with our dear pup. Today was his final escape, and darned if we didn’t engineer it ourselves. But only because we loved him so much.

Rest in peace, Copper. We will never forget you.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Walking's Worth

If I ever needed proof of walking's worth I got it yesterday. A sad day, as the last have been, but out on the trail, the rhythm and the movement brought me around.

It was good to be outside, to make my way past the tennis courts, around several small ponds and then down the long straightaway through the Franklin Farm meadow. 

It was only 45 minutes on my way to the grocery store, but sometimes, that's enough.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2023


Some light rain, the sky a washed-out gray, tree limbs a study in contrast. I look outside as if at another world. The days have turned inward for me, as our dear dog Copper is ailing. 

It's a comfort to glimpse the sparse azaleas, the ragged hollies. Even the open space where the tall oak stood is familiar now.

I know these places, these absences. My eyes rest easily on them, until I look inside again. 

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Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Sharing the Trail

The Capital Crescent Trail. A Monday afternoon that felt like a Sunday afternoon. A jumble of humanity — and mammal-anity, too, since there were plenty of dogs on hand. 

Without realizing it, I went into auto mode. That's "auto" as in automobile, glancing over my left shoulder before "changing lanes"  Cyclists use the trail, too, and they don't always sound their bells in warning.

Sharing the trail sometimes means walking defensively. 

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