Friday, September 25, 2009

Color It End of Summer

Ending summer is not quite so traumatic when you have the opportunity, on a Friday when most people are stuck in an office, to be outdoors in a beautiful spot like Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.

We enjoyed a sunny afternoon full of life and color that faded the thoughts of summer ending and fall arriving. The gardens were alive with birds, bugs, bees, turtles and beautiful flowers trying their best to put on a fine final show. They succeeded and we benefited.

The gardens feature attractive walking paths, large ponds, beautiful landscaping, annuals, magnificent deciduous trees, perennials, roses, a garden of scented flowering plants, fountains, special gardens and activities for children, a conservatory, bridges, memorial gardens, and wide open spaces to just enjoy the peace and tranquility.

The colors were electrifying and I can only imagine the extra drain on the senses that must occur in spring, or when summer blooms are at their peak and scents are overpowering.

This experience was good for the eyes and good for the soul. I enjoyed spending time with my friends in a place that restored my senses and made me a little bit less sad about the end of summer.

The gardens, part of Montgomery Parks, are open year-round and feature seasonal activities.

Monday, September 21, 2009

To Kill A Tree

I know there is a nightmare coming and it is because I signed the death warrant for a perfectly healthy black walnut tree. Today is execution day and I don't know if I can get through the rest of the day without crying about it. I feel foolish but I also feel horribly guilty.

This tree and I have battled since it grew tall enough to shed its leaves and its walnuts in those horrid green casings. It is located directly over the back of the house, between two lovely old pine trees that have had to suffer the indignity of palsied limbs because this bully of a tree grew fast and furious, taking up the space between them. Its long spindly branches dangle over the roof and in icy weather branches break off and fall on the roof and larger branches bow menacingly close.

When the deck usage and the garden are at the height of their season, it has been a danger zone with falling green walnut casings making mortar sounds on the roof and annoying and endangering us. The leaves clogged the gutters and the sump pump, causing water to run everywhere but in the gutter and down the drain. The damage from falling nuts included broken plant pots, smashed glass candle globes and even bombed spotlights. I also received a few whacks on the head. I blame the nuts, in part, on the increased sightings of chipmunks, squirrels and the dreaded R-word (r-a-t-).

A few weeks ago my neighbors lost a huge old tree after several days of rain. It fell between two houses, into a busy street that was strangely absent of cars at the time. That started us on a quest to eliminate deadwood from our respective trees, trimming limbs that could be problematic during storms and get ready for bad winter weather. The cost of removing the tree was little more than the cost to trim back the worst of the branches.

This morning I have been reminded over and over of my deed as nuts and branches hit the roof, and the chain saws buzzed and howled. The wood chipper whines and growls with each branch it devours. All make me think they are the tree's last cries for justice.

Penance will come in many forms. I will plant another smaller, native tree there. It may be a dogwood or something that will not interfere with the giant pine trees. I will save some seeds and plant another walnut in the back of the yard, where its leaves and nuts will not be in the way or harm people or possessions. I asked them to leave the logs of the trunk in long sections suitable for boards, in hopes that they can be used to make a pretty table and there might be enough for chairs. Then the life of this tree will be memorialized.

I will use this experience to remind myself of the value of life. No life should be taken lightly and every life should be valued.

I'll be over this soon, I hope. The lingering sadness is surprising but I am glad I did not take this lightly. Killing is agonizing, as it should be.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

National Parks - Treasure Them

View from Arlington House (Kennedy gravesite)
From Arlington House

Washington, DC from Arlington House

Great Falls

Great Falls
This weekend I was so fortunate to be able to spend time at two of our fantastic National park locations, Great Falls Park Virginia and Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial (located at the top of Arlington Cemetery).  Both experiences were outstanding and of course very different

With friends from the West Coast, at Great Falls, I enjoyed the beautiful overlooks of the falls, watching the daredevils in their kayaks on the Potomac, and hiked on the paths through the woods and indulged in a lovely afternoon away from the city. Many others were doing exactly as we were. Armed with cameras, toting picnics and being walked by dogs small and large, they were there to enjoy the glorious day. There were unfamiliar languages spoken by many, including those who asked us to take their family's photo with the falls as a backdrop, and people of all colors, ages and nationalities were there with families and friends.

Later that same day, I attended a preview of the new film by Ken Burns, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea". Held at Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, at the top of Arlington Cemetery, the event was sponsored by the National Park Service and National Park Foundation with WETA.
There are few better places to view Washington, DC than from the steps of Arlington House. At sunset it is spectacular and on a clear cool night it was thrilling to have the opportunity to see the city as darkness set in and the colors changed from pinks and oranges to grey.

The movie preview, shown on the lawn at the top of the hill, was but a glimpse of the 12-hour, six-part documentary by Burns and Dayton Duncan which will air on PBS beginning September 27. The series tells the story of the idea of preserving places as parks and the people who had roles in their creation. All 58 national parks are represented in the film.

Following the preview, we toured Arlington House, saw the amazing restoration in progress and spoke with the well informed guides in period dress. It was a most enjoyable evening and ended with a somber, dark drive down the hill through the cemetery.

As a result of the connection between the day at Great Falls Park and the Ken Burns documentary preview, I am moved to spend more time learning about the creation of the National Park system, the people who helped identify and acquire the lands and the opportunities they offer. There are so many places to visit. I have started a list and have challenged myself to try to visit all of these national treasures. I have been to only nine of the 58 so I have a lot to see! Including the National Monuments and National Historic Sites, there are about 400 locations.

I will definitely be tuned in next Sunday for the airing of Part I of the series (locally on WETA beginning at noon and repeated every two hours for the remainder of the day). I am certain this film series will further motivate me to visit more of our nation's treasures. This weekend was a good start!

For more information on the National Parks, Monuments, and Historic Sites, For more information on "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" visit

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to Nature: The End of Summer in Rural Kentucky

I have just returned from five glorious peaceful days at our lake cottage in Kentucky that has no reliable cell phone service, no television, and no radio reception. The most complicated electronic gadget is the coffee maker. Osmosis from the outside world rarely improves the natural experience.

When I was growing up, we retreated from the hot Florida summers to this rural place with no running water where we carried buckets from the spring behind the house to boil for dish washing. We bathed in the lake and brought drinking water from my Grandmother’s house. Now we have running water and no longer need the old privy out back.

Miles from a town or a store or a road wider than two narrow lanes, the place is much as it was then; the rustic decay of the cottage adds to its charm.

Tucked between hills, with the rising sun beyond the hills behind, the cottage stays darkened until late in the morning. The sun moves across the lake all day, setting directly across in the evening, casting beautiful light across the waters that looks like Tinkerbell hosting a dance party and can be viewed from our front porch.

As the sun sinks in the evenings, the mist curls over the lake and the bats come alive from their roosts, making the approaching darkness a little bit eerie before it finally gets nearly black. When there is a full moon, it rises behind the cottage, casing shadows across the lake and lighting the way for a last walk around its perimeter while the bats fly and the night noises begin.

Our favorite lake meal continues to be a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich (BLT) and we savor the wonderful tomatoes from the local farms. Their sweetness, combined with the salty, crisp bacon, a dash of pepper, a small amount of mayonnaise, and ice cold crunchy lettuce between two slices of toasted wheat bread is the most delightfully delicious combination. I indulged twice this year.

  • Sitting on the screened porch in old rockers with split oak seats listening to owls on opposite sides of the lake having conversation and playing ventriloquist games with their prey.
  • Laughing at the crazy whippoorwill making its frenetic calls again and again, interrupting concentration on a good book and causing us to stop and listen, smiling at his OCD behavior.
  • Hearing woodpeckers in the hollows of the massive old trees, their hammering echoing across the lake at all hours.
  • Watching tiny hummingbirds buzz and fight with one another at the feeders erected by our neighbors who are there often enough to keep them filled.
  • Walking down to our dock, hot coffee cup in hand, seeing a small turtle scuttle off the ladder step, just above the water, his drying time interrupted.
  • Scanning the lake to see an occasional fish jump and dozens of large and small turtle heads pop up, round bodies flattened out behind them as they navigate their way to a good place to crawl out and catch the sun.
  • Startling a great blue heron during his morning feasting near the shore and feeling the gust from his loud flapping wings as he departed for the other end of the lake, away from the only human danger he was aware of.
  • While out in the canoe, dog asleep in its bottom, watching a double-crested cormorant, with crooked beak, his long pipe-like neck steady and strangely still before diving below the surface to search for food and protection from intruders. When he realized we were too close for comfort, he spread his wings and with great much fluttering and splashing, he ended our hide and seek game.
  • Observing thousands of nickel-sized freshwater jellyfish, found in lakes with good water quality and plenty of zooplankton, free-fall happily in the cool currents, tiny tendrils pumping. They have a ghost-like appearance, gelatinous filling outlined in white with a white X in the middle of the circle akin to a three-dimensional single jack with silky white beards waving from the circular outlines.
  • Reluctantly driving into town in search of a replacement coffee maker, and being rewarded when a huge, beautiful red-tailed hawk flew directly in front of our car, nearly hitting the windshield. It flew safely into the wooded area on the other side of the road and we marveled at the detail we were able to view up close.
  • Watching a harmless water snake that lives in the weeds by the sandy swimming area catch minnows in the shallow water. I don’t care for snakes but this one was interesting to watch.
  • Finding a dead snake in the grass by the lake, looking very much like he had been flattened and severed by machinery, and being glad it was not the harmless water snake but a copperhead.
  • Walking with the dog, watching him chase squirrels and chipmunks and follow dozens of trails of scents that led up trees or further than his old legs were willing to go.
  • Enjoying the cool breeze and the sun-warmed dock on my back while I stretched out with the dog for my pillow.
  • Did I mention the BLTs?

Advice from an Old Dog

Advice from an Old Dog

I wrote this while on vacation, where I observed my old yellow dog as he slept, ate, walked, enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine, chased sticks, was taunted by squirrels and chipmunks, splashed in the lake, rode in the car, rode in a canoe, ate leftovers, and enjoyed a lot of attention. Photos at the left show him on the gravel road in front of our cottage and asleep on the bottom of the canoe as we floated in the middle of the lake.

  • The appearance of suitcases almost always mean something bad for the dog.
  • It may look like running in circles to others, but following the scent requires a great deal of concentration.
  • Sleep when you can. You never know when you might need to chase a squirrel and it will take a lot out of you.

  • Begging usually produces results; there is always a chance they will cave in.
  • Never appear too excited unless food is involved, otherwise you will be engaged in activities that may require too much energy.
  • When children are eating at the dinner table, always secure the spot underneath them.
  • W-A-L-K- spells something good.
  • There is an art to sleeping and it takes practice.
  • They won’t forget about you if you follow them around the house constantly and drop to the floor for a nap directly in front of them. Stay close and you will be remembered.
  • Scratches on the backside increase when you nudge them and back yourself into them, pushing your hindquarters directly into their hands.
  • If it looks like a cat it is the enemy.
  • Eventually squirrels and chipmunks come down from trees.
  • Sun shining through windows points to the next napping spot.
  • I have kept the man in short pants from coming through that slot in the door for 11 years. I will persevere.
  • That noise in the sky that makes the light flash is DANGER! Bark to warn and protect them...then hide under the bed.
  • Love = Treats, scratches, leftovers, rides in the car, a soft bed, and a W-A-L-K-.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


At the gym this morning, I saw a television commercial featuring two young boys who were measuring themselves against a doorjamb - standing tall, trying to record each other's height with an uncooperative measuring tape that was bending in the wrong places and retracting at inopportune moments.

It brought back memories of my own children and how we measured height, first with a yardstick and later with a tape measure, marking it on a narrow wall in the kitchen.

Birthdays were always measuring dates, as were year-ends and the start of the school year. It was important to recognize those important times with a record.

As the boys' three-year age difference gradually meant reduced height disparity, they compared one another's marks and the older one noticed that his younger brother was catching up (now the younger one is a bit taller and both are over six feet tall). It was amazing how some measuring periods showed huge growth spurts of an inch or more, and some barely changed. It gave the older one status and the younger one something to shoot for.

It was so amusing to watch them puff out their chests and stand just as tall and straight as they could to get the highest mark. Then they would fight over who had grown the most and anything else they could find to argue over in the perpetual one-upping of adolescent and teen siblings.

Once one of them measured shorter than his mark for the previous period. This discovery produced outcry from the other, resulting in an argument and blaming the error on "cheating". A closer inspection of the heels against the floor was demanded for future measurements.

For years, the touch-up painting in the kitchen traced around the marks, preserving the record and providing a visible reminder of the memories.

A couple of years ago, I concluded it was time to paint over, and admitted that the wall would look better in a more pristine condition. As if begging to be preserved, the marks bled into the new paint, becoming an indelible remnant of childhood until I attacked with KILZ and painted again. I reached my goal but missed those marks.

I still grieve a bit for the vertical reminder of their achievements, and the other milestones that went along with the increased height and advancing ages.

The milestones are more serious now. College graduations, salaries, student loans paid down, cars and savings top the list. I miss my marks on the kitchen wall and the simpler days when milestones were lighthearted and induced giggling and playful squabbling.