January 14: Because the clock squeezed us, Lee and I declined a splashy outing and “settled” for a walk around his neighborhood. I found wonders everywhere. Our steps echoed in the narrow brick-vaulted Dalecarlia train tunnel (1910), now part of the Crescent Trail. We marveled at the spangling white limbs of winter sycamores along the Potomac River. For free, we gaped at the views enjoyed by million-dollar houses and appreciated the old cottages tucked among them. When, five miles later, we climbed up his driveway, Lee pulled out an atlas to help us study the places we’d been and the places we’d talked about. Oh, I do love museums, barns and gardens. And I love the simple pleasures of walks near home.
January 15: I zoomed into a Virtual Writing Studio offered by the National Gallery of Art. In an exercise of “reflective writing,” we were invited to bless ourselves in metaphor for the coming year. I came up with this: “I am confetti swept up from the street after a parade, a bit crumpled, wet and stained but still able, if tossed in the air, to bring delight to people who saw not the parade but only its leavings.”
January 16: Despite cold, gray, windy conditions, my intrepid friend Kathy suggested a vigorous walk around her neighborhood. Naturally, we warmed ourselves with exercise and conversation. And then, because it was a trifle too early for a beer (??), we sat down to work on a Liberty jigsaw puzzle that Kathy had received for Christmas.
The pieces, made of wood, squiggled in all directions — and included whimsical shapes echoing the puzzle’s theme (or not). Were those pieces cut to make a woman walking a dog? Was that a frog, a bird, a fish? And, yes, now that you mention it, those pieces form a crew “eight,” complete with coxswain, albeit upside down.
Best of all, after decades and decades of friendship, Kathy and I discovered that we each enjoy jigsaw puzzles. I suspect we’ll bend our heads over another puzzle again soon, perhaps this time with a beer in hand.
January 17: I picked my way across slushy roads to my town’s Tinner Hill Arch, where we gathered to honor Dr. Martin Luther King. Our U.S. Senator and Representative urged us to carry on Dr. King’s legacy and our own local hero, E.B. Henderson III, recalled how, 100 years ago near that spot, people defied a law requiring them to sell their houses to whites and move to a “colored” part of town. Their courage and determination ultimately led to the formation in our town of the Nation’s first rural chapter of the NAACP.
May we each work for justice in our own particular way. As Dr. King said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
January 18: Walking through an unfamiliar neighborhood, I saw smoke curling upward and smelled something enticing coming from a back patio. I approached the fence along the sidewalk. Using a wooden paddle, a man stirred the contents of a pot resting high atop a round brick wood stove. Admiring his work were two elderly women and a young girl, bundled against the cold. I asked him what he was cooking. He smiled proudly: Tamale Soup. I smiled back and kept walking, happily imagining the dinner that would warm his family inside and out.
January 19: For some reason, my GPS eschewed the highways and navigated me through the neighborhoods of Washington, DC. I was heading to a college gym, where Nate’s old basketball team would play a conference rival. (Kevin and I would drive nearly three hours — one way! through the mountains! — to watch Nate play, so this location was a treat.) Sure, I glimpsed the monuments, beautifully illuminated against the winter sky. Then the best parts of the city unfolded before me: the corner barber shop, well lit and full; the brownstones clustered around circular parks; a dark old cemetery rippling down into a creek valley; and the beautiful dome and campanile of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The basketball game was exciting, even if it ended in a one-point loss for our team. And yes, road blockages wrinkled my trip home. But the lights, people, noises and sites of my city are as beautiful in their way as those magnificent mountains we crossed six years ago. And a lot closer.
Bonus: The memory sparked by these photos makes me smile: Nate in very long basketball shorts and very short hair. And playing fine basketball.
January 20: I unwrapped my scarf and stepped into my friend Elaine’s dining room, grateful for warmth and respite from a biting wind. We live about a mile apart, and I walked to her house to retrieve a book. She greeted me with a smile and an admission: “I’m in such a malaise.” We agreed on the reasons: the damp cold weather, our homes shorn of ornament, and no new episodes of Downton Abbey or Bridgerton to look forward to. But, after two hours of gleeful book-talk, we also agreed that our malaise had lifted. January doldrums are simply no match for hot tea and William Faulkner.
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