February 4: During a cold, wet, huddled walk to my yoga class, my eyes were drawn to a piece of litter that gave me an unexpected jolt of joy. I stooped to pick it up. Yes, it was a tab that visitors receive when visiting the Phillips Collection. It was bright green, just like one of Alma Thomas’ beautiful paintings. Thinking of her joyful paintings warmed me the rest of the way.
Bonus: This is the last of the four photos I took during my visit to the Alma Thomas exhibit at the Phillips two weeks ago. (If you’re new to Alma Thomas, as I was, see more of her work in these Delights.) Here’s what Ms. Thomas said about the painting’s inspiration, from a creek where she grew up: “I would wade in the brook and when it rained you could hear music. I would fall on the grass and look at the poplar trees and the lovely yellow leaves would whistle.” How fitting that I should find it again on my own rainy day.
February 5: St. Michaels, Maryland, is a village of 18th century houses, historic dories bobbing at the Maritime Museum dock, and random oddities (like an enormous ship’s figurehead whose bust reportedly brought good luck to 19th century Naval Academy students). It also boasts a city block of corrugated iron and coarse weathered wood where Windon Distilling Company brings forth the best rum I have ever tasted.
In the centuries-old buildings of the town’s Mill District, we found a brewery, a winery, a cigar shop, an apothecary and our destination, the distillery home of award-winning Lyon Rum. My friends Kathy, Cindy and I sipped happily as the sun kissed the mahogany, amber and crimson colors of the rum. We bought libations for our weekend and toasted our friendship of so many years.
February 6: At our first stop at the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland, a birder kindly helped us find a nesting pair of bald eagles high in a distant tree. We didn’t need help to find our next bird. A dozen cars were parked along the side of the road, crowds clustered, and 18-inch camera lenses all pointed to the same place. Barely 20 feet from the side of the road in a tree little taller than a basketball hoop sat a tiny screech owl. She filled a small hollow, puffing her chest and displaying her rum-colored feathers. I think the Beatles could have driven by and no one would have cared.
February 7: We have no heat, no hot water, and no rum. (I left all the bottles at the beach.) But our gas fireplace warms us and our friends have thrown open their bathroom doors for hot showers.
Part of me likes this. Heating water on the stove to wash dishes feels like camping without the mosquitos. Having a temperature-controlled fireplace pop into life now and then offers unexpected cheer. Sponge baths makes me feel like a little girl. And falling into the kindness of friends warms our souls. (At least it will be fun for awhile!)
February 8: I had chosen the wrong hiking path to the river, and my friend Lee and I were stuck at an inhospitable creek crossing. Instead of flat or gently tipping footfalls, we faced slabs of slanted rock, angled like rows of spectators leaning together to watch a climactic sports moment. We decided to turn around.
“Let’s pause a moment,” Lee said. We did. We heard the creek hurrying through the rocks and a few birds saluting the sunny day. We admired the formations. And our eyes followed hundreds of perfect black circles that glided over the creek’s mossy slabs. At first, we thought they were shadows of bubbles created by the miniature cascades. But Lee pointed to the tiny vortexes spinning where rivulets collided. We could barely see the vortexes, but their shadows were dancing and playing like polka dots scattered across a little girl’s Sunday dress. We gazed for long minutes and then returned to our hike, quietly pleased by what we had found when we could go no further.
p.s.: Lee, who reads the blogs I link to (hello, friends!) reflected on the marvel of the close look and your photographs celebrating the details. My picture here couldn’t capture the wonder of the dancing polka dots against a mossy rock floor, but I like its ambiguity. Even I wasn’t sure what it was when I looked at it again.
Bonus: Speaking of beautiful close looks, visit An Embarrassment of Riches for Manja’s best photos from February 2021. I particularly love the patterns of the waving water in the second and third images.
February 9: Stepping off the windy trail and into full sunshine, I lifted my face and savored the warmth of our sudden proto-spring. I had just glimpsed a cluster of white Lenten Rose blooms and the day seemed perfect. Others apparently agreed. In a town full of dog walkers, joggers and errand-runners (like me), two people chose to sit placidly on a curb-side bench facing the sunshine. Perhaps they awaited the school bus. I’d prefer to think they were old friends who were drawn outside simply to soak in these surprising hints of spring.
February 10: At her request, I carried the quilt downstairs and placed a corner in my friend Jennifer’s lap. “I want you to see this,” she said. “I’m so proud of it.” Jennifer then explained her goal: to use only the small, tight pattern of a jewel-toned border fabric for the center squares, without repetition.
I expected to find fifty patches cut from fifty different parts of the fabric and sewn into hubs of wheel-like patterns. But when I crawled along the quilt and lowered my nose to her stitches, I suddenly understood: she had taken the same repeating six-inches of border fabric and, by cutting triangles from different places and angles, had created fifty unique centers. As I studied each square, my astonishment grew. The harmony of each composition, along with the precision of her cutting and sewing, yielded fifty designs that easily could have earned its own fabric print. The entire effect was mesmerizing.
We had just been talking about how, in the performance of classical music, greatness requires the melding of technique and artistry. As I gazed at Jennifer’s work and touched the quilted swirls, I felt I was in the presence of exactly that.
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