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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Late season

Been out twice in the last few weeks. Drove up to the upper Monocacy two weeks ago which gave me a lot of bluegill action, especially in the first hour, but yielded no bass. It was on a Friday, and by afternoon I was joined by two other fishermen who likely were going after work.  They were both courteous and did not infringe on waters I was fishing, but in about a half dozen previous trips there this was the first time I'd seen any other fishermen at all.  I think my "secret spot' is secret no more, and this might be the reason I've had less luck there on the last two visits.

Last week, I drove to the Gunpowder River. Caught a brook trout which is an unusual catch for me.  It was small but beautiful.  I cut the trip short because my back was hurting.  The cause, I suspect, was the weight of my fishing vest.  I'll think about trying to reduce its weight by eliminating items I seldom use.

I haven't fished the pond lately, but I'm including this picture anyway.  We've received some rain in the over the past 24 hours, and the rain is predicted to continue through the weekend.  Then a hurricane might move in.  Hope not.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Pennyfield Lock and Muddy Branch

The wind made fly fishing difficult today on the Potomac, so I quit after two good-size bluegills on a surface bug. Although I had been on the river for a couple of hours, I spent more time wading than actually fishing. I then decided to hang around the C&O Canal drying off on this beautiful day.

A tributary, Muddy Branch, flows into the river just upriver from Pennyfield, and the engineers who designed the C&O Canal about 170 years ago had an easier time than they had upriver for the Monocacy since the required aqueduct for the much smaller Muddy Branch was much simpler:

During the Civil War, there was a major camp for Union soldiers along Muddy Branch.  Although I was unable to find out how many were stationed there, I seem to remember hearing during a course I took on Montgomery County archeology just after retiring that there were more Union soldiers in the county at the time than residents. I guess it was prudent to defend Washington with many troops especially since the county was generally pro-Confederate in sympathies.

Water levels were 2.9 at Little Falls which is about the same as they've been despite the heavy rain we received (finally) on Saturday.

Friday, September 11, 2015

"The sky is 9/11 blue..."

That's how Pam described it this morning, and it's true that today's sunny, clear sky is reminiscent of that terrible day 14 years ago.  I'm prone to superstition about weather and significant days. When I was young I thought Good Fridays always seemed to be rainy and gloomy.  They weren't always, of course, and even when they were, raining days are hardly unusual in the spring just as clear days of low humidity and bright sun are not unusual in the early fall.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Weary but satisfied

And I'm not certain why I had either of those two feelings Friday evening and much of the day Saturday.

The physical activity Friday was typical.  Four times I lifted the kayak on or off the car.  The drive to and from the river was about an hour.  The carry between the parking lot and the boat launch was only about ten yards, and the paddle out to the gravel bar was about a half mile with the last 40 feet or so pulling the kayak through water only ankle deep.  Except for a short break for a trail mix lunch, the rest of the trip was fly-casting in waist deep water and moving through an area roughly the length and width of a football field.  All very typical of my favorite kind of fishing trip.

Even though this is my favorite fishing, fly fishing for smallmouth bass on the Potomac River, the particular satisfaction I felt about Friday isn't clear to me either.  Objectively, the number  and size of fish I caught were certainly not exceptionally good; two average-size smallmouths in four hours of fishing isn't anything to brag about. However, these two fought hard, jumped multiple times and looked beautiful to me as I unhooked and released them back in the water. 

Maybe the satisfaction came from eventually getting results by paying attention to what was going on around me, the number of insects in the air and water and the occasional feeding rise of the fish to them.  I started with a surface slider, switched to a hackled dry fly, then tried a couple of subsurface flies before switching back to the same slider I started with because it seemed to arouse the most interest even though I hadn't landed anything yet.  And there were those rises, not many but regular. Maybe having persistence rewarded was part of the satisfaction.

After returning home from the Mouth of the Monocacy parking lot and putting away the kayak and tackle, I wasn't good for much activity for the remainder of the day or the following day either.  When I wondered why I was so tired, Pam suggested maybe it was old age.  Could be.  Water levels were 1.1 at Point of Rocks and 2.8 at Little Falls which are both common readings for this time of year.  The past month or so has been dry.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Bethany Beach last week

Excellent weather, excellent company with wife Pam, daughter Rebecca, and son-in-law Sean.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Time, place, and presentation

These are three of the variables that fishermen consider, and when I paused for lunch on a gravel bar in the Potomac near Nolands Ferry yesterday I first wondered about place.  I didn't think too seriously about my poor showing during my first smallmouth trip to Pennyfield Lock a week or two earlier because that had been a Monday on a stretch of the river that gets fished hard on weekends.  Then at least I caught a few bluegills, but my fishless morning yesterday got me wondering if there was something dreadfully wrong with the river.

When my floating fly didn't produced, I tried a large crystal bugger which I tried on both sides of the island but that didn't work either.  I switched to a B&B, a smaller fly that doesn't run as deep as the bugger and got a few takes which came off.  On the last half hour of fishing in the afternoon, I finally landed a few fish, a couple of smallmouths, my first of the season, and a bluegill.  That got me musing about the other two variables:  time and presentation.  Was the success due to presentation, fishing the right fly at the right depth?  Or did the fish suddenly decide the time was right to come out of their stupor and become more aggressive?  The fish don't say, so it's left to us fishermen to think about these things.

There was just time enough to take a picture of the river on a beautiful August day.  Water levels were 2.9 at Little Falls and 1.3 at Point of Rocks.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A description of a legend's music that captures it for me

"...there was just something different in Mr. Williams's music, the way some paintings are more vivid, more real than others..."

This was from Rick Bragg's book Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story writing not about Jerry Lee but about Hank Williams.  For years I've tried to express what stands apart about Hank Williams's music, and I admire how Bragg puts it. His words about Williams's music also describe the way I feel about Hemingway's writing about fishing and the outdoors as compared with the thousands of words I've read from other writers, many of them quite skilled.

Lately Pam has brought back from the local library a number of memoirs and biographies of musicians- Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Gil Scott-Heron, and all contained some worthwhile reading, but Rick Bragg's book about Jerry Lee has been the most fun.  He has an incredibly colorful subject, the expression "larger than life" actually seems too tame to describe someone as outlandish as Jerry Lee Lewis. Bragg is a skillful writer and, also from the deep south, he has a feel for its land and people.  He made me wonder if another place or time could have produced a Jerry Lee.

Bragg has a southerner's gift for story-telling, and his subject's antics over the years produces many great stories.  Since reading this book, I can't help passing on some of these stories to my friends and family at any opportunity.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Floating plant islands at the park

These were put in the pond a year or so ago. In the winter they provide a place for the ducks and geese that is free from disturbance from people and their dogs, and in the early spring turtles crowd on to the islands to lay in the warmth of the sun. 

Finally, in the summer the plants bloom for us all to enjoy:


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Back in the work force temporarily

Agreed to a consulting gig a few weeks ago, and it will run for a few more weeks. This is the second such deal that came my way since I retired six years ago. When I retired people asked me if I planned to do the consulting thing, and I answered that I wasn't willing to go out and market myself which would have been necessary for any kind of steady income. Besides, we live rather simply and don't really need the money.

The first consulting deal came in the first year of retirement, so this present one is my first exposure to the work world in five years. The experience is both familiar and new.

One oddity for me is having only one project to focus on and dealing with people with multiple projects, just as I always had when working. Last Friday, for example, I was expecting one important phone call and one important e-mail and all day wanted to be near my project file containing all my notes. Even though I kept the file with me the few times I left the house, neither the call nor the e-mail came, so I felt the day was somewhat wasted. Neither person was being really negligent by not getting with me that day, and during my work career I wouldn't have thought twice about it because I always had plenty of other things to do.

Technology has, of course, changed some things in the last five years but not everything. Not being certain of what has changed and what has not makes me uncomfortable at times. Real estate and industry-related numbers which were always in my head before are now often fuzzy or absent. The client seems satisfied though.

I have mixed feelings about the thinking I do about the consulting project in the off-hours such as when I'm taking a walk or lying in bed at night. When I'm in school those thoughts tend to be more elevating, like thoughts about history, philosophy, or the arts, and I'm happy to have them replace work thoughts. (Other thoughts, mundane or elevated, always take a back seat to fishing and sex in my head.) On the other hand, I kind of like this minor exposure in the competitive environment of the business world.

Will I do it again if the opportunity comes around? Maybe, but probably not during the school year. Also, I've seen in the last few days my involvement starting taking some turns I neither wanted nor anticipated. I took a stand that made this deal work out ok, but not before having a bad day that might make me think twice about accepting a future offer. Timing is also a factor.  Luckily this one came along at a time when the smallmouth rivers I would normally be fishing have been too high to wade because all the rain we got in June. The levels are getting close to acceptable though, and the rivers are calling. Fortunately, my work is wrapping up.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Flowers: In the park and in the yard

Wildflowers have done well with all the late spring/early summer rain:


The four o'clocks, the white flowers on the upper left of the picture below, open in the evening and present a pleasant aroma to anyone approaching the front entrance of our house.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Rainy Monday night baseball

Neighbor Jim was kind enough to invite me to the Nationals against the Reds.  Early in the game it rained stopping the game for about a half hour.  After the rain ceased and as the ground crew was taking off the tarp, a rainbow appeared in the right field sky:

The game then resumed:

The sky, however, remained threatening:

Light rain broke out once or twice, but not enough to delay the game again.  Although the Nats lost, we had a good time.  The seats were great, and my neighbor proved to be good company and a knowledgeable fan.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Gormania, WV civic improvements

Although some of the buildings in the old commercial part along U.S. Route 50 still look rundown, the homes in the residential street are generally in good shape.  I should have photographed them as well.

Significantly, the church, which goes back to the 19th century, is being renovated.

We have lately observed that our travel is restricted to a triangle with Bethany Beach to the east, New York City to the north, and Gormania, WV to the west, and our weekend trip visiting Pam's sister completes the triangle over the past two months.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fishing interlude

Because of hot, stormy weather lately, I hadn't done much fishing so I got myself back on track yesterday afternoon with a trip to the pond with a 5 weight fly rod.

Since the small, bream-sized flies at the shallow end only yielded one small bluegill, I worked myself over to the outlet side and tied on a larger, more bass-sized fly which proved immediately successful.  Got a number of good bluegill and one small bass before going home for dinner.

Although this photo was taken during my walk this morning, it's pretty much where I was fishing yesterday.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gardening and Change

I first started thinking about change when I first began college.  Everything was so different in my life from what had been routine and familiar, and adapting was sometimes challenging.  At that time, in the fall of 1965, America was changing too, and part of my adaptation to the national changes was to retreat into political conservatism for a spell.  In the next few years I switched back and forth in my politics which is common during college years, at least during those college years.

Gardeners are always conscious of change- changes in weather, changes in seasons, etc., but sometimes we have to deal with unexpected sudden major changes.  Such is the case now because a storm last Thursday uprooted a large oak tree in our back yard.  Although the bulk of the tree trunk fell into the neighbor's yard, we were left with an upended stump and root system about 12 feet in diameter:

The tree crews have been working on removal for the past few days, but when they finish we'll have a gap where once stood trees, decorative plants, and two of my screening bamboo structures (One of the damaged structures is visible near the center of the above photo.).

Just prior to the storm, we had been talking about how great the yard looked and how we should invite people over to show it off.  The front and side yards are fine, and about 3/4 of the back yard was undamaged, but it's discouraging to have to replace years of work.  A young neighbor came over recently to survey the damage and to admire what's remaining, and he remarked that we should look on the event as an opportunity.  He's right, of course, but it's easier to look at things that way when you're his age, about 30 years younger than we are.  That garden and the look of the back yard had been just as we wanted it.

It's often said that coping with change is harder as you get older.  Even so, we've managed to be philosophical about this and console ourselves that no one was hurt and our living space was undamaged.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A knife and a prayer

When I was nine or ten I spotted a magazine ad for a knife for 25 cents.  There were only two magazines I read at that age, Boys Life, which was oriented towards the Boy Scouts and outdoor activities, and Sports magazine whose orientation is self-explanatory.  That was my world, and a pretty good world it was.  Anyway, I put a quarter in an envelop, dropped it in the mail, and eagerly awaited the arrival of the knife.

A couple of weeks later, my mother told me the postman had delivered a small package for me.  I answered that I knew the knife would come that day because I had prayed for it the night before.  I can't say I actually remember tearing into the packaging to get out my prize, but I'm sure I did so with great excitement.  The shiny new knife looked wonderful to my youthful eyes.  The handle was a deep, dark red, and I couldn't imagine anything as beautiful as my new knife.

A few days later while in the woods where I spent most of my time, I stuck the knife in a dead tree.  I didn't stick it in far, and the weight of the handle combined with gravity to pull the knife down to the ground.  Unfortunately, the point remained in the tree.  Because of the cheap steel used for the blade, I now had a knife without a point.  Although it still might have been useful, I lost all interest in the knife after that.

Because of that experience, I decided to be careful what I prayed for in the future.  Some things aren't worth prayer, and sports fans should keep that in mind.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Around the Boroughs of New York City

After spending most of Friday in Manhattan, son-in-law Sean drove us from Brooklyn up into Queens where we stopped first at the Museum of Moving Images.  I've mentioned here that Pam and I were big fans of the Mad Men television show and so were Rebecca and Sean, so we were all interested in the exhibit about it.

Here is the set for the Drapers' family kitchen:

We then went to the PS1 branch of the Museum of Modern Art, also in Queens, where our favorite exhibit turned out to be Cabaret Crusades by Egyptian artist Wael Shawby.  It tells the story of the Crusades from an Islamic point of view using marionettes.  This may sound odd, but it was really quite compelling, and we all wished we had the time to see the entire film. These are some of the glass marionettes used, and some of them are hundreds of years old.
We then walked to a Philippine restaurant in honor of 1/2 of Sean's ethnic background (from his mother side. Irish-American from his father). Virtually everyone in that area of Williamsburg is between 20 and 40. The one other gray-haired man we passed did a double take when he saw me probably because he was shocked to see someone else his age.

After dinner we drove through the eastern part of Williamsburg which is all Hasidic Jews. Since it was past sundown, their Sabbath was over and they were all out on the streets taking advantage of the pleasant weather. Among the scores of those families, all dressed in black and white, males wearing hats and women in long dresses, there were two young women, one in shorts and the other wearing a very short skirt, who obviously were not Hasidic. My daughter said that the Hasidic men often call out to such women to request that they dress more modestly.

Leaving Williamsburg, we passed through the edges of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood which remains almost all African-American. The border between the two areas looks fairly distinct, and I understand that the two groups live quite separately. Further south in the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn where my daughter and son-in-law live, the area is more diverse: hipsterish (although my daughter resents that stereotype) young people mostly white, Blacks usually of Caribbean background, and Orthodox Jews.

Here are Sean, Rebecca, and Pam taking a break at the Museum of Moving Images:

Monday, June 1, 2015

"But nobody loved it more..."

In a collection of Tom McGuane short stories I've been reading, one character asks an older man who used to fish with his father whether his father was a great fisherman.  "Not really, " the older man replied, "but nobody loved it more."

This is actually the second time McGuane has used this piece of dialogue.  I remembered reading it years ago, and it stayed in my head because I always thought it was a beautiful thing to say about a fisherman.  I've read a lot of McGuane and was convinced I recalled the quote from one of his essays and spent a couple of unsuccessful hours this afternoon going through collections of fishing essays in my extensive library of outdoors books trying to find the place it first appeared.  Then Pam came home and found the source within a few minutes of searching the internet.  (I had also tried the internet, but she's much better finding things in general, whether on the internet or in the refrigerator.)

McGuane originally used the exchange in a novel, one of the few we don't own, so I apparently read a public library copy.  It's such a great quote it deserves repeating.  I wouldn't be upset if it was said about me and would readily understand if some friends who fished with me only a few times when I happened to be having bad days (casting in the trees, poorly tied knots, etc.) could've concluded that for a guy who talks about fishing so much, I'm actually not that good at it.  By contrast, someone who happened to observed me when everything seemed to going great might believe me better than I am.  Either way, I would hope that to anyone it would be obvious that nobody loves fishing more than I do.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

May in the Park

Wildflowers are out:

Geese family.  Goslings are huddled to the right of the base of the tree:

Bluegill spawning beds.   Beds look like submerged tires in center right:

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Men TV show

Much has been written about this series which ended last night.  Much has been written because there's so much to say about a thoughtful drama which spanned an important decade in American history and covered many of the societal changes, chiefly the new sexual freedom brought about by the use of birth control pills and the emergence of women and minorities in the workplace.

Some of the themes are not tied to any decade, however.  A main character who recreates himself is also present in The Great Gatsby, and creativity springing from a sense of being outside the mainstream is a timeless story.  It is ironic that the main character, Don Draper, looks and acts so much as the classic WASP insider of the period and yet never escapes the knowledge that his theft of an identity and created persona mark him to himself as forever the outsider.  Much of the creative genius of his advertising production probably comes from this sense of feeling as the outsider even though this feeling is also the source of his anguish and alienation.

We watched the series for the entire seven seasons spread over eight years and enjoyed and discussed each episode.  Someone has described Mad Men as a novel created for television, and that's the attitude with which I watched the 24/7 presentation of the entire series prior to the series finale.

Visually, it was to me the most consistently striking thing ever shown on TV, and I've been watching the tube for over 60 years.  Many of those images will stay with me forever.  Yeah, the writing, acting, music, etc. were all brilliant, but scenes like Peggy roller-skating around the abandoned office space to Roger's organ music and the ghost of Bert Cooper doing a song and dance number are in a class by themselves.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Fishing trip with Capt. Billy Pipkin

Left the marina Wednesday at sunrise on his boat, Liquid Assets II.

Matt Brewington playing a rockfish:

Capt. Billy unhooking one of the fish:

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Addy Sea Bed and Breakfast

For 28 years we have been coming to Bethany Beach, and we've been aware of this landmark establishment since our first visit.  This past weekend, we finally stayed there.

Construction on the house began in 1898, and was completed three years later.  In 1935, the Addy Family converted it from their private beach house to a guest house.  The above picture shows the walkway from the house to the beach while below shows the access from the public parking lot just south of the Addy Sea.

Although the temperatures never rose even as warm as 60 degrees, we still managed some reading on the beach...

 ...and a lot of walking:

It may have only been our first visit, but it won't be our last.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The coming darkness

A few nights ago I had a vivid dream that has been staying with me.  The location was very specific:  I was driving South on U.S. Route 1 in Beltsville.  Looking to the East across an open field, I could see the very dark clouds of a rapidly approaching storm.  As my surrounding darkened, traffic slowed down, and the car in front of me stopped, partially blocking the passing lane.  The driver was out standing next to his car, and as I carefully edged around it he hit my car with his hand, not an angry blow but more like a pat of encouragement.  Then everything went black.

I think the dream was about death.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pocket knives

For about 24 hours recently, I thought I'd lost my pocket knife. There are certain things in life that it's best not to get too attached to because you're eventually going to lose them- pens, and socks for sure, and also pocket knives. Because of this realism and because I don't feel right without one, for years I've kept a back-up in the top drawer of my dresser. I had the back-up in my pocket for a day until my wife Pam found the lost one.

The choice of which particular knife receives the honor of becoming your pocket knife is, of course, highly individualized. My choice is a Swiss Army model Spartan which has six blades as well as the traditional toothpick and tweezers. I use all the blades, especially the two screw drivers which seem to be well-chosen because they handle so many household chores. I don't want one of those huge Swiss Army models; mine fits so well in my pocket I never am conscious of it until I need it.

The last 10 years or so I worked I had to stop carrying it because company policy viewed a knife as a weapon and forbade the practice. Twice it caused me some inconvenience; once when my son Greg was 14 and I took him to a Metallica concert. The pocket knife showed on the metal detector, and I was refused entrance as long as I had it.  I thought it was kind of ironic that among all those burly biker-types this mild-mannered father could be perceived as dangerous, but I had to go back to the car to stash it. The same thing happened in Annapolis when I showed up at a recreational fishing hearing about yellow perch. There was a number of fishermen out there at the same time hiding their knives among the shrubbery outside the state government building.

I haven't permanently lost a pocket knife in some time, but I feel certain my good luck streak will end sooner or later.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Shad run at Fletchers Boathouse

April means the hickory and American shad are on their spawning run up the rivers of the Mid-Atlantic area.  Fletchers Boathouse on the Potomac is a pleasant place to be for fishermen to catch these fish which fight hard when hooked and often leap.

Today, the action wasn't frantic the way it sometimes is when the run is at its height, but I caught a few on both the spinning rod and the fly rod.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The green is coming in...

As April passes, you see progressively more green as you look into the woods.  In a predominantly deciduous forest, the green comes in faintly and scattered at first, and the color deepens as the weather warms.  By summer, this scene will be a mass jungle of green of various shades melding into each other so that it becomes to difficult to determine which foliage belongs to which trunk.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Sunshine and fresh air made me feel great

Today was my opening day, but I only fished for about an hour because my back was bothering me.  After catching a under-sized largemouth bass, I settled on a bench overlooking the pond and basked in the sun for a good portion of the afternoon.

This evening I feel terrific, and I think it's because of being outdoors so much.  Even in the coldest weather, I spend time outdoors, and we've had some mild days which I took advantage of by working in the yard.  Today, however, was the first day this year I've just sat looking at the pond and enjoying the sun and fresh air.  Windy and a little chilly when the sun went behind a cloud, but not enough to diminish my pleasure.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Getting impatient for things to start growing

The week before last I cut down the old growth of the ornamental grasses and had the lawn mower blade sharpened.  Now, I want the green to begin popping up out of the ground.  Time seems to be going by slowly because of this wait.

Recently, Pam and I discussed whether we truly had four seasons here.  If we do, they sure don't seem to be equal in length.  Summers are always long, and some winters like the past two are also long.  Spring always seems to be short while fall is difficult for me to see objectively because I enjoy it so but dread what follows.  In some ways, there are for me just two seasons because I swap out clothes every spring and fall.  This swapping generally corresponds to the growing and fishing seasons.

I'm tired of heavy coats and am looking forward to tee shirts, shorts, and flip flops.  I want to be laying out on the patio with a cold drink, thinking only about what I'll cook out on the grill.  Come on, let's get on with this changing of the seasons.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Opening Day

Although there is actually no closed season for freshwater trout in Maryland, the state closes many streams and ponds the week they are stocked. Since most of waters surrounding me receive their stocking in late March, the Saturday of that week becomes a de facto opening day.

There were only four or five fishermen at the nearby pond when I took my daily walk this afternoon. With temperatures in the low 30's and a nasty wind, they were dressed more like ice fishermen or duck hunters. When I ventured outside to get the newspaper this morning, there weren't that many more then, as well as I could make out through the trees.

As I walked I pondered why I now choose to wait a few days to fish when it will be more comfortable rather than brave the conditions today. I tell myself it's because in retirement I have the time to be selective, but I suspect it really is because I didn't use to be such a pussy.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

More crocuses

This grouping is from my walk today along Sligo Creek Parkway:

When I turned on Wayne Avenue on way to downtown Silver Spring, I found these along a hillside:

And these:

Friday, March 13, 2015

Can't resist photographing those late Winter flowers

There's still some snow on the ground from the event a week ago.  Everyone's tired of Winter, but these give hope of what's coming.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Visit to a Gothic Cathedral

Since this semester's History of Architecture has been studying Gothic Cathedrals, I've been eager take a new look at the closest example, the National Cathedral in DC.  This morning I drove down and took in the standard 30 minute tour.

As I knew beforehand, the building has been under repairs from damage done by the 5.8 earthquake in 2011, and the construction noise occasionally made it difficult to hear the docent.  Much of what I heard I already knew but not everything.  For example, I hadn't realized that the site was selected because of the relatively high ground.  Although all the examples we've studied in class are in Europe, the Washington Cathedral design follows the standard cross shape with an east-west layout so service goers are praying while facing east, towards Jerusalem. 

I had a chance to look at the standard Gothic features such as pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses and appreciate the beauty of the stained glass and sculptures.  Because of the construction, I took only one picture, that of the stained glass in the Maryland Bay:

Recently I went back to look at my notes from a class a couple of years ago entitled History of Science and Technology because I remembered an excellent lecture on Gothic Cathedrals.  The professor made the point that technology is not neutral but rather is a reflection of the concerns and aspirations of the surrounding culture.  The religious nature of the Middle Ages caused the people to direct their intelligence to building houses of prayer with high interiors to direct attention towards heaven and to include as many windows as possible because light was equated with God.  Since the building material was stone for permanence, the engineering challenges of handling the stress of the weight lead while allowing for windows lead to the solutions we see in the Gothic architectural design.

I'll probably come back when the construction is complete and the weather's warmer.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Frozen pond

Although it was a very cold day, the pond was only partially frozen yesterday because of the high winds.  Today the winds were milder, so it froze completely and the boundary between the new and old ice is distinct.  Tomorrow is predicted to be even colder and windier.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


In my English Literature course we recently read Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" poem, and I was struck by the similarity in thought of a passage in it to the lines at the end of one of my favorite novels, A River Runs Through It.  I was so struck that I was certain that author Norman MacLean must have been familiar with the poem and remembered that MacLean had been a college professor.  Checking with Wiki on the internet told me that he indeed was an English professor and that his specialty was....the Romantic Poets! 

The passage in Wordsworth concerns the interconnection of all things and reads:

 "A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts;  a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things..."

MacLean wrote:

"Eventually all things merge into one and then a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs under rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs." 

 You may love a passage in a book as I have that one and still come to a further understanding of it after 4o years.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

To Pam, for her birthday tomorrow...

And on our anniversary today:

My  Wife Asleep


Morning light softened by shade,

Shoulder raised as if to shrug,

Lying on side, breathing deep.


Arm bent, half-covering face,

Wedding band nearly touching

Visible eye closed in sleep.


In describing her posture, words can detail.

In explaining her beauty, words somehow fail.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Winter in the Suburbs

I took this picture a week ago in the late afternoon, and the snow that was coming down then is still on the ground.  The vantage point is the side window of our living room, a spot that I often sit and read.  I had a vague plan to photograph the same scene in various seasons much as I have been doing with the house and yard and might still do that, but in looking the picture later it struck me what a typical suburban scene it was.

I've lived my whole life in the suburbs, specifically the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC.  I've spent a lot of time in both big cities and rural areas, so I have a pretty good sense of what it would be like to live in a different environment and don't feel limited or deprived in any way.  Nor do I feel that the surroundings that I have lived in are the best possible and most desirable.  I've lived a happy life but probably could have been as happy elsewhere.  To me, geography isn't anywhere near the most important factor in determining contentment.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Our current crop of cats

The two 4 1/2 year-old sisters are Lucy above and Georgette below.  Lucy is a classic scaredy cat whose primary interest is food.  Georgette was originally named Hank until we found out Hank was female.  They were born in the Carter Barron Amphitheater in Washington, DC, to a feral mother and recovered by a group that does that sort of thing and neuters them.

Then we have Clarence, named for the late saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  He's 2 1/2 and a little guy. Although the two girls don't seem to like each other very much, they both like and play with him.  We adore him.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Royal Blood by Eric Jager

Rather than just mentioning a recently read book in passing because of a train of thought it triggered, I am writing this to specifically recommend one. 

The story of Royal Blood begins with the discovery in the 1660's of a thirty foot parchment scroll which was the original police report of a murder in Paris 250 years earlier, in 1407.  In charge of the investigation was Guillaume de Tignonville, provost of Paris, who in many ways was history's first detective.  Rather than relying on the standard crime-solving technique of the day, forced confession through torture, he directed a massive investigation through an examination of the crime scene, the dispositions of witnesses, and countless interviews with anyone who could possibly possess a helpful lead in his honest and courageous search for the truth.

In his epilogue, author Eric Jager writes of the scroll in and doing so zeros in on some of the reasons I find his book so fascinating:

"Besides providing a record of Guillaume's diligent sleuthing, the scroll preserves the only lasting trace of dozens of ordinary Parisians otherwise lost to history.  The events of November 1407 lit up their lives like a flash of lightning and the provost's scribes briefly capture their excited and worried voices, which then fell into silence and near oblivion.  Theirs is a story of everyday life and an extraordinary crime.  Centuries later, they speak to us:  the baker and the broker, the water carrier and the florist, the interrogator and the carpenter's apprentice- and, of course, the provost himself."

I like views into everyday life among ordinary people in the past.  That's why I like looking at paintings from the Dutch Renaissance, and this was indeed an extraordinary crime, a major assassination whose fall-out was felt throughout France and beyond the borders.

It's difficult to make a comparison with the assassination of Louis of Orleans to a hypothetical modern situation.  Louis was the king's brother and often the default acting king when his brother was incapacitated by one of his periods of insanity. Since France was involved in the Hundred Years War with England, we can wonder what if Franklin Roosevelt was so ailing during much of WWII that his Vice President assumed the responsibilities of his office and then was assassinated?  This isn't a satisfactory comparison because, among other reasons, it doesn't take into account the defused power structure of feudalism and how a feudal country can break apart under stress.

In addition to the glimpse it provides into the lives of everyday people, Royal Blood gives the reader insight into the Medieval tensions between the universities and the surrounding communities ("Town and Gown"), the judicial system and the military weaponry of the day, and the personal and political rivalries among the French and their English enemies. 

Royal Blood also contains enough sex and violence to hold our attention when we're less inclined towards appreciating historical themes.  Its story is suspenseful and contains a hero.  A dust jacket blurb about another of Jager's books says it should be the one to read if one reads only one book about the Middle Ages, but I think that description could also apply to this one.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A lone boot and unanswered questions

On my daily walk a few days ago, I came across a single boot just off the trail.  As is my custom when I find someone's property, I left it where it was because I figure the person who lost it might return to look for it.  The sight certainly caused me to wonder what circumstances would cause a person to lose a piece of footwear.  I suppose that in warm weather, someone might temporarily put their shoes aside to frolic in the park barefoot, but certainly not when there's snow on the ground.  And why just one?  What's the story behind this boot?

I didn't dwell on these questions very long and didn't see the boot for the next couple of days even though my walks went over the same ground in the park.  Then yesterday what was apparently the same boot appeared again, but this time a couple of hundred yards from the first sighting.  I looked and determined it was for the left foot, and later when I reached the point of the first sighting I searched closely but didn't find its right foot partner.  Neither place was near a road, so it's unlikely the boot or boots were thrown from a vehicle.  Did the owner walk away with one or both feet bare in freezing weather?  Or, for someone reason did he carry one or two boots with him while wearing other footwear?  Not very important questions, I guess, and that is fortunate because I'm not likely to ever have them answered.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The pond yesterday

Early Winter: with and without snow

House and front yard yesterday with 3 1/2 inches.

A week ago: