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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:

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

While walking in the woods today...

... along Paint Branch Creek, I came across this grouping of animal hair.  The find wasn't by accident because a neighbor had described the scene and location to me.  I've handled a lot of deer hair while tying flies for fishing, and I'm 90% certain that's what these are, probably from the rear section.

Sights like this make you wonder what happened to the deer.  If it was killed, what killed it and what happened to the rest of the remains?

Among the browns and grays of the winter woods, patches of green stand out, and I guess that's why this moss growing on a tree stump caught my eye:

 The camera I used today is a gift from daughter Rebecca and son-in-law Sean.  It's waterproof, so they correctly figured it would be handy for my fishing trips.

Monday, December 29, 2014

History of Architecture I

Enjoyed this class and plan to continue with the next two courses in the proper chronology.  This course began in prehistory, goes approximately up to 1000 AD, and covered a multitude of building types including Sumerian ziggurats, Egyptian pyramids, Greek and Roman temples,  Byzantine and other early Christian churches, mosques, and Buddhist temples in India, Sri Lanka, and China. 

We learned about various building materials such as wood, mud brick, stone, and concrete; lots about concrete.  Although residential building has historically been done with materials such as wood which will decompose over time, the instances where sufficient remains survived were of particular interest to me for the same reason that I like looking at paintings of the Dutch Renaissance- because we get a glimpse of how people lived their daily lives.

One very old example of an ancient village has been uncovered in Turkey, Catal Huyuk, which goes back 8-9,000 years:

As the above re-creation shows, these people lived in attached structures much like a modern apartment building except entrance to each unit was by ladders through the roofs.  The entire village is thought to have had a population of about 10,000.

The population of a village from centuries later, Herculaneum, were all killed by the same volcanic eruption that destroyed nearby Pompeii in 79 AD.  Although Pompeii is the better known of these two Roman towns, more residential material survived in Herculaneum because the super-heated pyroclastic flows preserved wooden objects like roof tops, beams, beds, and doors for reasons I don't understand because we weren't studying archeology.  The ash from these flows is as thick as 60 feet, so it is understandable that 75% of the town is still buried.

Atrium houses were among some of the remaining types of residences of Herculaneum.  The structures also contained the family business that was advertised on the wall facing the street.

Taking courses in architecture effects how I look at buildings and other structures,  especially as I walk or drive through cities.  It increases my understanding and appreciation.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Potomac from Georgetown

These days I seem to visit Georgetown only when I drive Pam to her hairdresser's, and that was the case yesterday, a foggy winter's day.  While she was getting her hair done, I walked down to the river and took this picture of the Key Bridge crossing to the Virginia shore.  I could have browsed stores, but I guess I'm drawn to the water.  Astrologers might say it's because my sign is Pisces.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


People seem to have an affection for fictional outlaws (and sometimes real ones) as long as they are portrayed in an acceptable manner.  For example, when the outlaws are shown to be loving husbands and fathers, they become humanized and sympathetic.  It also helps when they display loyalty and honor among themselves and also when their crimes are of a nature that doesn't seem too offensive.  Frank and Jesse James were bank-robbers, and for many of us it doesn't seem nearly as bad when the crime is against a financial institution as oppose robbing the common folk.  In many of the many films about the James Brothers, they are also shown with their families, so the movie-goer tends to identify more with the outlaws than with the lawmen pursuing them whose domestic life is never portrayed.  Family life among criminals is central to many Mafia movies such The Godfather, a movie which also softens somewhat their crime-life by displaying their refusal to deal in hard drugs.

All this brings me to The Sons of Anarchy, a TV series about an outlaw motorcycle gang which ended recently after seven seasons.  I watched most episodes for the first few seasons, but after that I missed many, including an entire season, I believe.  However, like a soap-opera, it wasn't too difficult to get caught up once you were familiar with the main characters, and I shrugged off not knowing all the complexities of the many subplots.  One early subplot involved a rivalry with a neo-Nazis gang, and I decided that another way to make a criminal gang sympathetic is to pit them against a more odious group like the Nazis.  Like the James gang and Godfather's Mafia gang, the motorcycle gang's members, or at least their leaders, were shown to be loving fathers and husbands, and their main methods of money-making seemed to be illegally selling guns (that alone would make them heroes to many Americans) and adult pornography which isn't really a crime.

I don't have any direct experience in the outlaw life, but when I was young I had friends who made money in an illegal activity.  I observed then that a big difference between a legal and an illegal business is that criminals could not go to the courts when cheated out of money in their dealings.  The willingness and the ability to use violence then becomes an important method of keeping those dealings straight.  (My friends were not violent people, and that hurt them in their business at times.)  Violence and criminal activity are generally linked then, in my opinion, so fictional portrayals of a criminal gang like the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Gang are likely to be violent, and the series certainly was.

Some TV critics have compared The Sons of Anarchy to Hamlet.  While no one seriously puts this TV show in the same literary league as Shakespeare, I do think the series aimed high in its themes, and Shakespeare as well as the classic Greek dramatists were often pretty violent as well.  The storyline of The Sons of Anarchy built up to a bloody crescendo, and in the series finale the main character faced directly what he was, a criminal and a killer like his father, and wanted to break the cycle of violence for his own sons.   I found this last episode moving, and even days later it's still in my thoughts.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Basketball season is here

The Maryland team was undefeated until last night when we had to play one of the top ranked teams in the nation without our best player and one other starter.

Even though it was a loss to Virginia, the arena maintained a supportive and even festive atmosphere.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ducks on the pond

Mallards are handsome birds, but it's nice to see something different.

Recently a pair of hooded mergansers have been visiting the pond.  They're a diving duck which makes them all the more interesting to watch.  They're also wild and skittish, so it's hard to get close enough for a decent picture with my modest equipment.

Friday, November 21, 2014

We are what we do

For some time I've thought that people should be judged morally on their actions, what they say and do because we don't really know what's in their hearts.  A person, for example, may have bigoted and prejudiced thoughts, but if they don't talk or act on those thoughts, to me they are not bigots.  I cannot look into souls.  I've come to believe that, in my case at least, self-identity is similarly determined by actions.  For the past forty years this identity has been as a husband, father, businessman, fisherman, etc. because most of my daily actions were in accordance with those categories.  While I have my political beliefs, taste in music, and other things important to me, those are subordinate to the more important categories above because there are less actions associated.

I'm thinking these thoughts because of a passage in a novel I just read, Richard Ford's Let Me Be Frank With You.  On his way to visit his ex-wife, the protagonist muses that she is an essentialist who believes we all have essential selves, a character we cannot do anything about.  This contrasts to his beliefs that "we have only what we did yesterday, what we do today, and what we might still do."  He is about my age and has come to act and view himself according to what he calls his "Default Self" although he concedes "it's not that different from a bedrock self, except it's our creation, rather than us being its."

This Default Self concept sounds similar to thoughts I've recently had about a certain freedom concerning the stage of life I share with Ford's character.  In the role of a manager in business and as a father, I felt I had to act at times in ways I would have preferred not to, to enforce rules and push people away from or in line with certain behaviors.  Now, my children are grown and I no longer work, so my actions are more consistent with what I want to do rather than what I feel I have to do.  Ford's protagonist would probably say that whatever I do now is consciously my creation of a Default Self whereas his wife would probably say I'm acting now more in line with my essential character.   Whichever the interpretation, it is one of the better aspects of growing old.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Big Ten Football

After 60 some years as a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the University of Maryland is now in the Big Ten which is a disturbance in the lives of long-time fans such as myself.

For some time, I've made it and point to attend at least one football game a season, but this year I waited too long.   Early in the season I could have basked in the sun very comfortably as opposed to shivering in a cold November evening which is what I did last night. 

Not surprisingly, my team lost to Michigan State.  I've always heard that those Midwestern teams "travel well", that is, many of the fans attend away games.  I've attended games in Byrd Stadium for half a century and never before have I seen so many fans from the visiting school.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The "N" word

Last night I attended an annual sports journalism symposium at University of Maryland that featured a panel discussion on racism in sports.  As part of the discussion, the question was posed on the acceptability of the "N" word in sports or in general society.  The Washington Post also recently printed a long article about the history and present usage of this loaded racial epithet.  Some of the panel participants felt that the word is acceptable for African-Americans to use among themselves but not generally acceptable coming from someone outside that group except, perhaps, among close friends.

The last point made me think of the three different occasions while working that I dealt with situations that a white employee aimed the word at a black co-worker.  The black workers in at least two of the instances didn't want the white employee fired or severely disciplined;  they just wanted me to make them stop.  Both times when I confronted the employee who had said the  "N" word their defense was that the blacks use the word with each other.  I remember once responding that I knew they did, but he still couldn't call them that, and the other time I believe I yelled out angrily that I didn't want the word said by anyone.

The subject makes me feel old.  Growing up in Maryland in the 1950's, I commonly heard the "N" word used.  I'm not proud to admit that I sometimes said it myself but not within earshot of my mother who forbade its use.  I'd also admit it having used it a few times in the late 60's when it was commonly thought among college students who viewed themselves as hip and above prejudice which somehow made it cool to say the word.  My decision to stop was vindicated when I heard the comedian Richard Pryor say that he was getting sick of hip white people using the word.  I also noted the reactions of close African-American friends to those situations.  They may have chosen not to make an issue of a white using the word around them, but I knew them well enough to determine that they didn't like it.

Yeah, I'm old and I guess I'm set in my ways, but I'm not going to ever resume using that word no matter how society may change in attitudes about it.  I'm comfortable with my choices.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Autumn in the Park

 This great blue heron has been hanging around the pond for a couple of weeks: