Saturday, December 31, 2011

Poem for Saturday and Great Falls

Turn of a Year
By Joan Houlihan

This is regret: or a ferret. Snuffling,
stunted, a snout full of snow.

As the end of day shuffles down
the repentant scurry and swarm—

an unstable contrition is born.
Bend down. Look into the lair.

Where newborn pieties spark and strike
I will make my peace as a low bulb

burnt into a dent of snow. A cloth to keep me
from seeping. Light crumpled over a hole.

Why does the maker keep me awake?
He must want my oddments, their glow.


We had planned to go to Mount Vernon on Friday, but certain people were moving like slugs in the morning, and by the time I got laundry in and lunch into everyone we decided that it would be better to postpone. So instead we went to Great Falls, where we had intended to replace the national parks pass that expired last month but it turned out that admission to the parking lot was free -- and not ridiculously crowded despite that fact and the fact that it was in the 50s. We went out to Olmsted Island, climbed a bit on the cliffside and walked a bit along the towpath, which is closed past the bridge for repairs.

We had dinner with my parents -- three lasagnas, one for the meat-eaters, one for the poultry-eaters and one for the vegetarians -- and came home to watch the season finale of Sanctuary, which I expected to end as a grisly cliffhanger and was pleasantly surprised at the resolution in every sense. Then we half-watched various bowl games; Oklahoma is beating Iowa in the current one, the Insight Bowl, which is not nearly as memorable a name as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. We all think some plumbing manufacturer should sponsor the Toilet Bowl for the two worst teams in college football.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Poem for Friday, Winterthur and Longwood

At the Fishhouses
By Elizabeth Bishop

Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting,
his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,
a dark purple-brown,
and his shuttle worn and polished.
The air smells so strong of codfish
it makes one's nose run and one's eyes water.
The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs
and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up
to storerooms in the gables
for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on.
All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea,
swelling slowly as if considering spilling over,
is opaque, but the silver of the benches,
the lobster pots, and masts, scattered
among the wild jagged rocks,
is of an apparent translucence
like the small old buildings with an emerald moss
growing on their shoreward walls.
The big fish tubs are completely lined
with layers of beautiful herring scales
and the wheelbarrows are similarly plastered
with creamy iridescent coats of mail,
with small iridescent flies crawling on them.
Up on the little slope behind the houses,
set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass,
is an ancient wooden capstan,
cracked, with two long bleached handles
and some melancholy stains, like dried blood,
where the ironwork has rusted.
The old man accepts a Lucky Strike.
He was a friend of my grandfather.
We talk of the decline in the population
and of codfish and herring
while he waits for a herring boat to come in.
There are sequins on his vest and on his thumb.
He has scraped the scales, the principal beauty,
from unnumbered fish with that black old knife,
the blade of which is almost worn away.

Down at the water's edge, at the place
where they haul up the boats, up the long ramp
descending into the water, thin silver
tree trunks are laid horizontally
across the gray stones, down and down
at intervals of four or five feet.

Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
element bearable to no mortal,
to fish and to seals . . . One seal particularly
I have seen here evening after evening.
He was curious about me. He was interested in music;
like me a believer in total immersion,
so I used to sing him Baptist hymns.
I also sang "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."
He stood up in the water and regarded me
steadily, moving his head a little.
Then he would disappear, then suddenly emerge
almost in the same spot, with a sort of shrug
as if it were against his better judgment.
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.


My family spent Thursday in the Brandywine Valley as we have for the past couple of years enjoying the gorgeous landscapes and winter exhibits. We started at Winterthur, which is having its annual Yuletide celebration with exhibits in the library and museum and with the mansion decorated for the holidays -- several Christmas trees reflecting the gardens in various seasons and rooms with the greenery, decorations, and representative foods of both the DuPont family and the American eras represented by the furniture they collected. We had lunch in the visitor center, which has a very good salad bar, and walked all around the grounds, including the chilly and relatively empty Enchanted Woods.

Then we drove to Longwood Gardens in falling snow, though little of it stuck (none on the roads and just enough on the grass to create the impression of a white Christmas, which was lovely). The conservatory is full of poinsettias, lilies, and a variety of Christmas trees including some made of gingerbread men and one in the herb garden made entirely of parsley. The grounds have dozens of lit trees and holiday lights in the treehouses, plus the train display decorated for the holidays. We had dinner in the very crowded but also nicely decorated cafe there since we love their vegetarian chili and baked mac and cheese, then drove home in light snow turning to drizzle. It is late so here are just a few photos of Winterthur and Longwood decorated for the season:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Poem for Thursday, MD Science Center, Brookside Lights

Heart Condition
By Jericho Brown

I don't want to hurt a man, but I like to hear one beg.
Two people touch twice a month in ten hotels, and
We call it long distance. He holds down one coast.
I wander the other like any African American, Africa
With its condition and America with its condition
And black folk born in this nation content to carry
Half of each. I shoulder my share. My man flies
To touch me. Sky on our side. Sky above his world
I wish to write. Which is where I go wrong. Words
Are a sense of sound. I get smart. My mother shakes
Her head. My grandmother sighs: He ain't got no
Sense. My grandmother is dead. She lives with me.
I hear my mother shake her head over the phone.
Somebody cut the cord. We have a long distance
Relationship. I lost half of her to a stroke. God
Gives to each a body. God gives every body its pains.
When pain mounts in my body, I try thinking of my
White forefathers who hurt their black bastards quite
Legally. I hate to say it, but one pain can ease another.
Doctors rather I take pills. My man wants me to see
A doctor. What are you when you leave your man
Wanting? What am I now that I think so fondly
Of airplanes? What's my name, whose is it, while we
Make love. My lover leaves me with words I wish
To write. Flies from one side of a nation to the outside
Of our world. I don't want the world. I only want
African sense of American sound. Him. Touching.
This body. Aware of its pains. Greetings, Earthlings.
My name is Slow And Stumbling. I come from planet
Trouble. I am here to leave you uncomfortable.


I spent Wednesday afternoon in Baltimore with Hufflepants, Paul, and my kids at the Maryland Science Center, which has an exhibit on Charles Schultz and the natural world entitled Peanuts, Naturally, a terrific IMAX movie about the building of Canada's intercontinental railway (with magnificent vistas of the Canadian Rockies, though the story involves a lot of tragedy) called Rocky Mountain Express, and a planetarium show narrated by Geoffrey Rush on Black Holes. I hadn't seen Hufflepants for months and it was wonderful to catch up! And I loved the Canadian history via trains and Geoffrey explaining the Theory of General Relativity.

On the way home we went to Brookside Gardens for the Garden of Lights and train show in the conservatory, which wasn't nearly as crowded as we feared. We drank hot chocolate and walked through the outdoor light displays, including the "thunderstorm," the sunflowers, and the one Adam and I call the Rainbow Giraffe. We had a coupon for a free Papa John's pizza, so we stopped to pick it up on the way home, then we watched a bunch of third season DS9 episodes including both parts of "Past Tense" which in the wake of the current state of the economy and Occupy Wall Street suddenly seems unnervingly realistic for 2024. So a good day!

Baltimore's Inner Harbor from the staircase in the Maryland Science Center.

The Peanuts exhibit focused on how nature is portrayed in the comics and Schultz's less-than-admirable presentation of the EPA.

Museum staff had a chinchilla, ferret, and ball python for visitors to see and pet.

Younger son took a photo of one of the blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay gallery, which also has diamondback terrapins.

When I posted these photos of Brookside in daylight, I promised a photo of the dragons lit up at night.

To enter the garden people walk through a giant caterpillar.

The thunderstorm has sound effects and a rainbow that lights up afterward.

I hung out with the "bundled" people but unfortunately the fire isn't real.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Poem for Wednesday and Ocean Holiday Concert

In the Bleak Midwinter
By Christina Rossetti

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak midwinter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part--
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.


Poem because Paul and I are just back from the holiday concert at the Birchmere by Ocean Orchestra and the Washington Revels, which was wonderful in every way. Yet again we ate too much -- the Birchmere has very good food -- before the show, which included the Revels' children's chorus and local harp player Sue Richards as well as most of Ocean Orchestra's regulars and several other guests, plus the Foggy Bottom Morris Men dancing to two of Ocean's songs from Song of Solstice (whose local release party we went to last winter). We got more Chanukah songs at this concert than any other holiday event we've been to this winter -- the Revels did "Shalom Chaverim" in Hebrew and Arabic, plus a Ladino song since the theme of their winter concerts this year is the music of Andalusia -- and performers from both groups did a Mummers Play which was as funny when people missed their cues as when they stuck to the traditional script.

We had a fairly quiet family afternoon in preparation for evening plans -- Adam had friends in and out while waiting for his childhood friend Emiliano, whose mother is a diplomat and who moved back to Venezuela several years ago, yet who is visiting relatives in the area so they all had a reunion, while Daniel decided to take my parents up on their offer of dinner for the last night of Chanukah. In the afternoon we all watched Doctor Who's "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" which I liked better than most Eleventh Doctor stories, though it figures that this set of writers concludes yet again that a woman can only be heroic if she's in a maternal-familial role (and what is with Moffat's obsession with giant dollhouses?). Spoilers: There were a couple of lines I liked -- "Oh, grow up, Lily. Fairyland looks completely different." "It's a big universe! Everything happens somewhere." -- and the references to Narnia, which it figures the Doctor would claim as his own just like everything else. But I remain utterly underwhelmed by Smith and most especially by Moffat.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Poem for Tuesday, Sherlock Holmes at Washingtonian

The Woods in Concord
By Seth Abramson

                Down by the oaks tonight
you might still find a musket boys
but stay lively
for the feral cats in the underbrush.
In the forest we carved from a still
greater forest
there was the lesser forest
we lived in.
Have you seen the boys of means
up at the old stone brook,
they will say
you feel pretty narrow
for a good boy. They will ask you
if you fall every night,
and for what. You'll hear the story
of three decades of winter
and worse luck for someone else's
daddy. They will sell what they got
for free
and give up freely
anything no one else would buy.

Down at that tumbledown a boy
might find himself
a black charger with wet haunches—
no, it's a tree. But mark it,
the older ones
whinny, playing older in a fortress
up the canopy,
if we'd wanted to whittle you into
a gun, we could have,
if we'd wanted to light you up, we
could have,
if we'd wanted to strangle you here
in a crib of black twigs and moss
in the grim dark
behind your house, we could have.


Paul has the week off, so since Daniel is home we figured we'd do a bunch of things together we often do at this time of year. The plan for today was a movie, then the winter lights at Seneca Creek State Park, but when we arrived at the park it turned out that the winter lights were closed on Monday, so we'll have to do that later in the week. We took Adam's girlfriend with us and walked around Washingtonian Lake before we went to the theater, which was sold every other movie in the multiplex seemed to be, I've never seen it so crowded. I guess everyone is sick of relatives and overeating!

We all enjoyed Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows a lot. Yes, I know it's crack and not "real" Conan Doyle, but I don't care -- I love the interplay between the characters, I appreciate this Sherlock's awareness of his limitations (I'm sick to death of Sherlock's Sherlock's arrogance) and I love that the women get so much to do (again, in contrast both to traditional interpretations and to Sherlock's contemporary setting with same old misogyny). I am assuming that reports of a certain woman's death have been greatly exaggerated, and she will be back later, or I may be quite aggravated.

Adam is sleeping at a friend's since his early childhood friend from Venezuela is visiting and they are all doing stuff together in the morning. I thought we were going to have Seneca Creek winter lights photos so I took very few elsewhere today. Here are a few of the seagulls, geese, and ducks at Washingtonian Lake, plus one of Daisy suffering woefully in the winter weather.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Poem for Monday and Christmas Sunset

Cast upon the ground
By Taeko Takaori
Translated By Yuki Sawa

Cast upon the ground
the shadow of my own self
is being walked through
while my back is carrying
the brightness of the moon.

Because the songbird
pauses while flying there is
a ceaseless swaying
of the willow's sheer branches
and a fall of loosened snow.

Now at evening
light accumulates around
a standing crane
and it is only there shining
continues without darkening.


We spent Christmas day in Hanover with my in-laws and my parents. It was a quiet day with an obscene amount of food: bagels, pastries and marzipan stollen for breakfast, then Swedish meatballs, tofurkey, potatoes, cheese, fruit, bread, and many other sides for mid-afternoon dinner, plus a dozen varieties of homemade cookies, candies and other sweets. The sunset as we drove home was spectacular.

Adam was so stuffed that he went to bed just after we got home, as soon as he'd walked the dogs. Since then, Paul, Daniel and I have been watching second season Deep Space Nine episodes -- "The Alternate," "The Maquis," "Crossover" -- all of which are so good that I want to watch the episodes I thought were not so great and see whether they hold up as well. I am not looking forward to Doctor Who's Christmas episode as much!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Poem for Christmas

Under the Snow
By Robert Collyer

It was Christmas Eve in the year fourteen,
And, as ancient dalesmen used to tell,
The wildest winter they ever had seen,
With the snow lying deep on moor and fell,

When Wagoner John got out his team,
Smiler and Whitefoot, Duke and Gray,
With the light in his eyes of a young man's dream,
As he thought of his wedding on New Year's Day

To Ruth, the maid with the bonnie brown hair,
And eyes of the deepest, sunniest blue,
Modest and winsome, and wondrous fair,
And true to her troth, for her heart was true.

"Thou 's surely not going!" shouted mine host,
"Thou 'll be lost in the drift, as sure as thou 's born;
Thy lass winnot want to wed wi' a ghost,
And that 's what thou 'll be on Christmas morn.

"It 's eleven long miles from Skipton toon
To Blueberg hooses 'e Washburn dale:
Thou had better turn back and sit thee doon,
And comfort thy heart wi' a drop o' good ale."

Turn the swallows flying south,
Turn the vines against the sun,
Herds from rivers in the drouth,
Men must dare or nothing 's done.

So what cares the lover for storm or drift,
Or peril of death on the haggard way?
He sings to himself like a lark in the lift,
And the joy in his heart turns December to May.

But the wind from the north brings a deadly chill
Creeping into his heart, and the drifts are deep,
Where the thick of the storm strikes Blueberg hill.
He is weary and falls in a pleasant sleep,

And dreams he is walking by Washburn side,
Walking with Ruth on a summer's day,
Singing that song to his bonnie bride,
His own wife now forever and aye.

Now read me this riddle, how Ruth should hear
That song of a heart in the clutch of doom
Steal on her ear, distinct and clear
As if her lover was in the room.

And read me this riddle, how Ruth should know,
As she bounds to throw open the heavy door,
That her lover was lost in the drifting snow,
Dying or dead, on the great wild moor.

"Help! help!" "Lost! lost!"
Rings through the night as she rushes away,
Stumbling, blinded and tempest-tossed,
Straight to the drift where her lover lay.

And swift they leap after her into the night,
Into the drifts by Blueberg hill,
Ridsdale and Robinson, each with a light,
To find her there holding him white and still.

"He was dead in the drift, then,"
I hear them say,
As I listen in wonder,
Forgetting to play,
Fifty years syne come Christmas Day.

"Nay, nay, they were wed!" the dalesman cried,
"By Parson Carmalt o' New Year's Day;
Bless ye! Ruth were me great-great grandsire's bride,
And Maister Frankland gave her away."

"But how did she find him under the snow?"
They cried with a laughter touched with tears.
"Nay, lads," he said softly, "we never can know --
"No, not if we live a hundred years.

"There 's a sight o' things gan
To the making o' man."
Then I rushed to my play
With a whoop and away,
Fifty years syne come Christmas Day.


Merry Christmas. We are spending it in Hanover, where we arrived in the afternoon after a very easy drive past grazing cows and geese that don't bother to migrate (the fact that it's above freezing with no hint of snow might have encouraged all the animals to enjoy the sunshine). We stopped at the Utz factory outlet on the way into town to get assorted chips and pretzels on sale for the holidays.

Paul's parents planned to go to the early evening church service, so we ate dinner early -- cheese fondue, both swiss with white wine and cheddar with Guinness, which was utterly delicious -- and watched bits of football, a good day since the Eagles were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and the Ravens finished an undefeated season at home -- they clinched a playoff spot though for a while it looked like they were going to let Cleveland come back.

After church, Clair and Cinda returned and we had chocolate fondue with cherries, strawberries, bananas, angel food cake, and donut holes and I believe some people are presently watching the Hawaii Bowl. It's more football than can hold my interest but still an improvement over endless repeats of A Christmas Story. Here are a few mostly domestic photos of my Saturday, plus the Utz store:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Poem for Saturday, 'Vortex' & Flowers

From The Tempest, Act V, Scene I
By William Shakespeare

Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.


Paul worked from home on Friday, so I had most of my family home for most of the day which was nice. We went out to do a bit of last-minute holiday shopping and managed to encounter little traffic, relatively small lines, even a parking spot with money still on the meter. The rest of my afternoon was spent writing a review of Deep Space Nine's "Vortex", which isn't bad but is actually the least interesting of the DS9 episodes I've watched in the past several days thanks to Daniel who is making me enormously happy by wanting to see the high points of the series.

Adam arrived home with his girlfriend after school, and various other friends of his stopped by to pick her up for dinner, so it was quite loud for a little while. We went to my parents for dinner and Chanukah celebrating -- chicken (well, fake chicken for me) tonight plus latkes and kugel and dessert. Then we came home and watched the DS9 season two opening trilogy -- ironically, I watched it out of order originally because I gave birth to Daniel about an hour before "The Homecoming" aired in 1993 -- and "Necessary Evil." I was not misremembering how extraordinarily good the show was. I still miss it. More photos from the Baltimore Conservatory: