This February here in Northern Virginia has conformed to its traditional designation as the month of snow. Unfortunately, if appropriately, the full February super Snow Moon on the 19th was just a lighter smudge in the snow-making clouds. On Wednesday, as predicted, the white stuff began falling steadily in the pre-dawn hours and continued throughout the day.
However, it also snowed in Charlottesville. Snowfall rarely prompts The University of Virginia to cancel classes, but it happened this week. Wild Trumpet Vine has never before featured photos of the gracious old UVA grounds covered in snow. That’s now possible thanks to my student contact. So, from my daughter, who assured me that she wouldn’t miss a moment of study time for her thermodynamics test, here are some images of the Rotunda and the Lawn.
Three days ago we had more snow in Northern Virginia. We were treated to the Bichon Frise of snowfalls: pretty, petite, very fluffy, and generally non-threatening.
It frosted tree branches and fence railings with crystals of sparkly white.
Accumulation was minimal, only about two inches, so clearing walkways was an easy task. No snow blowers required.
At my mother’s house, the fluffy white of the tree branches anticipates the cherry blossoms that should bloom in a few months.
When I walked Kiko on Tuesday evening, the snow had ceased and the temperature remained pleasantly frosty.
But the bitter cold was on its way. The polar vortex, which has relentlessly gripped the middle of the country in its icy iron fists, has extended its reach to the east coast. On Wednesday, temperatures were falling. The TV weather people talked breathlessly about the extreme “feels like” temperatures we were to expect, due to wind chill. And sure enough, the wind was soon rattling the windows of our old house and making ghost-like moans, such as can be heard in Scooby-Doo episodes. As Kiko and I walked that afternoon, the wind caught up the fine dry snow and tossed it along the road, looking like white sand whipping across a Florida Panhandle boardwalk before a thunderstorm.
Even on grassy areas, the snow looked like beach sand carved by a fierce wind.
Kiko glanced up anxiously each time a car passed, slowly negotiating the frozen surface. The sounds made by tires shattering glass-like ice chunks were improbably loud, akin to fireworks or gunshots. The sweet little Bichon that appeared on Tuesday is turning mean. Seeking revenge for being left out in the cold, maybe?
Wednesday morning, when we walked around 8 AM, the wind had died down, but the temperature was 3. Of course, that’s balmy compared to the sub-zero deep freeze that the mid-west has been experiencing. (No need here yet to set the train tracks on fire as they’ve been doing in Chicago.) I wore my dog-walking layers and several creatively tied wool scarves. (My hair actively rebels against every cold-weather hat I’ve ever tried.) Kiko’s lush, cashmere-like undercoat has grown back after his summer molt. This year my senior dog has become content with a shorter walk when the weather is less comfortable. On days like today I’m grateful that he is no longer compelled to traverse the entire neighborhood on frigid mornings. Until recently, we put in at least a couple of miles no matter what the weather. (See Baby, It’s Cold Outside! from January 7, 2014.)
This morning, a light snow is falling again. The temperature has warmed up considerably, to 17. I let Kiko persuade me to venture out of our immediate neighborhood to the stretch of old country road where we begin our usual walks with the pack in decent weather (when schools aren’t delayed or canceled, as they’ve been much of this week.) The roads didn’t look particularly threatening, and there would be less traffic with no school. But before long, I realized our error. Kiko slipped on an icy patch hidden by new snow. He recovered quickly and didn’t appear to be hurt. His preference is to walk in the street, and it’s always a struggle to keep him safely on the grassy shoulder. Today it was an absolute necessity. Several times I almost went down. Kiko knows what it means when I yell “Slow! Slow!” in my most authoritative pack leader voice. He doesn’t like it, but he understands, and he even obeys. He lives in the moment, so I kept up the commands each time we were forced to cross a street or driveway. Under great emotional duress, we made it to Kiko’s favorite nearby park and back without physical mishap. It was, to say the least, not an enjoyable outing for either of us. It’s also an understatement to say that I had dressed far too warmly.
A reminder to everyone this winter: beware the worst threat of the cold: ice lurking beneath fresh powder. The lesson of the Bichon Frise of snows is this: enjoy its congenial, lap-dog charm. Bask in its pure white fluffiness. But don’t be surprised when, a few days later, it turns nasty. It will still look beautiful and easy-going. You’ll think it’s your old familiar friend. But without warning, it may have unleashed the ice-veined coyote-hyena hybrid that dwells within.
Our first big snow of the new year arrived like a polite and thoughtful visitor: with plenty of advance notice and on a weekend, allowing time to prepare. We even managed, for the first time ever, to put two cars in the garage. Here in Northern Virginia, it was a modest, unobtrusive snowfall; the flakes were often so fine as to be barely visible. But it was persistent, steadfast. By Sunday morning, about seven inches had accumulated. That afternoon, there was a brief lull, prompting my husband to break out the snow blower too soon. Well into the evening, the flakes floated down, tiny and delicate. Our final total was ten inches. A perfect amount, it turns out, for Kiko to romp through with ease and zest.
After our cool, wet spring, the drenching, unrelenting rains of a warm fall, followed by an arctic blast and snow in early November, it was refreshingly odd to experience a taste of weather that actually suited the current season. A deep but manageable snow in mid-January! How quaint! How so last century! And how very pleasant!
It was the perfect snow. The only thing less than ideal was that our daughter, who appreciates frozen precipitation in every form, couldn’t be here to enjoy it with us. She was home for nearly a month, but the winter break had drawn to a close, too quickly. On Saturday morning, well before the first snowflake appeared, she was on her way back to Charlottesville to begin the second semester of her second year.
I’m thankful that my furry child completed his formal education years ago (a few weeks of puppy training, which had a negligible effect on his behavior) and remains home to keep me company.
The look and feel of fall has been slow to arrive in Northern Virginia this year. The brilliant hues of autumn, in skies and foliage, have been largely absent. Thanks to persistent and soaking rains, the landscape is washed in the dullest of grays and browns, like those of an old trench coat. Like the one that hangs in my closet, ugly but utilitarian. And during these frequent fall downpours, too often worn. It’s only within the last week or so, now that many trees have lost their leaves, that others are finally beginning to show some color.
When the sun does emerge from the clouds and lend its brightness for a while, we’re not accustomed. Above, Kiko appears bewildered by the glowing golden vision ahead. Below, a few images of fall’s all too rare and fleeting glory.
Yesterday Kiko enjoyed the unusual luxury of morning sunshine on my mother’s deck. Today the rain is back, and a winter-worthy chill is headed our way for the weekend. Gather ye sunbeams while ye may. And hold on to that old coat, or pass it along to someone who needs it more than you.
Things have a way of working out swimmingly for our skeleton friend Slim, especially on Halloween. Merrily and swiftly, he piloted his pack to Charlottesville without incident, arriving at UVA with plenty of time for trick-or-treating on the Lawn. In a costume-wearing crowd, the unadorned authenticity of the group stood out. Slim was greeted as a celebrity (as he typically is, wherever he goes). Our daughter, who was there with friends, soon spotted her old buddy, the center of attention in a multitude of admirers.
D was dressed as Barf the Dog from the movie Spaceballs. She wore my 1980s Banana Republic khaki jumpsuit, furry ears and the appropriate make-up. Slim approved, as he’s an avid Mel Brooks fan, and the pack welcomed her as one of their own.
Kiko rapidly got his fill of the festivities and the press of the throng. He retreated to the shelter of a stately column and resumed his nap. And as for costumes, he says no. Since submitting reluctantly to an ill-fitting red fleece vest (made by my mother without access to any actual measurements) for his first Christmas card photo, he wears only his own fur. Should he encounter a costume-wearing canine, more than a trace of condescension is evident as he sniffs a greeting.
Slim, ever the people person, could have mixed and mingled until the wee hours, but he honors his commitments. Just as his faithful lead dog, Fluffy, was about to point out the time, Slim began to say his goodbyes. The Crew was needed back in Northern Virginia. They would not disappoint. I’ve learned not to doubt my friend’s word. His integrity is beyond reproach. Plus, he seems to be able to bend time according to his whim. Just as I was putting the tea lights in our jack-o-lantern votives, the car zipped up the driveway.
The gang hopped out and assumed their places. They’re good at freezing in position, so as not to frighten the unsuspecting. Kiko looked out the storm door to assess the situation, sighed and retired to the sofa. The night was only just beginning for Slim and the Crew. But Kiko can only take so much Halloween.
Halloween season is in full swing, as is our Skeleton Crew of merry mirth-makers. In early October, Slim and the pups emerged from eleven months of quiet repose and restorative rumination in the shadowy comfort of my mother’s basement.
For the past few weeks, they’ve enjoyed roaming from our house to hers, snacking, lounging, soaking up sunshine as well as rain. They savor weather in all its forms. Slim, widely renowned as a scintillating conversationalist and acute observer of the human condition, has considerable wisdom to impart.
With the tiniest bit of coaxing (or sometimes none at all), he delves into his endless cache of beguiling tales and truly ripping yarns. As my father would say, that skinny guy “really can talk.”
When the month is winding down, the gang is gearing up. They’re more than ready to let loose their insouciant charm and plunge full-throttle into fall festivity. High-jinks ensue.
While Kiko enjoys smallish doses of the company of his furless friends, their boundless enthusiasm tends to grate on his nerves. In the very top photo, he has sought out an isolated patch of sun by the garage. Before long, though, the pack is upon him again.
These puppies will never grow up, he sighs. How tedious it is to be the object of so much unbridled adoration. What’s a senior dog to do?
Perhaps with an absence of encouragement, they’ll lose interest.
And then Slim suggests a spin in his favorite vehicle. Top down, of course. Gotta feel the cool autumn breeze in one’s silky locks. With a knowing look he turns to Kiko and asks: Why not head down to Charlottesville and check in with your sister, old man? We’ll be back before the trick-or-treaters arrive.
The college kids love Slim. Plus, he’s an architecture buff. And a tad vain. The Lawn and Rotunda, dressed in fall foliage, will serve as a striking backdrop for photographing his good looks. Also, he and Mr. Jefferson were kids together, back in the day.
Kiko needs no further nudging. He’s stirring and stretching, preparing for a full-body shake. He remembers why he loves this garrulous guy after all, and why it bodes well to tolerate his pack of yippy beasts. Halloween joyride!
At last, the top dog can finally get some serious shuteye.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
For previous Skeleton Crew posts from years past, see here.
It’s been nine years since we transformed our concrete dessert of a back yard into a place where roses grow. Every May, the vines burst forth in riotous profusion. This spring’s long cold spell delayed peak bloom for about two weeks, but once the buds began opening, the flowers were as spectacular as ever. The pale pink climbing roses on our garage trellis are subtle in color but especially flamboyant in abundance. After their fabulous spring fiesta, they continue to bloom, but only sparingly, throughout the summer and into the chilly days of fall. Even early December sees a few persistent blossoms.
The red double knock-outs along the fence stage their main event in May, as well. They bloom throughout the summer and fall, with greater frequency than the climbers.
Kiko’s good looks merit a handsome backdrop, but he cares little about the appearance of his surroundings. This is, of course, one reason dogs are so well-loved by their people. A dog is happy to be his human’s sweet prince, whether in a shack or a mansion.
The battered appearance of our old garage doors didn’t hurt Kiko’s self-image.
He could sit, proud and regal, on our old porch, even during the squalor of demolition.
But he hated the constant presence of a tether. No matter how long, it typically stopped short of where he wanted to be. We revamped our porch and back yard not only to add some beauty to our little corner of the world, but also to give our beloved animal a space in which he could roam freely. Our bounty of roses means even more to me because it represents the process that brought Kiko a greater measure of liberty. My pursuit of happiness is tethered to his. Everyone who shares a life and home with a dog recognizes this truth.
May the roses keep blooming. May my little dog continue to ramble from sun to shade, from squirrel to fox watching, in his pleasant domain.
The snow arrived, just as predicted. Heavy, wet, and deep, it was our biggest snowfall so far this year. It was indeed beautiful, but on this first full day of spring, its charm was diminished. When the party is long over and the hosts are cleaning up, the appearance of a bold new guest tends to be less appreciated. Where were you, Big Snow, in January or February?
On today’s sunny afternoon walk, the colors were dazzling. Seemed like we could feel it in the air: fall’s final, fleeting burst of intensity. I thought of a light bulb that glows suddenly brighter before it sputters out. It won’t be long before icy winds whip these last flamboyantly hued leaves from the trees. As November yields to December, nature’s grays and browns are mustering forces.
We’ll counter by filling our homes with twinkling lights and sparkly stuff, with evergreens and berries. The Holiday Season will be upon us, ready or not.
Throughout the DC area, the blooming of the cherry trees in our nation’s capital is a much-discussed topic beginning in late February or so. Will the bloom coincide with the actual Cherry Blossom Festival? Usually not, but there is always hope. Over 3,000 trees, a gift from Tokyo during the Taft administration in 1912, border the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial. At their fleeting, elusive peak, they are a truly remarkable sight.
It’s a sight I can’t recall seeing at close range during the nearly seventeen years we’ve lived in Northern Virginia. My husband says we were there once pushing our new baby in a stroller, but I have no recollection of the visit and no photos to prove it. Our daughter certainly has no memory of it. Once, on our way to Atlanta for Easter, she and I saw the pink fluffy trees as our plane followed the line of the Potomac on takeoff. In the spring of 2008 we were at the Tidal Basin, with our daughter and puppy, about ten days too late, as the photo below shows. This past weekend, the trees were at peak bloom. After a winter that threatened never to end, the weather was almost unbelievably perfect. Sunny, warm, slightly breezy. Not hot. The ideal time to go blossom watching. Ideal, at least, in a less populated world. When I suggested a jaunt into DC, our daughter was enthusiastic. But my husband groaned as though he were suffering grievous injury. He had taxes to finish, yard work to do, work emails to face. Traffic would be beyond horrendous. And it was our first chance all year to relax in the comfort of our back terrace.
I didn’t press the matter. I agreed with his traffic prediction. We live eighteen miles from DC. Once, when we drove in during the early hours of Thanksgiving morning, it took us a mere twenty minutes. More typically, it means creeping along for an hour or more on I-66 or the George Washington Parkway. The Metro should be the obvious choice, but parking at the station, especially during cherry blossom season, is problematic at best. Better to stay home.
Around mid-morning we were all in the car, about to run some necessary errands, when H suggested a sudden change in plans: he could drop D and me off on the Arlington side of the river. Maybe he’d been thinking about what a wonderful, understanding wife I am and how I didn’t protest when he flew off to Aruba over Valentine’s Day. “I know what the trees look like,” he said, “but since you two like to look at pretty stuff, I’ll drive you. We’ve gotta go right now, though, because the traffic will be really bad this afternoon.”
My daughter and I didn’t need further persuasion. I dashed back inside to get Kiko. Walking through a beautiful landscape is not quite complete for me without my little dog. (H and D, however, disagree. They have a lower tolerance for Kiko’s habit of constantly pausing to smell every twig and blade of grass.) Kiko had just settled down to nap. He was lying on the playroom floor looking pathetic, his front paws tucked up under him, like this.
The dog appeared stunned when I popped back so quickly and asked his favorite question, Wanna take a ride? It took him a moment, but he roused himself and stretched. Oh yes, he’d gladly take a ride.
My husband dropped us off just before the Arlington Memorial Bridge. He headed to Crystal City where he could take care of errands and avoid the crowds of cars and pedestrians.
And then, there they were, those justifiably famous cherry trees. They resemble puffs of pale pink cotton candy sprinkled among the white marble monuments. Or paper trees in the magic crystal kit my daughter discovered in her Easter basket one year. Almost too pretty to be real, especially when set against a baby blue sky and reflected in the water. Worth enduring the slow-moving throngs. Perhaps even more often than every seventeen years.
A blog about motherhood, marriage and life: the joys and frustrations, beauty and absurdity, blessings and pain. It's about looking back, looking ahead, and walking the dog.