Category Archives: Community

Back on the Cape, One Constant in an Ever-Shifting View

Last summer, the pandemic interfered with our annual trip to Cape Cod.  For the first time in twenty years, our family failed to spend part of August at the modest little cottage complex in Truro that we love so well. My husband began going there with his parents and siblings when he was a little boy.  Our journey to the Cape is not just a vacation; it’s more like a pilgrimage.  That narrow ribbon of land, curved like a hook into the bay, is, to us, if not quite the promised land, then something quite close to it.  Certainly it’s a second home.  We have no financial claim to any bit of real estate there, but we’re loyal renters.  More importantly, as pilgrimage sites do, the place has claimed us as its own. 

When we return, we go back to the same waterfront cottage, at the same time every year. We reconnect with many of the same families. We look out to a vast expanse of sand that leads to Cape Cod Bay, framed on each side by islands of sea grass and wild roses. The spare, simple skyline of Provincetown, about a mile away, appears to float atop the water. Its most distinctive feature, appropriately, is the tall, granite bell tower that commemorates the arrival of the original Pilgrims to the area, in 1620. Five weeks before landing at Plymouth, the Mayflower docked at what is now Provincetown Harbor. Due to rough weather, the ship had missed its mark in Northern Virginia. Anchored far north in Massachusetts, where the contract the Pilgrims had signed with the Virginia Company was deemed void, the group determined “to covenant and combine . . .together into a civil body politic,” to maintain order and the common good. So it was in Provincetown that the Mayflower Compact, an early and largely successful attempt at democracy, was written and signed. The Pilgrim Monument, now the symbol of the town’s warm, accepting and all-inclusive spirit, reminds us that great things are possible when we work together. For residents and returning pilgrims like our family, it’s a welcoming beacon. I love it that the tower is the anchoring feature in the ever-changing view from our little cottage.

The Pilgrim Monument was completed in 1910. Its design was based on the civic symbol of Siena, the 14h century Torre del Mangia in the Piazzo del Campo, the town’s main square. Other features of Provincetown’s narrow silhouette are two water towers, several church steeples, and the Town Hall tower.

Our view toward the bay varies minute by minute with the shifting of the light, the play of the clouds and the passage of the hours.  The ethereal, transformative quality of Cape light has long made this area a favorite destination for artists. Above, around noontime, the sun glints off sparkling blue water, and a line of clouds hugs the horizon, in an otherwise clear sky.   

On partially overcast afternoons, the water tends to turn silvery, like a sea of mercury. It’s often on days like this that the wind picks up, and my husband, and also now our daughter, may be out windsurfing.

One evening toward sunset, a sky resembling orange sherbet settled above the town’s dark silhouette and a bay of molten lead.

The color of the sand is changeable, as well. In early mornings and late afternoons, it may take on a peachy pink cast, as in the photos above and below. The dark patches of seaweed that litter the beach no doubt seem unsightly to some. But we’ve grown so used to it that it’s no longer remarkable. It’s just more evidence of the abundant life that thrives in and around the bay.

Windsurfing boards await my husband and daughter.

Occasionally, as a storm or dense fog moves in, all the towers of Provincetown are rendered completely invisible. 

To me, the loveliest time of the day is just before sunset, when the shadows in the sand turn a magical, brilliant blue.

Sunset itself, on every clear day, is an event that brings our small, enduring community outside in admiration and awe. The sky often glows with streaks of increasingly fiery red, orange and yellow. And then, as the brilliant colors gradually dissipate, and Cape light fades into Cape night, the Pilgrim Monument is illuminated. Its white granite glows clean and bright against the dark sky. The tower is typically the last thing I see before I close my eyes at night. How comforting to know it is there, a reassuring beacon at all hours, in all weathers and seasons.

Still Here

September is here, and another summer has passed in a blur.  The view out every window in our house today is likewise blurry.  The panes are wet and foggy in the aftermath of last night’s ferocious storm.  As the remnants of Hurricane Ida passed through our area, I held my frightened dog as close as I could.  For the first time in all his fourteen years, Kiko put his head right beside mine on my pillow.  When he was younger, I might have said absolutely not: that’s too much doggie closeness.  But last night, his little body, which trembled violently with every pulse of lightning, felt thin, fragile, and frail.  My elastic, invincible puppy had long ago morphed into a senior dog.  Very recently, he’s become an old man, often stiff, uncertain and hesitant.  And in that middle-of-the-night angst that seizes me occasionally, my dog wasn’t the only one needing comfort.  The strobe-effect lightning, the crashing thunder and the pounding rain seemed like a frenetic, wailing choral expression of world-wide pain. 

There is more than enough grief and suffering to go around, these days.   We’re eighteen months into a pandemic that continues to wreak havoc when it should be winding down.  Every snippet of news, every glimpse of a headline, attests to some novel catastrophe of global proportions.  Raging wildfires.  Sudden, unpredictable floods.  Another day, another mass shooting.  Young lives tragically lost in the very last gasp of our twenty-year conflict in Afghanistan, and so many lives in peril now because the war is over.  Everywhere, peace is more elusive and unlikely than ever.  If Edvard Munch were alive today, his most well-known work, The Scream, might be a long series of paintings.  All of these sad and frustrating thoughts swirled in my head as I cuddled my dog during the storm.    

With the morning light, dully yellow-gray as it was, the world never seems quite so hopeless.  My dog is still old, but he’s no longer shaking with fear.  Surviving a storm typically reinvigorates him temporarily.  The news is still mostly bad, of course.  And there is this significant transition to reckon with: our daughter has moved to Maryland and started her job. The summer flew by in a blur because there was so much to do as we anticipated and prepared for this major change.  We were busy.  And now that long-awaited change is here.  The new life phase that our daughter begins is brimming with purpose and meaning: a new address, the start of a career, a time to chart her own unique course, one no longer set by her parents.  And what of us, her mother and father, now true empty-nesters?  We’re elated for our daughter.  And anxious, as well.  We’ll be cheerleaders for her, certainly.  But what will we make of our new life phase?  Will we find ways to fill it with purpose and meaning?  That will be our challenge in the coming days.  That, and dealing with our elderly dog.    

Oh What a Beautiful Morning!

On the 5th of July, had my dog not needed walking, I might have missed the spectacular beauty of the morning.  There are days now when Kiko sleeps in, curled contentedly in his fluffy bed, oblivious to the sunlight flooding in around him.  But on Monday, he was up early and ready to step out.  Maybe he was feeling cocky after having finally realized that the terrible Fireworks Monster is not a big deal.  This year, he wasn’t traumatized as in the past by the crackles and booms of our neighborhood celebration. Gradual hearing loss may have its good points.  The noises seemed to make him marginally uneasy, but not nervous enough to pace the house in a restless search for consolation that is perpetually out of reach.  Instead, he remained settled in his bed even after the fireworks began to pop.  He seemed sufficiently relaxed so that I decided to join my family and friends for the show for the first time in years, instead of cocooning myself with my quaking dog in a curtained room with heavy blankets and a loud TV.  On our return, Kiko greeted us with what I interpreted as an air of studied nonchalance.  “I’m cool,” he seemed to say.  “But no thanks to you.  I know you left me alone.”      

For whatever reason, Kiko was up early the following day, with a particular pep in his step, and so I was up and out, also, in time to witness the sparkling glory of the post-Independence Day morning.  A golden haze suffused the air, and the sun’s rays were clearly visible, as in a child’s drawing.  Kiko found it annoying that I kept stopping to take photos, which can’t quite capture the radiance of the morning.  As we walked down our neighbor’s front walk after bringing the Washington Post to her door, the glowing light streaming through the trees resembled an image of the entrance to heaven.  In the unusually peaceful quiet of the holiday morning (no rushing traffic, no typical suburban summer sounds of lawn mowing, tree cutting, leaf blowing and power washing) it could be appreciated without distraction.

Kiko’s interest, as always, lay in scents instead of sights.  The fascinating smorgasbord of smells kept him briskly on the move as he led the way, with purpose, toward his favorite little park.  By that time, the shimmering mist was dissipating, but there among the woods, it lingered still.   

Kiko maintained a quick pace on our return.  My elderly, slowly meandering dog was temporarily replaced by his former puppy self.  When we reached the home stretch, he began to run.  My knees resisted, but I did my best to keep up. 

Once home, Kiko was soon cozily snuggled in his bed.  The dog who emerges revived and invigorated after a long night of fireworks certainly deserves his rest. 

Let Us Long Remember. . .

On this 4th of July, 2021, and every day, Abraham Lincoln’s words spoken at the dedication of the Gettysburg Battlefield in November of 1863 are well worth recalling.  May we honor these words, just as we honor those who gave their lives to defend the principles upon which our nation was founded.  May we continue to defend these principles, by accepting and learning from the truth, even when it is painful.   

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate–we can not consecrate–we can not hallow–this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. ” 

 

Let us remember that as Americans, true patriotic duty is expressed not by proclaiming our country to be flawless, but instead to work together, despite our differences, toward a more perfect Union. 

Happy 4th of July!

For Brood X, Mission Accomplished

The cicadas of Brood X have fulfilled their mission.  They’ve done their part to further the species.  The seventeen-year cycle has begun again, and the proof is all around us.  It’s in the hanging patches of brown leaves appearing at the ends of tree branches, every day, in greater numbers.  The oaks seem to be especially popular as Brood X egg incubators. 

The reproductive success of Brood X is evident in the clumps of silver maple leaves that dot our front yard. 

A close look at the fallen branches reveals a series of incisions in the young bark.  These were made by the female cicada as she deposited her eggs, using a swordlike abdominal appendage called an ovipositor. While it’s often noted that cicadas do not harm humans or animals, this evidently depends on the mama-to-be not mistaking a living creature for a tree.  If I’m still around in the summer of 2038, I hope I remember not to sit or stand perfectly still outside for an extended period.  One female may lay as many as five hundred eggs, in batches of five to twenty, among several trees.  When the eggs hatch about six weeks later, tiny nymphs emerge, fall to the ground and begin tunneling into the soil, launching the next seventeen-year subterranean phase.  

Brood X has gone silent and still, but their physical presence will be with us for some time.  Cicada bodies, often perfectly intact, are strewn along the ground and nestled into foliage.  The cicada above, though deceased, appears to be napping comfortably on its back in a pleasant rhododendron hammock.  The insects’ wings and body parts, frequently snapped off cleanly like 3-D puzzle pieces, are all around.   The discarded exoskeletons will remain for quite a while, as well. 

I’m glad that Kiko got to experience the cicadas of Brood X.  They gave our old boy the rare opportunity, in his own little mind, at least, for successful hunting.  Many of his fellow canine colleagues immediately recognized the big insects as tasty treats and gobbled them up as soon as they began appearing.  My dog, dainty and fastidious in eating as in every activity, took his time to warm up to the idea of snacking on Brood Xers.  The mob was on the wane before he developed a taste for their flavor.  We would watch as he slowly approached a cicada, stared intently at it for a while, before moving in quickly and decisively to devour it.  As far as we could tell, he never ate a live cicada, but he clearly thought he was participating in the thrill of the chase.  My daughter noticed that he seemed to relish rooting around for them in the grass like a truffle pig.  A cicada wing dangles from his mouth in the photos above and below. 

The cicadas of Brood X have accomplished their goal.  While tangible evidence of their brief existence will fade, their legacy endures.  Soon, their progeny will be underfoot everywhere in our northern Virginia neighborhood, invisible in the above-ground world, but nevertheless thriving as intended.  We can read countless philosophical insights into the brief appearance and long apparent absence of these periodical cicadas.  I can imagine the question appearing on SAT and ACT essay prompts.  One lesson from Brood X that strikes home with me is this: what we see in everyday life is only a small slice of that which is real.  And, even more importantly, a shift in perspective may render the unseen visible.  As I age, I’m becoming increasingly aware that some things are not what they seem, or at least not the way I’ve previously understood them to be.  I’m learning that, to see more clearly and understand more comprehensively,  a new and occasionally uncomfortable viewpoint is sometimes necessary.

Brood X also reminds me that the imprint we humans leave on our world and on those around us, for good or bad, may not be immediately apparent.  The fruit of the cicada’s short life is long delayed.  But with the fullness of time, its effect is significant.  And while human actions and  words may not produce instantaneous and seismic changes,  they will indeed have consequences.  May we work for good even when we cannot expect to see the products of our labor.  May we strive to build bridges with the blocks at hand. And may better building blocks and methods be developed in the future, by our children and our children’s children, if we consciously choose to guide them in that direction.  Our days of toiling, buzzing and flying, like the cicada’s, are relatively brief.  May we use them well.    

Father’s Day 2021

My father and I at my grandparents’ home in Lebanon, KY, ca. 1965.

Hats off to all the men who make the little people in their lives feel welcome, loved and safe, the way I felt in my dear daddy’s arms.  Cheers to the good guys who have the strength and courage to be kind, nurturing, supportive, and occasionally vulnerable.  May the blessings you provide be returned to you with interest.  Happy Father’s Day, fathers and fatherly men! 

On The Road Again, and Back into the World

We did something highly unusual recently. Something we hadn’t done for close to two years. We packed the car and drove across several state lines to visit relatives for the long Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to the Covid vaccines, we could do so without fearing dire consequences. We had taken another major step the week before, when we attended our daughter’s graduation from the University of Virginia. We were there, in person, on-site! And when D returned home a few days later, we didn’t require her to go into a period of quarantine in our home office. We’re gradually easing back into something akin to pre-Covid “normal.”

My husband’s intentions to visit his parents more regularly had been foiled by the pandemic. He and my daughter had also been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to get some ice time with our young hockey-playing nephews. So H’s hometown of Rochester, New York was our first out-of-state family destination. At Bill Gray’s Iceplex in Brighton, H and D matched skills with the boys for an hour of non-stop action. My sister-in-law and I, in our figure skates, passed the occasional errant puck around and served as videographers.

The Eerie canal village of Spencerport, where H’s sister and her family live, was as charming as I remembered it from our last visit over the Memorial weekend in 2019. The lift bridge, which raises to allow the passage of larger boats, had been freshly painted. Bright flowering baskets hung from shop windows. Our nephews have become enthusiastic fishermen during the pandemic. They breathlessly described to us the many fish that inhabit the canal. On a cold Saturday morning, undeterred by the icy wind blowing over the water, they proceeded to catch a wide range of examples. “A pumpkinseed? Really? That’s a fish?,” I asked the boys, thinking I’d heard wrong. Yes, indeed. A small and colorful speckled sunfish. Kids are such fountains of knowledge.

As much as my husband enjoys speeding across the ice in pursuit of a hockey puck, I like a brisk stroll through picturesque neighborhoods. I had been looking forward to walking again along Spencerport’s tree-shaded streets lined with beautifully tended old homes and historic churches. I kept falling behind my daughter and sister-in-law as I paused to take photos. So many captivating architectural details, so little time.

Spencerport’s First Congregational Church
Spencerport’s United Methodist Church

The lamp posts on the main streets of the village were again decorated with flags and Hometown Heroes banners. Photos of our military men and women currently serving in various branches of the armed forces gazed down on us. Although the images were different, the group was just as youthful-looking as those of a previous year. Some were smiling. Others had adopted more serious expressions. All, I expect, must have been feeling a sharp mixture of anxiety and optimism during those photo sessions.

Their faces look down on the quiet, peaceful streets of home. Yet the real young men and women are far away, in places where turmoil reigns and peace is elusive. Every time I think of pretty little Spencerport, with its inviting sense of homeyness, I think of these hometown heroes. I pray that they return whole and healthy to their families.

I pray also that we civilians do our part to earn that name. May we not forsake our civic duty. May we pursue truth and learn from it, especially when it is painful. Especially when it reveals shortcomings that need to be addressed. May we actively work toward justice and peace for all people. May our country, our democracy, remain worthy of our pride and of the service and sacrifice of our military men and women.

Fairfield Cemetery, Spencerport

Memorial Day 2021

Fairfield Cemetery, Spencerport, NY, May 29, 2021

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!

America! America!

May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness,

and every gain divine.

America! America!

God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self control,

thy liberty in law!

–America the Beautiful

words by Katharine Lee Bates, 1904

music by Samuel A. Ward, 1888

Wishing you and your family a peaceful, beautiful Memorial Day. May you have the freedom to gather with those you love. And may we honor and remember all those who gave their service and their lives for our ability to do so.

Looking at Brood X, Seeing Ourselves

Temperatures are climbing into the 90s here in the DC suburbs , and the cicadas are getting the message:  it’s time. The pace of their emergence is accelerating.  Each morning brings a bigger crowd of Brood Xers in various stages of their short above-ground lives. Yesterday, for the first time, we noticed that their characteristic buzzing could be heard in our neighborhood.  At first, it might be mistaken for the roar of highway traffic a few miles away, or heavy machinery droning in the distance.  Today it’s much louder.  Our daughter could hear the sound over the phone as I stood on the porch talking with her.  We were discussing the logistics of our attending her graduation ceremony tomorrow in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia.  The last appearance of Brood X coincided with her Kindergarten orientation.  Taking stock of one’s life in seventeen-year spans is a daunting exercise, one I may attempt in a future post. 

As our yard fills up with more cicadas, I notice that they seem smaller and more delicate than I remember.  Was it just because in our daughter’s little five-year old hands, the insects looked larger in 2004?  I don’t think so, because I saw them in my full-grown hands, then and now.  Is it that our our memories naturally tend toward exaggeration and hyperbole?  I don’t know.  I only know that I was expecting bulkier, more substantial creatures.  Those I’m seeing now seem almost dainty. 

Today in 2021, I’m struck by their vulnerability.   Maybe I feel this way simply because I’m older.  Or because the covid pandemic has kept reminding me, and all of us, for over a year, of life’s fragility.  I certainly don’t remember encountering so many struggling cicadas.  Repeatedly, I come across those having difficulty emerging from their shells.  They appear to be stuck, not quite in and not quite out.  Did the long spell of cooler-than-usual weather adversely affect their ability to molt?  Others have successfully exited their exoskeletons, but they’re physically challenged in various ways.  A wing is twisted, folded, malformed or too small.  I found one that appeared to be miniature in all aspects except for its head and eyes.  What a cutie it was, with a short body and tiny wings that looked to be edged with frills and coated in golden dust.  And all around, I see cicadas that appear to be perfectly formed, yet having considerable difficulty adjusting to the new life phase.  With every glance at our front porch, I see one or more flipped on its back, legs moving frantically in the air.  I see some that have lost half their body to a predator, yet continue, doggedly, to crawl.  Our lawn teems with nymphs and the newly molted attempting to maneuver through a hostile terrain of grass blades. I avoid walking through the yard, even though I want to check out the cicada action around our silver maples.  My husband debates how best to time his mowing of the lawn.  When will the  massacre it entails be less pronounced?    

A cicada with abbreviated body and wings.

I’m hoping that once the Brood X onslaught is in full force, there will be so many cicadas around that those facing hardship will be less evident.  With temperatures expected in the high 80s over the next week or so, we should soon be entering peak emergence.  Until then, though, I’ll continue to commiserate with all the struggling cicadas I see.  I will attempt to rescue some, just as I occasionally move a worm from the middle of the street.  It’s not that I place such an extraordinarily high value on the lives of these insects.  It’s not that I deem them more important than people.  Quite the opposite.  It’s that, in their struggles and frailties, I see those of humankind. In their vulnerability, as well as in their persistence, I see the human condition.  

This afternoon, on a very slow, hot walk with Kiko, I came across a cicada in the road. It looked healthy. I picked it up, and it buzzed vigorously in my hand. I took the perky little guy to a nearby tree, where he left my finger easily and began walking up the trunk with confidence. I saw, or imagined, a peppy spring in his step. This one would seize his hard-won day in the sun. I returned home feeling optimistic, for Brood X as well as for my human brothers and sisters.

And They Emerge! Brood X Sightings Begin

They’ve been underfoot outdoors, all around us here in Northern Virginia, for seventeen years, leisurely sipping the sap from grass and tree roots. Most of that time, they’re in cozy tunnels eight to twelve inches below ground. About a month ago, they moved up closer to the surface, where they wait until the ground temperature feels right. I saw my first representatives of Brood X yesterday morning on my neighbor’s front steps. I spotted several more on our iron fence this afternoon. Today, there will likely be more. I know from past experience that our immediate area will soon be rich, almost beyond imagination, in cicadas.

In the next several weeks, it will become close to impossible to avoid the orange-veined brothers and sisters of Brood X. They’ll be everywhere, looking out onto this bright new world with their bulging red eyes. They’ll be moving slowly, if at all. Their large wings don’t seem to be quite big enough for their lumbering bodies, and their flight is awkward and haphazard. They apparently don’t spend enough time in a winged state to master the art of flying. I’m reminded of a new driver making a first clumsy attempt to drive a car with standard transmission.

Look down in non-grassy areas and you may see the perfectly round, dime-sized holes the cicadas leave when they emerge from their subterranean long-term leases.

You may see some cicada “chimneys,” as well.  These are the domed cylindrical mud towers the insects build atop their holes as protection during wet weather. 

Near dusk, you may see milky white, ghostly cicadas crawling across the ground.  These are the newly emergent nymphs, with as-yet undeveloped wings.

The nymphs find a perch on which to anchor themselves as they gradually shed their exoskeletons. These copper-colored shells will soon be omnipresent on tree trunks and branches. And then they’ll start to pile up around the bases of trees.

For a while, still, we can enjoy our friends from Brood X a few at a time, when they are at their endearing best. Appreciate this early stage. It won’t last long.