Meanwhile, Back at the Ballpark

Max No Hitter #2

Max Scherzer Bobble Head celebrating last year’s No-Hitter #2

With travel and vacation, it has been a month since I was at Nationals Park for a baseball game.  Last night I made it back and realized how much I’d missed.

When I left, the Nationals were pulling away to about an 8-game lead in the division over the Marlins and Mets.  Last evening, the Nats went into the opener of a series against the Colorado Rockies leading the Marlins by 8 games and the Mets by 10.  Even though they didn’t play outstanding ball in August, they played well enough to keep the margin in the division race.

But when we left in early August, Anthony Rendon was just showing signs of coming out of a year-long slump and Bryce was still scuffling, with no real sign of playing like BRYCE!  And there was this youngster – Trea Turner – who was not playing everyday, but who was taking advantage of what playing time he got to make an impact.

Well, four weeks is a long time to take your eye off the game, but it was nice to see where the Nats were when I returned.  Let’s begin with Rendon.  He will hit if he is healthy, but the first half of the year it was clear he wasn’t in top-notch health, and his offensive stats reflected the problems.  But since the All-Star break, he has played like the old “Tony.”  Since game 82, his stats are .312 / .386 / .584.  (Batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage)  In honor of Rendon’s resurgence, I wore his #6 t-shirt last evening.  Those quick hands are back and it is fun to see.

What’s up with Bryce?  Well, since returning from a stiff neck 13 games ago, Bryce is on fire.  He is hitting .400, has driven in 15 runs (more than one per game), and last evening had the longest drive for the Nats, although it hit the top of the fence at the 402′ sign and Bryce wound up with a triple.

Trea Turner – who still looks like he is 12-years old – has been the other revelation.  When I was last in the park, he stole home in one of the most exciting plays of the year.  He is now an every day player – and as of his first bat on Saturday afternoon’s game, he had 13 hits in his last 16 at bats.  Friday night he had two singles that never left the infield (Jeez, is he fast) and he induced two Rockies’ errors. He has changed the Nats offense and made it significantly better.

Max and the Bobble Heads

Max joins the Nats Bobble Head collection at home (NOTE: Presidents are at the office!)

On Friday evening – when fans received the Max Scherzer bobble head celebrating his second no-hitter in 2015 – we saw Gio Gonzalez win his 100th game, Daniel Murphy hit a solo home run and gather his 500th career RBI, and red-hot Jayson Werth homer and double. This remains a fun ball-club to watch.

CCB and a Half Smoke

Candice with her “Half Smoke All the Way” at Nats Park – now THAT’s eating!

And we had our own bit of history…Candice had her very first “half smoke all the way” from Ben’s Chili Bowl. A long-time friend and retired colleague of mine decided that he would rather work at the ballpark than sit at home retired, so I try to stop by and see Louis when I get by the park.  He fixed up Candice’s half smoke with a little special TLC, and when Andrew texted to ask how she liked it, she replied, “It was great – ate every bite!”

Chatting with friends. Chowing down a half smoke with a beer.  Balls smashed around the ballpark by a revitalized offense.  Players running wild on the bases. Keeping score (for another win…I think we’ve banished the jinx that old scorebook once held).  Ah, the rhythms of the ballpark.  You just can’t beat it.

Go Nats!

More to come…


Adventures in Moving

Andrew moving

Andrew surveys the progress in our “Adventure in Moving”

My father, after helping with at least the fifth move of one of his children to some new town and new apartment through the wonders of U-Haul, declared that he had “enjoyed his last Adventure in Moving.”

U-Haul no longer uses that phrase for their tagline, but after driving two full days from Tennessee to Washington with a van of family furniture, I am channeling my dad.  No more adventures in moving for me!

Andrew and I flew to Nashville on Monday, where my sister Debbie met us at the airport and deposited us at the U-Haul office to pick up our van.  Then my niece’s husband Jason and their daughter Kate joined us to help load the van.  They were a godsend (not to mention Andrew’s many contributions over the three days), and we quickly had all the pieces of my dad’s home that were moving to Maryland strapped in and ready to go.

Uncle Dave Wagner

Uncle Dave Wagner

We already have a family bedroom suite from the Bearden side of our family (my grandmother’s family), but after my father passed away we inherited furniture from Uncle David Jefferson Wagner.  You may recognize the first two names.   Uncle Dave was like a grandfather to my dad, and I was named for him (along with my mother’s father – Thomas Jefferson Roberts).

Dick Poynor Chair

19th century chair made by Williamson County African-American craftsman Dick Poynor (in its new home next to a church pew from First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro)

We were also thrilled to pick up two chairs made by African-American craftsmen in Franklin, Tennessee in the mid-nineteenth century.  My father worked with Williamson County historian Rick Warwick to confirm that one of the chairs was made by Richard “Dick” Poynor (1802-1882) while the other was an all-hickory Patton chair (another Williamson County enslaved craftsman).  Warwick’s 2005 book on the region’s material culture – Williamson County: More Than a Good Place to Live – describes Poynor’s life and work as follows:

“Richard “Dick” Poynor was born a slave in Halifax County, Virginia, on June 22, 1802….The Poyners were well-established as craftsmen in the community as Robert Poynor’s estate inventory of 1848 included ‘mechanics tools, some shoemaker’s tools, some blacksmithing tools and some chairmaking tools.’  It is assumed that Robert taught his slave, Dick, the art and mystery of chairmaking….Sometime between 1850 and 1860, Dick obtained his freedom and, if tradition is correct, purchased the freedom of his second wife, Millie….By 1851, Dick had moved from the Robert Poynor farm near Brentwood and was working at his horse-powered chair-factory and hillside farm off Pinewood Road in western Williamson County, 12 miles from Franklin.”

With the help of his son, Poynor produced hundreds of chairs in his factory.  The “classic signature of a Poynor chair is found in the graceful arching mule-eared post secured with a wooden peg in the top slat.”  My father had written a small note to go along with the history of the chairs that implored us to “keep them in the family.”  Candice and I are thrilled to have both of these chairs.

Early on Tuesday, Andrew and I set out for the 13 hour drive home.  One of the flukes of geography in Tennessee is that between Gordonsville and Cookeville, one drives over the Caney Fork River five times along I-40 in about a ten-mile stretch.  On Tuesday, that whole stretch was covered in fog.  Then I had to adjust to being passed by 18-wheelers…and having the winds whip our van.  The 4% grade coming down the Cumberland Plateau is especially interesting in a truck, and Knoxville traffic is always challenging – no matter the vehicle.

By the time we made it to Bristol, we were famished and ready for lunch.  But rather than take the quick bite from a chain along the interstate, I had to introduce Andrew to “State Street” in Bristol – where one side is in Tennessee and the other in Virginia.  We found a great place to eat, and Andrew straddled the state line…in the middle of the street.  (The kind folks who stopped and let us take our picture had – no doubt – seen many others do the same.)

Andrew in Bristol

Andrew (and his Beyoncé shirt) have a foot in Tennessee and a foot in Virginia on Bristol’s famous State Street

Along the way through this beautiful section of our country, Andrew and I listened to about 20 podcasts that he had carefully “curated” to appeal to my interests.  We especially enjoyed the 99 Percent Invisible podcasts about various aspects of design.  It felt appropriate that we were driving through some well-designed communities and were also carrying pieces of well-designed furniture that had meaning for our family.

Oh, and we talked and caught up on life.

Tuesday evening found us in Staunton, where we spent the evening with our good friends Doug and Tidge Roller.  More architecture talk (Doug is a retired architect) and good food in historic, downtown Staunton, before hitting the bed.

We were fortunate in that traffic was light for the interstate between Murfreesboro and Silver Spring, and even the Washington beltway was manageable.  We arrived home mid-day on Wednesday, unloaded our van (Jeez, that old furniture is heavy) and then returned the van.  I loved being with Andrew for 3 days, and having the chance to catch up with family and friends.  But…no more adventures in moving for me.  At 61, it is time for a younger generation to take over.

Andrew and I listened to some of his music on the way home – Chicago House Music, Beyoncé (of course), 70s and 80s soul and disco music, and more.  But the song that kept coming back in my mind was the Steve Earle tune he wrote to try to capture the classic “bad hillbilly murder ballad” feel.  Carrie Brown includes the classic line about Bristol, “I shot him in Virginia. He died in Tennessee.”  So here you go – enjoy a little bluegrass murder number with Earle and the Del McCoury band.

More to come…


Pilgrim’s Inn: Our Home Away from Home

Pilgrim Inn

Pilgrim Inn at Deer Isle, Maine, in the late afternoon light

You can tell a great deal about a lodging establishment by the quality of their Q-tips.  More on why that matters in a moment

I started this post as a love letter to the Pilgrim’s Inn in Deer Isle, Maine, then I switched to describe it as a fan letter.  Either works. In busy years (and 2016 has qualified), I spend close to 3 months out of each year in someplace other than home.  It comes with the job. That experience was helpful as Candice and I looked for a place to stay in Maine for the last quarter of my sabbatical.

While at the American Academy in Rome over six weeks in March and April, Candice and I had a wonderful studio apartment in a historic building where we got accustomed to being in one room together for long stretches of time.  We found that the studio apartment layout – with areas to sit and work, a table to gather around for conversation, and with windows to throw open and take in the fresh air – helped stimulate our personal interactions and my work. It was also nice to have two delicious meals a day provided, so that we could focus on other aspects of life.

The Maine part of the sabbatical was not as intense from a work standpoint, but I did want someplace that was relatively quiet, where I could read for hours on end in comfortable chairs, and where we had options for food and stimulating places to visit.  Candice went online while in Rome and found just the place we were looking for:  the Pilgrim’s Inn in Deer Isle, Maine.  We booked the room that had the features we were looking for in a retreat and have enjoyed every day here over the past two weeks.

Greene Ziner Gallery

Artwork of Melissa Greene and Eric Ziner at Yellow Birch Farm

Deer Isle is not a tourist destination along the lines of Bar Harbor or Rockland.  That was fine with us.  We found hidden treasures, such as the Greene Ziner Gallery at Yellow Birch Farm, where potter Melissa Greene and blacksmith artist Eric Ziner hosted us for a farm dinner last Saturday evening.

Haystack Craft Center

Haystack Mountain School of Craft


Artists at Haystack

Artists at work at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft

We also took time to tour the beautiful campus of the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Deer Isle, a treasure listed on the National Register of Historic Places just a few minutes drive from the inn.

The combination of a stunning natural setting, a unique campus designed by award-winning architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, and the focused energy of the school community, provides an environment that supports a serious exploration of craft, ideas and imagination.

The Greene Ziner Gallery, Yellow Birch Farm, Haystack, Owl Furniture – these were all places that the welcoming innkeepers at Pilgrim’s Inn directed us to as we sought out unique places in our home away from home.  Tina Oddleifson and Tony Lawless have owned Pilgrim’s Inn for 11 years, and they are the “perfect” innkeepers – willing to talk when you want to talk, quick to size up a guest’s interests and make just the right suggestion, and always willing to stop and give you their undivided attention even when they must have had a dozen things on their to-do list before noon.  The staff was all just as eager to make our stay comfortable and unique.  We got to know some of them and their stories while we were here.  Amy – who was a visitor at Pilgrim’s Inn for 20 straight years and cried each year when they had to leave – now owns the oldest house on the Island with her architect husband and works at the Inn.  Paige began busing tables at the restaurant when she was 14, and is wrapping up her 7th year before heading back for her senior year in college as a journalism major.  Mena (short for Philomena) heads off to California for school in a few short days, Madison, Jody, and the others whose name we didn’t catch.  Like Gabby, Alesandra, Gianpaolo, Pina, and the other folks at the American Academy – all worked together and in the most friendly way to support our time in their special piece of the world.

Room #9 at Pilgrim's Inn

View of our home away from home…Room # 9 on the third floor…at the Pilgrim’s Inn


Sitting area

View back toward the sitting area – amidst the treetops – in Room #9

Pilgrim’s Inn is a beautiful 1793 home listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  We lingered over a sumptuous breakfast there every morning, and had dinner at the Whale’s Rib Tavern restaurant in the inn six nights during our stay.  Up in room #9, as we sat in our rocking chairs and read while listening to music or the birds, we felt we were in a treehouse, given that the inn has two large front yard trees just outside our windows. On most nights we were able to open the windows and let the cool Maine air blow through the room as we slept.

And about those Q-tips.  Many travelers know that you can tell a great deal about the quality of a lodging establishment with items such as the towels and sheets. But Q-tips are a particular point of reference for me.  Many hotels and inns provide them, but they buy the skimpy type that have very little cotton on the ends.  The quality places?  They have plush Q-tips.  I knew we were in for a good stay at the Pilgrim’s Inn the first time I opened the container on the shelf by the sink and saw those plush Q-tips poking up between the cotton balls.  Ahh…a true home away from home.

Thanks Tina and Tony for the wonderful hospitality.  You helped ensure that – despite the high bar set by Rome – the final two weeks of my sabbatical were just as restorative and unique as the first six.

More to come…



In the Words of E.B. White

In the Words of E.B. White

E.B. White once wrote, “The curse of flight is speed.  Or, rather, the curse of flight is that no opportunity exists for dawdling.”

I’ve been reading White as we’ve dawdled the past few days near his long-time Brooklin home in Maine, our feet very much on the ground (and water).  The first dictionary definition of dawdle is “to waste time,” but then options such as “moving slowly and idly” are put forth, as is “languid” and “saunter.”  I prefer the latter choices, as we’ve been dawdling, but definitely not wasting time.

Monday we sat outside the Pilgrim’s Inn, at water’s edge, and read for a couple of hours in the morning, enjoying a picture perfect Maine summer day.  Then we sauntered (if you can do so by car) over for a late lunch at the Brooklin Inn.  Our friends Tim Boggs and James Schwartz had invited us to their area home for an afternoon sail and dinner.

As we were walking out of the Inn, James and Tim drove by, stopped, and encouraged us to hop in for a short tour of area sites.  First stop – the graves of Katherine and E.B. White.

White Graves

Graves of Katherine and E.B. White

We then drove by the White’s old house and farm, made famous in many a book and New Yorker essay, and had a quick wave from the current owners who are friends of our hosts.  Afterwards we stopped back to pick up our car and browse through a wonderful book and gift store (where I picked up In the Words of E.B. White:  Quotations from America’s Most Companionable of Writersbefore heading to the summer home of our friends.

Candice in Wilbur

Candice with our hosts in “Wilbur”

Candice and I are not sailors, but after a quick house tour we headed out at low tide in “Wilbur” – the dinghy – and boarded the beautiful wooden boat “Red Head” that Tim and James have moored in the bay near their home.  Over the next 90 minutes we dawdled while Tim and James worked.  It was a delightful way to take in their environs on a day made for sailing.  Along the way we enjoyed views of the lighthouse at the end of Herrick Bay, along with views of Blue Hill and Acadia National Park.

Red Head

Red Head (photo courtesy of James Schwartz)


DJB at the rudder of Red Head

DJB stops dawdling long enough to take a turn with the tiller

We returned as the tide was coming in for drinks, conversation, and a wonderful meal with our hosts.  It was great to catch up with both of these friends.  They have been colleagues, family friends, and much more to all four of the Browns, and the evening passed much too quickly.  As the summer light was fading, however, Tim took us down to the water’s edge to see the remarkable sky at sunset.

Sunset in Maine

Sunset in Maine

Today we dawdled some more, with reading book-ended around a lunch-time trip to near-by Stonington.  That gave me the chance to finish the In the Words of E.B. White book.  A delightful read, and I’ll leave you with just a few thoughts from one of the 20th century masters of our language.

  • Never hurry and never worry!  (Charlotte’s Web)
  • Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.  The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.  (The Elements of Style)
  • If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy.  If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem.  But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world.  This makes it hard to plan the day. (E.B. White:  A Biography)
  • I discovered by test that fully ninety per cent of whatever was on my desk at any given moment were IN things.  Only ten percent were OUT things – almost too few to warrant a special container.  This, in general, must be true of other people’s lives too.  It is the reason lives get so cluttered up – so many things (except money) filtering in, so few things (except strength) draining out.  (One Man’s Meat)
  • I would really rather feel bad in Maine than feel good anywhere else.  (Letters of E.B. White)

I suspect you’ll see more of these in the future…but now I need to go and dawdle a bit.

More to come…


Observations from the Road (Or “The Deer Isle’s Locally Sourced Food and Music” Edition)

Yellow Birch Farm Dinner

With our fellow diners at the Yellow Birch Farm dinner on Deer Isle

During our first week on Deer Isle in Maine, we have jumped enthusiastically into the local food and music scene.  Sometimes the outing was planned.  At other times the opportunities were serendipitous.  But isn’t that how we are to live?

This is one long “Observations from the road…” post, which could be titled “My, Maine has so much to offer in locally sourced food and music.”

Our first two encounters with food and live music were unplanned yet set the stage for our visit.  Upon our arrival at Pilgrim’s Inn last Sunday evening, we saw someone carrying a guitar into his cabin.  After meeting Richard Perlmutter and his wife Judy the next day and determining that he did – in fact – have a guitar with him, we agreed to meet up after dinner on Monday for an impromptu jam session.

Serendipitously, we found that the Whale’s Rib Tavern was open for dinner at the Inn on Monday (we had mistakenly thought it was closed both Sunday and Monday evenings), so we quickly booked a reservation and had the first of what has become a string of terrific offerings over this past week.  I had the halibut, which was so wonderfully tasty, before we joined Richard and Judy in one of the cozy gathering places at the inn.

Fish from Whale's Rib

Fresh local seafood from the Whale’s Rib Tavern (photo credit: Pilgrim’s Inn)

Now, had I known that Richard has won multiple Grammy and national music awards, was the founder of the remarkably successful Beethoven’s Wig choral group, and has played professionally his entire career, I might have been less inclined to offer to sit down and play a few folk and popular tunes.  But as far as I knew when we started, Richard was this very easygoing and friendly person who had a nice little parlor guitar and a Martin mandolin that he was carrying with him on a “tour that’s more vacation than tour.”  To bring you up-to-date, here’s how Richard’s website describes his work:

Beethoven once said, “If my music had words it’d be a lot more popular.” His wish has come true!  Modern day “co-writer” Richard Perlmutter has added lyrics to Beethoven (and Bach, Mozart, et. al) that have propelled the works of the old longhairs to the tops of the charts, and introduced them to new audiences everywhere.

Despite the fact that he’s forgotten more music than I’ve ever known, the four of us – joined about halfway through by a family visiting from Ireland – had a delightful time playing tunes and trying to remember lyrics.  (Lesson #1:  Always bring a fake book.)  Over the course of our first 36 hours on the island, we had met the man who produced the first Nickel Creek album (when they were ten years old), played Irish tunes on the mandolin for a gentleman who loves to attend sessions back in Dublin, and had the first of several wonderful meals.  What could be better?!

Deer Isle has limited restaurant offerings, but there are several that are very, very good.  Whale’s Rib Tavern has never disappointed – for either breakfast or dinner – and we heartily recommend it for those visiting the Downeast section of Maine.  Everything is locally sourced, and the menu offers just enough for everyone to find something appealing.  We have discovered a number of favorites, but the Blue Hill rope raised mussels, roasted garlic cream, and fried leeks (especially those friend leeks) are extra tasty.


Mussels with fried leaks at the Whale’s Rib Tavern (photo credit: Pilgrim’s Inn)

Our second evening of combining exceptional food and music came about because Candice had spent time online to scope out things to do around the island.  Stonington has both an excellent farm-to-table restaurant that overlooks the working waterfront and an active music venue across the street in the historic Opera House.  But before we made it to either one on Friday – when we had reservations – we discovered a wine tasting at Water’s Edge Wines that helped jump-start the evening.

Living in the moment, we took the time to chat with the owners – Ken and Bette Kral – while sampling some excellent wines and cheeses.  Along the way two ladies joined us at the shop and in the course of our conversation we found they – like us – were heading to Aragosta for an early dinner.  Hillary and Yvonne had been classmates in a New England boarding school some 25-30 years earlier and were spending the weekend together to catch up and enjoy Deer Isle.  Over the course of the next 24 hours we ran into them three times (it is a small island) and by the time they left to head home on Sunday we were sharing life stories and hugs in the parlor of the Pilgrim’s Inn.

Lobster ravioli

Lobster ravioli, a signature dish at Aragosta, after I’ve taken a bite or two!

The daughter of a gardener and a chef, Aragosta’s Chef Devin Finigan grew up in the kitchen and the garden in nearby Vermont.  The offerings at Aragosta are wonderful.  Candice and I split a serving of Blue Hill Bay oysters, the signature lobster ravioli and the Old Ackley Farm duck (with house gnocchi, confit, blueberries, Morgan Bay Farm bok choy and green coriander).  What a terrific meal, made all the more remarkable by the view out our window.

Stonington Harbor

View of the Stonington harbot from Aragosta

But our Friday was not yet complete, as we had tickets to the Deer Isle Jazz Festival at the Stonington Opera House.  The opening act was a terrific group of high school musicians from the George Stevens Academy.  Then they were followed by Dafnis Prieto’s Si o Si Quartet.  Oh. My. God.  What a talented musician.  What an incredible group.

Dafnis Prieto

Dafnis Prieto Si o Si Quartet (photo credit: Stonington Opera House)

Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto has received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and numerous prestigious commissions and awards, all honoring the originality and craft of his work as a composer, bandleader, drummer and educator. Prieto has entered the top echelon of a new generation of artists blending Cuban and American traditions to achieve fresh aesthetic goals.

The Si o Si Quartet features longtime Prieto collaborators Manuel Valera on piano, keyboards, and melodica; Johannes Weidenmueller on Bass, and Peter Apfelbaum on tenor and soprano saxophones, bass melodica, and percussion. Si o Si is a thrillingly multifaceted ensemble, with an orchestral richness to match its rhythmic complexity and breathtaking energy.

I am not generally a “drum solo” fan…but I could have listened to and watched Prieto all night long.  He was so musical, so full of energy, and yet so seemingly effortless in his playing.  Valera stayed with him on the piano and filled out the quartet sound along with Weidenmuller.  Apfelbaum’s sax work was terrific.  I was – to put it simply – blown away to be hearing this level of music in a town of a few hundred people at best.  We met a couple at the Pilgrim’s Inn the next morning – easily identified as a jazz fan by his Downbeat t-shirt – and it turns out they have been coming to the jazz festival for years.  I just love these small summer festivals that draw such incredible musicians to such beautiful – and inspiring – places.

So Saturday rolls around and once again the serendipitous meets up with the planned.  As we were pulling into the inn after lunch, I noticed a couple of guys under a tent with guitars in hand, and remembered that the community bulletin board had a notice about “bring your instrument and play” time on Saturday afternoon next to the post office.  I joined Jim, Mike, and a third player who came later, and we worked through bluegrass and country music standards for about an hour.  Jim was “practicing” for his regular gig at 7 a.m. in Stonington at the “Church of the Morning After” – a jam session with fishermen along the waterfront.  He encouraged me to join them, but I noted that 7 a.m. services were for folks who didn’t really have a “Night Before” – and we had plans.

At virtually every restaurant on Deer Isle, we’ve seen local providers, such as 44 North Coffee (a wonderful coffee roaster right around the corner from the inn), and Yellow Birch Farm.  These local providers are keeping the best chefs supplied with locally sourced food.  And Saturday night we had plans to see those two things joined at a farm dinner at the Yellow Birch Farm.

We joined 13 other new friends (an amazing seven of us from the Washington area – including three who live in the Watergate, where my offices are located, a long-time National Trust supporter, and a couple who found rooms in local houses for the Si o Si Quartet and all the other performers at the Opera House).  We began with cocktails, followed by a farm tour and a wonderful two hours of food and conversation.  Held in the 19th-century barn that is the Greene Ziner Gallery, we were surrounded by beautiful artwork by farm owners and artists Missy Green and Eric Ziner and fortified with a fresh and well-prepared dinner.  Halibut was the main course, but I was especially taken with the tomato tart and the blueberry (of course) dessert.

Dessert at Farm Dinner

Dessert at the Yellow Birch Farm dinner

As we rolled out a bed this morning to attend church at St. Brendan the Navigator Episcopal Church (what a great choice of a saint for the Deer Isle community), we wondered what this week will bring.  But we’ve already made new friends, heard new music, and tasted some of the best of the bounty of Maine.

More to come…



Thunder Hole

Thunder Hole at Acadia National Park

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, Candice and I spent last Thursday at Acadia National Park in Maine – with thousands of our newest friends – to enjoy this magnificent landscape (and the first national park east of the Mississippi River).

On a beautiful summer day, the park was brimming with people taking every form of transportation imaginable to access a part of Mt. Desert Island.  We enjoyed the loop ride, and stopped along the way to see treats such as the magnificent views at Thunder Hole.  It was fun to see young couple skipping from rock to rock while grandparents pulled out their lawn chairs and sat in the shade just to watch the endlessly fascinating waves break against the shore.

Thunder Hole Panoramic View

Panoramic View of Thunder Hole

After a lunch in Seal Harbor, we headed up to Cadillac Mountain in the center of the park.

Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530 feet (466 meters), is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place to view sunrise in the United States from October 7 through March 6. It is one of over 20 mountains on Mount Desert Island (MDI), Maine that were pushed up by earth’s tectonic and volcanic forces millions of years ago. Were it not for the once enormous glaciers that sheared off their tops, they would be even higher than what we see today. 

Frenchman Bay View

View of Frenchman Bay from Cadillac Mountain


View looking west from Cadillac Mountain

View looking west from Cadillac Mountain

We also took the time to hike part of the 45 miles of carriage roads in the park.  Acadia’s carriage roads…

…are the best example of broken-stone roads – a type of road commonly used at the turn of the 20th century – in America today.  They are true roads, approximately 16 feet wide, constructed with methods that required much hand labor….

The gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and family, (the carriage roads) weave around the mountains and valleys of Acadia National Park.  Rockefeller, a skilled horseman, wanted to travel on motor-free byways via horse and carriage into the heart of Mount Desert Island.  (The construction) efforts from 1913 to 1940 resulted in roads with sweeping vistas and close-up views of the landscape.

Carriage Road signage

Signage along the carriage roads in Acadia National Park


View from a carriage road

View from a carriage road

We had a wonderful day and were reminded – once again – of why our national parks are “America’s best idea!”

At Acadia National Park

Candice and DJB at Acadia National Park

More to come…


Open Your Eyes and See What You Can See With Them…

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Now I understand.

For the past two years – and especially since my time last March and April at the American Academy in Rome – friends have enthused over Anthony Doerr‘s writing.  My only experience was through his short memoir Four Seasons in Rome, which while an interesting read struck me as something he did because he had journals from his time at AAR and decided to make something of them. Not a terrible thing to do, but also not up to the level of the reviews of Doerr’s work I was hearing from friends.

Then over the first two weeks of August, I read All the Light We Cannot SeeI’ll repeat myself.  Now I understand.

What a lovely, rich, engrossing, and uplifting book.  First of all, Doerr is a poet with words, but he has a scientist’s mind. This is as finely crafted a story as I’ve ever read, with the shifts in time and character all put together in an amazing sequence that pulls the reader forward with anticipation.  I can easily see why it took him ten years to write All the Light We Cannot See.  At the end I was sad there wasn’t more.

I won’t bore you here with the details…the book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015, for goodness sake.  Chances are you’ve read it.  But if you haven’t, then take this advice from someone who doesn’t dive into fiction all that often:  Read. This. Book.

Here’s the synopsis from Doerr’s website:

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks. When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris in June of 1940, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure’s.

Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of multiple characters, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

The synopsis of the story does not do this book justice.  The language, the depth of characterization, the understanding of so many aspects that require detailed explanation, the keen tension that runs throughout…all are pivotal to this work.

A colleague of mine – Priya Chhaya – went to hear Doerr speak at the Arlington public library recently, and came away impressed by the power of words.  She wrote about that topic on her personal blog, and I want to quote from her observations:

Because of…current events I found Doerr’s presentation especially moving. He was charismatic and funny, serious and inspiring. He walked us through WWII Germany where cheap radios were used to prevent communication beyond its borders and citizens only heard propaganda giving them “enemies” to blame. There is no more real life evidence on the power of language and words than in the propaganda of the Third Reich.

However, the magic of Doerr’s book… is in finding hope through words despite their absence. In his story he uses radio waves (invisible, yet all around us) and brings together a blind girl in German occupied France and a member of Hitler’s army through storytelling. While fictional in form, Doerr is able to show the power of language when it is allowed to flow freely in all its forms – in Braille and through a hidden radio in an attic.  In the talk he states that “literature is a gym for your empathy muscle,” and emphasized that the more you read the more you are taken beyond your own life and situation. Consequently embracing other visions, experiences and points of view living side by side with your own.

I love the line “literature is a gym for your empathy muscle.”  All the Light You Cannot See is a powerful book.  As Marie Laure’s grandfather says in a lesson heard by Werner in his youth, that he remembers at the time of his most important decisions, “Open your eyes and see what you can see with them before they close forever.”

Highly recommended.

More to come…