Friday, July 22, 2016


I had spent days obsessing over the weather, in anticipation of leading a challenging Adirondack Mountain Club hike. I was thrilled when my three weather websites all predicted a perfect day, until the forecast changed to 65% chance of thunderstorms.  I could not take people to treeless summits, if lightning might come up, and was forced to cancel the outing.

Not only had I planned to lead the hike, but I had also arranged to camp overnight, and head south the following morning to spend the day with my 90-year-old parents in Saratoga. This had been a tri-fold plan, and I wasn't ready to give it up entirely.

The forecast for the Lake George area was considerably better than farther north. I tossed my tent in the car, packed some clothes, and made a quick decision.  I would hike part of the Tongue Mountain Range, overlooking Lake George, stay at nearby Hearthstone campground, and drive the 45 minutes to Saratoga the following morning, keeping to that portion of my previous plan.

Disappointed from having had to cancel the group hike, I set out on my own without my usual sense of excitement. Still, I knew the woods would work their magic once I got on the trail.  I would park at the Clay Meadow trail head, part-way along the Tongue Range, and hike to French Point Mountain, about 8 miles round-trip.

A car was on my tail as soon as I left the Northway.  I watched for DEC's brown and yellow signs, looking for Clay Meadow, but I was more focused on the car behind me.  I should have pulled over to let the tailgater go by, but I didn't have far to go, I thought, and continued on.

The first trail head parking I saw was not Clay Meadow, but the northernmost end of the Range, five miles beyond my intended destination.  That car behind me had made me miss my spot!  Not a great beginning, but, oh well, I could enjoy hiking a different section of the trail.

Even with temperatures in the low 70s, the humidity ran high.  I struck out at a good pace and broke into a sweat almost immediately.  Still, the path was lovely with lush green grasses at either side.  I saw two people coming from the opposite direction. We commented on the nice, though humid, day.

(Lean-to at Five Mile Mountain)

At the Five Mile Mountain lean-to, I took a big swig of water, peered at the western view through the trees, and had a snack. I stood on sunny rocks, checking first to make sure no rattle snakes lounged there.  The Tongue Range is a known timber rattler habitat, but people rarely see them. I knew enough to check sunny rocks, before wandering out on them though.

(view to the west from lean-to)
 A breeze came up and the air seemed to change.  So did my mood.  It felt great to be out here in the woods.  The humidity, now slightly dispelled by the breeze, brought out the aromas of the earth, and woodland plants.  I felt spry and set out on the gradual descent from the lean-to at a quick pace, as the lush green trail turned to stony rubble and last-year's fallen brown leaves. I still felt secure in my footing and skipped along.

In quick succession, just a moment really, I heard the noisy scramble of a grouse scared into flight by my approach, a startling clap of thunder, and the unmistakable, very nearby, loud rattle of a rattle snake. I catapulted about 15 feet down the trail, having taken a split-second glimpse of the snake just off the trail in the leaves.

Then I stopped, and looked back.  Mind you, I did not go back, not even one step, but I did take my phone out of my pocket to get a picture of the distant ground where I knew the snake must be.  My heart pounded.

I would have liked to have turned around and called the hike quits.  My parked car seemed like a distant oasis, but I couldn't go back.  No way would I go around that snake now, not even in a huge arc.  Besides, maybe he had a friend nearby.  I could only go forward.  In my new state of fear, I slowed my pace, so that I could see about eight feet ahead on both sides of the trail.  I would not be taken by surprise again.

(I stood a ways off for this picture, for sure!)

Even though the snake had been just inches off the trail (thank heavens, not ON the trail), I figured he must have felt the vibrations of my footfalls for quite a while, coming ever closer.  And, when I passed by, he shook loud and clear.  The more I thought about it, and pictured it in my mind, the more freaked out I was. An uphill climb to Fifth Peak dispelled some of my adrenaline, and I became more relaxed, still watching every step, however.

The lean-to at Fifth Peak has two beautiful views.  I walked out to the rocky summit (no snakes there) and saw heavy rain falling on the mountains to the southwest.  The sky above me remained blue with a few fluffy clouds.

(beautiful view and rain falling to the southwest from Fifth Peak lean-to)

As much as I loved that view, I could not stay in the strong sun. I moved to the other viewpoint, overlooking Lake George and the mountains on the lake's east side.  I sat on a rock (checking for snakes, of course), and enjoyed my lunch, the breeze, and the view.  My pulse had returned to almost normal. I texted Bill, including the photo below in my message.  All good.

(Lake George from Fifth Peak lean-to)

Since I had begun the hike at the more northern location, I ended up choosing a 12-mile round-trip outing, a bit more than I had originally bargained for.  Fifth Peak was my turn-around point, and I began my return.  With a tedious stride, I scoured the woods and trail at every step.  Spending the next two hours on high alert was not fun.

When I came to the place where the snake had been, I walked more quickly, still scrutinizing my surroundings. Once I reached the Five Mile Mountain lean-to, I convinced myself that the threat had  passed.

Thunder came and went in the distance; the sky was still mostly blue.  At another overlook, I saw rain falling on mountains in the southeast.  Thunderstorms had not been a worry for me on this day, and the occasional shower had cooled me off.

(rain falling to the east from a rocky opening from the trail)

Back at the car, I realized that, overall, I had hiked at a quicker-than-usual pace, despite my intense inspection of the trail. And I had had some good views. In retrospect, I considered my snake experience extremely "rattling" but unique.

Driving south along the lake, I picked up a sandwich at a deli in Bolton Landing, and got a campsite at Hearthstone.  Although just a few days before the 4th of July, I felt fortunate to procure a site quite close to the beach.  On the other hand, I was surprised that my site was the tiniest I had ever seen. It would just fit my Prius and little pup-tent.  Large family sites with multiple tents, huge amounts of gear, chairs, bicycles, and children, surrounded me with no trees between.

(Picnics were a regular Sunday afternoon outing -- my mother, my big sister, my father, and me)

My parents used to bring my sister and me to Hearthstone in the fall, when the campground and beach were deserted.  We would park on the road and walk down the pine-needled park driveway, carrying a picnic to the lake.  In my memory, I could smell the pine, and see the pretty lake. My sister and I waded at the edge of the water, in the quiet of Lake George's off-season.

Now, I looked around for affirmation of my childhood impressions.  Parents yelled, and children shrieked.

I read my newspaper from a bench overlooking the lake. Every now and then one of the big cruise boats went by -- the Minne-ha-ha with its paddle wheel, and the Lac du Saint Sacrement playing music. This, too, was Lake George, Queen of America's Lakes.

Evening came with a quick shower. Everyone, including me, left the beach, but returned within the hour. As if by magic, everything had changed. Rainbows seemed to be all around -- part of an arc to the north, two arcs to the south.  Four families appeared.  Fathers left quickly to get cameras from their campsites.  Children ran through the sand, making friends with one another.  Mothers got acquainted, as they oohed and aahed over the changing sky.  The rainbows became smaller, but more brilliant.  One to the south seemed to be almost on fire, and the clouds changed from gold to deep pink.

(rainbow just coming out before my phone battery died)

I didn't have my camera on this trip, and the battery on my phone died.  I didn't mind.  I waded into the water and watched the rainbows with everyone else, until the sky got dark and they disappeared.  I went back to my tiny campsite to settle in and read for a while, while the families built camp fires and put little children to bed.

In the morning, I got up early and headed for the shower at the campground bathhouse.  A custodian said, "You should go to the campsites across the road.  The showers are really nice there.  It's like paradise!"  Since I was walking, I used the shower closest to my campsite, but now I was curious.

When I packed up and got in the car to leave, I drove across the road to the campsites on the other side.  The sites had space, and plenty of trees between.  Granted, they were quite a ways from the lake, and I didn't get out of the car to check the paradisiacal showers, but many of these sites had a much more remote feel than those on the lake side.  Back on the main road, I reached my parents' house right on schedule, as originally planned.

Eventually, I returned to my own house. Just before going to bed, I transferred the previous day's pictures from my phone to my computer.  I studied the picture of the brown leafy trail, looking for the snake. When I expanded the photo, my heart leapt to my throat.  There he was, huge and coiled as if to strike.  I was freaked out all over again! 

(I added an outline so you could see him.  YIKES!!)

How would I ever get to sleep with these images keeping me wide awake?  Loud rattles filled my mind. I tried to think about the beautiful rainbows, but I wondered if I would ever dare to hike on the Tongue Mountain Range again.  And then I remembered winter.  Cold-blooded reptiles are inactive in the winter.  Okay, if I ever go back, it will be on snowshoes.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Snippets of Iceland

Bill and I had a fabulous trip to Iceland in early June.  Here are a few excerpts from my journal.

Our bus drove along gorgeous scenic roads. Fields of lupine grew up the mountainsides.

Eventually, we came to our first waterfall of the day, Gullfoss. The saving of Gullfoss represents early conservationism in 1907, when a fourteen year-old girl, Sigridur Tomasdottir raised public awareness by walking all the way to Reykjavik to protest plans for a power plant which would destroy the falls.

We walked from a lava field on a narrow path down to the falls, where a continual spray of water made lush vibrant green plants grow on the rocks. What a contrast from the landscape above!

The falls were huge and powerful, pounding through a canyon and tumbling over a wide rock face. I could understand its appeal for water power, but was glad that it had been saved.

Walking up to a higher level, we were rewarded with an expanded view, and a brilliant rainbow, as the sun came out from behind clouds. A fabulous introduction to Iceland's waterfalls.
We drove for miles through the lava field, and then stopped at a place where we could walk on it. People's feet had squashed the lichen that grows on the lava, and made a surprisingly soft mulch-like surface to walk on. Many of us studied the lichen and tiny flowers that grew over the lava.

This field was created in 1783, when the volcano exploded, continuing daily for six months, and nearly destroyed the nation. Fifty percent of the livestock was killed. Many people died from famine. This was the biggest lava flow from a single eruption in world history.

I began my usual practice of going on short walks during auto stops. This time, I took one of the many paths through a field, where sheep ate grass in the shadow of mountains.

I saw a few people, as I progressed to a rock area that was the top of a cluster of basalt columns. A bird, which we later identified as an oyster catcher, hopped in the grasses.


Later, I again slipped off on a trail by an auto stop. This path went up high through a lupine field with views of a glacier. The view from this hill was exceptional, as was the silence. All I could hear were the bees buzzing on the lupine and a few birds.

We arrived at the glacial lagoon at Jokulsarlon, where we went out in the water on a duck boat to see the icebergs. This lagoon has been here since at least the 12th century when it was mentioned in writing.

The icebergs were a deep blue, and we could see that they extended farther under the water than above. A seal rested on one. The boat guide pulled up a piece of ice and had people see how heavy it was. Then he cut pieces off, put them on a tray, and we each had a bite to eat.

He said, “you are eating 1000 year old ice.” All of the icebergs float under the bridge here and then into the ocean. The glacier is creeping back, and may only have icebergs floating from it for another 30 years.


We drove to a different fjord to the town of Siglufjordur. A thriving, decades-long herring business used to support this town which had a population of 30,000. In 1969, the herring died, and the business ended. While many reasons have been given for this, the death of the herring is considered an act of nature. The town's population dropped to 1300.

Siglufjordur is totally charming and part of the expanding tourism economy.

Bill and I walked around. Then he explored the grocery store, while I went up through the cemetery looking for a mountain path. Lupines lined a dirt road that continued up.

I went until I could see wide views in all directions, one beyond the harbor to the end of the fjord and snow-capped mountains, another out to sea, and below to the village and harbor.

As often happens, Bill and I found each other easily upon my return. Bill showed me a little hotel he had seen, which had traditional one-speed bikes on its bike rack. We could imagine vacationing here.

Two other couples joined us at the harbor cafe for lunch. Bill and I both had fish and chips made with cod. It was excellent, as we have found the food to be. Paprika is a popular spice here, and was sprinkled on the chips.

(View out restaurant window)
Everyone looked forward to our visit to a horse farm. We began with a delicious farm lunch in a sun room overlooking the meadow. The weather had cleared, so we could sit outdoors to watch a demonstration of the five gaits that are natural to the Icelandic horse.

Three riders rode the horses around a large track. Amidst rolling hills and low shrub growth, the riders and horses made an idyllic scene.

We could clearly see the difference in each of the gaits. One of the riders carried a glass of beer around the track to demonstrate the smoothness of the horse's fifth gait. Only the foam blew off the top of the beer glass.

The owner took us inside the stables, where we could pet and admire the horses. Besides their long manes and tails, they also have very long bangs, at times covering their eyes.

Some others have blue eyes, another unique feature of this breed. Everyone felt that this visit was a very special experience that the average tourist would not have.

We stopped many times along the way to view and photograph the ocean shoreline. Dramatic cliffs resembled the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. Another had a black sand beach.

I was entranced by the Icelandic sweaters, in all varieties of design, but mostly made in traditional natural colors of grays and browns, or in blue. Sweaters were about $130, less than I can make one for. 

They generally did not have buttons, but had zippers on the cardigans. I spend quite a bit on metal Nordic designed buttons, but, still, these sweaters were reasonable. The headbands and gloves were, comparatively, not as reasonably priced. 

In other stores, I found yarns to knit and wool ready for spinning. 


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Spring Cleaning

(Spring cleaning creates a huge mess)

I hate to clean.  Most of the year I do what my grandmother called "taking off the top soil."  People think my house is clean, but it's an illusion, based on the fact that I keep clutter at bay. I don't like clutter. The occasional removing of top soil and minimal clutter make my house appear cleaner than it is. Still, one must face the inevitable now-and-then.  I make a good stab at deep house-cleaning once a year.

Some of you have been to my house.  It's a small Cape Cod style, yet I have a devised a list for each of its nine rooms (kitchen, living room, dining room, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, basement family room) with 10 chores to be completed in each room, making a total of 90 tasks. This may sound extreme, but, believe me, checking items off a list is the best part of cleaning.  Besides, I might forget something in my haste to get the job done.

(Do all those books really fit on the bookshelf?)

I wasn't brought up to put cleaning on the back burner.  My mother did a massive spring and fall cleaning, and did a heck of lot more than getting rid of top soil all the weeks in between.  I remember waking up at 6:30 a.m. to the sound of my mother vacuuming on weekdays before she went to her part-time job.  It took her decades to face the fact that neither my sister nor I have followed in her footsteps.

Still, most years, between February and June, I give everything a once-over. I certainly wouldn't want to clean so often that that dust didn't billow in clouds off the tops of curtains when I take them down, or the rag didn't turn gray after washing windowpanes.

(cobwebs no more)

I begin with the radiators, because they harbor more dust and cat hair than anything else, and because I dread dealing with them.  Then I start at the top of the room and work down.  What do you think of this Appalachian Besom Style cobweb broom?  My sister made it at a folk school she attended and gave it to me as a Christmas gift.  It could be a nice decorative item, but I use it for its intended purpose.

Besides cleaning in general, and cleaning radiators in particular, I also don't like the vacuum cleaner, although upgrading to a Miele cleaner improved my perspective considerably.  Nevertheless, I wash most everything when I deep clean, and only vacuum when absolutely necessary.  This allows me to play music. In my lackluster spirit as I begin a room, I might start out with music like Chant recorded by the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz.  Even though this is literally Gregorian Chant music, with slow all-male harmonies, Bill and I visited the Stift Heiligenkreuz monastery in Austria, so the CD eases me into the tasks at hand with a good vibe.

Once I get going, and really turn the place into a debris field, I need something livelier to push me through. As a classical music lover, I can find rousing symphonies in my CD collection whose rhythms force me to move more quickly.

This year, I read the best seller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo.  Even though sorting and being tidy are things I'm good at, I found this book fun to read and full of interesting perspectives.  The author insists that each area of the house should be gone through full-throttle with a clothing day or a book day to ruthlessly discard huge quantities of possessions.

As I hauled furniture from the walls and books off shelves, I thought about my "things." While I had the books out (and was forced to vacuum each one, ugh, a holdover from my mother's technique), weren't there some that hadn't been cracked in at least 15 years? Did we need all of them? I found that having an increased awareness of "stuff" wasn't a bad idea.

I have had conversations about this book with many of my friends who have read it.  People seem to get hung up on Kondo's premise that you should only own things that give you joy.  Joy?  Hmm.  That's going kind of far.  I like my possessions, but a lot of them sure don't send me into rapture.

This idea alone seems to keep people from recognizing what is really good about the book.  Think of that joy premise in reverse.  Kondo says that your house is your oasis, which is why you should only have joy-inducing items in it.  The reverse of that is keeping out possessions that create negative thought.  If you come home, walk into your house, and something that you have annoys you, makes you sad, or in some way gives off bad vibes, that's the clue that it should go...just my opinion.

(Barkeeper's Friend is great for the kitchen. Otherwise, I'm a Murphy's Soap fan.)

Eventually, I decided that I had done enough house-cleaning.  Spring sunshine beckoned, but I hadn't gotten to the kitchen.  It could wait. Maybe I would even do it piecemeal, checking off one item on my cleaning list every now-and-then, rather than tearing the whole place apart and doing most of it in a day.

Then I had a blender disaster.  Only 1/2 cup of milk, one egg, and 1/2 cup of flour were in the blender when they shot out and spewed all over the room.  It looked like an entire half-gallon of milk and a dozen eggs had been flung against the walls, doors, cupboards, floor, and me.  I stripped, right there in the kitchen, and took my clothes to the basement.

The mess was unbelievable.  Not only that, it looked disgusting, and it would smell pretty bad if I didn't do a really good cleaning job, and soon. I was totally bummed. I had no choice but to ignore the sunshine, put on some loud rip-roaring music, and get rid of the glop. In the end, it probably wasn't such a bad idea to bring the kitchen up to the standard of the rest of the house, and I learned a thing or two about using a blender.

(This view is worth keeping the curtains off)

The only part of cleaning that I really like, and it's the easiest part, is throwing the curtains in the washing machine and then hanging them outside on the clothes line. When I iron and hang them back up, they really look great.

Nevertheless, while they are down, Bill and I debate whether we like the windows better without curtains. Do curtains give me joy??  We don't live as if in a home decor magazine, where views out of windows always show lush scenes of woods and mountains, but it's still nice to be able to look out unimpeded.  We ask ourselves why we have curtains at all.  Our reasons are cold and heat.  I drop the tie-backs when it's cold because the room feels warmer and cozier with the glass covered.  And I drop them on hot days to keep the sun out. Otherwise, they don't serve a lot of purpose.

This year, in contrary fashion, I re-hung the curtains in the living room and kept the curtains off the dining room windows.  All the better to see Spring's beauty, as the flowering crabapple tree comes into bloom.  It's easier to see the birds flit in and out of the bird house in the tree too.  For now, the absence of curtains gives me joy.  And despite my bad attitude, a clean house makes me happy too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Weekend in Washington, DC

My friend, Rosemary, said, "Everyone will want to come visit us during cherry blossom season."

"We won't," I said.  "We'll come in the winter."

Our friend, Herb, has a two-year appointment to the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia.  Normally, Rosemary and Herb live in Madison, Wisconsin.  With Washington closer to our Albany home, their invitation perked immediate interest.

Just after the holidays, we began to plan our visit.  Bill and I would take the train to DC, and the subway over to Arlington on a Friday in late February, returning on a Monday. We would have two full days to visit and sight-see.

(one residential tower after the next)

Upon arrival, our first view was of Rosemary and Herb's lovely apartment in one of the high-rise complexes of Arlington.  Just 12 minutes by metro into the District, this is a bedroom community populated almost entirely by millennials. The four of us could be taken for parents of any of the people we saw on the street or in the elevators.

Rosemary and Herb are still baffled by their neighborhood.  Shops consist of dry cleaners and nail salons.  A few restaurants are sprinkled throughout, but the nearest supermarket is a mile and a half away.

"There isn't even an ice cream shop here," Rosemary lamented.

Clearly, everyone gets what they need on their way home from work.  On the plus side, Herb has only a three-block walk to his office.

(babbling Rock Creek)

Before the trip, Rosemary sent me lists of possible places to go, asked my opinion, and requested ideas from us.  Making decisions was not easy! In the end, we picked a few destinations for each of the two days.

Our first outing on Saturday morning was to Rock Creek National Park.  "If there's a national park near you, we definitely want to see it!" I had emailed Rosemary.  I hadn't known that any park in the District is a national park, since the District of Columbia is under national jurisdiction.

"Everything we want to do today is fairly close together," Herb said, "so we'll drive."  We retrieved the car from its garage, four stories below their apartment building, and set out.

Walking woodland trails along the creek and over rolling hills gave us the perfect opportunity to visit, enjoy the fresh air, and see a beautiful and historic park

(Boulder Bridge where TR lost his ring)

I was fascinated by Boulder Bridge, with its underlayer of rocks hanging vertically.  This style of bridge construction is called "parkitecture," architecture designed to blend in with the natural landscape.  Theodore Roosevelt loved hiking in this park, and lost a ring here over 100 years ago.  The brochure we picked up encouraged today's hikers to try their luck at finding the ring!

(comfortable paths make nice loops in the park)

Our second activity was to tour the National Cathedral.  Despite all of us having been to DC a few times in the past, only Rosemary had previously visited the Cathedral, and even that was decades ago.  We were glad that some of our choices of activity were places that Herb and Rosemary had not yet thoroughly explored during their residence in the metro area.

(Washington National Cathedral)

We were surprised to learn that the cathedral had suffered a considerable amount of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in 2011.  We remembered hearing on the news about the Washington monument being closed for repairs and extensive work, but we did not remember hearing about the cathedral.  What an eye opener it was to see how entire turrets had shifted on their bases, turning clockwise so that they no longer lined up, but sat in precarious fashion, ready to drop heavy fragments at any moment.  Expert stone masons are carefully restoring the cathedral inside and out, at a projected cost of over $32 million.

(some victims of the earthquake)

Although an Episcopal church,  the cathedral, begun in 1907 and completed in 1990, is considered "the spiritual home of our nation."  It is an interesting mix of religious and national themes.

(State flags hang high)

Using a brochure, we began our self-guided tour.  The traditional Gothic architecture immediately raises the eye to majestic heights, and the cross shape with its numerous bays along the sides offers artistic fascination.  We started out together, but soon each of us wandered his own way.

(brilliant windows glow above the dark stone)

I was struck by the abstract and brilliantly colored stained-glass windows.  Although parts of the building house traditional religious-themed stained glass, this window, below, of red and orange flames, is on the wall behind a statue of Abraham Lincoln and depicts the Agony of Civil War.

In the opposite bay, George Washington stands statuesque. The window behind him, in lovely swirls of blue, reflects the search for freedom in the founding of our nation.

Besides the glass, there was a series of dove paintings by illustrator N.C.Wyeth, a carving of Martin Luther King, who preached here regularly, and myriad more works of art.

Eventually, we all gathered outdoors where the carillon played high above.  We were hungry after our walk at Rock Creek and our wanderings through the cathedral.  Fortunately, the baptistery is now an Open City cafe, and fit our needs perfectly.

(I had Monk Tea, and how about those camel cookies!)

This February day's temperature reached a comfortable 60 degrees.  With delicious sandwiches on hearty homemade bread, pots of tea, a table in the outdoor seating area, and music from the carillon wafting down, we couldn't ask for more.

(The Baptistery made into an Open City Cafe)

Rejuvenated from a sit-down, and well-fed, we were ready to explore the 57-acre Cathedral Close, which comprises gardens and woods designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, best known for designing Central Park in Manhattan.  Olmstead wrote that the Close would "brush off the dust of the that one is cleansed in mind and in spirit."

(restored 13th century Norman arch)

Both the garden plantings and the permanent structures originated from locations throughout the world.  In addition, close to 40 different flowers would bloom over a three-season period. Sheltered among the stone and greenery, a visitor could feel a timeless quiet.

(the Cathedral Close)

Our final exploration of the cathedral led us back inside, where we found the elevator which would take us up seven stories to an observation area.  From here, we could look out windows from every side, down to the ground, out to the city, and back to the cathedral's roof and architectural detail.

(we followed this hallway past windows to the outside)

What a treat! Whether it's in the mountains or in the city, I always love to get up high. The first windows we came to looked down on where we had just been, the cafe and the gardens. 

(the Baptistery with its cafe, and the Cathedral Close)

I was thrilled to see the flying buttresses with their ornate pinnacles up close.

In the interior space of the observation area, a museum displayed photographs depicting the history of the cathedral, including the recent earthquake damage and repairs.  We found so much to see and learn here.

(a pinnacle just beyond the glass)

We left the calm of the cathedral area and drove into a more hectic section of the city to see Malcolm X Park, our next stop. Bill had found this listed as one of the Top 10 things to see in Washington, according to Time Magazine.

(beautiful stonework stairways and paths)

With the aid of the GPS and his expert driving skills, Herb found the park and a safe spot for the car.  From the street, the park rose in a series of stone stairways up a steep incline, opening into a huge grassy area at the summit.

People played frisbee and lawn games, walked with strollers, rode bikes, jogged, and enjoyed the nice day.  The song, "Saturday in the Park," recorded by Chicago, came to mind.

(a young couple, a sunny day, a classic picnic basket, and a dog)

We saw one statue, Joan of Arc astride a horse, the only statue of a woman equestrian in the entire District.  While this was all wonderful, where was Malcolm X?

It became obvious that the real beauty of this park is its water features, even though they were dry now. In season, fountains, cascading falls, and pools dropped from one intricately designed stone level to another, with gardens alongside. I found it easy to imagine people watching the water, sitting on the stone walls and benches, perhaps with some impromptu music nearby, on a summer day. 

(water would cascade into a large fountain pool)

Despite all, we were a little confused. Why was this called Malcolm X Park, or was it?  We had seen no written name, statue, or indication that the advocate for black rights had ever been here.

Bill began to feel a little responsibility for suggesting that we come here.  I didn't mind; it was a fascinating park.  And Herb and Rosemary both said, "we love exploring places we have never been before."

Still, we were relieved when we came upon a plaque describing the park's history.  Built in the 1930s, it was home to concerts, events, and protests.  With the assassination of Martin Luther King, riots broke out and the area was devastated.  Since 1969, the park has been unofficially called Malcolm X Park, in recognition of racial protest, although its real name is Meridian Hill Park.  Since there is a memorial to President Buchanan in the park, the name cannot be changed to honor another person.

Now we had to seek out the statue of our 15th president. We found him, looking important but restful, on a regal marble pedestal under the boughs of a large tree.

(President James Buchanan sits proud)

We had had a full day and had learned a lot.  How relaxing it was to return to Herb and Rosemary's comfortable apartment and to eat a delicious meal, while we planned our next day's adventures.

We began Sunday by taking the metro to Foggy Bottom and walking the Mall, passing through or alongside the famous memorials.  While we had all seen most of them before, they are worth repeating over and over.

(The Museum of Natural History)

The weather wasn't quite as fine, so we had prudently planned some indoor activities for this day.  We debated which of the Smithsonian museums we should go in.  I was attracted to a photo exhibit of Iceland in the Museum of Natural History.  We enjoyed perusing the pictures of barren landscapes, and farms and villages, and of Iceland's hearty residents.  Then we discovered that the museum was showing the new IMAX movie celebrating the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service. We paid the minimal fee and got in line.

I had seen this movie advertised in the Sierra Club literature I receive.  In fact, I had researched how to bring the movie to our area.  Unfortunately, it was prohibitively expensive.  What a find to see it here!  The photography was exquisite, the music a perfect accompaniment, and Robert Redford's narration clear and interesting.  If we had any complaint, it was the "adventure" aspect of the film, which showed three people doing extreme sports throughout the terrain.  Some of their activities appeared unsafe, or detrimental to the landscape. Still, the movie was a wonderful tribute to the beauty and fragility of our National Parks.

We had lunch at Paul's Cafe.  With the sandwiches served on baguettes, and a case of exquisite pastries, this cafe is decidedly French. I couldn't resist a chocolate mini-croissant.  Along with the warm decor of natural woodwork, and large windows facing the Mall, Paul's made a cozy escape from the drizzle that had begun outdoors.  We were well-fortified for our afternoon activity.

(Uh-oh. Entrance to the Spy Museum)

Rosemary thought that Bill, especially, would enjoy the Spy Museum, a place, again, new to all of us.

Upon entering the museum, we were told to choose a personality from the ones offered, and to remember its characteristics.  Then we would see if we could successfully qualify to become a spy with our character.

We pressed buttons and answered questions.  After the second series, the screen told me to go to the Pub.  I was clearly a loser at spying!  Herb, however, went through several levels and got to the screen that said that he was the "most effective security threat."

(Herb and Rosemary see that he could qualify to be a spy!!)

Herb wasn't planning on a new career, so we followed the museum map through the pop culture section where we saw James Bond's car and Agent 99's phone.

(James Bond's Aston Martin)

From there we entered the history wing.  We learned how spying was used by the Greeks with the Trojan Horse, in Shakespeare's writing, by Queen Elizabeth I, and throughout the World Wars and into today.

(A model of the Trojan Horse began the museum's history wing)

Artifacts, writing, and recorded interviews fascinated us. We learned how the spies crafted their trade, what qualities they possessed that made them successful spies, how they influenced or deceived others, and were ultimately caught.  Equally interesting was the elaborate and complex intelligence the detectives used, coupled with their intuition and instincts. This museum has something for everyone.

(World War II intelligence and spy equipment)

We had had a packed weekend, and, yet, we had also had plenty of time to relax and visit, curled up in comfy chairs in the apartment.  It was fun to catch up with one another, and to better understand our friends' temporary home and lifestyle.

Monday morning, Bill and I left to catch the subway for our trip back to the train station and north to Albany. Our hours of travel time were spent going over our brochures and thinking about all of the places we had been, but we always returned to the many conversations we had shared.

(Good friends since 1989)