Most mornings, I walk Ellie shortly after 5AM, make myself coffee, a couple of poached eggs and toast, then pull myself together to get out the door and to work before the suburban DC traffic is in full rush hour flow. I enjoy being alone in the office when no phones are ringing and I can work without distraction. I was looking forward to that today. But at 5:45AM I discovered that we were out of bread, so I figured I'd stop for breakfast on Brookville Road. Then I realized that a weekend change in who would be driving which vehicle failed to translate into my removing my office keys from one fob and clipping them to another as I should have done last night, so I was obliged to wait for them to return with Ina from her morning gym routine. Not a good start for me.

I hate waiting and even more, I hate wasting time. I went out and retrieved the Washington Post from the front walk and sat on a step flipping through it. Most of the news disgusts me these days, though, so that didn't last more than a few minutes. Then as I started to feel agitated about having to wait, I thought of how rarely I pull out my sketchbook lately. So I took my briefcase out of the car, took out my neglected journal, opened to a fresh page and started drawing what was in front of me.

Drawing is therapeutic. It forces me to slow down, leave anxious thoughts to evaporate, and focus on the moment. It's better than getting a massage. And when I'm done, there's a tangible result. 

Ina arrived a few minutes after I closed the sketchbook and slipped it back into my bag, I got my keys, and headed off to work still ahead of heavy traffic, satisfied that I'd managed my frustration constructively.

But I still want my poached eggs and toast.




Cross the Susquehanna River from the west where Route 30 stretches across a mile wide span, take the exit on the east bank, and if you turn right at the light (what I usually do when returning home from a week of working in Washington, DC), you'll climb and descend a steep hill that passes my little town of Marietta, Pennsylvania. If you turn left, you are immediately in the commercial center of Columbia, once a prosperous hub for the processing and shipping of the region's natural resources, now slowly rising from decades of economic stagnation, crime, and poverty.

I'm glad to see once decrepit buildings hosting antique shops, storefronts being restored, even an edgy microbrewery serving decent food and better than decent beer to a growing local and tourist clientele. But what I like best about Columbia is the unpretentious starkness of the places that have not been restored. So a couple of sketches of a big old brick tobacco warehouse next to a long abandoned railroad siding. A reminder of a time when even the plainest and most utilitarian of structures were handsomely built to last.



On a bright, brisk Sunday afternoon in April, with household chores beaten back and feeling a longing for rural vistas, we bundled ourselves into my new old Saab to do some bike route reconnaissance in the northern Virginia countryside. Avoiding the crowded interstate highways, we picked our way across Bethesda, past oversized new houses in the outer Washington suburban developments, and crossed a steel truss bridge over the Potomac into Virginia at Point of Rocks.

Abandoning maps and online route finders, we followed winding roads with sparse traffic through woods and open fields, the gently rolling landscape unscrolling. On an intuitive impulse, we turned down a road that disappeared into a hollow with a view of the distant Blue Ridge and a glimmer of waterway through the still bare trees.

We were greeted by this scene. A very small town surrounded by pastures and woodlots, announced by an imposing four story brick mill with a mansion tucked behind a scrim of big old trees on the hill above. A graveled pull off beside the road beckoned me off the pavement, and we stepped out into a pastoral scene from the 18th century.

Ina wandered off exploring the town while I squatted with my sketchbook balanced on my knee, huddled under the chilly breeze in the marshy weeds next to the mill. After drawing this impression, I joined her on her walk and we strolled up and down the old streets, peering between houses into intimate, partially hidden courtyards and across fields where sheep grazed. The occasional barking dog, a friendly wave from residents on a stone patio behind an iron fence. A landscape painter's studio and gallery, the door open, trustingly unattended. Quiet, peaceful.

Waterford, Virginia was established in 1733. It gained distinction during the Civil War as the only place in Virginia that spurned the Confederacy and kept its allegiance to the Union. It was a place where escaped slaves and free African Americans were welcome. The entire town was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970, one of only three in the entire United States. Its well preserved old homes and buildings stand proudly as a testament to the ideal of embracing all without prejudice or bigotry. A moving tribute in these turbulent times when inclusiveness is being threatened and our very democracy seems at risk once again from within.

And of course, a lovely outing on a beautiful day, to a place we'd not planned to find. The best destinations are often the least expected.

waterford mill, waterford, virginia; 11-1/4 x 7-1/2, pen and ink


New York's no-show snowstorm

the Flatiron Building

The annual Architectural Digest Home Design Show opened on Thursday morning at New York City's Pier 94. In the face of dire warnings that the heaviest winter storm of the season would bury the region on Wednesday, my colleague Meghan Browne and I rolled out of Chevy Chase, Maryland at 10:30AM as the air became thick with big, fat snowflakes. With four new snow tires on my Volvo wagon and winter driving skills learned in central New York's snow belt, I figured we'd be fine unless the turnpike commission closed the highways. We'd looked forward to getting out of DC and seeing what's new in New York, and a dubious weather forecast wasn't going to stop us. Everyone thought we were nuts.

Still, for the first couple hours, the snowfall got heavier, the roads more slippery, and driving took a lot of focus. We couldn't see the river as we crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge. But while the going was slow, traffic was light. Schools and many businesses were closed and most people had cancelled travel plans. By the time we got into central New Jersey on I-95, we had the highway mostly to ourselves except for the occasional slowdown behind a snowplow or road salting truck. The normally long line into Lincoln Tunnel was non existent, and the streets of Manhattan were as deserted as I've ever seen. Within 20 minutes of emerging from the tunnel, the car was safely stowed in a parking garage and we'd checked into our lodgings, marveling at our good luck. Meghan headed out to meet a friend for dinner, and I walked through a scrim of flurries a couple of blocks down 10th Avenue to a popular middle eastern restaurant catering to an unusually thin crowd. I watched the snow fall on weirdly empty streets and sidewalks, and the waitstaff stood around wondering how early the place would close so they could get home. It was quiet and magical like a snowy evening in my childhood on the farm, except I was in the middle of New York City.

The storm never arrived. When we headed out for coffee Thursday morning before going over to the show, there was enough snow to make it look like winter, but it was sunny and the city glistened, and by the time we walked out of the exhibition hall late afternoon, it was melting away. By evening it was all but gone. The show was terrific, and neither of us could remember an easier trip to the city.

Next time I want to go to New York, maybe I'll just wait for a really nasty weather forecast ... and wait for hubris to strike me down.


standing on the corner of 10th and 55th




Neglect hasn't killed the geranium that sits on my kitchen windowsill. It clings tenaciously to life, waiting for me to come home and remember to water it. Blossoms shrivel, leaves drop away, and it's still beautiful.

14" x 12", watercolor and 2B graphite pencil