Thursday, April 26, 2007

Great Cities

So, right now I am in Washington DC visiting with my sister. It was a sudden decision, but it is working out beautifully. Sadly, the Fabulous Babe is working most of the week, so I'm here sharing a hotel room and doing my own thing.

Today I went to the Phillips Collection, and lovely little museum of modern art, "modern" meaning about 1870-1940. Duncan and Marjorie Phillips collected art together, and in about 1930 turned their lovely Dupont Circle mansion in to a museum. Today the house, along with a more recently added annex, house the collection, which is amazing. It has a little bit of everybody you've ever heard of: Ingres, Delacroix, Degas, Manet, Daumier, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Calder, Cassatt, Bonnard, O'Keefe, Steiglitz Rothko--seriously, just about everybody.

The most famous work in the collection is Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party, which is still charming and delightful. It is currently in a gallery with two Van Goghs and two Bonnards, which is more riches than you can imagine. Although the Renoir is the largest and most famous, today I was hungry for color, so I found the Van Gogh more compelling. (Entrance to the Public Park at Arles, for those of you interested.)

So today, my favorite picture was one that I didn't even know was there: The Artist's Studio by Raoul Dufy. It is just about as huge as the Boating Party, and is hanging in a stairway between the two floors of the original Phillips mansion. So I came upon it bit by bit as I was walking up the stairs. Really, it is ridiculous that it is there--a tall person would probably hit it with a shoulder or something. Best of all, though, is that there is a balcony at the top of the stairs, so you can step back a bit to see the whole thing at eye height.

What a delightful picture! I only discovered Dufy a few years ago when I ran across a calendar of his art. There is such lovely and bright color, and whimsical lines to convey a loose and light approach to the subject matter. No wind toss'd seas, no sinking ships, no violent allegory or political protest. Just the studio where he worked for 42 years, with some of his recognizable painting, a peek at a Paris street, and a sense of airy and spacious light.

Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to be rich. I think I wouldn't be an inspiration to anybody--but maybe I could do this. I could collect art and turn my house into a museum. Cool, right?

Monday, April 23, 2007

In Which I Take Notice Of The Larger World Around Me

I am learning some things about myself these days, and one of the things I am learning is that I have a large Inner Bitch. Now, I don't let that IB out very often, because in addition to having the Inner Bitch, I am also a Professional Good Girl. I am a Compromiser who always Tries To See The Other Person's Viewpoint. Pathetically, I am so good at seeing that other viewpoint that I fail to see my own.

Today, though, I am seeing some point to my Inner Bitch--and it's a good one. Because when I listen to my Inner Bitch, I can process those feeling and then move on to something that is better and more noble and I can feel proud of myself, rather than simply being worried that the muzzle on the Inner Bitch might snap.

So, I happened to see some of the Today show today, and they were airing footage from Virginia Tech. Today was the first day of classes after the terrible shootings of last week. Because television is primarily a visual medium, we were treated to several lingering moments of college girls sobbing. And the Inner Bitch let out a howl.

IB: Because, you know, 32 people dead at a school in America is a national tragedy that we spend a week obsessing over and wringing our hands over and we need to know all the names of all the victims and when all their viewings and funerals are because IT'S NOT LIKE WE ARE IN A WAR AND KILLING 3 TO 4 TIMES THAT MANY PEOPLE EVERY DAY IN IRAQ!

Good Girl wades in to calm the situation: Now, be fair. Just because they are showing this doesn't mean that they aren't also covering the war. This is important too.

IB: You mean that American lives are more important to the viewers than Iraqi lives, don't you?

GG: No, I don't. I just think that. . .

IB: Because Americans are dying in Iraq too. And we DON'T see a week's worth of responses to their deaths, with the information about their viewings and funerals. Because if we reacted to their deaths the same way, we'd be responsible for doing something to end this war. . .

IB and GG: . . .which is really the reason I am so crabby about this. Not that the VT situation is being overly dramatized, but because the war is NOT. And those deaths are just as sudden and just as tragic and just as important. . .and there are MORE of them with no end in sight. The Virginia Tech shooter took his own life and ended the killing. What about Iraq?

And that's the real question, for me. If I don't listen to the Inner Bitch, I am left with a cynical, jaded and basically snotting feeling of contempt and superiority that I try to squelch. Somewhere in my head a voice is saying "Why are those kids crying--they should just suck it up because their loss is nothing compared to war losses in Iraq." And there I sit, judging those poor sad and scared kids harshly, and feeling like a shit about it.

But, when I let my guard down and listen to the whole of what my Inner Bitch is trying to say, I hear that my anger sparks against those kids, but is really directed toward the larger injustice, and that raises my compassion for humanity all the way around.

Except toward the architects of the war in Iraq.

Maybe the theory needs more work.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Just A Little Off The Top And Sides

This, courtesy of MamaPop, is amazing. Celebrities' photographs, air brushed and altered into the images that we actually see. [Click on "Portfolio" at the top of the page.] Some of them are highly "adjusted"--People are skinnied up, re-proportioned, and given such a light and creamy skin tone that they actually look more like wax figures than actual wax figures do.

Sure, seeing that even professional photographs are heavily "edited" makes the world seem a little more fair. Except that Halle Berry looks just as good "before" as "after." Cate Blanchett is still incredibly compelling; she needs no retouching. Julia Stiles works that green gown, and her body isn't altered at all.

Here's an interesting one--Eva Longoria in black lingerie. The retouching narrowed her waist, lifted her boobs, and rounded her thighs to look more curvy! No wonder we don't look like the women in the magazines--we don't get to distort reality nearly enough!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Yes! You are about to be treated to a meal, as it were, of random thoughts which by themselves would not make up a blog post, but by being attractively served on a collection of tiny little plates and bowls, creates a festive and nutritious and wholly worthy entry. Or entree. (See! How I did that! Made a joke while maintaining the metaphor.)

I was going to title this entry "Leftovers," but my little metaphor got me carried away and thinking that I should upgrade my self-image.

So, here goes:

You Know You Have The Right Dog When. . .

You are driving down your block, and see a really cute dog out for a walk, and then realize it's your kids taking your dog for his walk. (Freudians and psychology majors can make a meal here, by analyzing why I recognized my pet before I recognized my very own offspring.)

And It Rains After You Wash Your Car
So, spring has been sidling up to Minnesota over the last couple of weeks. The very bravest of little buds have started to show up on the sunny side of the trees. It was reportedly 81 degrees (that's Farenheit!) here two weeks ago, although I don't know that myself, as I was in San Francisco that week.

So, yesterday, I happened to look at some shoes. I do enjoy shoes, as Mr. Sweetie would probably confirm with a heavy sigh and exaggerated eye roll. I could write more about the nature of my shoe habit, the size and composition of my collection. . .but I will spare you that.

I will just say, I found some really cool two-inch Mary Jane mules, and bought them on a whim. I wore them yesterday, and they were awesome. Really comfortable, secure on my feet, and I felt like da bomb in them.

So of course it snowed today.

More Snow Whining

Mr. Sweetie is travelling today, to Orlando. The day it snows here--in April!--and he is off on a business trip to Florida. Do we call that dodging a bullet? Can we create (and then play on to our advantage) some guilt about leaving me to handle the weather while he jets away?

Nah. Not this time. I save that for when I want something expensive!

Manicure Mistiming

I got a manicure--about three weeks ago now, before I went on all those family trips. The color came off after a few days, but my nails! They had been pretty short and they just kept growing! In this healthy and nicely shaped way! And yesterday, I noticed that they were getting pretty long and I should probably get another manicure to keep them looking nice.

You guessed it. I chipped one pretty short. But that was nothing to the one that ripped off as I was putting wet laundry into the dryer. The manicure will have to wait until that nail grows long enough to even have the white part.

And The Worst Of It Is That It Was Me Being The Idiot

The really poignant part of the story--if you are sentimental like that, that is--is that I noticed I needed a manicure, and I had time to get one, and. . .I had lost my credit card.

Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a big problem--why not use cash? Or a check? But I had also lost my drivers license with the credit card, so I couldn't provide any identification, and the lost credit card was my ATM card. Sure, there were probably other solutions, but I needed to find that credit card. I had a specific recollection of pulling out my license and my card at the grocery. I remembered putting them into the back pocket of my jeans. They weren't there. So, I looked everywhere--my wallet, my purse, my jacket, my car, my dresser, my dresser drawer, the pockets of all my jeans, the pockets of the jeans that were in the laundry. I even did the laundry so I would be sure to find all my jeans pockets. I dug the grocery bags out of the recycling bin to see if I had dropped them in with the food. No where.

It was dinnertime when I finally found them, hiding under the grocery list. But by then, of course, it was too late, as the nails had [see above].

Personal Business News

I got notified by a couple of friends yesterday that my old law firm was closing down. They announced they would close the doors and dissolve by the end of the month. It's amazing how sad that makes me.

I had some really good times there, before my kids were born and before I was whacked by depression. I enjoyed the people, I enjoyed the work, and I was good at it too. After I left, the firm grew bigger and added more practice groups, and outgrew their space and moved into a different building, where they were going to be the anchor tenants. And now this.

I had two unworthy thoughts, which I will share with you, internets. You won't tell anybody, will you?

1. How odd--the bookclub that I started with some other lawyers while we were at that firm, has outlasted the firm.

2. All those dreams I have had over the years, where I went back to work there, because they really needed me? Especially the one where they couldn't afford to turn on the overhead lights, but they knew bringing me back would change everything? Could I have been right?

But I hope not, since if dreams are premonitions, I'm in for years and years of bosses walking in on me on the toilet. And losing all my teeth.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter Bunnies

So, Easter kind of snuck up on me--in that our vacation went until Palm Sunday, and what with getting home and unpacked and back into school routines and dog routines and regular life, I suddenly realized that I was going to be on call to pull off a holiday.

(Incidentally, the hardest part of coming back from vacation? The fact that the Nice Person doesn't take the plates away after you are finished with them and make them disappear. No, once you are at home, YOU have to do the dishes.)

I remembered by Saturday, however, and had time to pick up brunch ingredients, Easter candy and a couple of cool books for presents. Easter Chez Evil is traditionally an Easter egg hunt, with little candies in plastic eggs, and little gifts or coins, and sometimes a slip of paper with a gift for [your name here].

So, Mr. Sweetie and the kidlets had been packed off to church, the cinnamon rolls and turkey medallions were coming along nicely in the oven, and. . . .

I couldn't find the Easter eggs. I bought eggs about, oh, eleven years ago? And had some old baskets that we used each year? And I usually put the whole shebang (there's a word you don't here often any more) into a box that I store in the basement. This year? No box. Couldn't find it anywhere.

So, church is over, family is returning to brunch and egg hunt, they think, and I have no plastic eggs. Quick! It's Captain Internet! Boy, am I glad to see you! Can you tell me if there are any stores open on Easter morning where I can quick get some plastic eggs?

Cape flowing with the speed of typing, Captain Internet scans the websites of the likely candidates. Alas! The vestiges of Blue Laws mean that in the multi-cultural 21st Century, where on ordinary days a noticeable percentage of the staff in retail is Muslim. . .everything is closed for Easter.

So, in the end, I wrapped up the gifts and notes in Kleenex (TM) and hid them around. I took 10 pieces of each of 3 kinds of candy and hid that--so we would know when it was all found. I had a single basket, which the kidlets shared. And you know what? They thought it was cool. They liked the gifts, we had a tasty brunch, and all was well.

But you can bet your ass that I was at Target before 8:30 this morning buying plastic eggs for next year.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Deathly Hallows Cover Art

Okay, while we here at Chez Evil were filling our brains with early American history last week, Bloomsbury and Scholastic released the cover art for the last Harry Potter book. You would have thought that such information would have penetrated even our 18th Century bubble, but alas, no. It did not. So now I am terribly, hopelessly behind.

However, just because I am late doesn't mean I would deprive you of my thoughts on what this all means, right? Right.

I'd like to start with the UK children's cover, as it has the more interesting art to examine. Bloomsbury has a great site where you can see the image in close detail with high resolution here.

On the front, we see Harry, Ron and Hermione hurtling into a treasure trove. They appear to be coming from the round portal behind them at great speed. Harry's left sleeve is torn and his arm bloodied. Hermione has blood on her right arm. Someone is riding Harry's back and brandishing a sword with a ruby in the hilt. Ron seems to be frightened by something he sees to his right. Harry and Hermione are landing head first, Ron is arriving feet first.

So, let's take the easy parts. I'm pretty certain that is Dobby on Harry's back, carrying Godric Gryffindor's sword. Harry used that sword against the basilisk in Chamber of Secrets, which is also the book where we met Dobby. Notice the large ears and the bald head visible over Harry's shoulder. They are all falling into a pile of treasure, which is primarily red (rubies) and gold--the colors of Gryffindor house. There is also a suit of armor, with what looks like a Phoenix on the chest and a dragon (and a ruby) on the helmet. Harry and Hermione have been in some sort of fight, thus the injuries and probably the presence of Dobby. (Remember, house elves have powerful magic, and Dobby would do anything for Harry.)

It looks to me like the trio has either fallen down a slide and out of the round portal (like the entry into the Chamber of Secrets) or has been transported by portkey and are landing hard--they haven't yet learned how to land any better than they did while travelling to the World Quidditch Cup in Goblet of Fire. Given the presence of armor, a sword and the prevailing color scheme, I'm thinking this is Godric Gryffindor's personal treasure. Perhaps it is even in Gringotts?

Harry is wearing his black robes, but Hermione and Ron have colored, possibly dress, robes on. Perhaps they are members of the wedding party for Bill and Fleur's wedding? Hermione's robe is blue-ish--which makes me think of her Ravenclaw abilities, and Ron's green robes make me fear that he has become angry enough about what he sees as his second-rate status, and may have done something to betray Harry. Thus, the Slytherin green robes, and his lack of injury.

On the back, is a picture of Hogwarts, glowing silver in the moonlight, with a welcoming golden light shining from the front doors. Even though Harry has said he wouldn't return, I think at least part of the book is going to have to happen there--after all, some of the items Voldemort wanted to use as horcruxes are still there, right? Also, as of the end of book 6, Gryffindor's sword was still in the Headmaster's office. Hogwarts will likely re-open then, which wasn't clear at the end of the last book.

The back cover shows a full moon, and what I think is the Whomping Willow. The end of the series will rely somewhat on what happened in the previous generation--Remus Lupin, the werewolf, and the secret path to the Shrieking Shack that is still guarded by the Whomping Willow. Harry's patronus, the stag, is depicted on the front flap--again, a reference to his father, and the generation that started the story. It also implies we will see Dementors again--they have joined Voldemort's side, and the patronus is Harry's defense again them.

Finally, and curiously, there is a long snake depicted inside a crystal sphere. Slytherin's symbol was a snake; Tom Riddle controlled the snake-like basilisk; Voldemort has Nagini; the Death Eater's symbol is a skull with a snake for a tongue. The crystal looks like the prophesies in the Department of Mysteries. Dumbledore thought Nagini might be a horcrux--at any rate, in order to confront Voldemort, Harry will have to get past the snake.

The UK adult cover is a silver locket, with an elaborately engraved "S" picked out in emeralds. I think this is Salazar Slytherin's locket, which was not found in the cave in book 6, and will be one of the horcruxes that must be found and destroyed.

The US cover is less detailed and gives fewer clues. (Click on the link, then click on the image for an expanded hi-res picture.) Harry and Voldemort are in a sort of Coliseum, with a distant ring of dark figures around them. Are they Death Eaters--a reprise of the graveyard scene of Book 4? Both Harry and Voldemort have one hand in the air--neither is carrying a wand, and they both seem focussed on the same object, which is off the page. Their hands are held slightly differently, as though Harry might be calling the object or trying to catch it, and Voldemort is trying to stop its arrival. Harry has a pouch around his neck, and there is rock and wood rubble in front of them.

We know, from Rowling's interviews, that the two-way communicating mirror Sirius gave to Harry in book 4 is going to make a reappearance--for some reason, that's the first thing I thought of when I saw the pouch. With his hand up, and his eyes looking to the sky, Harry seems to be repeating his actions when he "Accio"-ed his broomstick, or the many times he captured the Golden Snitch. If Harry is looking to catch something from the sky, I for one would put my money on him getting it.

What do we know for certain from these covers? The trio will stay together, either at Hogwarts or not. Harry will confront Voldemort one-on-one--alone.

I can hardly wait.

Coincidence? You Be The Judge

So, after posting a fairly long entry about how modern society drives family life to the margins, I found an article by Barbara Ehrenreich (via Sweetney) titled "How We Learned To Stop Having Fun."

In this article, Ehrenreich traces the rise in depression from the 1600s and couples it with the loss of social celebrations and festivals--a rise in the concept of "self" as separate from the community, coupled with the loss of "community celebrations" which allowed the individual to lose their terrible aloneness and enter into a larger communion.

Even the religions, she notes, had some form of ritual or approachable God where an individual might become part of a larger group. I found this statement worthwhile:

Not so with the Calvinist version of Protestantism. Instead of offering relief, Calvinism provided a metaphysical framework for depression: if you felt isolated, persecuted and possibly damned, this was because you actually were.

Back in law school, I remember have a couple of conversations with friends of other faiths about which type of guilt was the most damaging: Jewish guilt, Catholic guilt, or Protestant guilt. Jewish guilt was focused around disappointing your family, and having to leave with people disappointed in you--summed up nicely, I recall, by the following joke:

Q: How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Don't worry about me, I'll just sit here in the dark and not be a bother.

Catholic guilt was more widespread, but also absolvable. Yes, nearly everything is a sin, and will send you to hell, but you can go confess and it goes away. Sure, confession isn't easy, but there was an official way to get rid of your guilt and to not have to go to hell.

Protestant guilt was tricky. It was the devious product of circuitous thinking--a lose-lose proposition. Protestants were supposed to work hard, but the risk was being successful, because that was often the sign of inappropriate favor by the devil. This is why New England was such a great place for them: they could work very very hard at their farms, but the rocky soil made it certain that they weren't too successful however hard they worked.

Calvinism itself was logically flawed: if you were predestined to heaven or hell, then it didn't matter what you did in this life, right? So, as my Jewish friends pointed out, if you were predestined to heaven, you could enjoy yourself without worrying about what was going to happen to you. If you were predestined to hell, you had nothing to lose by enjoying yourself. So, logically, early New England should have been Party Central.

But trust the dour Northern Europeans to spoil this game--no, your status as predestined to heaven was supposedly apparent though your conduct, and failure to behave in a suitably saintly fashion convinced your neighbors that you were hell-bound, and thus you were likely to be shunned, exiled, or burned for a witch.

No wonder depression is about the 5th leading cause of death and disability in the world. We sure know how to make ourselves unhappy, don't we?

We Have Seen The 18th Century, And It Is Us

So, we are back from our time-warp family trip, in which we lived mostly in the 18th Century. We spent a week at Williamsburg, which was fabulous, and a day getting to and from and enjoying Monticello, which was also fabulous. For our week in Williamsburg, we didn't rent a car, and walked the mile from our hotel to the Historic Area, thus feeling even more in character. Bunny got herself a mob cap, which she wore most days, looking very fetching.

We dragged ourselves back into the 21st Century by staying in a High Art hotel in DC before flying back home. It did feel a bit like time travel, especially since we saw the "Treasures of American History" exhibit at the Smithsonian, where they displayed items from Ben Franklin's walking stick to Judy Garland's Ruby Slippers and Jackie Kennedy's Inaugural Ball Gown.

It's been a couple of decades since I'd been to the East Coast, and the most interesting change I noticed was the explicit acknowledgement of the non-English cultures: the indiginous Powhatan Indians, and the West African slaves. Jamestown does the most with the Powhatans, since by the time of Williamsburg, Independence, and Montecello, they had been driven out of the area. But Williamsburg and Montecello made serious efforts to show how the slaves lived, worked, and struggled with the promises and betrayals of the Revolutionary Era.

One of the recurrent messages that stuck with me was the recognition that the slaves not only worked hard for their masters, but after their work was done, they still needed to raise food and make clothing, cook, etc., for themselves, since the rations allotment was not adequate. Colonial Williamsburg is developing a "typical" 18th Century small Virginia farm to show how the large part of the population lived, which was not in the urban world of Williamsburg. There is a large field for tobacco, plus a kitchen garden for the whites, and another kitchen garden for the slaves. The slave garden is planted and tended only after the slaves have finished work for the day.

Yet, despite working unremittingly hard, the slave did have their own community, or family, or culture, which was necessarily limited because they only were able to engage in their own activities evenings, Sundays, and holidays. This is what struck me--the explicit recognition of how little time was allowed for slaves to do anything but work.

Now, I don't want to belittle the harshness and utter wrongness of slavery. It was not just that they worked long hours, but the types of work they did, the harsh conditions in which they lived, the essential indignity of being "owned" and thus powerless over their own lives, as well as the physical violence in their lives were appalling and not to be dismissed. But these aspects were not particularly emphasized in these places--there was a clear recognition that the lives of the Virginia Planters (the wealthiest ones, of course) was leisurely and full of time to consider abstract ideas like "independence" and "unalienable rights." These lives were made possible by the fact that the slaves did the work to maintain those lives.

There was palpable poignance, though, to the recognition that the slaves worked all day for their masters, and then were forced to work to feed and clothe themselves and only then were able to take time for their families and their own lives. Even the kindest and most generous of masters didn't change this basic rule of work during daylight hours, relegating family life to the few hours between work and sleep.

But wait. How much has that changed? Well, it probably hasn't for the poorest in our society. One change, though, is that some of the richest and most educated people also work from early morning to late evening, with family time squeezed into "evenings, Sundays and holidays." Mr. Sweetie told me this morning, that he has to work on Saturday morning--there is a meeting he needs to attend to prepare for a trip to California, and he leaves on Sunday evening. He got home from work after 8, and has worked later than that on a regular basis. He has to still feed himself, clothe himself, live his own life in those hours that aren't work.

When I was a practicing lawyer, I worked a lot of weekends, a lot of late nights. I remember a meeting where the younger lawyers realized that we needed a full-time wife, or mother, or housekeeper, or something, because there was no way to work as hard as we were working and still pick up our drycleaning. Somehow, we have managed to replicate a very difficult way of life, and worse than that, we do it voluntarily.

What leads us to do this? Is it some hardwired biological imperative to compete? Sure, only the strongest animals get to reproduce, but that's not true of humans. We even continue to compete even after having all the children we are going to have. Is it the remenants of religious belief, that we work hard now, but we'll have an eternity of heaven in which to lead our own lives? Is it just that we are trying to get the most stuff before we die, because that's how we keep score?

There is a modern parable about an American MBA on vacation in Mexico who meets a fisherman. The fisherman fishes long enough to meet his family's immediate needs, and spends the rest of his time playing cards with his friends, taking siestas with his wife, raising his children, and playing guitar on a hammock under the trees.

The MBA scoffs, and offers to help the fisherman redevelop his business model, hiring other men in other boats to do more fishing, developing supplier relationships with commercial food producers, issuing stock, placing an IPO and making millions. Why? So then he is rich, and can play cards with his friends, taking siestas with his wife, etc. etc.

The point being, of course, that you could work even harder and give yourself ulcers and anxiety, in order to get what you already have. Sure, there are lots of things overlooked in that parable (like what if the fisherman gets too old or sick to fish, and can't meet his needs anymore?), but there is something about that story that strikes me as perfectly perverse, and perfectly human--we seem to need to achieve just for the sake of working hard and achieving. Which might be commendable, but is that really all our lives are about?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring's Desolate Promise

It is April here in The North, and the Family Evil is just back from a week in Virginia. Spring has sprouted there: pansies fill flower beds, and the ubiquitous magnolias have bloomed. Magnolias are icons of the South, but they even grow up here. They are odd trees: they bloom large white and pink flowers before the leaves appear, and shed those blooms as well. Where we were, there were very few magnolia petals on the ground. When they do fall, they decompose quickly, emitting a dank perfume and making the ground slippery as ice.

Spring has started here as well. Through much of March, the temperatures here have matched those in San Francisco. The snow has all melted and the sharp bite of winter has disappeared from the air.

There is very little green here, yet. Some spikes of grass have pushed up, vividly verdant, mostly in sunny corners near brick walls, where the microclimate has run ahead by several weeks. Florists and grocery stores are selling baskets of spring bulb plants: crocus, daffodil, hyacinth--cheery pastels like Easter eggs for adults.

There is a rabbit who has huddled underneath the climbing tower in our backyard during the winter, he was there again today, looking tucked into himself for warmth. Because this is not San Francisco, or Virginia, and the temperatures have dropped back down below freezing again.

Out in the country, the fields are bare but neatly furrowed from last year's harvest. As the air warms up, the smell of warming fertilizer lifts off the black rows. A few bent stalks remain, broken and brown, looking all the more dead for lying against the rich soil.

In the city, flowerbeds are emerging as well. Edging markers--bricks, stones, black pipe--outline the space where the flowers will go. Nothing is in those beds yet, it is far too early. Groundhog's Day doesn't mean six more weeks of winter to us--it's nearly Easter and it's still six weeks before we can begin to feel safe from frost.

But some things are different and promising. After last summer's reconstruction of the roads and curbs, there are now new storm sewer drains, embossed with the silhouette of a loon, to remind us that these drain directly into the river. Where new concrete sidewalks were laid, you can find paw prints, names, shapes, and even the impression of bare feet that were set in before the cement hardened.

Nature is very brown, right now: dirt, dormant grass, leafless trees. But they are no longer covered in white, which means the promise of green spring.