I went on my first trip to Washington, DC when I was a senior in high school. It was my first time on a plane, my first time east of metro Denver, my first visit to a major city (surely places like Seattle, Portland, and Salt Lake didn't count?). We stayed in a hotel and rode around on tour buses with students from three other states, hitting the highlights: the Capitol, the monuments and memorials (except the Washington Monument, which was closed for maintenance), the Natural History and Air and Space Museums. We were there during the time of the first Gulf War, so the White House was closed to tours, but we had lively discussions about free speech during a time of war (you can guess which side I was on). Everything was so new, so exciting, so different, that I bought about 200 postcards and took a similar number of photos (in the days of 35 mm film).
I've been back a few times for work, each time taking in a little more of the city: an Art Nouveau exhibit at one of the Smithsonians, Pakistani food in Georgetown. Once I was passing the White House during my lunch break just as they were about to close off the tour line. I hestitated, considering skipping the afternoon round of meetings, but my sense of duty took over and I went back to a long, boring meeting at EPA headquarters, about what I don't even remember, and have been kicking myself ever since.
We'd planned to take the kids to visit their nation's capital for years, but never got around to it. Then this summer came and I realized it was almost too late—one kid was about to fledge into the world and who knows if he'd ever want to go on a vacation with us again. Coincidentally, C's stepbrother, who lives in DC, made a casual comment like "you should come see us sometime," and we took him up on it (be careful with those casual invites).
We had an amazing time. We hit the highlights: the Capitol, the monuments and memorials, including the new FDR and MLK memorials (George Washington still closed for maintenance; I'm beginning to think it's a hologram), the Natural History and Air and Space Museums, the National Archives. We did not bother looking into White House tours, but had a moment of mourning while looking at the white columns from the ellipse. We also fit in some nature (Constitution Gardens, Botanic Gardens, and National Arboretum), spent a weekend in Baltimore with a pirate cruise, a view from the observation deck, a visit to the other Washington Monument, and food from Little Italy. We ate empanadas at a street food event and injira in an Ethiopian restaurant.
Most impressive, educational, and moving were the five-plus hours we spent in the Museum of African American History and Culture. It was a lot to take in—sobering, uplifting, and really, really unsettling. Humanity has such a range—from brutal and barbaric to magnificent—it's hard to wrap your brain around. While I was looking at a display that included a book by Toni Morrisson, a woman turned to me and said, "Do you know who Toni Morrisson is? She died yesterday." I thought of Beloved and how much that book affected me.
The kids were the perfect age for a vacation this rigorous and educational—they took in a lot, barely complained, and, most importantly, I didn't have to worry about them falling under a subway. They've also studied enough American history to understand the significance of what they were looking at.
We stayed pretty much ignorant of current events during our trip, preferring to look at our country as if it were frozen in amber, and yet news of two mass shootings worked its way into our bubble. I wonder how long before we have a memorial, a museum, devoted to the victims of the mass shootings that have become woven into the fabric of this troubled nation. What year will be on the exhibit that depicts the day our "leaders" take action to end to gun violence?
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Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Friday, August 9, 2019
Usually my stack of reading is at least partially made up of books written decades (or sometimes centuries) ago—partly because I like buying used books and partly because I've been on a program to catch up with reading all the books I *should* have read by now. July was a bit of an exception, with three titles published in the last year and the others a decade or less old (which to me is new).
I started my mornings with a handful of poems from Another Way to Say Enter, a collection by my friend Amanda Johnston. Amanda's poems are smart and sassy, they play with language and form, they are by turns humorous and heart-wrenching, and they never fail to strike a nerve.
For our fall selection, my naturalist book club chose The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, but not finding that title at the local bookstore, I picked up Wicked Plants instead. (I'm more interested in poison than alcohol anyway.) It's a bit slow-going, because it's not written in a continuous narrative, but rather in short (2-4 pages) passages about individual plants. However, it's an intriguing look into the more dangerous members of the plant kingdom. Also, I kind of love that Amy Stewart both writes about the natural world AND writes mystery novels. (I haven't read the Kopp sisters series yet, but I plan to.) And I just found out she paints, too. So basically she's living my best life.
I read Thirst by Heather Anderson both because I'm writing my own hiking narrative (still) and because I love reading adventure memoirs. The book tells the story of Anderson's fastest known time hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Though I'm more likely to score a slowest known time on any hike I do, I still found it a page-turning read and it gave me insight into why someone would want to hike 40+ miles per day and an understanding that such an endeavor is not necessarily (in Anderson's case anyway) a stunt.
I really enjoyed reading my friend Aaron Hamburger's latest novel, Nirvana is Here, a tale about a gay, Jewish high school student finding his identity, coming to terms with his sexuality, and coping with sexual assault in the early 90s Nirvana era. Ari, the narrator, is so engaging and his desire to find his place in the world is so relatable that rooting for him all the way, and dying to find out what would happen—another page-turner!
I also devoured Whispers Beyond the Veil by Jessica Estevao, about a young woman who grew up as part of a traveling medicine around the turn of the 20th century. She runs away from the show after a tragic incident, in which she was inadvertently complicit, seeking out an aunt in Old Orchard Beach Maine, where she establishes herself as a spiritualist medium, but where her past comes back to haunt her. I've almost finished rereading the entire Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels oeuvre and I'm looking for a replacement. Estevao *might* fit the bill—I liked the characters, setting, and storyline, although there could have been a little more spine-tingling-ness to the supernatural element. I'm excited to read more by Estevao.
I'm terrible at keeping up with reading the magazines and literary journals I'm subscribed to. I thought by keeping one—this month it's been Ecotone—on the nightstand I might have a better chance of reading it all the way through. I'm making slow progress because I'd almost always prefer picking up a novel or book-length narrative. Although when I do pick it up, the short stories, essays, and poems are always first-rate and worth reading.
What's on your nightstand?