Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's Tiara Day!

Every day is Tiara Day - a sparkly surprise in Frederick, Maryland. Vintage and art-to-wear clothes from local, independent designers in bundles of sizes all in a happy, crinoline tumble among Parisian linens, elbow gloves, and Deco jewelry. Housed in a 19th dry-goods store, the pretty chandeliers, like tiaras themselves, hang from 18-foot-ceilings. The industrial silver HVAC pipes overhead add an edgy twinkle as do the disembodied baby head mannequins. Stepping into the shop on Frederick's hip, cafe-filled N. Market at W. 2nd , words like "clever," "charming,"and "sweet," spring to mind - I thought instantly of you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tool Use in Octopuses...and Dolphins, and Elephants, and Naked Mole Rats and...

“I have never laughed so hard underwater,” said Julia Finn, a Museum Victoria biologist, witnessing an Indonesian veined octopus, having sheltered beneath a coconut shell, picking it up and running away, simultaneously escaping Dr. Finn and demonstrating the manipulation of objects that is tool-use - remarkable in non-humans, astounding in marine invertebrates.

By now we say, "Yes, yes, yes. Alright already with the non-human tool use," when presented with stick-wielding crows and termite-fishing chimps, but the Wired link below includes video examples that are impressive, even a little disturbing: naked mole rats fashioning dust masks, elephants protecting waterholes from evaporation, and the strange use of sponges in hunting by solitary female dolphins who teach the skill only to their daughters.

Which is how I learned it.

Don't read the "Whales as Much like Humans as Apes" one, though. It involves this year's tragic June International Whaling Commission meeting, futile harvest limits, and the Japanese. Words like "haunting" and "yeesh" drift to mind, and maybe:"Could it be?'Human cognitive ability' is not the supreme measure of intelligence after all."

Thinking of you and your remarkable ability to manipulate objects,

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Clear "Solutions"

Gone before you even knew what they were: the slender-billed curlew and the white lemuroid possum - and they sounded lovely, didn't they.

One billion hungry people in the world. Floundering polar bears. Flounder. Every Damn Thing Down the Damn Drain. But they say there's a tipping point, triggering action, and now it seems, the bucket's toppled, and here, sopping it all up is "Solutions."

A hybrid itself: both "peer-reviewed science journal and glossy coffee table book" launched this morning to showcase and provide a forum for bold, innovative ideas solving "the world's environmental, ecological, and socio-economic problems" taking a more media-savvy, sustained approach to environmental science and advocacy.

Writers, thinkers, an engaged public (that would be many of you) contribute approaches and project reports. The publication's audience is policy makers, business leaders, researchers.

In addition to being a platform for research and discussion, "Solutions" provides a core around which scholars are no long just describing, but actually implementing "a sustainable, just, and livable global civilization."

A little weirdly, everyone associated with the publication are like little ecologies themselves: embodiments of diversity and fecund productivity, like omnipotent, puckish managing editor Ida Kubiszewski, astronomer, physicist, (currently pursuing her PhD in environmental economics), who co-founded The Encyclopedia of Earth, and is managing editor of the Environemental Review out of UVM, and is currently working on her PhD in Environmental Econ at the Gund Institute.

Interestingly, many of journal founders are trained as Architects, like Paul Costanza the ecological economist, one of the first people to conceptualize the valuation of ecosystem services, and biodiversity ("He was at UMd when I was," she said modestly) and Paul Orr who talks (and acts) to further environmental literacy in higher education and environmental design.

Glossy as a wet leaf, but not - well, you know - slick, the Web site too is an amalgam: multimedia, linked, telegenic. It's like a skeleton, a mycelium. Like an ecosystem.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tatoo'd Ladies

There are worlds within worlds, we all know it, and we've always suspected that some of those worlds would astound us if we caught a glimpse of them down an alley one night, or surprised one in a sunny field, or, in Amanda and Liz's case, came upon one in full swing in the bus lot at 9th and H. The Trapeze School of New York, now in Washington, DC, is just such a world teeming with squads of clear-eyed, timber-thighed folk - lean as brisket, beaming from swings, beckoning like sirens.

Where do all they come from for god's sake? It seems there are worlds within worlds within worlds. Liz's teacher, Everett (which made her chuckle), was wearing nothing but Ray Bans, piratical hair, and, orange camo tights when he swung into view beneath her, storm clouds and sun boiling up 12th Street, and Chinatown wheeling over his oak-leafed bottom making her think of Death and pumpkins as he grabbed her well-chalked forearms, quietly said, "straighten your legs," and took her with him off the bar. At 24, he had spent six years in Israel training tigers.

The woman who signed us in, whose eyes were the color of Windex, had until recently trained dolphins in Baltimore. The girl with watermelon-pink hair and cannonball delts who winched us like freight hauling on pulleys yelling "Let the back-flip do YOU!" and "...Knees UP!....Release your HANDS...Arch BACK...STRONG hands...GOOOOOD!" was fresh (if you can call it that) from riding horses upside-down and bare-back in tiny circuses in Northern England. A woman at the gate sped along on a powder-pink Elite bike stand squirting Orange Vanilla Goo in her mouth with one hand and taking our waivers (it's nobody's fault but our own) with the other.

They're still calling the Metro stop "Gallery Place" for now, but A and L are feeling like Persephones just back from the Underworld. For P, one pomegranate seed, and you're never the same. For us, maybe it was the Goo.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Smoke Gets in your Eyes.

I'm with my cat at the vet. They've bundled her into the back swaddled in Brian's long-johns. She's wrapped like Boris Karloff, but I can see she's working her left arm loose like Houdini upside down in a barrel. "Okay Kitty! said the vet who is a cream-cheeked girl called, you won't be surprised to hear, Dr. Paradise. "Here we go!" Dr. Paradise chimes,"We'll just go run a blood test battery, won't we? Won't we have a screening blood battery? Yes! We will! Here we go! Bye Bye! Bye bye, Mommy!" That's me. I wave vigorously.

My cat is old. Even for a person, really. She's 16. Her back legs aren't doing the Ol' Feline Lithe and Spry like they used to and she pin-wheels her tail to keep from pitching into the pachysandra when clambering up the front porch steps or if you jostle her while rounding a cabinet to the refrigerator she'll slew across the tiles and look reproachful, which appalls us and we swoop down and scoop her and shovel extra Iams into the dish she likes. It's because she's old, of course. Just creakier. Although now she's nearly got that left paw loose as Dr. Paradise bumps the swinging door open with her cushiony right hip, "Bye kitty!" I coo and make a big "For me!? You shouldn't have!" face with my hands up in jolly surprise to gasp, "A Blood test battery?! Oh Yay! Bye Bye!"

So, I'm waiting for my cat on a wooden "wagon-wheel theme" bench, reading back issues of "Bark" magazine and "The Chihuahua Connection," With her gone I notice that vet-scent, sad dog smell of Liv-a-Snaps, poo, and chloroform. But it's sunny in the waiting room.

I come to the Annandale Veterinary Clinic for the music. They pipe in the most pleasing music, peculiarly appropriate: it is Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, some Petula Clark for leavening, and now, the Platters are singing "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." And me with them:

"They said someday you'll find
All who love are blind
Oh, when your heart's on fire
You must realize
Smoke gets in your eyes"

Now laughing friends deride
Tears I can not hide
Oh, so I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes

All the dogs are snoozing in mounds.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Car-Free is Care Free on an Autumnal W & OD

It's the Autumnal Equinox and Car-Free Day. This morning, I ran to work along W & OD Trail (, cool and damp both me and it. The picture above is not me very much at all, but Abiyot Abebe, who, not touching the ground, won the 2009 W&OD 10K in August 2009.

Steamy as it was then, it was chill this morning, and a canyon like running down a gully sluiced with a big autumn buffet full of wines and cheddars and mustards. In the stream valley below the path, white tail deer were out in the flood plain, lifting their pretty knees and plunging them down again into the mounds of fescue and sedge tussocks, and vetch, like they were spearing fish from a canoe. They stomped delicately through ripe poke and barged through wingstem tall as they were like breasting waves. They're taupe now, autumn deer are.

The W & OD is an old railroad bed, the steep banks are tumbling over with dogwood and fern and blooming golden rod dusty as bees, and dunes of smashed bracken, the color of deer, and fern in lime greens and chocolate, and sumac the color of bruised cardinals. I found a tiny, wild persimmon in the gravel the size of a thumb nail and perfectly formed with its four leaves unfurled like the crest of ancient family line.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Crystal City Runs From Grim to Glossy

Did I tell you this? In late July, I ran in the Crystal City Twi-Lighter 5 K.
In a shuffling mob and a summer downpour, we set off, all 2078 of us loping along the wet city streets, past the newly bustling Crystal City Centre.

Full of restaurants and cafes overflowing with family and friends waving Buffalo wings and mugs of hand-crafted Pilsner, cheering us on through smeary puddles full of green and red traffic light reflections, and whistle-tooting cops looking like gleaming yellow mushrooms in their sou'westers and slickers, out to that boggy, forgotten end of Crystal City, where you dump the bodies and the oozing petrochemical drums - the last scrap of what the whole place used to be.

Five years ago, Crystal City was empty canyons of office buildings filled to the ledges with consulting, accounting, and logistics firms: the togglers and tenders of the fly-wheels and bezels that run the government machine across the river. Those buildings cast the empty streets, a disturbing Holiday Inn, and drippy, long-in-the-tooth bachelor pad apartment buildings in a perpetual, salt-mine gloom. The Crystal City Underground, a subterranean Mall-cum-Disco, built in that Golden Age of Design that brought us brown glass, donut-shaped transistor radios, and pebble-dash pre-cast by people wearing Bryl Cream and plank-wide ties made of sofa upholstery. Take all this glamour and rain down upon it the a heavy metal particulate emissions of Reagan National's northbound air traffic. Even on the cheeriest summer afternoons, if you glimpsed anybody at all, they were rumpled clots of Government Consultants with mustard on their Sears ties smoking, clawing at the sunlight, or scuttling like crabs around a distant corner toward the Olley's Trolley for a chili dog and a 9 am beer. Like one big office itself, Crystal City slammed shut with the last car door every afternoon at 5.

Now, what's old is new again! We love donut-shaped transistor radios and Crystal City is more polish than spit. Crystal City gleams! It's all light and life and air lined as it is with chic restaurants like butterfly-themed Oyamel for cultured tapas, or playful King Street Blues, and the horrible, drippy bachelor pads are now swank and retro, and the bachelors themselves have aged to a patina that flossing and good real estate investment will get you.

The Pacer's-sponsored run completed the street party feel they were playing Boston for some reason, Barry White's "My Everything" and Earth Wind and Fire's "Let's Groove" and Chaka Khan. People were safety pinning on each other's bib numbers, and lacing up their shoes, waving and meeting each other under the pretty trees, and everything was swathed in redolent gouts of barbecue char from the swaggering Ted's (as in Turner's) Montana Grill across the street. The idiotically beautiful Saucony Running Shoe models, one, clambering nimbly in nylon shorts onto the roof of the Saucony-Mobile to do something sexy and capable like link up the aerial feed, and it must be said, moving the way creamy coffee pours, caused a pile-up in the practice lane, and it was a lively happy Twilight vibe.

So, we ran out of the rain and into malarial steam somewhere around Mile 2 with the fastest runners coming back, passing the bolus I was in, fast and beautiful, and as if they had run right out of their clothes, all wet ribs and bony shoulders. They were like hounds, really leaping along through the puddles at truly stunning paces. We cheered them on with hardly a bitter thought.

Of the field of 2000-ish, 52% were women, whose average age was 32.7, and whose average time was 31:11 at a 10:02 minutes/mile pace. This was me:
# Bib First Last Age 1M 2M 3M Time ChipTime ChipPace
1204 2041 Liz Kirchner 46 09:37 19:03 28:46 31:14.2 29:41.0 9:33

Here are the data for everybody and The Best:
People Years Old AverageTime Minutes/Mile
33.5 years old 28:52 9:17
Male 34.4 26:20 8:29
Female 32.7 31:11 10:02

First Male 27 14:34! 4:41 AHaha!Yikes
First Female 23 16:20 5:15

Monday, September 14, 2009

Swim, Bike, Run: A Journey of a Thousand Miles

The Nation's Triathlon Claws its way Beneath the Memorial Bridge

Yesterday, we lined the rivers and roads joining the Lean, the Toned, and the Chicklet-Toothed whooping it up at the Washington DC Triathlon at 7 AM on Sunday 9/13.

Agog by the horrible purity, health, and beauty of the spectators and wishing I had a) not led a life so utterly rent by profligacy and sun damage, b)thought I would look "rakishly outdoorsy" with my hair this way, and/or c) could climb into my own naso-labial folds and hide.

Weirdly Nice Legs

But,blinded as I may have been by the gloss of hair and eye all around us, B (who is damned glossy himself) and I yelled "Go! Go! Go!" and beamed encouragement to the friends and utter strangers who made up the 7,000 people between the ages of 18 and 67 who swam the Potomac beneath the benevolent bulk of the Lincoln Memorial, leaping out of the river like salmon unzipping their wetsuits to bike 24 miles, slaloming through curves, glittering like herring schools in their alien-headed helmet as they all scythed through the Washington Monument loop. Then leaping off, running in, by the thousands! stashing bikes, changing shoes, and running the last six miles in a big generous loop that thoughfully toured the Smithsonian Castle, the Mall, the Reflecting Pool all under the dying elms and autumn oaks, smashing acorns that smell like earth now that it's September in Washington.

Heading out for the run, the last leg (In many ways. You can imagine.), people were setting off through the gate, chewing open Goo packets, gnawing oranges rind and all, sometimes just jogging along eating bananas bouncing along with the draped peel gently slapping their wrists. Some were trying to make their legs "stop doing 'bike'" and "start doing 'run';" some were really striding out of the gate, strong as big animals striding, upright like hood ornaments, and one guy plugged by taking tiny tiny shuffling steps and called out to the throng lining the road: "This is the only gear I've got. This is it. I'm in High," and away he went.

Every day has its ups and downs. Hearing him, I felt like even I could muscle out a triathlon, even though I have a hard time finishing a 5K right now and swimming in the Potomac only makes me think of words like "decomposition," "typhoid", and "missing teen." Poco a poco and a journey of a thousand miles, but it's hard not to panic. It is a fine thing to know your gear and love it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Staunton, Virginia: Hand-knotted by the Criminally Insane

The throw rug in front of my back door, is made of heavy cotton loops in blues and yellows and reds. As happy and festive as it seems, it's as thick as a saddle and sturdy as a mud-flap, and was hand-knotted by the criminally insane in the 1980s at the insane asylum in Stanton, Virginia.

The Western Lunatic Asylum was built in 1828. As eastern as it is, everything's relative, and the only other "Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds" was the "Eastern Lunatic Asylum." That's in Williamsburg - the first in the nation, and crammed to the gills with "a poor unhappy set of People who are deprived of their Senses, and wander about the Country, terrifying the Rest of their Fellow Creatures," described an 18th century report.

In Staunton, where the Blue Ridge rises up like a tidal surge, the Western Asylum was built, and, when its last brick was laid and its handsome doors thrown open, it was swamped and "immediately filled to capacity." The deluge of hopeful and ideal patients washing out of the Blue Ridge and up from the muddy coast forced the founders to restrict admission to "the dangerous, the immoral, and those who looked like having a reasonable shot at recovery."

The garden spot of Staunton, the hospital stood on willowed grounds where swans glided in ponds and buttercups starred (as they say) the long grassy slopes. It's the first thing you see as you come into town. Words like "gracious" and "fine" and "big" would describe pretty well the brick buildings and white columns.

The first time I saw it, it was so graceful and ante bellum that I thought it was a Girls' School, full of "Fine Women of the New South" being finished off with pearl-buttoned gloves and dimpled knees under their thick, plaid skirts, wielding field hockey sticks capably, and spending semesters establishing women-owned composting toilet and sustainably grown hemp co-ops in Guatemala. I considered the school quite liberal and Zelda-y as I drove past gazing at the shadowy figures silhouetted in tall windows or outside in the willow shaded verands hunched against the concrete Cupids, cupping their Marlboros, in undershirts damp with, what turned out to be, desperation, and not Estee Lauder at all. It really is crazy how we don't change our stories even when we see the bars on the windows, if you know what I mean.

Coming whipping off the exit ramp onto the main drag of Stanton, Virginia, despite the pythons of razor wire topping the chain link with its top two feet canted inward, those buildings and grounds were The Beautiful South in architectural form: windows as tall and slim as women, chimneys marching across the roof like infantry, the whole thing solid as a Colonel's bristly eyebrows. Rather. But what was the great thing about Staunton, was that, best of all, its Lunatic Asylum was overlooked from a grassy hillside by Wright's Dairy Rite Drive-in Dairy Rite Drive-in) its patrons gazing east over swans and willows.

Up on that hill, all the cars in the drive-in lined-up under the jaunty yellow and white striped drive-in canopy like De Soto over the Mississippi in the sun. Glinting metal trays are clamped to the car window by the sheer weights of their loads: red-checked paper french fry boats, towers of pickle-y burgers wrapped in paper emblazoned with a freckle-faced, plaid-panted dapper kid holding a burger out in his now-giant hand to you There were ketchup squirters and ribs gory with sauce and char like a sacrifice revealed by pulling open hot Reynold's Wrap.

And we'd sit in the sky above Staunton, Virginia chewing and gazing down upon the gracious grounds and bouncing willow tops and gabled roofs that went on and on like the Blue Ridge at our backs.

From that hillside, cheese burger clutched in the right hand, left hand coming too soon gouging you with your own Dr. Pepper straw, you are mesmerized while you chew you - overwhelmed by the immense statement that is Staunton. In one sweeping, charcoal-broiled vista, you've got The Myth of the Antebellum South. You've got Swans, you've got Madness and you've got Barbecue.

Summing Up: Women My Age

"Women my age are not as young as I am."

This morning it's autumn and drizzling. Chill as a crisper drawer. I can hear a field cricket stuck under the throw rug (hand-knotted by the criminally insane in Stanton, Virginia)calling. Thighs gleaming and clicking glossy as black eyes - all dressed up and trapped in my family room.

He sounds like ghostly Morse code from lost explorers, or the buzzer for summoning the nurse. But the connection's loose and she won't come. Buzz...zzz...god where's the nurse?...buzzz...

Good god. It just makes you want to fish him out from under there and tell him "Oh give over, mate." and fling him in a gentle arc out into wet poke, the smashed fescue, and the last of the clammy and slug-bitten tomatoes calling, "Cheer up! Go find a girl." Which brings me full circle, I guess. Go for a run. Have an apple. Don't panic. It's autumn.