As always, UD’s monthly report on the Garrett Park, Maryland…

… town council meeting. Title: On a Foggy Night.

Margaret’s Nature Journal

Two dead thrushes in two days on UD‘s deck! Both flew into our sliding glass doors. I think both were young… There’s always a bit of bird carnage out there – maybe four birds a year? – but I’ve never seen two of the same species on two consecutive days. And thrushes, with their famous song.

UD gets more interested in mushrooms each autumn. Her back woods, as you know, are all about dead trees, and she’s been delighted with her giant puffball crop and various less flashy fungi. Today she pulled from a tree what turned out to be a full shelf of oyster mushrooms which yes yes I know you can eat but UD is afraid to eat any mushroom she forages. She doesn’t trust her ability to identify them.

Mushrooms are very in lately.

A haughty orange cat has taken over UD‘s property. It always makes sure to be tramping around when UD‘s outside, and it stares insolently at UD, but refuses to approach. It has the look of a real predator, and UD‘s garden and wood, with its birds and rabbits galore, is just the thing. Today, as UD leaned on her rake (taking a break from dragging leaves curbside), she watched as the orange cat made sure UD was watching, and then shat in a stand of azaleas.

On the plus side, the cat took a long careful time covering up – with soil, leaves, and twigs – what it had done.

Another regular in UD‘s woods is the deer with one antler. I’ve watched this character year after year. Its dead antler never fell off; it hangs, a blackened fragment, off the side of its head. UD usually shoos away deer who get close to her house, but she has a soft spot for One Antler.


UPDATE: Yikes. Were those birds gifts to me from the cat?

Lots and lots of leaves like…

this and like this on UD‘s woodland path this morning. She raked most of them away, but brought some inside for Mr UD to look at while reading the New York Times. She spread four of them out in front of him on the black table and he mustered a bit of enthusiasm.

Last night, we heard owls for hours. “Is that the kind that says What’s-On-For-Lunch?” asked Mr UD.

“No,” said UD: “Who-Cooks-For-You.


Plus I just discovered a shroomfield of collybia asema.

Snapshots from Home

La Kid, in Chicago, hung out last night
with one of the famous Lucas Brothers.


They’re identical twins.
I have no idea which one she’s with.


She just called. It’s Keith.

UD asked La Kid what they talked about at the crowded chic Chicago bar pictured.

“Law school,” she said. “He attended law school.”

Here’s what UD found out about that.

Both [brothers] attended top-ten law schools, Keith at Duke and Kenny NYU. It was the only substantial period of time that they’ve spent away from each other, but they didn’t grasp the difficulty of being apart until, after both dropped out, they reunited and began their standup careers in New York. Keith stays in touch with a few friends but Kenny none, citing the indisputable fact that, “law students are just miserable, boring people. And they stress out over shit they imposed on themselves.” Although their mother supported their decision to pursue the dream, their friends were dumbfounded. They were only a semester away from obtaining their J.D.s. “The dean actually called me and tried to talk me into finishing,” Keith recalls, “but we wanted to remove the safety net when we cut the cord.” It was a crazy move but also indisputably awesome and bold, creating a piece of trivia that will surely follow them around for the rest of their careers.

“We may notice, and feel aggrieved about, college kids driving luxury cars; but we don’t see private equity managers commuting by helicopter to their immense mansions in the Hamptons.”

Paul Krugman’s right: There’s too much to see around here.

I mean, for sure UD sees the luxury cars.

But she’ll have to get on the Acela to Manhattan to see the copters. One thing at a time!

UD, Girl Reporter

Every month, UD links you to her reporting (“A Town’s Work is Never Done”) on the town of Garrett Park’s town council meeting for the Garrett Park Bugle. Here tis.

UDs old friends, the Oppenheimers, came to her library talk on Charles Wright…

… and then gave her a lift home, during which we talked about Joe’s famous son Joshua, director of The Act of Killing. We touched on his latest film, but it was mainly a domestic chat, about a trip the Oppenheimers took a few weeks ago with Josh and his boyfriend to Iceland (Josh lives in Denmark). They traveled rough, sleeping in wilderness huts…

Josh has now won a MacArthur.

Snapshots from Home

On my walk to my Intro English Lit class on a spectacular early autumn afternoon, I saw, on our greenest quad, two couples lying on the grass. They made a kind of a square, with the men’s heads in the women’s laps, everyone blissful and calm with their eyes shut under the sun.

This was pretty to see, as were all the happy upright people taking in a highly lit day.

Now on the metro, going home from campus, I see across the aisle from me two young men, sweaty from I guess construction work, sprawled asleep on their seats. Their feet are wedged up against the sides of the car, their heads (under baseball caps) hanging off the seat edges.


Neighbors of UD are retiring to a house they’re building in the very north of the Adirondacks (Les UDs, you recall, have a house near Cooperstown), and Mr UD and I wondered about this, about making it virtually impossible for yourself to take what Saul Bellow called a “humanity bath.” Their house, like ours in upstate, has no visible neighbors, and though the sense this gives you of owning the earth is wonderful for a week or two (we’ve never stayed upstate longer than that) I wonder about it as a way to live every day of your life.


“Well,” their neighbors’ daughter told us when we chatted with her last night, “the house is one hour from Montreal.”

A French-speaking humanity bath! Sounds refreshing. But how often, really, would you go there?


UD’s talk about Charles Wright (current poet laureate) at the Georgetown Library was a pleasure. Good turnout – the day was rainy – and people laughed at my jokes. Very satisfying to peer out at the group and see old friends, new students…

UD’s chats with people after, at the reception, were equally gratifying. One guy in particular:

“I don’t read poetry. I don’t get poetry. I go to these things to accompany my wife, who loves poetry. Yours was the first talk to actually help me understand poetry.”


If you look out the library’s back windows on the second floor, you get a spectacular view all the way down Georgetown to the Potomac River.


UD‘s stroll to the library from Dupont Circle took her along Q Street Georgetown, one of Washington’s most beautiful residential walks. And since it was a dark, wet Saturday morning, she had the place pretty much to herself. Yum.

UD is partial to small, somewhat over-planted city gardens – the sort you see spilling onto the sidewalk with herbs and hibiscus. These are everywhere on Q. Again, yum.

So, if you scroll about halfway down this Washington Post page…

… you get to the announcement of UD‘s talk on Charles Wright at the Georgetown branch of the DC Public Library this afternoon (1 PM, 3260 R St. NW).

Here’s how I suggest you do it on this beautiful Saturday:

The library is just down the street from the famous Dumbarton Oaks gardens, which open today at 2:00. So take in my talk, and then stroll over to the gardens.

Then I’ll let you have a late lunch of your choosing among the many cafes of Georgetown.

What’s It Like Here?

Hot. There’s a small breeze, but it’s Washington and it’s September and that means muggy. The early evening sky is beautiful. A mix of blue and gray with white clouds – it’s been a day unable to decide whether to rain, and the sky remains mixed.

UD is sitting on the edge of the Pentagon Memorial, from which there’s a large view of the gravel, the grasses, the white-flower crepe myrtles, and the winged benches jutting out of the gravel. Constant low-flying jets out of Reagan buzz the plaza. One of them was crashed just here.

I sat for ten minutes on Leslie Whittington’s bench – Whittington, her husband, and her two children, all killed. All of their names engraved on the bench.


Tears? Oh yes. Didn’t know her, but feel a kinship. My age, also a professor in Washington. I feel compelled, on these anniversaries, to imagine her last minutes.


Enormous American flags hang off the sides of the Pentagon and nearby office buildings. The evening sun lights everything up with great clarity and drama. People set flowers down on each bench. A simple gesture which feels immensely loving.

Of course I’m never adequate to these moments. People go to a lot of trouble to design and build memorials, but when you get there it’s hard to know what to do, where to walk. There are quite a few people here with me, and we drift from winged bench to winged bench, reading names, photographing bouquets…

I’m now in a corner crouching over my laptop…

I find myself thinking not of the dead but of the living… Specifically, of two students I chatted with today after class. One after my English literature seminar and the other after The Postmodern Novel. One is a sophomore, one a senior.

The sophomore is talented in many directions and loves the study of many things, and this enviable condition was lately causing him anxiety. As in: What precisely to do? His parents were artsy sorts who did poorly in life and regret their artsiness; their son has inherited both a love and a suspicion of art. He figures he should probably be a music major (piano, other instruments, theory) but what can he do with that?

I tell him that a lot of people with those degrees teach. He listens. “What if I trap myself? Here I’m told to take advantage of all my skills and interests, but what if that’s actually a dumb thing to do?” I laugh and tell him that the impulse to map out your life, a preoccupation with not making mistakes, is understandable but to my mind a mistake in itself. “Life is messy, unpredictable. Probably the best thing to do is relax and pursue what you love. GW gave you some major, whopping, scholarships: Enjoy the gift.”

The senior amused me with a description of her honors seminar on the subject of love. “By the end of the semester, I’ll have learned never to get near it.”

Have I said often enough on this blog how much UD adores many of her students? Their charm, their energy, their considered and considerable puzzlement. It maketh my heart go pit-a-pat.

UD’s just like Leopold Bloom leaving the cemetery after Paddy Dignam’s burial. Throughout the funeral and burial his mind circles all the morbid themes; exiting the gates of the cemetery he’s right back onto Molly and Milly and all.

I can’t be very much with the memorialized; I grant them parts of my mind and soul on anniversaries, but even there the business of being busily alive intrudes.

I saw the motorcycles lined up in front of the cafe…

… at 1776 G Street where I grab a salad before meeting my English lit class. The bikes were part of today’s 9/11 Ride.

After classes, UD plans to visit the Pentagon Memorial, a good place for reflection despite the big urban setting. It’s been a couple of years since she visited the Memorial; she will blog about how it looks now.

Margaret’s Nature Journal.

UD, à ce moment-là, sits drying off on her bed after a Rock Creek Trail walk that ended just as a big summer thunderstorm came up.

The walk was fine, but the big nature news today was UD‘s encounter with an Eastern American Toad as she watered her front garden (who knew she didn’t need to water?). It plopped out from a rock UD was watering around and then hunched absolutely motionless on her gray driveway. A lesser toad hand might have assumed it was a clod of mud or a piece of dog waste, but UD knew from her time with Elphaba (a toad who, years ago, took up residence on UD‘s front stoop and ate all her bugs) that this was a toad for sure. UD lifted the water hose and sprinkled the toad, which immediately hopped into UD‘s pachysandra lawn and disappeared.

Snapshots from Home

UD and her sister this afternoon in
Port Deposit, Maryland, in front of


their grandfather Joseph Rapoport’s
department store. The store is now
a wildly successful seafood restaurant.


UD thanks her sister Frances
for taking the picture.

On a spectacular summer evening, outdoors at the Marriott Hotel…

UD finds herself surrounded by the annual American Political Science convention. She was vaguely aware Mr UD was taking part in a panel or two somewhere downtown, but it all turns out to be here, where, in an hour, we’re meeting our old friend David Mayers (who is himself giving a paper).

My first week of classes is over.

Students move me. They always have. Try walking through a beautiful campus on a mild afternoon, beautiful and thoughtful young people drifting swanlike around you, without feeling joy. My heart is fiercely protective of the younger ones, the freshmen… I have dreadful imaginings about them… Do they have friends? Are their roommates cruel or kind? Are they walking around Foggy Bottom in a devastated haze, wondering why they left LaCrosse? The idea that they’re not adrift in a swanlike way but in helpless despair upsets ol’ UD badly, and she deals with it by reminding herself that the university knocks itself out to welcome new students and surround them with friends… They’re fine, you fool… They’re out clubbing and when they’re not clubbing they’re driving to New Orleans with friends to build a Habitat for Humanity house…

You want to think everybody’s okay.


When you teach romanticism, you see in their eyes the peculiar sort of reflection that is at once about an old poem on a page and their own immediacies. This is beautiful to see. They drift into your seminar room, they settle in to their seats, and they proceed to lock onto deep themes.

UD routinely witnesses good minds at work in real time. It’s a privilege.

Hot in Foggy Bottom, But…

… cool in UD‘s office (I’m a bit overdressed for the weather, so I’ve put the air conditioning down low), where, having finished with her traditional Jesus I Can’t Connect to the Internet Help Me Computer Guys Who Live in the Basement of My Building and Make Everything That’s Wrong Right ritual (she has to visit the guys every time she returns to campus after being away for more than a month), she has now turned her attention to syllabi, introductory lectures, and textbooks.

The city’s the warm late August city, with less humidity than usual, but with huge gobs of sunshine which – now that she’s gotten over her connectivity-related annoyance – makes UD very happy.

There’s a new cushioned bench down the hall from UD‘s office; on the wall behind it a large black-lettered sign says


which, when UD caught sight of it, occasioned histrionic giggling.

On her way to the bookstore just now, to buy a copy of a course text she’s supposed to get for free but she can never be bothered to fill out the desk copy form, UD – still chortling over the languishing bench – began to sing Randy Newman’s Guilty which considering her upbeat mood is a strange choice. She loves the line It takes a whole lot of medicine / For me to pretend that I’m somebody else, and singing it in the (suddenly relocated to the basement – is everything now in a basement?) bookstore, I thought of Robin Williams, and of these two, described as doomed by self-loathing. (“A self-loathing so intense it would devour them both.”) UD read this article – about the doomed self-loathers – while getting her hair cut yesterday in preparation for looking passably respectable at the beginning of the semester (her look steadily deteriorates week by week, but she starts out okay). But she had to stop reading this article; she had stopped reading an earlier VF article and had tried this one, but she had to stop reading both of them. The first one – Marella Agnelli’s astonishingly boring account of way high-style life – simply put UD to sleep. Her disappointment with Agnelli’s total inability to evoke cosmic luxury reminded UD of this passage from Paul Fussell’s Class:

At the very top, food is usually not very good, tending, like the conversation, to a terrible blandness, a sad lack of originality and cutting edge. Throughout his pitiable book, Live a Year With a Millionaire, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney records memorable meals, and they sound like this: “Crab bisque, then chicken with ham biscuits, Bibb lettuce salad, and finally… a huge ice cream cake.”

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