Wow. Pick up a plant container and…

Just got my second mink sighting.

Saw one years ago, and now here’s another (I wasn’t fast enough to take a picture of my own), and it makes perfect sense that we have minks (I suspect there’s a family living under our deck). We have endless rabbits, and minks like to eat rabbits. We have everything minks like: snakes, birds, mice.

UD’s friend Judy poses her pensive cat amid UD’s pachysandra and one of UD’s Ferdinand bulls.

Longtime readers know that Munro
Leaf, author of Ferdinand the Bull,
lived in UD‘s Garrett Park house.

Les UDs bought two topiary
bulls in his honor.

Here’s Judy’s wonderful blog.

Baby wren just out of the nest stares at UD.

The wrens chose this planter full of ferns
inches away from UD‘s front door.

I don’t know about their other babies, but
this one isn’t shy.

“Reports to show cicadas, or their skins, are being spotted in the largest numbers in the greater Washington area, including across Montgomery County.”

Found a cicada shell on the front
steps last week. And now, a cicada.

Shocked Rabbit…

… on UD‘s lawn.

A Little Garter Snake in the Mulch.

UD was patting down some mulch
when along came a snake.

UD’s Nature Journal: Wren’s Nest by UD’s Front Door

Inches from the door, a
wren has built its nest
in some potted ferns.

UD has watched it collect
moss for its nest from our
topiary bulls full of sphagnum.

Wrens don’t mind our interrupting
them all the time; they seem to
like people. And along with a
handy nest-building material nearby,
there’s a water-source very close.

UD’s Day

I had to be on the Red Line to Dupont Circle to meet my friend and former student Carolyn and her boyfriend for noon lunch at Bareburger. They live in Zurich and are in DC for a few days.

Mr UD dropped me at Grosvenor metro rather early, and it occurred to me that I probably had time to give blood at the National Institutes of Health Blood bank. Medical Center metro is the next stop after Grosvenor, so I had to decide quickly.

It was an extremely beautiful spring day – cloudless blue skies and lilac trees in flower – and this stirring setting jarred against the dark reading I’d been doing that morning — my friend Hal Sedgwick’s lengthy, meticulous description of his wife Eve’s nineteen years of breast cancer. I was in the middle of his account, reading a paragraph here and a paragraph there, in bed, at the breakfast table, and now on the train.

And somehow the combination of this painful reading, and my having, a few nights ago, watched the three-part PBS series on cancer, propelled me straight over to NIH.


I give blood at NIH because my father spent his career there, and I guess it’s a form of communion. Certainly it’s a form of nostalgia, walking the long spartan corridors with random Impressionist posters slapped on their walls.

When the documentary began describing Nixon’s war on cancer in the 1970’s, I recalled Dad’s remarkable luck and timing: Government money poured into his lab in those days. A 1974 New York Times article mentioned some of what he and his colleagues were up to.

In the United States the National Cancer Institute’s Dr. Herbert J. Rapp has obtained some success by injecting BCG directly into tumors. His experimental procedure is to inject tumor cells into the flanks of a guinea pig. After six days the animal will die from the spread of the tumor cells even if the original tumor is removed. However Dr. Rapp found that if on the fifth day he injected BCG into the animal, the tumor would disappear in 60 to 70 per cent of the guinea pigs.

My father had it all, I thought, as I pulled out my passport to show the NIH security officer. I often say this to myself – My father had it all. – because I often try to figure out why a man with four healthy children, a loving wife, and one of the world’s best, most meaningful jobs, committed suicide.

I clipped my laminated identification card (they got my photograph from the passport) onto my jacket and boarded a campus (NIH has always called its grounds the campus) bus to Building Ten. Its enormous lobby now houses a clothing and jewelry market! Last thing I thought I’d see in that space.

“What size shirt do you want?” You score a free shirt with a message on it about the importance of giving blood just for checking in at the NIH bank’s front desk. I got one big enough for Mr UD, but felt vaguely guilty about taking it, since it seemed to me likely I’d fail one of the many tests you have to pass before they let you give blood.

Amazingly though, UD sailed through one after another challenge: blood pressure, blood iron, pulse, temperature; and she aced the written exam too. So no weaseling out of it.


UD‘s MO when she actually gets to the couch and the nurse pressing and pressing and pressing her veins has always been exactly the same. She pops over to the little recovery room and selects the stupidest gossip magazine she can find. The trick is to be so utterly distracted by What Really Happened on Brad and Angie’s Plane that one fails to notice a needle going in. This approach has always worked for me.

Once the needle settled, I felt comfortable enough to chat with the nurse who sat beside me for the duration. She yawned and said her commute was getting to her. “I live in Baltimore. Have to get up at 5:30 in the morning. Traffic’s real bad. But this area – Bethesda – is completely unaffordable.”

I looked at my very dark red blood as she took the pouch away. I marveled at its color.


Back on the metro, I returned to Hal’s unflinching and sorrowful account. He drew to a close as my train approached Dupont.

On Wednesday April 15th I rented a car and drove to the Liberty Grove Crematorium in New Jersey. It was a simple place, rather industrial in character, but very tidy and clean. After a while Paul Giffone arrived (with a station wagon I think) with Eve’s body in a plain cardboard coffin which he unloaded with the help of the man at the crematorium. Together they placed the coffin on a kind of gurney. At my request they opened the coffin so that I could see Eve one last time. I had brought a Tibetan necklace of colorful felt beads that I had bought for Eve at the Rubin Museum’s holiday craft fair the previous December and that Eve was happy with. I placed the necklace inside the coffin, resting on Eve’s chest. Then they closed the coffin, wheeled the gurney up to the door of the furnace, and moved the coffin onto a kind of conveyor belt which carried it into the depths of the furnace. They closed the door of the furnace and went into the adjacent office leaving me alone, as I had asked. I don’t remember how long I was there – maybe an hour or so. I read aloud the text of the Sukavati, which T had given me. Then I recited the mantra of the Heart Sutra many times. At some point in my recital I had a distinct feeling, with no real sensory component, of a kind of expansion emanating from the furnace into the room and beyond. It seemed to me as though something was being released from Eve’s body, which was no longer there, and expanding into space. It felt to me like an expanding bubble that would just keep on expanding and expanding. It wasn’t an experience I had anticipated or would attempt to explain but the feeling of liberation was real.

UD tries desperately to do nature photography.

She sat on a nearby Adirondack
very very quietly until this
cardinal came by. Not a great
shot, but it’s a start.

Gargoyle, Coreopsis, Dog.

UD‘s garden on a spectacular spring day.

Margaret’s Nature Journal

Walking along the side of the house
just now (taking out the trash), UD

encountered what she takes to be a
Southern Black Racer making its way
into her azaleas and vinca. Here
is her way-amateurish effort to
photograph it.

A one-horse town with a train track.

A Park policeman visits Garrett Park this afternoon.

UD‘s sister’s photo makes the town look like Mayberry R.F.D.

You wouldn’t know you’re actually in the heart of little ol’ ‘thesda.

New Sign at the Garrett Park Maryland Station.

Explosion Alley

Last week, for the second time in not that many years, my husband and I were jolted from our beds late at night by an explosion. What was that? What happened? we said to one another as we threw on clothes, grabbed flashlights, and examined our roof for the enormous tree we figured broke away from the earth after days of snow and wind and landed on top of us.

But all of the limbs that have long lurked near our house – we live in Garrett Park, Maryland, an arboretum full of big old trees, some of them menacingly close to residents’ homes – remained neatly poised above the roof. As we scanned our front and back lawn for other tree falls, our neighbors emerged into the night: What happened? Did you hear that? What was that?

Sirens came from everywhere – it had been about a minute since something blew – and we heard them congregating in precisely the same place they’d congregated before: a neighborhood of small architecturally uniform brick homes called Randolph Hills, just across a gully and some train tracks from Garrett Park. My husband and I live not far from the tracks, so the explosion was very close to us – right on the other side of the divide.


My day job is lecturing on modernist writers, and I happened, on the morning after the second Randolph Hills house explosion, to be teaching Kafka’s great short story, “The Metamorphosis.”

“Metamorphosis” is easy to admire and hard to teach, and my class prep that day had me looking for critics who had something interesting to say about that pedagogical mix. Part of the problem, the writer David Foster Wallace suggested, was the extent to which Kafka’s stories rely on “what communication-theorists sometimes call ‘exformation,’ which is a certain quantity of vital information removed from but evoked by a communication in such a way as to cause a kind of explosion of associative connections within the recipient.”

It seemed to me that the first Randolph Hills explosion was not Kafkaesque, because it turned out to be a couple of people meddling inexpertly with their gas lines (which, to be heartless about it, puts it closer to Three Stooges farce than the complex tragicomedy of Kafka), whereas this latest boom, as its facts came out, did have the feel of something explosively associative, full of human information whose power lay in the fact of that information’s absence from the scene.

For the shattered male body and canine body found in the rubble both had bullets in them; the owner of the house had killed his dog and then himself; and then somehow the house exploded around them. Gas to the house had been cut off years ago for non-payment, but apparently the man had figured out a way to keep using it illegally… The very day of his suicide, his house was going up for auction… Did he fill the house with gas, toss a lit match, and then shoot?…

Now, this zealous speculation and information-mongering, in which I and many of my neighbors have been engaged, does have the feel of the Kafkaesque. We are staring at an evocative hole and trying to fill it up.

In one of his tortured letters to his friend Max Brod, Kafka wrote about his impending death as the collapse of the “house” of his being:

What right have I to be shocked [by my demise], I who was not at home, when the house suddenly collapses: for do I know what preceded the collapse, didn’t I wander off, abandoning the house to all the powers of evil?

Maybe what we who follow this post-explosion story so closely find so evocative is the vital information which that emptiness that used to be a house conveys about the difficulty all of us have being “at home” in our lives, inhabiting our lives meaningfully so that we feel alive and not dead. Franz Kafka sensed he was always already dead, unable to muster sufficient whatever – faith, energy, love, ambition, desire, curiosity – to negotiate existence. Perhaps we sense, as we try hard to walk back – to narrate – the events behind the Randolph Hills explosion, associative connections that can lead us to vital information of the sort Kafka’s great stories are trying to share.

Next Page »

Latest UD posts at IHE