Thin Ice

ice on the canal

Skaters leave their trails on the frozen canal.

Living in the city often scares me.  So much awaits just outside my front door, or outside of my two front doors.  Since we live in an apartment, we have our front door and the building’s front door, an extra step that still confounds the dog.  She prefers to bark directly at the front yard through the window.  Lately though, even she wants to stay inside on her window-seat above the heater.  On Thursday, snow covered the sidewalks during my morning walk to work.  By Friday, the south-facing pavement had dried, but by afternoon, the snow fell once again forming  a muffled winter wonderland during rush hours.  At least the wintery precipitation justified the excruciatingly cold temperatures.

The temperature dropped low enough, long enough to freeze the canal solid in spots.  We first noticed the icy surface from the Chain Bridge on Saturday, where at mid-day, several brave hockey players swirled between the banks.  The lowered water level means that any fall would be minimal, but I still consider it daring to venture out on the canal in the extreme cold.

On Sunday as the ice subsided, we carefully hugged the path during our run.  Our footsteps stamped the remnants off snow further into the dirt.  Our dog added her paw prints as well, because even if she hates the cold, she loves the snow.  She eagerly bounds through the flakes and picks the drifts over dry ground, until she lands in the cold puddle underneath. I bet the brave hockey players on the canal feel the same.

Good Fortunes

The Chinese restaurant in my hometown changed their fortune cookie brand.  The individual wrapped cookies taste slightly sweeter, and the fortunes appear in blue ink now instead of red.  Perhaps, it’s a political statement, but I doubt it.  The slivers of paper provide a short lesson in the Chinese language, a few random numbers for playing the lottery, and a unique verse, made even more unique to us because after frequenting the restaurant for more than a decade, we had received most if not all of the available fortunes.

Today, our four cookies gave us insight in making decisions for ourselves (mom), foretold that we would spend time outdoors, near water, in the mountains (dad), and recommended that it is time to learn something new to advance our skills and ability (me).  Maybe these fortunes simply stated the obvious, as Dad has been spending more time outdoors on the farm nestled in the mountains, where he’s been duck hunting on the pond.  If that is the case, then Mom and I should take heed, but we still have the fourth cookie to understand.  In our family of three, this fourth cookie went to me, as the packaging affixed itself to the first cookie I selected.

This fourth fortune proclaimed “Oops! Wrong cookie.”

The Other Side of the River

Great Falls

The view from Overlook 3

The Washington Post Magazine’s cover story this Sunday debates which state is better: Maryland or Virginia? So in the spirit of seeing if the grass is greener on the other side, we drove across the river for our hike this weekend.  We’ve hiked the trails of Great Falls, Maryland several times, and if we had to choose a hike within half an hour of the district, The Billy Goat Trail would be our pick.  But as a native Virginian, with a husband born in Maryland, we had to see how the other bank compared.

Trail Posts

Continuing on River Trail

The trails at Great Falls, Virginia, start at the Visitors Center, where a few steps will lead you to three overlooks of the rapids.  We started South from the entrance station, taking the River Trail for spectacular views of Rocky Island.  From this vantage point, we could watch hikers on the Maryland side tackle the challenging A section of the Billy Goat Trail.  Their figures inched across the gray landscape with brightly colored clothing and comments echoing across the water.  The Virginia trail climbs at this point too, with a few scrambles that require careful footing and a steep incline that took my breath away.

Difficult Run Trail

Difficult Run Trail – the easy part

As the trails widened and the crowds thinned, we branded onto the Ridge Trail, following it to the end and turning onto Difficult Run Trail.  It hugs the curves of the creek and had sustained some recent flooding damage, but the area had clear signs and a hilly detour created out of roots and rock outcroppings, with a path wide enough for one person at a time. From there, the path is clear and wide, though we did cross both under and over the paved road to connect back to the main trail and avoid backtracking.  Old Carriage Road, well-trod and wide enough for four to walk abreast, provided a quick, direct route back to the parking lot.  Though uphill at first, the downhill and flat second half provided a welcome ending to the almost-five mile trek.

In the end though, we still prefer the Maryland trails of Great Falls. They provide great views of the river at the falls and at various intervals, creating a scenic, challenging route. The terrain works for rock climbers, hikers, and runners, with paths just large enough for two at a time and multiple scrambling options to allow for individual navigation.  Almost all of the trails connect directly to a larger path or to the canal towpath, which in our case would lead all the way back to D.C. if we wanted to run that far.  We prefer to drive there, and on the Maryland side, parking is free.

Imagine

My last book of 2012 and fittingly the first book that I’ve read in 2013 is Imagine by Jonah Lehrer. This is a book that almost doesn’t exist. It had to be created before I could read it, but in this case, it also had to be found. Due to a scandal over the accuracy of some material, the book had been pulled from bookstores earlier in 2012. But not the library shelves apparently. Two copies waited for me at the local library, and it seemed an appropriate inspirational read for this time of year, if only because the author is young and ambitious enough to make me jealous.

Imagine examines how creativity works, alone and together, in the brain and across buildings. It chronicles some of my favorite stories that often appear in business textbooks on this subject – the making of 3M, the process of Pixar, the work of Shakespeare, who ironically might have pulled his material from questionable sources too.

Critics complain about the inaccuracies and the dumbed-down science, but what it lacks in accuracy it gains in accessibility. That’s important for his subject, because creativity works through the connections and the random associations that we so rarely write down. When we do, then we can debate their accuracy, which is the first step in this case. Lehrer chronicles how creativity works, and his audience determines how it survives in society.