Umbrellas, New York

Umbrellas, New York

Umbrella play, New York.

We’ve had a rainy spring and early summer — both in Alaska and here on the east coast.  I keep noticing the play of movement that happens with umbrellas.  I spotted this woman on the High Line in New York.  Even here she and the umbrellas are in movement: the two umbrellas separating as she turns, the blue one outstretched.  In another minute she’ll offer it back to whomever she’s holding it for.

Saxon Merino


When I’m in New York, I usually try to stop by the Union Square Greenmarket.  Last winter I wound up carrying around a pocketful of lavender.  This time I discovered Catskill Merino Sheep Farm.  These skeins* of worsted merino are truly exquisite.  I went online last week to scope out my upcoming order, and their website is just the coolest.  (It mixes photos of Saxon Merino lambs with posts about Proust.)


* Can we talk for a moment about how beautiful the word skein is?  It rhymes with rain and its sound hovers so close to skin.  Which feels like a tie to the future sweaters, scarves, and blankets a skein’s yarn makes.

Even its definition has a lovely sound:

n. 1.  a loosely coiled length of yarn


And it turns out skein also has a second meaning:

n. 2.  a flock of wildfowl (as geese or ducks) in flight

What a lovely image for skeins to carry.

Listening Lately – Spring Peepers

My husband and I always write on our calendar the first day we hear spring peepers.  Two choruses of peepers live by the creek near our house, and at the height of spring, we can even hear them chirrup from our deck.  Spring arrived late this year, but even then the peepers were on time: right in the middle of March.

Even so, I haven’t made it down to the creek to hear them as often as I’d like.  Then last night I was leaving the library after a meeting and was enveloped by a distant chorus.  Up close, an army of peepers can be high-pitched and bracing, but at a distance the sound feels more mellow.  I wound up rolling down my windows in the library parking lot and just listening.

Listening Lately – Jimi Hendrix

I really like the ‘new’ Jimi Hendrix album released earlier this month.  There are a lot of good, previously-unreleased recordings on People, Hell and Angels.  Even after a lifetime of admiration, Hendrix’s work still blows me away.  I especially like “Somewhere.”

Shortly before People, Hell and Angels was released, I went searching online for video of Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” performance at Woodstock.  I’ve been thinking a lot about patriotism as I write my book, and something about that performance — the force of its innovation, its venue and context in time — seems particularly complex and loaded.

(Note: One family story I’ve always loved is that after Hendrix’s performance that summer, my aunts and their classmates petitioned to change out the stock “Star Spangled Banner” recording their school played during morning announcements.  All that next year they started their mornings listening to Hendrix’s version over the P.A.)

Starlit Nights

After reading Toni’s essay on names, I thought I would share the story of this blog’s name.  The name Starlit Nights actually stems from a college miscommunication.

In our senior year at Rutgers–home of the Scarlet Knights–my husband, J. (who was then my boyfriend), took several graduate classes with a professor of Urban Transportation.  This professor was a pretty extraordinary guy.  He got around exclusively on bikes and public transit and was in many other ways admirable and authentic.

One night that spring J. and I went for dinner at the Rutgers Club, a beautiful old house that had been converted into a college alumni restaurant.  Once a week, students could exchange a couple dollars and a meal swipe for the privilege of a sumptuous meal in its second story dining space.

That spring night, we carried our plates downstairs to the buffet and found my husband’s professor right in front of us in line.  As we spooned out fancy sauces and salads and rolls, he told us how he came to be at Rutgers.

Back when the department first approached him about the position, they told him a bit about the university’s long history, including its mascot, but he misheard them.  Instead of Scarlet Knights, he thought they said Starlit Nights.

“I thought it was so poetic,” he said.

In her essay on names, Toni wrote:

Hindu children are given two names at birth. One is the public name, shared with family and friends and the larger community. The other is a secret name.

I’ve always thought of Starlit Nights as one of my secret names.  Behind the public face of the Scarlet Knights, my home state gave me this other, second identity.  And because this other identity feels tied to my life as a writer, I chose it for my blog’s name.

Fibonacci in the Natural World

Yesterday I wrote about the finding the Fibonacci Sequence in the rays and tiers of New York’s Chrysler Building.  The Sequence appears everywhere.  In pinecones and artichokes and nautilus shells and the human ear’s cochlea.

Fibonacci Spiral

I’ve been reading about Fibonacci today, and I learned that its numbers (when divided into each other) move ever closer to the Golden Ratio that has been a hallmark of architecture from the Taj Mahal to the Parthenon.  Which makes the Chrysler Building’s homage to Fibonacci all the more resonant.

Since I’ve talked a lot about Fibonacci in architecture, I thought it was only fitting to end with this terrific video that talks about Fibonacci in plants.  It’s a fun and creative film — even for those who don’t like math.

Hi, Bob

A few years ago my husband and I watched most of The Bob Newhart Show on Netflix.  I love the show’s subtle, slow-burn humor and think Bob Newhart is hilarious.  I’m also drawn to the particular aspect of the 1970s it portrays.  Partly because, for me, it feels like glimpsing a key moment in my parents’ lives.  A moment when they, like Bob and Emily, were close to my age.  Established in their careers.  Carving out their adult lives, their equitable, modern marriages.

On the brink of realizing the previous decade’s promises.

Lately we’ve been catching old episodes airing on TV once in a while.  While the characters are pretty different from my parents (my mother was much more progressive than Emily), the show evokes something of that time that feels resonant.

p.s. Have you ever played “Hi, Bob”?  My husband and I have been!


After a week of sub-freezing temperatures, we had a day and a half of spring.  I went out on Tuesday to do some errands, and couldn’t resist making a detour over to the lake.

Lake Fowl

While most of the lake was still frozen solid, a small area in the center had thawed enough to create a bathing pool for just about every goose, duck, and seagull in our area.  There were literally hundreds of birds reclining on the ice around the pool, honking, congregating, and hopping into the water for a dip.

I didn’t have my camera with me on Tuesday, but my husband and I went back at lunchtime on Wednesday just before the torrential rain started.  By then, a lip of ice had melted around the lake’s edges, and the sky had turned dark and moody.

Not that it deterred the wildlife.

Canada Goose

The geese seemed somewhat fascinated with the new rim of melt at the lake’s perimeter and skated over to investigate.

Ice Edge



I hadn’t realized how much I missed fresh air and the loamy smell of springtime.  By now the rain and last night’s (mildly alarming) winds have returned us to a winter climate.  But for that short little interlude I took walks sans jacket and worked with windows wide open.  Five more weeks until peepers and daffodils.  Spring is coming; I couldn’t be more ready for it.