"How long have you been in Washington?" asks Janet Reno, who lived here for eight years but is now back in Miami, rattling around her kitchen. At least, it sounds like the kitchen. There is the sound of running water, as though she has turned on a tap. It is a Wednesday afternoon, and Reno, who answers her own telephone, has agreed to share some of what she's been doing. Working in the yard. Reading. Cooking. Practicing her Eskimo roll.

Eskimo roll?

"That," she explains, is "how you recover after you capsize in a kayak."

Which is how the conversation has come around to kayaking, and to the fact that the caller, ahem, me, has never, um, been on the Potomac. The former attorney general cannot believe this. She went on the Potomac all the time. At first she used a poke boat, a lightweight craft that is "perfect for rivers but isn't really designed to go over rapids." Recently, at 62, she learned to kayak, and it is in a kayak that she is planning a trip through the Everglades, after which she will set off on a cross-country jaunt in the red pickup she recently acquired -- used.

She sounds so relaxed it is hard to believe she ever did live here. In a burst of wild loquaciousness, she even shares some kayaking pointers: "Read up on it first. Take some lessons. Put in at Great Falls."

Then suddenly the old Reno is back, the careful, authoritative Reno who sat endlessly before Congress, patiently answering question after question, never sure how ignorant her interlocutor might be. "Put in below the falls," she amends. "You do not want to go over Great Falls."

-- Liza Mundy