FROM THE breakfast table, we enjoy a postcard landscape in winter's white.
The creek is not yet frozen and the ducks, in their down comforters, paddle and quack in apparent self-satisfaction. Our commute to work on weekdays takes a half hour or longer, but today the pleasures of Mt. Vernon seem worth the extra effort.
The phone starts ringing for my husband, Jan, who is on the foreign policy side of the quadrennial campaign. He learns he is to be officebound. He had hoped to be snowbound, but should have known better: during last year's storm, we had learned he was not "nonessential" when the senator's office sent a four-wheel-drive jeep bouncing over the drifts to carry him away. I was left with the shovel.
The mail brings another rejection of "Capeward," my book about Cape Cod, which I have written and photographed. My agent tells me that the timing is wrong -- three Cape books emerged this last summer, two with color photography, and the market is small to begin with. Handy to have an excuse, but it doesn't really cushion the blow.
We have an overnight guest. After dinner, I receive not only compliments but help with the dishes. We watch the Republicans, sans Reagan, debate in Iowa. Rank Democrats all, 66 1/3 percent of us fall asleep, and we all enjoy John Anderson. Sunday
The snow has settled in, glistening, still, immensely quiet. Even the ducks seem quieter. Our cat tiptoes out, shaking each paw in distaste. Our son treks forth, intrepid, gleeful. His father departs for the senator's home. Were it not for the snow, I would be working in my weekend photography studio at the Torpedo Factory in Olde Town Alexandria.
My son is a strapping 8-year-old, independent, affable and flexible. He and I take down the Christmas decorations (right on Twelfth Night this year), shovel walk and driveway, take out the garbarge and then reward ourselves with a rousing snowball fight. We read awhile -- I the Sunday paper, he "Little Men" (one of 24 Christmas books: everyone caught on that he was a reader -- and then play a faintly inharmonious game of Othello, entailing a remonstrance on the subject of good sportsmanship. It is so much easier to be a good winner than a good loser (he is thinking of my victorious game, I of my wounded book).
I call Jan's office to tell of an invitation to a dinner Wednesday to meet with Conor Cruise O'Brien, the flamboyant Irish writer and politican, now editor-in-chief of The London Observer.
Dinner time. Should I make a real meal on the assumption that the Dad will be joining us? Well, it is Sunday. The green peppers stuffed with lamb are long cold, our child long sleeping, when the call comes: "I'll be late." Monday
At 2 a.m., arise to join my husband while he eats the dinner. At least two other families are greeting their absent members at this hour.
What is left of the snow makes Fairfax County schools open late, so we get an extra hour of sleep in the morning.
I work as administrative assistant to Christopher Wright at the Carnegie Institution of Washington -- not the Carnegie Endowent, though certainly endowed by Carnegie; not the Carnegie Institute (in Pittsburgh). CIW supports pure science research at the frontiers of new knowledge. Five departments span the continent, dealing in astronomy, plant biology, embryology and the earth sciences. CIW is the most independent (which is to say the least federally funded), scientific research institution in America.
Since Christopher is in San Francisco today, I have the office to myself -- a good opportunity for writing a possible newsletter piece on Dr. Lina Echeverria's research on Komatiites. Her geological research takes her to Gorgona, an island off the coast of Columbia. Her studies in tropical isles may sound delightful, but the truth is that Gorgona, only a few degrees north of the equator, serves the sole function of a penal colony. The other principal inhabitants are snakes.
Lunch with a friend who works at the Council on Wage and Price Stability. We cannot resist stopping at the WYCA for chocolate chip cookies. We'll diet tomorrow.
Tonight was to have been the Democratic debate in Iowa, and our dinner invitation is in the form of a menu consisting of Georgia peanuts, California shrimp with Brown sauce, Irish stew and creme Ayatollah brullee; incase of cancellation, the entree is chicken. The chicken, alas, is delicious. Tuesday
Jan is working past midnight again, even full of wine and ayatollah. I manage to strum the guitar for awhile.
Up and out early, Jan helps me take down my photography show from a Colorfax gallery. I take some of the larger pictures to the office. The pillared entrance at 16th and P is stunningly space-wasteful and fuel-inefficient. High ceilings, marble mosaic floors and long winding staircases hark back to the century's first decade. The framed works cannot help but look their best there.
I wheel our word-processing wizard to the office. It is soon humming and clicking to my orchestration.
Grocery shopping on the way home is more than tedious. It is grim. Everyone seems weary and gray. The familiar cashier is a little slower, her mind straining with the details which usually seem second nature to her. We both smile, thinking of our feet but each trying to help the other through the day's-end tasks.
At home, the phone rings. I assume Jan. won't be home for dinner, and half hope so, because pizza is so much less effort than a real repast. It turns out he is coming home, and the unexpected pleasure reinvigorates the vital juices. During the preparation, my son beats me at calculator football. He is sneaky about letting the time run out so that I will not have time for a comeback: a tactician at 8. Wednesday
Christopher folds his long and lean frame into my red Rabbit and we wind through the park to CIW's department of terrestial magnetism, high on a hill on Broad Branch Road.
We have come to hear Selwyn Sacks, DTM's eminent seismologist, talk about the recent International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics conference in Canberra. He discusses paleomagnetism (periodic reversal of the earth's magnetic field), core and mantle studies, earthquake prediction and more, in a lucid conversational manner.
The evening shifts from science to politics and world affairs. The dinner for Connor Cruise O'brien is given by the press officer for the British Embassy and his wife. The Observer's Washington correspondent and his wife and a commentator from The Washington Post are guests as well.
The meal is topped off with strawberries and port, a treat in January. The conversation sifts through the Carter camp and then dwells, at one end of the table, on the grain embargo, the to-be-or-not-to-be Olympics, Ted Kennedy and Jerry Brown, while foaming at the other end, around Afghanistan, Iran and their precursors. Connor Cruise O'Brien proves to be sensitive, boisterous and committed -- with reason upon which to found his convictions. Thursday
We work until 2 again (I wish I could say this is not a typical week) and arise before the lark (well, duck) because Jan has a Godfrey Sperling press breakfast to attend. I read the papers aloud on the way in -- a far cry from Scott and Jim on WPGC, my usual waker-upper. I find myself at my desk at 7:45 (I work a 10-to-6 day normally), bleary and uncoffeed, but Ray Bowers, who was promoted to publications editor this week, produces blessed coffee in no time. I spend the morning writing.
After Ray treats us to lunch in honor of his promotion, Christopher and I drive north to CIW's geophysical laboratory on Upton Street, another grand hilltop edifice. Drs. Peter Bell and David Mao, the first scientists to have made solid hydrogen at room temperature, are studying the atomic structure of a single crystal of a solid they made yesterday from another gas.
On the way home, I listen, as always, to National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." Its new coverage manages to be both ample and entertaining. I am starting to find Walter Cronkite superfluous. Frdiay
A catch-up day, memos, word processing, correspondence and report reading.
In the evening, my son talks about his ERA debate at school. We each take on side in a mock debate, and then each takes the other side in a second one.
With a warming trend in the weather, I can look forward tomorrow to a day in my unheated studio with pleasure. The cerebral week of science and foreign policy can move over to let the senses and emotions have an artistic weekend.