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bare feet beach sand sandals

Snapped at Wingaersheek Beach, on Boston’s North Shore, on Friday.

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heart neponset trail

Snapped this morning on the river trail: one of my favorite patches of ground, which helps ground me.

In case you missed it: I’m participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break project this month.

august break 2018 list

It’s August. How did that happen?

After a June that included 10 glorious days in Spain and a July that filled up quickly with freelance projects and other plans, I can’t believe we’re here already. I’m feeling – if I’m honest – a little overwhelmed.

Fortunately, Susannah Conway is hosting her lovely annual August Break photo project, and I’m planning to participate on Instagram (I’m @katiengibson) and here on the blog. Please join us, if you’d like – there are no real rules.

We often begin with a morning-focused prompt, and today’s is “morning light.”

kitchen window morning august light

It’s cloudy today, but the view out my kitchen window is still glorious.

neponset reflection dorchester water sky

I went for a morning run, and came upon this reflection along my beloved trail.

Happy August, friends. More photos to come.

lido book tea toast breakfast table

The second half of July has been fast. The freelance work and other activities have been piling up, to my delight. And so have the books (as always).

Here’s the latest roundup:

At the Wolf’s Table, Rosella Postorino
Adolf Hitler famously feared death by poisoning, so he conscripted a handful of women to taste his food. Postorino’s novel imagines the story of one of them, Rosa Sauer, whose parents are dead and whose husband is missing in action. A somber, compelling, troubling account of wartime, complicity and wrestling with the consequences of one’s actions. Really well written. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 2019).

An Argumentation of Historians, Jodi Taylor
Max and her crew of time-traveling historians are back: scything up and down the timeline, from medieval England to ancient Persepolis. When Max finds herself stranded in 1399, she must adapt to an entirely new life, but there’s always a chance she’ll be rescued – isn’t there? This British sci-fi-ish series is so much fun, though I agree with a friend who said they need a new villain.

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, Amy Stewart
Constance Kopp, lady deputy sheriff of Hackensack, N.J., is doing her best to keep on keeping on: watching over her female inmates, checking in on probationers, chasing down the occasional thief, and supporting her two sisters. But 1916 is a contentious (local) election year, and a lot of men aren’t too happy about Constance’s position anyhow. A smart, witty entry in this great series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 11).

Never Ran, Never Will: Boyhood and Football in a Changing American Inner City, Albert Samaha
The Mo Better Jaguars of Brownsville, Brooklyn, are a longtime Pee Wee football powerhouse. Samaha’s book traces their story over two recent seasons, addressing the systemic  forces of racism and gentrification, the effects of family and school issues, recent research on concussions, and the spirit and grit of these young boys and their families. Reminded me strongly of Amy Bass’ One Goal, which I loved. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 4).

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, Ivan Doig
A friend passed on this memoir last summer and I finally got to it. Doig sets down the story of his childhood: raised by his father and grandmother, doing ranching work in rural Montana. Thoughtful and quiet, with so many good sentences and insights into how we are shaped by our families and landscapes. Well worthwhile. Part of my nonfiction #unreadshelfproject.

The Lido, Libby Page
Rosemary Peterson, 86, has been swimming at her local lido (an outdoor pool in Brixton, London) nearly all her life. When the lido is threatened with closure, she joins forces with Kate, an anxious young journalist, and their community to try and save it. A charming, hopeful story of unlikely friendship and banding together to fight for what matters. I also loved Rosemary’s memories of life in London during the war, and her long, contented marriage to her husband, George. Just wonderful.

League of Archers, Eva Howard
Elinor Dray, orphan and novice nun, has grown up hearing stories of the great Robin Hood. But when he’s killed in front of Ellie’s eyes, and she’s accused of the crime, Ellie and her friends (the titular league) take to the forest to continue Robin’s work and contact his Merry Men. I love a Robin Hood story and I wanted to love this one, but the pacing and plot didn’t quite work for me.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

Return to Marblehead

devereux beach marblehead

On Fridays in the summer, we like to take day trips.

Since my husband is usually done early on Fridays (he’s a therapist and his schedule ebbs and flows with the school year and vacations), and I’m freelancing/job hunting, we are continuing our summer tradition of exploring the Boston area. A few weeks ago, we decided to revisit Marblehead, a little town on the North Shore that we’d visited a long while back.

It was a hot, humid afternoon, but it was – in a word – glorious.

striped petunias window box flowers

We drove up after a busy morning: sessions for him, yoga and errands and some writing work at the library for me. After a freak thunderstorm, the skies had (mostly) cleared, and we nosed our way into the pretty downtown area, and spent a couple of hours wandering.

I found a sweet blue dress at a boutique called She, and we poked in and out of several other shops. I was disappointed to find that Authors and Artists, a great old used bookstore, had closed (or at least moved?). But the Spirit of ’76 Bookstore, several streets over, is thriving. Of course we had to go for a browse.

spirit of 76 bookstore interior

We also found a garden shop overflowing with flowers, and Bella, one of the resident spaniels, sprawled out in the doorway.

garden shop flowers dog spaniel bella

We headed, with our books, over to Devereux Beach, where J settled down on my yoga mat (necessity being the mother of invention) and I waded into the waves, then walked up and down the beach for a while. I love the feel of sand under my feet, of wind and waves and sky. Eventually I stretched out next to J and read a bit of Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, which felt fitting even though we were only a mile from town.

katie devereux beach selfie marblehead

When we got hungry, we headed back in and decided to try the local taqueria, Howling Wolf, which – glory be – was delicious. We took the leftover salsa home and snacked on it for days.

All in all, a delightful return to Marblehead. I’m sure we’ll be back (again).

trail morning summer green trees neponset

I get up when the alarm goes off, or, if it’s Saturday, when the sunlight glowing through the living-room windows reaches me in our bedroom, across the house. I roll out of bed and start to wake up: opening the window blind to check on the weather, heading to the kitchen for a drink of water.

When I started running last fall, it was almost always evening: after the workday was done, stepping out on the trail toward the edge of the dark. I love the trail at dusk and even when it’s “proper dark,” as my English housemates used to say. And I love it too in the long golden glorious lengthening evenings of spring and summer.

But on some Saturdays, and on a few weekday mornings this summer, I’ve started getting out there early.

No matter what my plans are, it takes me a while to wake up: putting in my contacts, slathering on sunscreen. I change into running clothes: an ancient pair of Old Navy running shorts, a tank top or T-shirt, one of the two black sports bras that are creating funky tan lines on my back. My shoulders are freckling, for the first time in years.

trail morning selfie sea water

I brew a cup of ginger peach tea, this most essential morning fuel. I grab a handful of cherries, pop a piece of bread in the toaster, or eat a few spoonfuls of Greek yogurt with granola and dried cranberries. If I remember to, I do a few calf raises while I’m drinking my tea, moving around the kitchen. Sometimes I stretch or do a few lunges. I almost always do some jumping jacks and a minute’s worth of push-ups, a habit I’ve picked up from Monday night boot camp.

I grab my phone and headphones and sunglasses, hook a house key onto my sports bra, slip on the stretchy headband that keeps my hair out of my face. I head out the door, down three flights of stairs, down the block and around the corner. I walk until I hit the trail proper, and then I crank up the music and run.

The Neponset is lush with green shade in the early morning, scarlet sumac and spreading trees and climbing nets of wild roses, past their bloom now. There’s a mural and a trolley overpass and then a long stretch edged with tall reeds, which is all sunshine in the early morning. It contains the chalk heart I love, the water to my right, boats bobbing and glinting in the morning sun.

blue flowers sea sky neponset

I turn on the music that helps me rev up or wake up: Walk the Moon or the Cranberries, or a few folk songs written and sung by an old professor of mine. It’s an unusual running playlist, but it works for me. I take my time, letting my legs hit their stride, stopping to walk in between stretches of running. I look up and breathe in deep.

My loop is the same, or similar, on most of my runs: down the straightaway near my house, waiting for the traffic signal to change at the busy road nearby. A couple of semicircle loops on the next stretch, past municipally approved daylilies and tall elderflower bushes. Past the first wooden pier, the boxy apartment complex, through the park entrance and over a bridge. The music moves on, through folk and rock, Broadway soundtracks and sometimes hip-hop. (No one is more surprised than I am about my newfound love for a few Macklemore tracks.)

Out there I can let my thoughts unwind, sometimes mulling over a problem, sometimes humming along with the music and letting it all go. There are dog walkers, other runners, some of whom I’m starting to recognize. Sometimes the thick humidity holds the promise of shimmering heat later. Other times it’s crisp and blue, and I luxuriate in the feel of the air against my skin. Always, I am so glad to be out there, to be moving, to be alive.

We’ve lived in this neighborhood almost a year, and the trail has become as much home as the house we inhabit. I return to it at all times of day, watching the seasons change, its contours by now both familiar and a new delight. The particular joy of the morning run is embracing all this beauty early in the day. Sometimes the pace is slower than on my evening runs, but the glory makes me think of an old hymn line I love: new every morning.

By the time I make the turn and come home, I’m sweaty and starving and sometimes a little sore. But I often feel new, too. Along with the muscle fatigue, there’s another thrumming in my bones: a sense of accomplishment, quiet joy. And gratitude.

bookstore lenox sign natalie goldberg event

A couple of Sundays ago, I skipped out on church early and drove out to the Berkshires for the afternoon.

I’m a longtime fan of The Bookstore in Lenox, despite the fact that I only get out there every couple of years. Matt, the owner, writes a rambling, erudite e-newsletter which I love reading every week, and in early July I opened it to find that Natalie Goldberg was coming for a Sunday afternoon reading and book signing.

This came the day after I’d been talking to a friend about Natalie’s work – explaining how I stumbled on Writing Down the Bones the summer after I graduated from college, when an acquaintance was selling off a few of her books. I bought it and a few others (including Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water), never dreaming what an effect Natalie’s words would have on the way I thought about my writing and my life.

The whole afternoon, from start to finish, was a delight. It felt – as these things sometimes do – like grace unbidden.

bookstore lenox interior shelves

It started with the drive there, listening to good music on the radio and Elizabeth Gilbert’s delightful On Being episode, about following your curiosity. It continued when I walked into the store and heard the events manager testing the mic by reciting “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” in an Irish accent. He stopped after a couple of lines and mused, “Should I do the whole poem?” Everyone who’d already gathered responded, “Yes!”

I browsed a little while, then perched on a stool near the front counter for the event itself. Natalie arrived with her cousins in tow, and she was warm and down-to-earth, as I always hope authors will be. She read a few sections from her new book, standing in the middle of the store in a long black dress, telling us about love and illness and noticing, about grief and doctors and paying attention.

“You’re such deep listeners,” she kept saying to the group gathered in folding chairs or leaning against the back shelves. I think we were all simply fascinated. But it was clear that everyone in the room was so happy to be there.

I loved every moment: the breeze wafting through the open door, other browsers wandering in and out, my fellow audience members listening so intently and asking good questions. Most of all I loved hearing Natalie’s voice – which I have heard so often in my head over the years – in real life. Afterward, I went up and asked her to sign both her new book and my copy of Writing Down the Bones, bristling with Post-Its. “I’ll sign as many books as you want,” she had said to the crowd, and many of us took her up on that offer.

The great pleasure of any bookstore is browsing, of course, and I wandered among the shelves for a little while before and after the event. I ended up with a copy of Natalie’s new book (of course), a memoir by a 747 pilot, some Alastair Reid poetry, and Matt’s slim, self-published memoir of his years working at the now-defunct Gotham Book Mart in NYC. He exclaimed when I brought it to the register, and we had a delightful exchange. I told him I’d been there before, and how much I love the store. Matt offered to sign his book, and when I peeked inside I saw that he’d inscribed it – to my delight – “For Katie, who came back!”

I left feeling nourished in a soul-deep way: from having spent an afternoon among people who love words and good stories and this world. “I wanted to grab a hunk of living again and hold on tight,” Natalie writes in the introduction to her new memoir. That afternoon in Lenox was a vivid, flavorful hunk of living, and I savored its sweetness all the way home.