Under Cover Escape

You could easily lose yourself in The Last Bookstore's Labyrinth.
You could easily lose yourself in The Last Bookstore’s Labyrinth.

It’s that time of year again. Too hot to move, too tired to care, too many mosquitoes in the steamy air.

Summer in the Capital City. The limousine crowd have their serene getaways, their island cottages, their lakeside cabins. But once they get to their secluded vistas I wonder if they really spend much time drinking in the scenery. Or do they, like so many ordinary folks, pack a book or two to escape from the quiet boredom that sometimes lurks behind too much perfect scenery?

I don’t do a lot of traveling, but wherever I am, whatever the season, I’m lost without a book to read.

With all the thousands of books in stores and libraries, to say nothing of the continually expanding ebook universe, you’d think it would be easy to always have a book or two on hand. Yet, reading is such a very personal experience. One person’s “timeless classic” is another person’s dreary yawnfest. Like many chronic readers, I have my short-list of go-to authors whose works I’ve read and reread over the years. But there is still the thrill of the hunt, the hope of finding some new or old previously undiscovered voice in a book.

While it’s not hard to find lists, hundreds, nay thousands, of lists assembled by enthusiastic readers eager to share their opinions about various authors, I’ve found such lists to be of little value. Nor am I swayed by the gushing blurbs on book covers, the ringing endorsements of superb authors, or the bludgeoning force of best seller statistics. For me, it all comes down to the writing. Either it speaks to me or not. One word at a time, one sentence after another. A tone of voice, a touch of humor, perhaps a pinch of mad romance or helpless folly, and I’m in.

I freely confess I enjoy the hunt almost as much as the discoveries. In the pursuit of engaging stories I’ve spent many happy hours wandering in bookstores, but not the big chains with full-court marketing strategies. The bookstores I seek out are the independent champions of the written word, where all books, especially ones with pages you can turn with your hot little hands, are beloved.

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, a city where traditionally spectacle has overshadowed text, I was thrilled to visit The Last Bookstore. The name itself sounds like a good title for a story. Inside, it unfolds like something dreamed up by Lewis Carroll. Thousands of books, new and used, aren’t simply displayed on shelves in the ordinary manner. Venture beyond the ground floor to the Labyrinth above where whimsical arrangements offer a kind of meta commentary on the delights of getting lost in a good book. You won’t want to leave in hurry.

The dizzying displays call to mind the magical library of Unseen University in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, where books contain spells so powerful they must be chained to the shelves to keep them from flying free.

That’s what I’m talking about. Hard core literary magic. It’s good for what ails you.

Go Wes!

The Bristol-Palace Hotel in the spa town of Karlovy-Vary, Czech Republic, served as an inspiration for the setting of Anderson's latest film.
The Bristol-Palace Hotel in the spa town of Karlovy-Vary, Czech Republic, served as an inspiration for the setting of Anderson’s latest film.

I confess. I am a fan of the films of Wes Anderson.

Although my infatuation with all things Anderson began with the very first film he co-wrote with his friend Owen Wilson, the offbeat but endearing Bottle Rocket, it wasn’t until 2001 when The Royal Tenenbaums  came out that I realized I had found a director whose oddly surreal view of life resonated with my own.

And while a few Anderson films since then have failed to engage my passion (notably The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, a sodden misstep in my view)  more often a new Anderson project is cause for celebration. Moonrise Kingdom, for instance, in 2012, featured all the elements that make Anderson’s vision unique: a flawed but likable hero trying to negotiate a trajectory through the jungle of reality, gentle humor, great music, and meticulous set design.

Anderson excels at creating on film worlds as finely detailed as a Faberge egg yet emotionally complex and surprisingly buoyant. His most recent work, The Grand Budapest Hotel, released this past spring, is a remarkable fairytale for adults. Set in a fictional European alpine state in 1932 during a respite between two wars, the film evokes the elegance and civility of a lost era. The hero, Monsieur Gustave, is the concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel. The plot involves murder, stolen art, and exquisite pastry.

Ralph Fiennes, as M.Gustave, is marvelous. The pace is brisk, the dialogue snappy, and all of the characters bring something to the party. But perhaps top billing really should go to the hotel itself, which Anderson devised after researching and studying archival photos of grand European hotels at the Library of Congress. One of the inspirations for the Grand Budapest Hotel was the Palace Bristol Hotel in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic.

For the film Anderson had several small scale models of the hotel produced, including one fourteen feet long and seven feet deep.

I never wanted a doll house as a child, but I find myself yearning for that pink hotel.

Of course, few these days can afford the sort of extravagance that flavors the Old World vision suggested in parts of the film. But it isn’t simply the trappings of wealth that give the world portrayed in The Grand Budapest Hotel its timeless charm. It’s the passion for civility, the idea that good manners and kindness clothe any human with dignity. And that without those things our haloes dim, our lives lose something intangibly precious.

And so it is with fairytales. There’s more to win than the crown. There’s more to lose than the throne. Happily ever after is the flimsiest of predictions. But to strive for perfection in the face of inevitable decline is perhaps the last best hope for humanity in a graceless age.

A La Cartography

Some of the most interesting places can't be found on ordinary maps.
Some of the most interesting places can’t be found on ordinary maps.

My status as an antique has recently been upgraded to “living fossil” due to my persistent preference for paper maps.

My children don’t even bother to hide their condescending smiles when they see me rattling the pages of my trusty map books, while their fingers dance lightly over tiny touch pads to ascertain the best route to our destination.

I don’t mind. Inquiring minds may question whether or not zombies will rule the world come the apocalypse, but one thing is certain. Once the internet is felled by a meltdown of all the bright gadgetry of modern technology, we who folded our paper maps properly and kept them handy will still be able to navigate through the steaming wreckage of the dystopian landscape.

Probably. One can never predict the future with certainty. However, with a map, even an old, out-dated map, there is a probability that some of the landmarks and routes pictured on it remain.

Probability is the spice of life. A little bit adds zest to every venture.

Recently our local weather forecasters have been taxing their hard drives with attempts to calculate the probability of snow, ice and frigid conditions.  I saw a map today that included a “probability legend” to enable viewers to comprehend the weather data. I’m not all that interested in the data. Data comes and goes like the snow. But I love the term “probability legend.” It has a winsome inscrutability that I find irresistible.

I’ve always been a sucker for language that slips past the fortress of cold reason and stokes a cozy campfire of possibility beyond the walls of convention.

Thus, some of my favorite maps are of imaginary places. The first map I remember studying with delight was of “The Hundred Aker Wood” in A.A. Milne’s timeless Winnie the Pooh. Everything about that map appealed to me—its scale, the little drawings of trees and landmarks.

I still find pleasure in novels that include well-wrought maps of imaginary places such as the stellar examples in George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire, which provide a superb landscape for a work of great imaginative scope.

One of the great things about maps is how they can be used to convey ideas beyond the geographic. There is a marvelous “Map of a Writer’s Mind” by Anne Emond, for instance, which offers a humorous look at the challenging terrain many writers know.

And let us not forget that most personal of maps, the human face, with its lines etched by time and experience. The map of my face includes not only the Frown Lines of Perpetual Worry and the Blemishes of Self-indulgent Folly, but also the Freckles of Summers Past, the Crowsfeet of Laughter, and the Pleated Lips of Kisses.

In our youth-mad culture there are those who try to erase the evidence of time on their personal maps. I would no more do that than I would erase an old letter from a dear friend. I’m grateful for every line.

They remind me who I am: a Probability Legend, if only in my own mind.

The Long and Winding Road

The winding Hawk's Nest Road overlooking a river and a railroad, offered the sort of scenic drive my Dad loved best.
The winding Hawk’s Nest Road overlooking the Delaware River and the Erie railroad offered the sort of scenic drive my Dad loved best.

For a mere century automobile road trips have been a signature element of the American experience.

Of course, humans have been on the road for a lot longer than that. Since the days of ancient Rome restless souls have followed the urge to go see what’s over the next hill, around the next bend, across the wide river.

But in this country, when we say road trip, we mean a couple of people or more, piled into a car (any car will do), driving for hours, maybe days, even weeks, having adventures, some planned, some not.

Not everyone enjoys such things, especially considering the way the modern highway system has been designed to increase speed limits at the expense of scenery. There was a time when the journey could be at least as enjoyable as the destination.

I was five-years-old on my first road trip. My dad, newly graduated from law school, had a job offer in San Francisco. So he packed up everything we owned in our new 1954 Ford station wagon and headed west with three kids and our mom, who was pregnant with number four. We stayed at National Parks all across the country—Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Dakotas. We traveled the Oregon Coast and camped in the Redwood Forest. I’ll admit, I don’t remember a lot about it. At that age you don’t have enough perspective to understand what you’re seeing.

Fortunately, my dad took a lot of slides, and in later years he took pains to remind us of what a big and beautiful country we lived in.

My brothers Jeff and Bill and I take the measure of Long's Peak in the Rocky Mountains in 1954.
My brothers and I admired Long’s Peak in the Rocky Mountains in 1954.

All his life my dad loved to get in the car and drive places. When, in his late 80’s a few years before he died, his vision and reflexes deteriorated to the point that he had to give up his driver’s license, I think it took a lot of the fire out of him. He longed to go on one more road trip.

But at the same time, as he grew older he lamented how the forces of increasing population and construction had altered the landscape. In Fairfax County, Virginia, where we ended up after the job my dad had driven across country to take didn’t work out (we turned around and drove back east), there were still cows and horse farms around Tysons Corner. There was no beltway. The day it opened people drove on it just to experience the wonder of it. It was supposed to free us all from traffic congestion.

Well, journeys sometimes take you places you never expected to go. And sometimes they lead you right back where you started. But nothing ever stays the same, so in a way, the journey never ends.

Some people waste their whole lives looking backward, wishing they could return to the way things were. Others miss out on the here and now because they’re in such a hurry to get to what’s next.

I’m grateful that my dad taught me to get out of the car and look around, to take the measure of each place and time and be thankful for what is, even while we work toward what could be. It’s not all good, but it’s not all bad. And sometimes, if you get off the interstate and wind into the heart of the country, you can see.

It’s a miraculous place. Take a deep breath. And keep going.

Time Travels

We are all adrift, bound for unknown shores.

Of all the genres in all the fictional universe there’s only one that has never persuaded me to cast my doubts aside and surrender. Stories about time travel leave me cold.

So when I heard the buzz about the 2012 indie film “Safety Not Guaranteed” I remained skeptical, in spite of my admiration for its star, Aubrey Plaza, a girl with a million dollar scowl.

Plaza, whose deadpan sarcasm keeps the sitcom “Parks and Recreation” from succumbing to lethal sweetness, brings just the right blend of cynicism and vulnerability to “Safety Not Guaranteed.”  The plot begins with a lackluster Seattle reporter (Jake Johnson), who finagles a road trip with a couple of office interns, one of whom is Darius (Plaza), to investigate a curious classified ad seeking a willing participant in a time travel adventure “safety not guaranteed.”

I have to confess that one of the things that got under my skin about this film was the setting. It was shot in Ocean Shores, Washington, where the water is always too cold to swim, and the interface between reality and make-believe is a misty curtain easily shredded by the intrepid. The entire film has a kind of funky Seattle-esque vibe that reminded me of why I stayed there so long.

Through the actions of the three reporters, the film explores the uncertain terrain between belief and doubt. In other hands this kind of material could have devolved into slapstick or the kind of crude buddy routines that have become the substandard for directors aiming for blockbuster revenues, but director Colin Trevorrow keeps the film quick witted and light on its feet.

“Safety Not Guaranteed” is true to its title. This small budget film subverts expectations and draws you in. At least it drew me in. I still don’t give a damn about time travel—having drunk deeply from the Star Trek well, I know that no good can come from pulling at the loose threads of Time’s sweater. Yet no matter how we try to get on with our lives, we are all two-headed—always looking forward or looking back, and the tendency to wonder “what if?” is part of our DNA. It’s part of what makes us great, even while it has the potential destroy us.

As Kenneth, the seemingly crazy guy who placed the ad which sparks the story, Mark Duplass conveys that mesmerizing blend of genius and madness that is the hallmark of so many remarkable characters. Duplass has an off-beat style and edgy demeanor that come across as comic one minute and surprisingly affecting the next. The chemistry between him and Plaza is terrific.

Big Beach, the company which produced “Safety Not Guaranteed,” has been responsible for a number of exceptional independent films, including “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Sunshine Cleaning.” On the company’s website they describe their goal thusly: “Big Beach strives to create meaningful, life-affirming projects that inspire, engage and entertain.”

Mission accomplished.

I still have reservations about time travel, but I’m ready to book a ticket for the next film from Big Beach.

Where Am I?

It’s not as easy as it once was to get lost in this world.

In these technology infested times, the proliferation of gadgets that can tell you where you’re going, how to get there, and what it will cost you has taken some of the zest out of travel. Still, most of us would gladly trade the thrill of the unexpected for the assurance that we’ll get where we want to go without undue bother. And after hearing about the recent mid-air mental snaps of some airline staff, I find myself warming to the idea of a quiet book by the fire.

But, like it or not, sooner or later all of us have to get out of the chair and go places, even if it’s only to the dentist. This is why maps will never go out of style.

I love a good map. I can spend hours perusing Rand McNally, marveling at the curious names of tiny hamlets, the abundance of rivers and streams and mountains between the Atlantic and the Pacific, the sheer expanse of our nation.

Yet part of the magic of maps lies in all that you can’t see in them. The personal, political and social history played out in states and cities, to say nothing of the immense physical changes which take place at a pace too slow for our human eyes to fully appreciate. You can get a sense of it at the Grand Canyon, but if we were able to view the rest of the world through that same staggering perspective we might have a better understanding of how long history is, and how short our share of it.

Of course, we’d rather not think about that. We are the center of the universe, after all. The crown of creation, etc. Uneasy lies the head.

But maps – those flat, two-dimensional renderings of the world as we see it – allow us to feel some measure of control. We know where we’re going. We’ve got a map.

Would that it were so easy. The comforting illusion of control that maps provide allows us to function in a world of restless dark matter.

Much as I love maps, I never fully trust them. Everything changes. Roads close, new roads get built, shorelines change, lakes and rivers dry up. The physical landscape has a life of its own, and while our attempts to keep track of it have  improved dramatically since the age of satellites and computers, there’s still a gap.

Perhaps that’s one reason why the maps I enjoy most are of imaginary places. As I child I delighted in the map of The Hundred Acre Wood drawn by E.H. Shepard for the Winnie-the-Pooh books. Since then I’ve always had a fondness for a good imaginary map. I love it when a writer takes the time to fully imagine a world, complete with place names that ring true. Most recently the maps in George R.R. Martin’s brilliant A Song of Fire and Ice have been especially satisfying, and very helpful to a reader embarking on the journey through the epic five-volume (and counting) fantasy.

Of course, in order to create a map of an imaginary place, it helps to have a vivid imagination. To believe in such a map can serve as a coping strategy: “when reality fails and negativity don’t pull you through” (thanks be to Bob) you can always retreat to someplace imaginary until the next election.

Camped out on the far northwest edge of the nation, Seattle sits on a faultline between the real and the imaginary worlds. It’s easy to cross that line here. That’s one reason I included a map of Seattle in my recent fantasy novel, The Goddess of Green Lake. A map of Seattle is a map of an imaginary place. Here people carve out curious niche lives that couldn’t find a toe hold in Kansas, or in New York City, for that matter.

But here, where the moss grows faster than the national debt, crazy  ideas can relax and put down roots. There’s a fair amount of live and let loon attitude. As Mal Reynolds, the noble renegade captain in Joss Whedon’s space-western Serenity once put it: “We’re all out here on the edge. Don’t push me and I won’t pull you.”

While the political stew bubbles and spills with daily infusions of invective and innuendo, it’s helpful to step back, squint your eyes, and try to see the bigger picture. All of this has happened before. Apocalypses come and go. Sooner or later we all dance with the stars.

Tourist Season

All Ashore

When the sun shines in Seattle, the cruise ships come out to play. Tourists flood the market at Pike’s Place,  get their pictures taken with the pig, watch the fish fly, buy trinkets. Some determined visitors even venture beyond downtown, riding the Duck to see Lake Union, the Space Needle, and beyond. But for those who have to hurry back to the ship, there’s never enough time to take in all of Seattle’s quirky charms.

Small wonder then that travelers who arrive from far away sometimes suffer from tourist fatigue, the inevitable result of trying to cram in too much tourism in too short a time. These are the sort of folks who need a vacation after their vacation. I sympathize. I think there’s a kind of axiom that applies to this syndrome – the farther you have to go to reach your destination, the more likely you are to feel driven to grab all the gusto available.

You see a lot of this in Paris, a must-see destination for many tourists, but also the site of a lot of vacation meltdowns brought on by the super-inflated hopes of an over-the-top romantic experience crashing into the crowded, confusing, over-priced reality of a town which doesn’t exactly exude hospitality.

Yet we keep on traveling. We are a restless species. And, perhaps we’re not the only ones.

Waiting for the Mother Ship to return.

Dividing Lines

The splashing water of thirteen cascading pools helps relieve D.C.'s summer heat.

Many visitors to Washington, D.C., never get beyond the nexus of grandeur and gee whiz spectacle concentrated around the Capitol and the National Mall, but for those who venture past the gentrified corridors of power, the city has its share of fascinating sights, though not always an abundance of wealth to maintain them.

Because of its unique status as the last continental colony (taxation without representation remains a fact of life in D.C.) the District of Columbia has long suffered under the benign mismanagement of Congress, which controls the city like a benevolent but harried great uncle who doesn’t really care what happens in the city as long as his chauffeur can always get through the traffic easily and deliver him safely from one seat of power to the next.

Those lacking access to such power can be grateful for the magnificent museums which we are all welcome to visit and support with our tax dollars. The District is forced to operate under the oversight of Congress for funding of its schools, emergency staff, police and parks, to say nothing of roads, water, and the thousand and one little things that go into making a city livable. To its credit, D.C. has managed to survive centuries of neglect, in part because of the energy and resources of some of its residents.

Before a giant apartment building blocked the view, you could see straight to the Washington Monument from the top of Meridian Hill Park.

On a recent visit to the “other” Washington I got a chance to spend a little time appreciating the lasting contributions of a pair of remarkable women whose names are less well known than that of Pierre L’Enfant, the French architect whose 1791 plan for the city helped ensure its destiny as a world-class metropolis. A city needs more than grand boulevards and stately monuments if it is to nourish the people who actually live there. Public parks, large and small, are essential. D.C. is blessed by the vision of the Olmsted Brothers, who mapped out the lasting beauty that is Rock Creek Park, a sinuous corridor of greenery and tumbling water flowing from north to south through the center of the city.

But other visionaries have left their marks on the District, with varying degrees of legibility. High up on 16th Street, in an area where few tourists venture, Meridian Hill Park remains a remarkable testament to one woman’s dream of putting Washington, D.C., at the center of the world. Mary Henderson, wife of Missouri Senator John B. Henderson, who introduced the amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery, settled in Washington in 1887 and began buying up property outside the then-northern boundary of the city. Mrs. Henderson had grand plans for the Meridian Hill area. The place was named for the so-called “Washington Meridian,” the longitudinal line along which nine geographically significant landmarks are located including the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument (give or take a degree), the Meridian Stone on the Ellipse, the center of the White House and the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park.

Vandals left the handle.

Mrs. Henderson lobbied Congress for years to support various projects to improve the Meridian Hill area, including one plan to build a bigger presidential mansion on Meridian Hill to replace the White House. Obviously, that bird never flew. But thanks to her tireless efforts the Commission of Fine Arts eventually agreed to develop Meridian Hill as a public park. The result is a remarkable 12-acre European-style strolling garden replete with fountains and sculpture. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974. But even Historic Landmarks need funds for upkeep. On the day I visited, crews were planting new trees on the upper tier. But the equestrian statue of Joan of Arc, a gift to the women of America from the women of France, was still missing her sword, broken off and stolen by vandals some years ago.

On a hillside across town, on a quiet street north of bustling Georgetown, an entirely different sort of garden opens to the public for a few hours each day. Here, beginning in 1921 and continuing for  nearly 30 years, the brilliant landscape designer Beatrix Farrand created a work of living art on land owned by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss. The gardens here are sequestered, carefully maintained and designed with a view to intimacy and introspection.A small admission fee charged during the blooming seasons helps pay for the small army of groundskeepers and staff who keep the gardens immaculate.

The difference between a privately endowed garden and a public park overseen by Congress can  be summed up by a tranquil bench in Dumbarton Oaks  inscribed with the Bliss family motto: Quod Severis Metes: As you sow, so shall you reap.

Congress might consider adopting that one.

Cherubs cavort in the pebble mosaic garden.
Stillness and serenity abide in the rose garden.

Garden High

Bougainvillaea trained to tree-shape exemplifies the garden's living art.

A garden is performance art of the most ephemeral and transcendent kind.

Blooms come and go. The aspect of the landscape alters with every passing cloud, every sudden shower. So for the travelers like me who go out of their way to visit gardens, it’s always hit or miss. You never know if the garden will be at its best on the one day you have an hour to spare to see it.

But in the stunning Central Garden at the Getty Center in Los Angeles I suspect you could never be disappointed, no matter when you visit. I got the chance to see it last week, and it took my breath away. The museum itself is a glorious structure, designed by noted architect Richard Meier, and sited on a spectacular bluff high above the city, with changing exhibitions of world class art inside. Van Gogh’s celebrated iris painting was among the treasures on display when we were there. But for me, Van Gogh’s irises, lovely as they are, couldn’t compete with the sun-drenched spectacle of the Central Garden.

Designed by artist Robert Irwin in a flowing spiral of stonework which allows visitors to savor the garden’s tapestry of color and texture from constantly changing perspectives, the garden is an oasis of serenity and beauty high above the clamorous city.

The maze at the center of the garden is set in water, framed by sedum.

Irwin is quoted in the Getty’s brochure saying that his aim was to produce “a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art.” That he succeeded is obvious.

What is not so obvious is the wondrous fact that the Center is open to the public free of charge. School children by the dozens scamper past the fountains, pose for photos on the parapets. Sure, you have to pay to park at the bottom of the hill before riding the tram up to the Center. And yes, bottled water from any of the kiosks will set you back three bucks. But it would be churlish to complain. To be allowed to walk in flower-scented beauty, warmed by walls of sun-baked stone, to hear the music of fountains and feel the soft breeze on your face, surely this is what paradise should be.

Hope is the thing with petals.

The cactus garden frames a view Los Angeles, veiled by smog.

Court Date

A coach's work is never done.
A coach’s work is never done.

See ball. Chase ball. Hit ball, catch ball,  throw, kick, lunge for, jump for, dive for ball.

Dogs aren’t the only species whose eyes light up at the sight of a ball. We humans feel the pull, the ‘catch me if you can’ spell of the bouncing, flying ball. And though not everyone feels inspired to play a ball sport, or join a team to do so, for those of us who do, the rewards go far beyond the obvious pay-offs in fitness and friendships.

I came to sports late in life, although I dabbled in basketball and field hockey during high school. This was long before Title Nine cleared the path for women’s sports, and decades before soccer mania took root in America’s suburbs. I never took any sport seriously until I was over forty. That’s when I fell for Wilson and Penn. I’ve been chasing those bad boys ever since.

This past weekend my  love affair with tennis took me farther than ever before, when my USTA Women’s League 3.5 team from the Pacific Northwest Section traveled to Tucson, AZ, to compete in the National tournament. Teams from sixteen sections of the country, representing all fifty states and the Caribbean, gathered for three days of match play under the hot Arizona sun.

It was an amazing, exhilarating, exhausting experience. I had imagined  before we went that there might be a few hours here and there during the tournament to see a little bit of Tucson, maybe buy a few souvenirs. Silly me.

Between the practice matches, real matches, team meetings, dinners, lunches and vital social gatherings there was hardly time to squeeze in a little precious sleep. I felt as if I were trying to keep up on one of those moving walkways at the airport while bouncing tennis balls and juggling water bottles. And  as anyone who’s traveled with a large group knows, the logistics of coordinating movements can be testing. The fluid nature of time and the peculiarities of the human temperament reveal hidden truths.

In many ways a good team is like a car. Different players bring different strengths. You need a strong engine, good wheels, fiery sparkplugs, smooth linkage, a reliable clutch. But a car, no matter how well put together, needs someone with a clear head at the wheel to stay on the road. Our team was lucky. Our coach, Jason Chapman, is younger than many of us on the team, but in tennis years he’s  older and wiser. He’s been to Nationals eleven times before, once as a player before he started coaching.

It takes a rare sort of person to bring out the best in a dozen women with widely varying skill sets, personalities and ages. It helps to have a deep well of patience, a good sense of humor, and an inner compass locked on the goal.  Jason has all these attributes, and more.

He asked us to trust him, and we did. Under his guidance, we worked hard for eight months and got to the Big Race. We made it to the Final Four and nearly to the finish line before we were edged out in the final by a scrappy team from Arkansas.

Does it lessen the sting to know that two of that team’s best players were young women who came from the Pacific Northwest? Not really.

We came to win. We nearly did. And as far as I’m concerned, my team is second to none.