It was a drizzly September day-- there's been little respite lately from the damp-- and I decided to go for one of my expeditions. This Georgia Avenue trail was not one of the most scenic or fascinating of the Neighborhood Heritage Trails, but its main advantage was that I got to view the campus of Howard University for the first time. As I've lived here longer, I've come to regard Howard with a certain reverence. The campus, too, while not ostentatious, felt dignified and solid and old. A few details, though overall the rain depressed my photographic efforts:
I ate lunch at a Potbelly close to campus and read Bob Woodward's Fear. From Howard, the trail mostly moseys straight up Georgia Avenue, with a brief detour over to parallel Sherman Avenue, only a block away. It's an excellent illustration of the gentrification landscape: Georgia Avenue, mostly, is still lined with small local storefronts that are graffitied, barred, and/or drab and dingy-looking. Down-and-out individuals limp by with regularity. But turn off this main drag onto a side street and the row houses are looking freshly-painted and bright, with many rainbow flags (strangely, often the first sign of DC gentrification), flowers, and arty-looking porches. The businesses along Sherman Avenue are a little more upscale and funky-in-a-cute-way, despite being only one street away from Georgia. Here and there, a block of Georgia Ave. is following suit. It's only a matter of time, it seems, before all of Northwest DC is downright adorable.
It's been a week and a half since we returned from our latest 3-day backpacking trip on the C&O Canal. I love the hiking but my desire to write about it has waned over time. Nevertheless, an instinct for completeness will not let me finish the trail without also finishing this account of it. Also, it gives me an excuse to take and share photos.
The weather from August 23-25 was perfect: highs around 80 degrees, not terribly humid, breezy, sunny. We could not have asked for more perfect conditions, except that a few weeks ago it was really rainy, and the subsequent standing water seems to have led to a bumper crop of tiny, hungry mosquitoes. We had to ration the bug dope. When my kid got home, they tried to count their bug bites, but lost count or got bored after 150. Things were okay in the sunshine and breezes, but there were miles-long tree-shaded passages with boggy, shallow, temporary pools in the depression left on one side by the former canal. I called these "Mosquito Alleys." We itched and got used to it.
We started out from McMahon's Mill on a Thursday morning. It was immediately clear how high the water was everywhere. The little creek that runs through McMahon's Mill was rushing fast and hard. The towpath was muddy and, in some cases, water was streaming down the rock face on our right and crossing the trail on its way to the river. Where the trail verged on the Potomac, water was cresting over the edge.
We grabbed a quick lunch early on at the Opequon Junction campsite, then continued hiking until we reached an unexpected row of vacation (or perhaps even permanent) cabins and mobile homes, as the trail briefly opened out to become a gravel road.
My kid pointed out the tree in the picture above. This is not an actual human house, but a child's drawing somehow drafted into reality.
There were dragonflies, and lovely greenery:
And hikers striking poses.
By the end of the day we had arrived at our destination: the town of Williamsport. The Conococheague Aqueduct, which the trail crosses near the town, was closed for restoration, and the consequent detour through Williamsport would lengthen our hike by a couple of miles. We'd decided to stay at the Red Roof Inn, about half a mile off the trail detour, which was owned by a very nice South Asian couple and was cheap and comfortable. We did have to hike a little way along the shoulder of the highway, though, and a woman carrying too many bags asked us, fellow vagabonds, if we were "heading north." It was a funny town: lots of historic buildings, a few fixed up fancy, and a lot of obvious poverty too. Several people seemed to be scraping by holding permanent flea markets on their lawns.
Exhausted after 12 miles even in nice summer weather, especially the final mile by the roadside, we ate dinner at the Waffle House in front of the Red Roof Inn. It was the saddest Waffle House we'd ever seen: almost no customers, the staff draped in various attitudes of hostility and/or despair, monosyllabic except for a lonely, ostracized fry cook.
We made some phone calls. We slept hard. We took grateful hot showers in the morning as though this weren't the first night of our "camping" trip. Then we hiked back into town to the only available cafe besides the Waffle House, Desert Rose.
Desert Rose, we realized as we approached, was an oasis of rainbows (including the gigantic mug we have at home that reads "NOBODY KNOWS I'M GAY"), featuring a large effusive male employee with a braying laugh and obvious Heart of Gold, Rose herself (quiet and unassuming, but friendly), and a surprising number (considering my experience of the town so far) of gay and/or politically liberal customers. They had interesting local candies. They had hiker supplies. They had really awesome coffee. My kid felt welcomed, which is not always the case in western Maryland. Highly recommended, not that you have a lot of options when you are in Williamsport.
After breakfast we hopped back on the trail detour, which went all over including through some brickyards before reconnecting with the towpath.
It was another lovely morning, a bit more humid. We hiked close to the river. Note how muddy the water is, compared to other years.
When it came time for lunch, we sought a spot in full sun in order to deter mosquitoes. I found a small sandy beach on the river shore with space to set up my beloved tiny camp stove. I lighted it and made some rather putrid instant coffee. The stove heated up the sand and rocks around it to a surprising degree, so that it was painful to stand near it in bare feet, and I dropped my first pot of boiling water in the sand in surprise when I tried to pick it up using a rag as I usually do. Hands-on science. Another surprise: the mysterious creatures milling around in manic clusters on the surface of the shallows.
I was not 100% sure whether they were insects or crustaceans, not that there's that much difference. We got very hot during lunch, but we put our feet in the river, and it was worth it to be away from the mosquitoes for a little while.
During the afternoon, we got some relief from mosquito-alley sameness by passing a big dam and then a series of picturesque locks and old mills in quick succession. The trail does lack variety sometimes, but this was a good bit.
Occasionally we met new friends:
Tired and footsore, we arrived at Fort Frederick State Park around 5:30 pm. We'd reserved a campsite, but it was necessary to hike a little way into the park to fill up our water containers and check in with the park ranger. Fort Frederick seemed oddly teeming with people. Most them, even more oddly, were men with complex facial hair wearing drab-colored clothing of an antique style. They gazed curiously at me as if I were the one out-of-place in my hiking clothes and sneakers. They were doing things like pumping water, chopping wood, examining one another's firearms, and setting up similarly undyed tents to sell homemade crafts. This was confusing. Was Fort Frederick a sort of living-history museum?
As it turned out, the ranger said they were "having a muster" that weekend. Apparently there are French-and-Indian War re-enactors. Lots of them. One (white, I think) guy was even dressed as an Indian, with paint and feathers. Hmm. I pretty much just ignored everybody as I passed among their tents and returned to my child, waiting by the water pumps, and our campsite by the beaver pond, rich with mosquitoes.
I didn't take many photographs that night, nor did we indeed do much of anything, except cook dinner as quickly as possible while running about slapping ourselves and having an ongoing meltdown, then eat and hang out inside our tent. I did take some photos from inside the tent.
In the morning, our neighbors from across the campground driveway, a couple of middle-aged women, came over to inquire what we were up to. They'd come for the muster, out of boredom and not any special interest, they seemed to suggest. Not too much to do around here. But one of the women was clearly envious of our adventure, the way we were breaking down our whole camp in a few minutes and neatly stuffing it into our packs (something that never fails to amaze me either!). Where were we going? How long had we been doing it? Maybe she might try something like that too, when her health was better. Why does backpacking so ignite the imaginations of onlookers? I have read so many books about other people's hikes; answered so many questions about my own very modest ones.
This third and last day was more humid still, and blisters were had by all. We were back in the world of startling green, though, and I love that.
There was also a surprising amount of corn in these parts. Blisters were tended to in a nearby cornfield:
And we met even more friends.
Overall we saw our usual variety of wild animals this trip: a doe and her fawn, green and blue herons, pileated woodpeckers, many wild ducks, many turtles, a snake, a few frogs/toads, fish, zillions of butterflies, some caterpillars but not as many as last year, spiders, mystery water bugs, and a really excessive number of mosquitoes. We heard owls but did not see them this time.
By the latter half of the day, kid was limping and having trouble envisioning the last few miles with their painful blisters. Various minor surgeries ensued. Lunch was a purely functional affair eaten plunked down by the edge of the path in a sunny patch. There was still cool stuff, like this culvert, but we were ready to hike to the finish line.
Unfortunately, there was none of that. The building was locked. There were some porta-potties down by the road. Nowhere really to sit except in the grass, which kid did with a blanket wrapped around their whole body to reduce access to their bare skin. The spot itself was very, very pretty:
But we were miserable nevertheless. Eventually I flagged down a young, bearded guy who seemed to be headed down to the river from his truck, carrying a bucket. Did he know how far it was to town and services? We didn't have it in us to walk very far.
Oh, there's a truck stop just down the road, he said. Restaurant, gas and store and everything. How far? About 1000 feet.
It might have been closer. I've rarely been so thrilled to enter a dark, dingy, and barely occupied dining room. Kid ordered a basket of fried shrimp and french fries; I ordered eggs and toast and coffee. We arranged for my husband to pick us up at the restaurant. There were restrooms. We are wimps, but for a few days every year, we get to feel like badasses.
Ah, my beloved Washington DC, how you have changed in these past two years. No longer can I wander your streets and feel pride in ever-strengthening democracy and a president beloved by the world. Now I narrow my eyes at federal buildings and look suspiciously at passing tourists. What have we become? Our beautiful stately buildings house a cancer that must be cut out sooner rather than later.
Beginning at the Archives Metro station and proceeding up Pennsylvania Avenue and back down Constitution, the Federal Triangle Trail passes institution after crucial institution: the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Old Post Office, the EPA, the Department of Commerce, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the IRS, and the National Archives, as well as several Smithsonian museums, the Newseum, and multiple outdoor memorials. The area is architecturally lovely, imposing, and full of contradictions. The flowers are pretty. A significant number of homeless people try to catch some more sleep beneath makeshift shelters, their possessions strewn over expensive benches. Inside the stone walls of the buildings, state power lurks quietly, big enough to devour us all if it chose.
I had never before been to the center of the Federal Triangle, where Federal Triangle Metro station-- strangely-- nestles into and underneath the EPA building, and a large enclosed courtyard hides beyond it, almost Italian in style, full of sculptures and with arched passageways leading out to Pennsylvania Avenue, Constitution Avenue, 12th Street, 14th Street. There is an odd semi-circular shopping center punched into the ground, accessible by a down escalator from street level. Apart from the shopping mall, it reminded me a bit of Florence. There were trees, benches, sidewalk cafe tables. Only steps from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol building, a Tibetan monk strolled one of the arched passageways. A woman wearing a chador rode the escalator down towards the shopping mall. The heart of DC persists in being wildly international despite the hostility to internationality that inhabits it now.
The fuck-you tour:
On the other hand, beauty:
And then there are the things that are neither alarming nor beautiful, but iconic:
Hang in there, America.
As an aside, there are some pretty damn weird sculptures outside some of these federal buildings. This guy is guarding the National Archives:
Immediately after I took this photograph, I was approached by a DC street vendor (they will sell anything), who asked if I wanted to buy a Trump hat.
And, because I know you were wondering, here is a picture of the below-ground shopping mall.
I cannot give a objective assessment of the trail from Route 40 near Greenbrier State Park to Annapolis Rocks, as I had a headache the entire time, and by the end a full-on migraine. I threw up in my friend's car-- I mean my car, my friend was driving because I couldn't-- on the way home. Fortunately my well-prepared friend had ziploc baggies handy in her backpack and I used one of those. But I digress.
We drove a solid hour and a quarter to get to this section of the Appalachian Trail, west of Frederick. The day was lovely: sunny and warm but not too hot, with a good breeze. It was the first time my coworker and I had hiked together, and, given that we are now vomit sisters (that's like blood brothers), I wonder whether it will be the last. My coworker seemed nervous, worried that I would be in better shape than she was, and conscious of young gazelle-like women in sports bras who occasionally zoomed past us. There was a lot of uphill to begin with-- not painful climbing, but long stretches of dirt-and-logs arranged into rudimentary staircases. Not so hard, but kind of tiring and boring. Other hikers abounded, including a very large group of children with chaperones. The woods were green on top, brown on the bottom, unremarkable, with little in the way of noticeable wildlife besides squirrels and a few birds.
There were some interesting, quartz-y stones here and there, if you're into that sort of thing.
If I thought much of anything, I thought: this is the famous AT? Is it all so damaged and dusty from generations of hikers passing through?
We reached Annapolis Rocks, and there were indeed rocks there at the top of a cliff-face, a whole assortment of them perfect for picnic-sitting nooks, which was fortunate because there were a lot of people inhabiting all the nooks. There was this view:
My friend and I ate things and talked and I wished ever more fervently that-I-did-not-have-this-headache until we decided to start back.
Diagnosis: perimenopausal hormone chaos (on my third period in a row at two-week intervals) plus an exhausting past few days plus some exertion/heat/dehydration plus I accidentally made decaf coffee in the morning instead of regular. Plus the eternal fucking background stress of Donald fucking Trump.
The hike back to the car is largely a blur. It was the same hike backwards, anyway, but now with more blinding pain. I asked my friend to drive back, which, if you knew me, you'd know meant it was an emergency. I always want to drive. I didn't fully recover for two days.
That was Annapolis Rocks. Your experience may differ.
Greenbelt Park is encircled by a 5.3-mile Perimeter Trail, a little longer than I want to stay out there by myself on your average afternoon, so I'm dividing it into four parts. The first section is accessed from the park entrance road, just before you reach the Park Headquarters building. It skirts around the edge of the park on the outside of the loop road (which means, at times, the trail is divided from a largish highway only by a chainlink fence and a few trees; other times, you are well inside the wooded area). Eventually the trail takes a sharp jog south to parallel the Park Central Road, at which point I headed straight instead, towards the road and the Dogwood Trail parking area, then back around the loop by road until I reached my car where I'd left it at the Sweetgum picnic area. Probably I covered just under 1 mile of the actual Perimeter Trail.
It was a 40-ish degree early spring day, and there were people in the park on this occasion, driving cars or walking on the roads. However, as usual, I did not encounter any other person on the actual trail.
The light, as you can see from the shadows in the previous photos, was really striking. We'd had days of rain and now the sun was breaking through, but low (it was about 3:30 pm).
Because of the rain, the trail was a bit muddy; and there was a spot on the connecting trail back to the Dogwood parking area where the creek had escaped its banks, created something of a swamp, and begun to wash across the path.
In other places, the creek was still inside its heavily-eroded banks.
April now; I parked my car in the Dogwood parking area and took the connector trail back to where I'd left the Perimeter Trail. The water was lower in the swampy area and I had multiple sightings of a pileated woodpecker in that spot. From the calls, there were more of them. As usual, I was unable to get a good woodpecker photo despite the size of the bird.
There was a pleasant, almost cedar-y smell in the forest, the worst olfactory offenses of early spring being already past. While most things were still brown and bare, there were notable spots of green.
Climbing a ridge, there was a rushing sound that could have been either traffic or a raging waterfall. It was traffic. Much of this stretch of the Perimeter Trail ran alongside the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
I passed through a dense stand of bushy material and could hear a zillion little creatures hopping around in there. Just sparrows, squirrels, from what I could see, and began to walk past. Then a half-reluctant double-take. "Bird every bird," I thought to myself, a reminder from ornithology class that rears its head every so often. I turned to look at the rustling on my immediate right. It was a bird I didn't know; upon identification, a rufous-sided towhee.
I could still hear pileateds in the treetops, too. But at this point the trail intersected with the road near the campground, and I walked back along the road to my car. Only one person in the woods today: a male jogger who looked winded enough that I was pretty sure he was focused on exercise alone.
A week, maybe two, has passed, and everything is different. The temperature is in the 60s, it's sunny, my husband is with me, and the trees are just starting to leaf out, unfurling very pale green buds. The green "skunk cabbage" (or whatever it is) is much bigger and covers more of the forest floor.
There are rills of bright clear water running here and there between high mud banks.
Final and longest stretch of the Perimeter Trail. I parked at the campground and walked back down the Blueberry Trail to the Perimeter, then all the way around the rest of the Perimeter Trail to the entrance road near the police station, returning to the car via the paved road. It was a 90-ish, humid, bright Saturday, and there were more trail runners and other fellow travelers than usual. I felt safe. On the other hand, having now thoroughly explored Greenbelt Park, I still feel there is something deeply unremarkable about it.
There are a lot of downed trees, often having pulled up all kinds of interesting roots and leaving massive holes in the ground.
Things were a lot greener than before.
The "skunk cabbage" has filled in quite a lot. I saw a pair of pileated woodpeckers, but they didn't wish to have their photos taken.
I saw this interesting personage hiding beneath the edge of the bathroom stall. Don't know who he was.
But then. Before hitting publish, I used an archaic tool called a "field guide" to check into this guy, who I guessed was a moth, though I couldn't see much of his body. I believe he is a "virgin tiger moth." I also note, only as I am posting this, that there is another mystery object or personage in the top left of this photo. If it is what it kinda looks like (the edge of a large spider entering the frame), then a) it may be the reason the moth is hiding under the stall next to his deceased buddy, and b) I'm glad I didn't see it when I was actually there taking the picture.
Here ends my wildlife notes for Greenbelt Park.
The East Loop
The Downtown Heritage Trail exists in three discrete sections: East, Center, and West Loops. The East Loop begins along Pennsylvania Ave., by the Pennsylvania Ave. National Historic Site, and zigzags (extensively!) up through Judiciary Square and ultimately into Chinatown to the Gallery Place Metro. It is a land of statuary: few businesses, lots of courts, all spare Washington grandeur.
The day was gray, but promises of spring lurked in the streets.
Though I'd planned to find someplace to sit and read, there was practically no place to buy coffee. I got temporarily excited about going inside the cafe of the National Building Museum, but they turned out to be closed for a special event.
As I got close to the Chinatown neighborhood, I ran into a lot of construction. One building was wearing a shroud:
And another was bravely holding its own against the onslaught... but how much longer?
DC's Chinatown is picturesque and full of restaurants, but tiny. It's trendy and full of white people and African-Americans, fewer Asian people except for business proprietors. Do Chinese people actually live here anymore? Not too many, but some.
The Center Loop
The Center Loop starts at Pennsylvania Ave. again, this time at the intersection with 7th St. There is a monument to Charity there, right in front of the National Bank of Washington. I'm not sure what that means.
It was raining, and I didn't have an umbrella. Everything looked a little blurred, like in this picture.
Here is where all the restaurants and retail establishments are located, adjacent to the stark courthouses and museums. It's an unselfconsciously moneyed neighborhood: valet parking, expensive hotels and apartment buildings, Anthropologie, Sephora, trendy restaurants festooned with strings of white lights, cupcake shops, J. Crew. I ate my chicken salad sandwich at an Au Bon Pain, but I could also have chosen Starbucks, Pret a Manger, Cosi, or half a dozen other similar joints within a two-block radius.
There are some important tourist destinations here:
The West Loop
Foolishly, I decided to finish the West Loop of the trail on the same day Washington held its Capitals Stanley Cup victory parade. The parade was over by the time I arrived downtown on the Metro, but thousands of people were still milling around wearing Caps attire, or at least whatever red clothing they could come up with. The Subway restaurant where I stopped for a quick lunch after getting off the train was a surging sea of red.
This loop, if I may be so bold as to say it, was incredibly boring. It runs from the Metro Center station towards the White House, then back up New York Avenue, making a little loop on K Street, then back to Metro Center. Besides the revelers, there was little to see. There was a scourge of these kind of mirrored buildings:
Who doesn't hate those? And it was hot and sunny, and crawling with sports fans (not shown). There was still an overabundance of crappy fast-casual restaurants. So close to the White House, and yet so dull and colorless.
Instead, I'll leave you with a photo of the Silver Spring Civic Center during early voting. Now here's where the real action is!
Well, I finally found a DC neighborhood that hasn't gentrified yet-- although that doesn't mean it won't. Getting to the beginning of the Greater Deanwood Heritage Trail meant taking the Metro to Union Station, then a long number 96 bus to 52nd St. (The second half of the bus ride was the most alarming part of today's expedition: all signs pointed to the bus's having sustained a flat tire, but the driver appeared not to notice as we bumped and rattled and hurtled to and fro along the streets. A man behind me said to his neighbor: "I'm just here visiting a friend, hope I make it out alive.") From 52nd St., I walked north along Division Ave. until I reached the beginning of the trail at Foote St..
Division Ave. near E. Capitol St. had that poor-but-respectable look: small, drab houses with neat yards, quiet streets with trees. As I approached Deanwood proper, though, the air of respectability diminished. There was more trash along the street, everything looked grimier, and almost all visible people were male and appeared to be just hanging around. Not that I felt directly threatened at any point; just out-of-place and highly self-conscious. It didn't seem like a place where white people from outside the neighborhood go for exploratory walks.
It also didn't feel like a place where it was appropriate to pull out my phone and take lots of photos of everything; there was little that was picturesque, so I would have been transparently documenting the exoticism of everyday (black) poverty. One thing I did wish I got a photo of: the police station. I was passing a series of houses with front porches on which groups of young men were hanging out. Just past one of these there was a clearing in which a police station suddenly appeared: long and low and vaguely ominous, with an impressive number of police cars parked in rows along the street outside. Maybe twenty or thirty of them. In that location, with that degree of overwhelming police presence, they seemed to be overtly threatening their immediate neighbors. I wish I could show you; I should have shown you.
There was one truly beautiful spot on the trail: a low mosaic building just across from Marvin Gaye Park, of obvious historic value. (I learned, upon later research, that this building was the club in which Marvin Gaye began his career.) But the park was, again, full of men standing around, and there was an ancient, perhaps drunken homeless guy on the corner in front of the mosaic, and once again it did not seem appropriate to photograph the scene with all these unconsenting people in it. (This park is apparently much nicer than it was a few years ago, as is detailed here.)
On Nannie Helen Boroughs Ave, a hopeful note: a line of greenhouses tended by community gardeners. I like their sign.
On 49th St., a middle-aged man passing by wearing a "Black Lives Matter" tshirt hit on me. I mention the tshirt because it prejudiced me in his favor. Also, I have to respect the rare individual who is capable of hitting on a total stranger on the street without coming off as aggressive or mocking. I'm not a fan of stranger ambush, and I would totally make the rule that no man shall accost a woman walking by whom he does not know. But, if you're going to do it, do it like this man: get in with the compliment (and don't make it overtly sexual), be friendly and respectful, and get out again. Telling the woman to "have a good day" and then MOVING ON wins you extra points. No creepy following or pestering. I actually felt more welcome in the neighborhood after this guy hit on me, and that is, believe me guys, highly unusual.
I'd meant to stop and have some coffee and lunch while I was in Deanwood, but there were no restaurants along my way, just a few tiny makeshift food stores. (I did see a Wendy's and a McDonald's a bit off the path, but did not go there.) Deanwood is kind of a food desert. What there was, instead of restaurants, was churches. Churches and churches and churches. A couple of them were biggish and pretty, like this one:
But most of them were like the food shops: tiny, dingy, in mostly residential buildings, with names like "Macedonia Holy Church on the Rock" and "Divine Love Baptist." I'm having trouble finding the names, actually, of the more obscure ones, and yet it was the profusion of obscure ones that struck me. In one location there were three contiguous church properties. What Deanwood lacks in business investment, it apparently makes up for in faith.
The Minnesota Ave. Metro station, where I ended my walk, was dimly lit and had large amounts of water dripping from the entrance onto the floors below. Even Metro looks like it invests less in this neighborhood.
May Deanwood find a way to enjoy greater prosperity without its residents being wholly run out of town by rich white people.
Every day, two or three times a day, I get a text message from the county informing me that it is still cold. Hypothermia alert. Today, school was canceled due to a half-inch of snow on the ground, plus impending chill and wind. Suburban Marylanders are not known for their cold-hardiness, alas. I went back to Greenbelt Park. This time I didn't even expect to see anyone else there. I was right.
The Azalea Trail is a short loop connecting three different picnic sites, all of which were today windswept and lonely. The snow lined everything and made my footsteps nearly silent. No other human tracks, only animal. There was a dog without a master-- fox? coyote?-- rabbits, birds. I saw none of them, except a few juncos and crows. It was cold but not intolerable. The most significant sound was of trees creaking and sobbing in the wind.
As usual, alone in the woods, I am a little scared-- maybe wary is a better word-- but once again I was able to find that place of being at peace with isolation. Even if I were to encounter danger, could there be a better time to go?-- almost charging through the snowy woods mouthing "I love this I love this I love this?"
People, Columbia Heights is so cool. I had no idea. They're so political down there, almost like Takoma Park where I live, except maybe a little less peace-signs-and-rainbows, a little more Workers-Unite! Every street lamp is plastered with posters, the bars have signs in the windows for Democratic politicians, the businesses seem to represent every ethnicity under the sun, it feels safe, but not rich.
Except for the new stuff they're building-- that looks rich. How long will Columbia Heights stay cool in the way that it is cool right now? Maybe just a couple of years before it is totally overcome by gentrification. Hopefully I am wrong about this.
So, my Metro station has been closed for maintenance for nearly two weeks, and to get to Columbia Heights I had to take a bus shuttle to Fort Totten, then grab a train for the rest of the way. It went quite smoothly (and on the way back as well); I was surprised. Good on Metro.
When I arrived at the Columbia Heights station, I was hungry and had to pee, so I stopped for a "Little" fries at the Five Guys. A "Little" fries involves a very small cup full of fries, which is placed inside a paper bag, and then approximately 4-5 additional cups worth of fries are tossed on top. I am not sure of the logic behind this. I could not eat all of the fries in one sitting, but tucked half of them away in a greasy paper bag in my purse. Here is a view from the window of the Five Guys:
As soon as I started really walking, I realized I'd been to this exact spot before. There was a ring of benches around a fountain (though, at this time of year, there was a Christmas tree at that spot); I'd waited there last spring to meet a group of strangers from Sanctuary DMV. We were there for an "accompaniment"-- a young, undocumented man had skipped work the day before in order to take part in a pro-immigrants-rights protest, and wanted a couple of witnesses when he returned to his job, to reduce the chances that he would be fired. As it happened, an excessive 20 or 30 people gamely showed up, his boss was completely supportive of his choice to make a political statement anyway, and the young man was embarrassed to have made such a big deal about nothing. We didn't mind.
Columbia Heights is full of the kind of row houses I think are so pretty.
There were swanky new coffee bars across from rinky-dink Salvoradan coffee-and-bakery places. How long will this delicate balance exist, co-exist?
A couple of the political posters:
I did walk down one street whose houses looked extremely wealthy. These people had already decorated extensively (yet most tastefully of course) for Christmas.
Meanwhile, old things were still being torn down to make room for new things. I don't know why I find it so beautiful when a single wall is still standing during a demolition, with sky showing through the windows.
I walked about half the trail, down to 14th and Florida, and then scooted over a couple of blocks to the U St. station and home.
19 degrees, in the District, is what passes for Arctic chill. Women shuffle by in their fake fur-lined hoods, looking wounded. A spirit of camaraderie prevails, though, a sense of shared adversity: people give a few bucks to the homeless guy to get coffee and warm up, exhort one another to put on some gloves, wish strangers "Happy New Year!" We smile a bit more under our tightly wrapped mufflers.
This was the context of my second trip to the Columbia Heights Heritage Trail. Pretty quickly I ran into a guy who was waiting outside a neighborhood soup kitchen. Apparently it did not open till noon, but he and his suitcase had arrived at 10 am. He still had another hour to wait when I walked by. Cold enough walking; much too cold to stand still. We chatted and I gave him some money so he could wait inside a business instead of out. In this weather, a miscalculation of timing could turn into a real disaster. I was seriously considering stopping someplace for a cup of tea myself.
In the end, I didn't; the walk wasn't very long, and with my face turned into the sun, the cold was bearable. I was back in the land of aggressive cultural fusion: Korean tacos, kung fu and capoeira, monuments to African-American literati.
This latter part of the trail took me by Meridian Hill Park, an attractive walled green space which, due to the cold and an overdeveloped tendency to follow paths exactly, I did not enter. After reading about it afterwards, I regret the oversight. I did see this imposing statue (from behind), which is apparently of Dante for some reason.
At the opposite corner of the park, I ended up back on 16th St., on Embassy Row, in a spot I suddenly recognized from the Adams Morgan Trail. I stopped to take another picture of the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, to illustrate this returning full-circle, but at that moment my camera battery went dead. Curious.
By this time I was glad I knew the way back to the Columbia Heights station, and glad to get in from the cold. I am learning my way around.
I've given up on Rock Creek Park for now-- too much construction, too much isolation, too much uncertainty. Instead I drove to Greenbelt Park on a frosty, sunny Saturday morning, thinking it was a nice day for a walk and hordes of people would probably be out with their dogs.
Nope. There were several cars in the parking lot for the Dogwood Trail, but I saw not one human soul in the woods. Only these deer souls.
These guys (well, gals) were there to silently greet me almost immediately. We were all pretty unfazed about it.
It was a pretty day, with the light snow outlining everything that would otherwise have been just different shades of brown. I thought it was so nice that I left my scarf and gloves in the car, so that I wouldn't be too hot. That was silly. I was cold. Also, I was just wearing sneakers with thin little purple footie socks. Apparently I have forgotten how to go outside in the winter.
Here's the truly dumbass thing: I got lost. In Greenbelt Park. In my defense, I encountered two different signs like this:
So I recommend NOT leaving your trail map in your purse in the car, even if you think you don't need it: not only are there signs like this, but there are places where extra stray trails veer off in some other direction, without obvious signage. And, while there are dutiful markers every 0.2 miles, I suspect they are not placed correctly, as I covered the last 0.6 miles with amazing speed.
No matter, I figured it out, and there are at least tree blazes here and there. It's not a long or intimidating trail by any means, only confusing.
And just when you think you're in the middle of nowhere, completely alone, you round a bend and see this view:
Towards the end of the trail, there are a series of little (snow-covered today) boardwalks traversing damp bits. I am partial to boardwalks.