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.
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.