Update: Our stuff is in Texas. The lease is signed. Now we’re here in Reston, VA with Emily and Barry for the rest of the summer. Ken has an internship with the Navy in DC, and I’m hanging out with Emily and little Colin, searching like mad for jobs in Austin.
My first full day here, I asked Emily about the little path that runs next to their place. She told me it goes all the way to the capital. That’s right, she meant DC, the District of Columbia, the capital of AMERICA. Of course my very next question was “Can you ride a bike on it?” You can, which means I have not ceased to dream of it since. A few days later we borrowed one of Uncle Jeff’s sweet old bikes, which is surely from the early 90’s and very purple, along with a white helmet–complete with rainbow squiggle across the side. So vintage. He helped me pump-up the tires and adjust the seat and today: I was out that door and on the path.
This isn’t your typical city path: each tree planted neatly in a row, supported by a mechanically timed sprinkler system. No way. This place is wild. These trees and vines have been tangling and growing and reaching for sunlight since long before I was born. They are vivid in the thick Virginia air, and they are not alone. There are butterflies, bees, red robins and all sorts of other things I heard but didn’t see. In other words, nothing here is depending on human life or machine to water and sustain it. It’s nice to know that this was home to them before it was to me. It exists all on it’s own. This is another world. Even the breeze is alive with some humid language that seems to tell me I am only a piece in its history. As I raced down the first big hill, I stood up tall on my pedals and let the rush of air explain that to me.
It reminded me of a poem called “The End and The Beginning,” which describes how every war zone eventually becomes a tranquil place again. I was the person in the very last stanza, who comes to look at the clouds, separate and ignorant from all that happened on that very ground before.
This path was built over civil war ground.
America divided in half, and fought against itself here.
If you’re more into learning from Signs written in English than Rushes of air speaking in humid tree language, then good news for you: they have signs and cites along the way to explain history to you. That’s how I learned that this path is called the Old Dominion Trail. It used to be railroad tracks. It used to be stuff underfoot of Army Generals like Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker, who passed through here exactly 150 years (and 2 days) ago on his way to Gettysburg. Turns out he had to resign the next day because of an ongoing feud with Army headquarters, so watch out, Fighting Joe was a pretty feisty guy.
Herman Melville, author of “Moby Dick,” once went through here on foot as well. While I ride along humming to myself, a free woman in the middle of the day, he passed through at night, warily searching out the infamous, most hated Confederate in the North, Lieutenant Colonel Mosby. Afterwards, he wrote “The Scout Toward Aldie,” which describes these very trees in the night as “a globe of leaves,” and “moon-tinged—with crook’d boughs.”
So even though I know this path will become a home to me here, it also belongs to another time. To other people. To older moons. And I love that really, it can never be all mine.
The End and the Beginning
Written by Wislawa Szymborska
(translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak)