November 12, 2012

Sunday in the Woods with John

Maybe Sondheim will compose a musical, like his Sunday in the Park with George, after he sees this blog post and the accompanying photos.

I had several ideas for a post today, but they would have required spending time indoors. Today and tomorrow are probably going to be the last with temps around 70 degrees, sunshine, and the fall foliage past its peak but still beautiful. So, spending the day outdoors won out.

I've been using my back pain as an excuse for not taking the neighborhood walks I've always enjoyed. But since I want to be in better shape for the family trip to Iceland after Thanksgiving, I decided to do what my back doctor told me to do a year ago: "just walk through the pain."

So guess what happened on my walk today? The back pain gradually eased, and I thoroughly enjoyed the walk. But -- no surprise -- I also found I was seriously out of shape and had to stop and rest more than before.

The Palisades: My Heaven on Earth
I've raved before about my neighborhood, the Palisades section of DC. It's situated on the hills above the Potomac River just before the Maryland line. It's often described as "country living in the city." As you'll see from the photos that follow, you can quickly go for a walk in the woods. Yet I figure it will take me 15 to 30 minutes to drive (non-rush hour) to almost any place in downtown DC.

For years, I commuted by bike to my office in the city center and knew the bike ride would take about 25 minutes. If I drove to work, the commute could be as short as 15 minutes or as long as an hour, depending on traffic.

All city amenities are nearby: banks, post office, gas station, Safeway, CVS, and restaurants that are on lists of the best in the area for both elegant dining and "cheap eats."

I grew up in Ithaca, NY, a town of hills and trees. My Palisades neighborhood is much like my old hometown.

We moved here in 1960 and bought a tiny two-bedroom house for $19,500. Our second child, daughter Ann, was born later that year. Within a few years, it was clear we needed a larger house. But by then we were sold on the neighborhood, so we bought a larger house exactly three blocks up the hill -- moving from 5030 Sherier Place to 5023 Eskridge Terrace.

I hope to spend my remaining years right where I am.

Today's Walk in the Woods
Running down the spine of the Palisades is Battery Kemble Park, named after a hillside Civil War fortification covering the approach to the city from the chain bridge that connected Virginia to DC and Maryland.

The park is a narrow stretch of protected woods that begins at the Potomac River and goes up the palisade hillside for several miles, running on both sides of MacArthur Boulevard, the main thoroughfare through the Palisades, paralleling the river.

A five-minute walk from my house brought me to the park entrance above MacArthur Blvd. I took this photo after going only a few yards into the woods:

Soon I came to a favorite spot. My kids dubbed this "the whale rock":

It made a good resting spot. I sat there for 10 minutes and watched the parade of dog owners and dogs. Some breeds passed by that I didn't know. Unfortunately I forgot to snap pictures, but when I got home I did a Google search on the breed names I recalled. For example, this is the Japanese Akita:

A few minutes later, a man came by with these three Hungarian Vizslas:

Many other dogs and owners passed by, reminding me of the dozens of times we came to the park with our beloved Golden Retriever, Sandy. Once again, the thought emerged: "Maybe I should get a dog." But I quickly reminded myself of the winter mornings when I'm having my coffee in the warm comfort of my living room, look out, and see my neighbors bundled up as they pass by, walking their dogs.

After a rest, I decided to go back out to MacArthur Blvd. and take the path down on the river side of the park. Here's the entrance. The building on the left is the old one-room schoolhouse that's been preserved:

A small stream runs through the park heading for the Potomac:

As we near the end, the path runs along a bluff overlooking the river. The hills in the distance are across the Potomac in Virginia. 

Leaving the woods, the path runs above the C&O canal that parallels the river.

The canal  was started in 1825 in the hopes of permitting cargo barges to travel between the Potomac River tidewater port of Georgetown and the Ohio River. It never got much beyond Cumberland, Maryland. It enjoyed a few profitable years after the Civil War, but eventually floods and the competition from the railroads ended its operation as a business. The canal was sold to the federal government in 1938. For years, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Douglas led an annual hike down the C&O canal towpath as part of a campaign to get Congress to declare the canal and its surrounding lands a national monument. A law finally was enacted in 1971 creating the C&O Canal National Park.

Moving down the path, I looked back to take this shot, remembering another bit of local history. For the first few years that I lived in the Palisades, I commuted to work using the Cabin John Trolley, which traveled on a bridge across the Battery Kemble Park ravine and came down this path:

A unique vista for a city commute! I did a photo blog post a while ago on the trolley's course through the Palisades.   

Leaving the path, I head back down Sherier Street where one of the residents -- having just taken down an elaborate Halloween display -- is now getting ready for Thanksgiving. I expect to see a Santa here once Thanksgiving is over.

My route home takes me past our original house, the one with the flag hanging outside:

Three blocks up the hill (that get steeper with each passing year), we're back at the house that's been home for 50 years. It's the one on the right with the yellowing climbing hydrangea.

Now it's time to relax with a cup of coffee and the Sunday Times in the rocking chair on the back porch.

I'll have to be removed feet first from this house and this neighborhood! 


Lisa Potomac ave. said...

Thanks for sharing your journey John. I have 'only' lived here for 21 years and every day when I look to the river, the hills and the amber mornings, I forgive my house for all its leaks and breaks and look out to beauty. I still feel so fortunate to be able to stay here and cant imagine being anywhere else.

Heather Gustafson said...

Love your posts, John! Hope to see you again soon. - Heather and Marc Gustafson