Eyes Wide Open

Ella runs just over two miles on the trail with me today, from the camper to mile marker 53 and back. We always move at her pace. If she walks from the outset, I don’t take her very far. Today, she runs the whole time, would run faster if I let her. She goes back into the camper to nap with Stu, and I go back out to ride to Harper’s Ferry.

A mom and three kids rides on the trail with gear for camping. Her bike is pulling a trailer loaded with gear. The two kids directly in front of her are not carrying gear, just their water bottles. The oldest boy leads, his bike carrying rear panniers, his small body making the bicycle move quickly; they keep a strong pace. They stop at the lock near Weverton. The younger kids are sitting on the edge of the lock, resting, but the oldest is still on his bicycle, standing over it holding it up while he takes a long drink of water. He looks so young, maybe ten years old or a small twelve, but when I first saw him at the front of their group as they passed me, I thought he was an adult.

A little boy with bold smile and a headful of curly black hair is in the bike path with two adults. Unable to safely pass them, I start to slow down, put my feet on the ground. The boy stops and turns toward me. He raises his hands and starts yelling at me, or trying to yell, to give directives, in a voice not old enough to carry any strength.   A woman with him (his mother?) has blonde over brown hair and looks like she is about to laugh at him. What’s funny about this, I wonder? If he keeps doing that, the next bicyclist might be flying down the trail, unable to stop in time to prevent flattening him.

A couple with two kids under five is coming out of the footpath that ducks into the brush and the trees and goes toward the river at Weverton.   Near them is a man, skinny and heavily tanned, his hair a thick and knotted mane of blond, his torso naked, a modern Tarzan, one of those trail walkers that the woman at Bill’s was complaining about (“They walk the trail the way men used to hitch the trains,” she had said while serving hot dogs).   Maybe he stealth camps down in there.  Maybe the family walked down the path to explore and stumbled across him. I wonder if they were frightened, with an attitude like the
woman from Bill’s. The man with the blond mane points toward something as if he is giving them directions, and maybe he is, maybe he’s telling them how to pick up the AT on the other side of the road. They part ways; he walks back toward the river.

At the base of the footbridge, a mom about my age says to me, “Are you local?” as I am unlocking my bike. “Sort of,” I reply, then answer her questions about where the bridge goes. The want to know if they follow it, will they get back to their car on Sheridan road at 340? They’ve been on an AT day trip. One of the teenagers with her offers an explanatory phrase about why they don’t know the way. The dad gestures toward his AT guide book. Yes, I tell them, the bridge is part of the trail. Cross it and then you will see the white blazes again; they’ll take you up a large set of stairs that lead out of town. “Yes, that’s right, the stairs,” says the mom, and we part ways. They must have parked another vehicle at wherever they started to make a one direction hike, otherwise they would recognize the bridge, wouldn’t they?

Once I get to Harper’s Ferry, I rest on a bench in the shade.

I watch people on the corner of town where the Heyward Shepherd memorial is accompanied by a sign about the woman who spoke out against it when it was
dedicated in 1931, a piece of Confederate revisionist history. Twice now I have watched black and brown people stand for long moments, reading the words on the huge rock slab and the small Park Service sign near it, reflecting, discussing what they read and see.

I have rarely seen a white person stop to glance at it, much less have an opinion about it. If they look at it at all, they just scan through the words and move on toward their ice cream stop.

The slab of rock was engraved by an organization called the Daughters of the Confederacy about 100 years ago, the blink of an eye. It was controversial from the outset, and was “dedicated” in 1931, not even 100 years ago. The sign beside it, the one that tells us that from the beginning some people where brave enough to speak out against it, is a National Park Service sign: a self-contradiction, that the National Park Service lets that slab of granite stay there and simultaneously argues against it.

A Wikipedia search about this memorial talks about its controversial history.  There’s a link to the website of the Daughters.   Their headquarters building is in Richmond, Virginia.

It looks like a cross between a fort and a tomb.


On Tuesday morning this week, we got up early and took Ella for a run beside the bikes on the trail. The weather was so cool and welcoming that we decided to keep riding after we took Ella back to the camper. We filled the water bottles up and rode to the footbridge that goes to Harper’s Ferry. We locked up our bikes, crossed the footbridge and walked into the town. None of the coffee shops were open, but it was still such good outdoor weather, that we decided to climb the steps to Jefferson’s Rock. The climb wasn’t nearly as difficult at I thought it might be, and when we got there we sat down on this huge rock right near Jefferson’s and talked about whether or not the view was as outstanding as Jefferson claimed it was. The National Park signs over there say that Jefferson said the view was “worth the trip across the Atlantic.”

It was definitely worth a short ride up the C&O canal towpath and a short hike on part of the Appalachian Trail. It felt good to walk, to climb a little.

The corner coffee shop still wasn’t open when we headed back to our bicycles. Seems we do most of our riding and adventuring before the rest of the world wakes up, at least here in rural Maryland/West Virginia.

Potomac River

Just sit in front of the screen for twenty minutes.  You don’t have to write.  You don’t have to publish it if you do write.  But here’s the catch–there’s always a catch:  You’re not allowed to do anything else while you sit there.  It’s write or do nothing.

Look out the window if you want.  Look at the tent near the road, the morning light spilling itself through the clouds, the thick green grass, creating shadows of trees.  Listen to the sound of Ella chewing on her rawhide down there on the dog bed at your feet.  You don’t have to write, but if you don’t all you can do is sit here with your hands in you lap, like in meditation.

Except that when you meditate, you’re lying down.  Maybe most people sit on a mat or a cushion, the Zen way, but you never do.  When you meditate, you lie still, let your limbs go limp, feel the softness of flesh and bone.

You don’t have to write.  Really, you don’t.  You can think about how wonderful it was to sit in the river the last few days, looking downstream, watching the play of light on the water and the trees, listening to the sounds of children laughing, smiling with your friend.  Think about the rocks, the mussels, the shards of glass worn smooth by the water.  How long does it take for a shallow river to turn glass into something that can no longer cut?

You joked about buying some suture in case you happen to find a fresher piece of glass the hard way and the water suddenly looks red around you.  But there wasn’t any real fear.

No, you really don’t have to write.  You can just sit here, still and silent.

Wonderbooks, Frederick, Maryland

The clerk in the aisle of the huge used bookstore asks, “What are you looking for?”  What am I looking for?  It’s not so much a matter of looking for something.  It’s more a matter or narrowing it down to the one book that I will let myself take home with with me today.  I answer, “Just browsing.”  To my friend, I say, “Okay, when can I move in?”  He points to a couch near the children’s books and informs me that it comes furnished.

A dual-language Spanish novel from the 16th century?  Or how about a Spanish Bible?  I am familiar enough with parts of it to not need a side by side translation for learning purposes. Better use that book of Neruda in both English and Spanish and return it to the library first, I tell myself. How about an antiquarian Boy Scout book?  I don’t seem to be able to find any old veterinary texts, but there is an interesting old histology book wedged on a shelf between the biology books and the medical texts.

“Why am I thinking about taking home a Spanish-English dictionary when I have Google Translate in my pocket?” I wonder aloud.  My friend shrugs, “You like real books.”

After browsing to my heart’s content, I return to the stacks with books labeled “Literature” to pick up “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”.  I read the first few pages of it on my Nook the other day, a downloaded sample.  I choose an inexpensive used paperback version for to buy, leaving an older hardbound copy on the shelf.  If It call out to me again across a few days, I might go back for it.