Remember, Heal and Reconcile

I had just started making my way back after riding into Washington DC from Pennyfield Lock.  I was stopped in my tracks by this wreath of beautiful roses next to the Potomac river in the Georgetown Waterfront Park.P8290066.jpg The first line on the white ribbon that lay diagonally across the wreath read “Remember, Heal and Reconcile”.  The second line read “400th Year Commemoration 2019”.  I could not figure out what it was all about until today.  And I spent a lot of time this morning trying to get a better grip on this story and really get into it.  You can read an article about it here.   I found this audio clip related to this story also interesting.

Just to give you a high level background, 20 or so slaves arrived from Africa for the first time on an English ship at Jamestown in August 1619.  This notable event was a part of the beginnings of a complete moral disaster that has its impacts even today.  Unfortunately, there are people who still wish to rewrite this piece of history even today.

I also saw this.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn light of the shenanigans going on in government today, and especially at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it was somewhat ironic to see this on the plaque below the sculpture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this was posted in the same neighborhood next to the river.P8290048.jpgYuk!

Lest somebody thinks that I am a grouch, I really did enjoy the morning and did have a good ride.  Here are some other pictures from the park.

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View of Rosslyn (in Arlington), and the Key Bridge

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Georgetown Waterfront Park

And here is a picture of Swains Lock taken in the early morn.P8290047.jpgLife goes on!

Jones Point Park, VA

It is the darnedest thing!  I have had this particular blog in the back of my mind for quite a few days.  I keep thinking about it every day,  but I cannot get myself into the proper state of mind to write it.  There are so many distractions.  I am just going to have to force myself to eject the words out of the brain in free form when I have a little bit of free time, and then read it all back later to see if it makes sense.

It had to do with my bike ride last Wednesday.  It was another one of those rides that required some extra motivation on my part to get it going.  I am finding it hard to maintain a regular schedule.  I am too good at finding excuses.  It had rained the previous day.  The trail was going to be messy.  Perhaps I should stay home.  That was my excuse this time.

But I found a way.  I decided that I would ride on the paved trails in Virginia so that I could avoid the mud and potholes of the C&O canal.  In order to do this, I would park the car on Canal Road at the Chain bridge, on the outskirts of Washington, DC, and then head south on my bike on the towpath into Georgetown. I would then cross the Potomac river into Virginia on the Key Bridge.  I was then going to ride south on the Mt. Vernon Trail.  I did not know how far I would ride on this trail, but I knew that if I rode to the end, it would end up being a somewhat tougher ride than usual.

Things went according to plan as I rode into Virginia somewhat early in the morning.  As I crossed the Key Bridge, I could see and feel the rush hour traffic headed into Washington, DC.  This was was the scene on the Roslyn side of the bridge.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI got on to the Mt. Vernon trail at this point and started pedaling away beside the river, passing Roosevelt Island early in this section.  There was a very short stop for pictures at Gravelly Point Park.  There was already a steady stream of planes headed into National Airport.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe airport was busy.  Both runways were in use.

The Mt. Vernon trail passes under the Woodrow Wilson bridge just beyond the town of Alexandria.  This bridge carries Interstate 495, the Capital Beltway, over the Potomac river.  The approach ramps of the bridge pass over Jones Point Park.  The Mt. Vernon trail snakes its way between the massive piers of the bridge at this point.  There is a lot of open space under the bridge and people of all ages hang out there – fishing by the river, playing basketball, biking around, etc…  It seems to be a meeting place for groups of mothers with babies.

Most often I bike right through Jones Point Park without stopping.  But this time, an unexpected thought crossed my mind just as I was headed out of the park.  At that point of the ride I was thinking to myself that I really did not care about the distance I covered that day.  So why not take some time to get off the trail and explore some of the smaller, less well-defined, paths that I had seen in the past while riding through the park.  It was a sudden decision.  It also turned out to be a great decision!

Riding along a smaller trail, I ended up at a spot where I began to see boundary markers beside the trail, with signs on these markers for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.  These markers were lined up in straight lines, with the black line on their tops indicating the actual boundary line between two jurisdictions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was also a lighthouse beside the river, and a few wayside exhibits around it.

It turned out that I was at the tip of the area of land that originally defined the southern limit of Washington, DC!  These newer boundary markers were meant to mark the historical boundaries of the District of Columbia.  The history is very interesting, and you can read more about it here.  Essentially, the District of Columbia was originally conceived of as a diamond shaped area of land with sides of 10 miles each, with a total area of 100 square miles.  The land for DC was going to be obtained from both Virginia and Maryland.  In the end, the land that Virginia was going to give up in this regard was taken back. (This covered about 31 square miles.)  This was called a “retrocession”.

Another interesting fact is that when the original area for DC was being mapped out, boundary markers were set into the ground at one mile intervals along the sides.  Most of these boundary markers still exist, including the one at the southern tip, the place I was at!

Unfortunately, I did not think about the significance and existence of the original boundary markers while I was in the park.  It was only later that I read that the original southern boundary marker for Washington, DC, was actually embedded in the seawall in front of the lighthouse.  It is something that I will stop to investigate further the next time I am in the area.  It is located on the right side of this picture of the lighthouse, under a cover of plastic.  It is next to the wayside exhibit and in front of the steps, below the level of the ground.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took pictures of a couple of the wayside exhibits that provided some historical information. (You can click on the pictures to open them up in bigger size.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI continued my bike ride past Jones Point Park.   At this point, I was within reachable distance of Mt. Vernon and the end of the Mt. Vernon Trail.  The temptation of complete the trail was too much to overcome.  So, I biked to the end.  It was not the optimal decision.

The ride began to take its toll on the way back.  Basically, I was retracing my path.  The ride was beginning to feel somewhat more mechanical at this point as I endeavored to keep a steady pace.  It became more about the challenge of the ride.  I was even beginning to pick up speed as a matter of course.  My mindset for the ride had shifted. This is typically what happens to me when I bike long distances.  It is more relaxed in the beginning, and then, bit by bit, it becomes more intense.

I began to tire without even being too aware of it.  I was also running out of water.  I stopped at Fletchers Cove, about a mile short of Chain Bridge, the place where I had parked the car.  My thigh muscles cramped up immediately when I got off the bike.  I had pushed myself too hard.

I was able to buy a bottle of Gatorade at the concession stand at Fletchers Cove.  More than half the bottle went down the throat immediately.  After a few minutes, I was able to get back on the bike and continue riding to the car. I had no further issues.  Because of the long stop at Fletchers Cove, I had also managed to alter my mindset, and I was able to ride at a more relaxed pace.

In the end, I had ridden over 44 miles. I have ridden longer distances than this in the past, but under different circumstances.  I was probably also in better shape when I did longer distances!

That is my story for the day, and I am sticking to it!

Onward to the Land of the Incas

We are preparing for a visit to Peru next month.  During this trip we will be traveling to the interior and visiting the heartland of the old Inca civilization, including the ancient city of Cusco.  We are looking forward to this visit.

I have been doing some reading in anticipation of this trip.  The first book that I read was ‘Turn Right at Machu Pichu”, by Mark Adams.  This book, first published in 2011, weaves two different story lines.  The first is Mark’s experience of traveling the region, following in the paths of earlier explorers, including trekking the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  Mark interweaves this narrative with an account of the history of the region, some of it very brutal, mostly centered around the time of the Spanish conquests of the area.  He talks about the “discovery” of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham III, a somewhat self-serving American explorer in search of fame, in 1911.  But Machu Picchu was never really “lost”, especially to the people who are from the region!  In any case, the stories are interesting, even if the details of the book are difficult to remember just a few weeks after reading it.  My memory is not what it used to be.

The other book I read more recently was “The Old Patagonian Express”, by Paul Theroux.  This book was first published in 1979.  It is an account of Paul’s travel from Boston, Massachusetts, to Esquel in Patagonia, mostly by train.  The travels took the author through Peru, and specifically Cusco and Machu Picchu.  I have a copy of the book that I had bought in June of 1985, when I was about to graduate with my doctorate degree.  It was time to open the book once again.

The spirit of the somewhat arduous trip taken by Paul Theroux (it took a few months to complete) is something that I can appreciate.  It is an undertaking that seems to have been driven mainly by the author’s sense of curiosity and adventure, and his need to leave his zone of comfort in the process.  It is about the thrill and the romance of travel.  You do it because you want to see, experience, and learn about new things, new places, new people, etc..  You are not looking for the familiar place or face.  You do not have a complete plan in place to handle the situations that you will encounter.  And it is more significant than that – you willingly open yourself to the unexpected and let yourself become more vulnerable. And in all of this, you manage to learn something more about yourself.

One has to remember that Paul Theroux’s book was written in the 1970s.  I now find that his attitude towards the kind of people that he encountered, especially the locals, seems to be somewhat condescending, or maybe it is just a general sense of superiority.  I wonder if it is actually a sign of the times that Paul Theroux lived and traveled in, or if it is a somewhat generic attitude taken by folks who are out on voyages of discovery, including most of the explorers of times past – especially those from Europe and North America.  They always thought that they were better off than the others, and that they knew what was good for others. Perhaps they were really better off from a materialistic point of view, but did they necessarily know what was good for others?

Paul talks a lot about the poverty he encountered in Peru, especially among the natives.  The power structures in place in government in those days did not seem to be geared towards improving the lives of the common man.  Perhaps it is all true.  My problem, reading Paul’s work at this time in my life, is the feeling I have that he does not seem to have gone beyond the superficial in trying to understand the lives of people.  He does not seem to have had the conversations that someone who is undertaking this kind of effort should be having.   Maybe he did not have enough time.  Maybe he did not think his book was meant to be read by somebody of Inca ancestry.  In my mind, he comes off as being quite opinionated in this regard.  He might have thought that he was be brutally honest, but I think the problem is that he did not make the attempt to have a more complete perspective. He really did not complete his homework.  Perhaps, this is a general problem with the attitudes of too many explorers.

Anyway, here we are, more than 40 years after the time of Paul Theroux’s travels to South America, and we are on our way to South America once again (we went to Ecuador two years ago).  I wonder how the country of Peru has changed since the 1970s.  We are not adventurers like Paul Theroux.  We are going in an organized tour group, and everything is going to be taken care of for us.   We will probably be shielded in some way from the locals.  Paul Theroux had also traveled through Ecuador, and he talks about the poverty in that country, but our exposure to those circumstances a couple of years ago in the tour group in Ecuador was minimal.  It could be that the situation has changed since the 1970s, but it could also be that we were just shown what would be tolerated by “tourists” like us – things that were unlikely to cause us distress, or show the country in a poor light.

It seems like the town of Cusco was geared somewhat towards tourism even in the 1970s.  It is in all likelihood even more so today.  You only have to see all the information on the Internet in this regard to sense that this is the case.  You would also be led to believe that people are generally much better off in Cusco today than 40 years ago, but how can one be sure without having the complete experience?

As I said before, since we will be arriving in Peru as tourists in a tour group, almost everything that we do will be according to a plan and a schedule.  But the explorer in me feels that perhaps some of the more remarkable and memorable moments of the trip could happen outside of the script.  One just has to be open to the possibilities.

One final note about the trains that Paul Theroux took many years ago.  Even in those days, there was no way to do the entire trip from Massachusetts to Patagonia solely by train.  Looking at the available train services today, this situation has gotten even worse.  Passenger train services are available in much fewer places today.  Common folk have to depend more on the buses than they used to do in times past.  In a few places, the trains have been saved by running services over short distances just for the tourists.  But this is not the real thing!  The romance of the railroad is not what it used to be.

 

 

 

Muscle Shoals, Alabama

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two (yes they do)
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue, now how bout you?

Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd

Muscle Shoals is not a major tourist destination.  It lies on the southern shore of the Tennessee river in the northwestern part of Alabama, on the other side of the river from the town of Florence, AL.  These days, the name seems to refer to the area covering the towns of Sheffield, Tuscumbia, and Muscle Shoals itself.

While many people who consider themselves rock-and-roll aficionados may know nothing about this place, other than it being a reference in a Lynyrd Skynyrd song,  people who are really in the know understand that this was the place where a lot of rock-and-roll music of the 1960s and 70s got created.  Musicians from all over the country, and the world, came to the studios of Muscle Shoals to record their albums.   Musicians like Rod Stewart, Paul Simon,  Jimmy Buffet, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Percy Sledge, Etta James, The Commodores, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers, and many others, worked here.

Wandering around the area of Muscle Shoals you will not have a clue as to the role this place had in the creation of the contemporary music of that time.  Some of the place, especially around Sheffield and Tuscumbia, looks run down and dilapidated.  The town of Muscle Shoals is lightly populated, with low rise and spread out shopping centers and commercial buildings dominating the skyline, and it is clear that the history of the place has not had a very significant impact on its prosperity.

The original recording studio that started it all is called Fame Studios. It is still in use, and is owned by a family that has been in the business for over fifty years.  The building that hosts the facility is small and nondescript, and you may even miss it if you were not paying attention, in spite of the fact that is is right beside the main road.  The inside of the building shows its age.  It is simple, and the decor is from a time that has long passed.  The walls are covered with pictures and mementos of the musicians who have worked in that space since the 1960s.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was a spinoff from the Fame studio and it was started by the Swampers.  It operated in the location indicated in the picture below from 1969 to 1979.  The building is now a museum, and it sits all by itself  in an open space beside Jackson Highway.  There is nothing else of note there beside this unremarkable building.  One would even miss the small building had the name of the place had not been painted on it.  The parking lot is small and unpaved, and an unmarked entrance from a side street (rather than the main road) leads you to the facility.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe came by another place of note called the Cypress Moon studio unexpectedly, next to a park beside the river.    Apparently this facility used to house the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio after 1979, but this lasted only a few years. Cypress Moon Studios are a film and music production company today. Concerts are held periodically in the historic studios.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADriving along Jackson Avenue, you pass buildings that are falling apart that have names on them indicating that they were recording studios some time in the past.  It is hard to say if the place ever thrived due to the presence of the music business, but today most of it looks rundown.

Unfortunately, we had no time to spend wandering within any of these facilities.  The museum would have been interesting.

There is something interesting about how life goes on in Muscle Shoals even though its best days have probably passed it by.  While the place is open to tourism, it is also very low key at this time, and there seems to have been no attempt yet to try to exploit the situation with a lot of advertising and promotion on a large scale.  Expectations seem to be moderate.  Life goes on,  and the pilgrimage goes on!

The Harrison Brothers Hardware Store, Huntsville, AL

We spent a couple of hours (literally speaking) in downtown Huntsville, AL. I think that is sufficient time to see this particular area of town and get a good feel for it.  The downtown area is small.  The place reminds me of other small places with downtown areas that are recovering from hard times.  The buildings are old, and perhaps historical.   The central area in Huntsville is dominated by the Madison County Courthouse, a building whose design leads me to believe that it was probably a product of the 1970s, a time when public buildings seem to have been designed to be primarily utilitarian and functional, and not very noteworthy from an artistic perspective when seen from the outside.  The buildings around the courthouse in Huntsville house small mom and pop boutique stores and restaurants, and lawyers’ offices.   Old people lounge around in the benches watching the tourists.  Young people with laid-back attitudes serve you in the restaurant whose outdoor tables are painted in psychedelic colors.  I have seen this kind of a scene in other small towns with rundown downtown areas.  Perhaps these young people with their seemingly simple lives and a straightforward attitude will bring a rebirth to these towns.

The Harrison Brothers Hardware Store lies to the south of the courthouse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a historical facility that still functions as a store today, and in some sections of the store you can see shelves and tables stacked up the way they used to be in past times.  But the thing that got me was the historical cash register which is still being used!   The metal work on this piece of hardware is something to be seen from close up.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe only other thing I will mention here about Huntsville is the statue outside the courthouse.  It is a memorial to the civil war, and it is a memorial to the confederates, the side that lost the war.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStatues like this started coming up all over the south in the early 1900s, well after the civil war was over.  From what I understand, they were built primarily by a group called the United Daughters of the Confederacy.   Unfortunately, these statues have now become an uncomfortable reminder of our still ongoing issues with race, one of the major issues of this country that the civil war sought to address.  Statues of confederate leaders are being torn down from many public places today, mostly in the north, because they are symbolic of our ongoing societal problems.  It will probably be a while before such a movement takes hold in the southern swathe of this nation.

Huntsville is also called The Rocket City, and it is the place where the American space program got its beginning.  If you are visiting the city and have time to spare, there are things to be seen in this regard.  We did not have the time.

A Bridge in Montgomery County in Maryland and the African American Experience

Some people think of systemic racism as a thing of the distant past, especially if they happen to live in a part of the country which in the 19th century fought for freeing the slaves.  But institutional racism was alive even in the later half of the 20th century, and in some senses is alive even today.  I would bet that there are some practices today that future generations will look at and say – how could we have accepted that?  The current state of the national education system comes to mind in this regard.   The video below presents life experiences of people who lived, and are living, some of these experiences, told through the story of the bridge.  Not all stories make it to the limelight.

Talbot Avenue Bridge will eventually be demolished and replaced by a new bridge that is a part of the Purple Line project for light commuter rail.  I understand that parts of the original bridge will be saved and moved to locations where they can be used as memorials to remind us of our history.

P.S.  I biked across the Talbot Avenue bridge last year as part of training for my long ride.  The bridge is a part of the Georgetown Branch trail, which is an extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

Harpers Ferry Forever

Some of you who may have read my previous blogs could be wondering about the motivation behind this trilogy of blogs on Harpers Ferry.  My first inclination had been to write only this particular blog that I am about to pen, and this was based on a trip that we had made to the town very recently. But then I realized that I have been experiencing Harpers Ferry and writing about it for some time.  Some history in this regard was needed before proceeding.  The earlier blogs on the topic of Harpers Ferry, and the background material needed for them, flowed quite naturally from this realization.

If you are a regular reader of my blog,  you know by now that Harpers Ferry has been a part of my weekend runs for several years on the C&O Canal, although more frequently in the past than in current times.   But one does also occasionally wander into the town itself from across the river, either when one decides to cross over the river to the tip of Harpers Ferry, to the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah, or when one goes into town for tourism purposes when we have visitors from other parts of the world.

Thus is was that we found ourselves recently visiting the place twice this year, in quick succession, accompanying visitors. You would think that such visits into town would tend to become monotonous, but the amazing thing is that I am finding new things about this place called Harpers Ferry.  I am actually beginning to get a better sense for what life must have been for people living here in times past, starting from when Robert Harper moved to the area in the 1760s.  I am now also more fascinated by the history of the town in the simplest sense of the word, i.e., in terms of how people lived there rather than in the sense of its place in history, about how the town grew and even prospered before the inevitable impact of the passage of time, and even about simple things like how the layout of the town changed over the years (there were actually even a few canals that flowed through town at one time or the other).  Perhaps a day can come when I can even get a sense for how people generally felt about their lives in Harpers Ferry.

So what is it that has roused my enthusiasm about the place you ask!  As background for getting a better insight into my frame of mind and my thinking about this subject, I will note that one of the first things worth knowing about current Harpers Ferry is that the National Park Service (NPS) has done a bang-up job bringing the town back to life, both physically and virtually, after its having been destroyed over and over again by floods, something that almost led to abandonment.  Today, people only live in the upper parts of town above the flood lines.  The lower part of the town is dedicated to the tourists.  Besides the mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, there are still many previously abandoned buildings of the old town that remain in this lower part of town.  In spite of having been to Harpers Ferry many times, this was the first time I discovered that many of these abandoned buildings have been converted to museums.   Each building addresses a different aspect of the town’s history and background.  This is a work in progress, but the NPS have already done an excellent job.  There is an attempt to cover all aspects of life in a little town over the entire period of its existence in a systematic way.  Of course, significant turning points in history, like John Brown’s insurrection, and the important battle that took place in and around the town during the civil war, are prominent subjects for presentation, but one also learns about the life of ordinary people, including the experience of blacks at that time in history,  or the commercial story of the town (as noted, it was once a prosperous town), the functioning of the armory that the town came to be identified with, and the impact of the railroad and the floods on the town over the years.  You can feel like you are living the experience.

With more and more trips to the town, I might actually begin to remember what I see and read in the museums and be able to relive those times in my mind rather than just remember the experience of being in the town!   This year was the first time we walked through the ruins of Virginius, a little island on the west side of town that at one time was Harpers Ferry’s center of commerce.  They made good use of the power of the waters of the Shenandoah to fuel the commerce and help the place flourish, by diverting some of the water into tunnels under town in order to use its power. But ultimately the river was not controllable!

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Site of water inlet from the Shenandoah into Virginius
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Waterways below the ruins at Virginius

For the first time, we found the original site of John Brown’s fort, originally a guard and fire house.  The site is on top of an embankment that once used to carry a railroad line into town.  (The remains of the railroad track can still be seen under the sand in places.)  The embankment runs parallel to Potomac street.

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Marker at the original site of John Brown’s Fort

John Brown’s fort has itself been moved around quite a bit over time, even to places outside of Harpers Ferry. It has come to rest in its current location near the confluence of the rivers most recently.

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John Brown’s Fort

And then we discovered the site of the original buildings of The Armory behind the embankment I mentioned earlier.  None of the armory buildings still  remain, having been razed to the ground to support a railroad yard more recently in time.  But you can walk in the area and get a sense for the place.    There are markers that tell you a little more about the place itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Picture of buildings on Potomac Street taken from across the armory site and beside the Potomac river

It turns out that after all these years I am still learning new things about Harpers Ferry.  I even have a better appreciation for how the place must have looked in different times.   I will be back, and hopefully I will continue to have my curiosity piqued, and I will actually remember some of things I read, and I will also continue to learn.  Maybe Harpers Ferry will remain with me forever!