I recently returned to the glorious city of Washington DC for the first time since I lived there and I was quite excited to visit my old haunts. The first afternoon, I walked outside, excited for the day's adventures, with music buzzing in my earbuds (nothing like the weird confidence music gives you!). I arrived at my destination three hours later with sweat carving canyons into my skin, and my legs covered in blood and cuts. But at least Taylor Swift was keeping me company, amirite?
See, I forgot how hot DC gets. And not only is it hot in August anyways, but I magically timed my visit to coincide with a heat wave. The temperatures hovered around 100 (40 Celsius) all week. In addition to the heat, DC is an incredibly humid city, because Thomas Jefferson had the brilliant idea to build the city on a swamp. Much like "The Windy City" uses local weather to discuss political deviance, "Drain the Swamp" is a metaphor derived from the actual geographical situation that the nation's capital finds itself in. #NowYouKnow
As a fun aside, one of my favorite American history stories involves the Founding Father de jour, Alexander Hamilton, along with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Both Hamilton and Jefferson were in Washington’s cabinet and were trying to establish this new country they had created. They had yet to decide on an economic system, as well as the permanent location of a capital. Hamilton and Jefferson, who let’s just say were not the best of friends, vehemently disagreed on these two aspects. Finally, Washington invited both men to his Virginian plantation, plied them with a whole lot of wine, and made them come to a compromise. In the end, Hamilton got the economic system he desired and Jefferson got to choose the location of the capital. He wanted it in his home state of Virginia, so they carved out a bit in the northern bit of the state. Unfortunately for everybody who has lived or visited the city ever since, that portion of land happened to be a swamp. Thanks, drunk Hamilton, for giving up New York City and its lack of a swamp so easily.
And yes, the musical Hamilton absolutely alludes to this moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WySzEXKUSZw
For a less fun story involving Hamilton: he is also the reason American presidents are required to have been born in the United States. Long story short, the other founding fathers, well, hated him. He had been born in the Caribbean, but moved to what would become the US when he was a teenager. By ensuring that the rule for the newly established office was that the president had to have been born in the country, the other founding fathers ensured that Hamilton could never be president. It worked out for their pettiness, but my cousin who was adopted from Colombia and moved here when he was three months old is not allowed to be president because of this rule. It’s an outdated rule that only exists because nobody liked Alexander Hamilton.
At least we all like Lin-Manuel Miranda.
So out into Jefferson's swamp I popped, ready for my afternoon of exploring Rock Creek Park. I lived in DC for a year and yet somehow never managed to explore this park that has been a refuge for the ladder-climbers of the world's snobbiest city since it was set aside by the National Park Service back in 1875 (as only the third national park, behind Yellowstone and Mackinac). I have seen pictures on the various social medias and wanted to see this slice of wilderness for myself. So in went the earbuds and off I went!
The friend I was staying with lived ¾ of a mile (1.2 km) away from the park, so an easy jaunt even in the heat. The sidewalk to the park wound through a beautiful neighborhood, with stunning upper-class houses, well-kept yards, and quiet streets. I did not snag any pictures, because I was worried somebody would get mad at me for doing so, but here's an idea.
After about 20 minutes of enjoying Rich People land, I arrived at the park. And then...well, I couldn’t find an actual path. I figured I'd walk along the road until I did find one, but that was perhaps not the best plan. The trees were right next to the road so there wasn't anywhere to walk on the grass, and that road was much more crowded than the sweet neighborhood road had been so I couldn't walk on it.
But Laura, you ask, why didn't you simply walk through the woods rather than straddle the tiny space of grass between the trees and the road? Ho ho, respond I, let me explain to you how phobias work! Every time I tried to go into the woods, I would walk into a gigantic spider web (we're talking a web that extended between trees that were a good three feet apart) that resulted in squeals and having to quickly brush any potential monsters off of me. I tell you what, friends, flying and spiders are the two things I cannot handle. How I will ever manage to get myself to Australia without having 500 panic attacks, I do not know. And thus, I was resigned to the tiny strip of grass and hoped for that I would find a path before a car hit me.
After about 40 minutes of the struggle, I stumbled upon a major road with an actual 4-way crosswalk. I had no idea what was across the street but I felt I needed to take advantage of this moment of calm in the world of chaos I had found myself in over the past hour, so I crossed. I found myself in the part of the park called Battery Kemble Park, which was where a Civil War fort had been. It was from this area that DC protected itself against the Confederacy (the slave-owners, for any non-Americans reading this). And more importantly (which says something because I am a Civil War buff), THERE WAS A PATH!
This path continued for quite some ways, and I was naively lulled into a false sense of security. But then it dead-ended, because of course it did, and I was stuck on the side of the road once more. This time, however, I could see houses popping through the trees. “Civilization!” I thought happily.
However, I still had to figure out on how earth to get to this civilization. The road was not an option because the speed limit was too high to walk on, especially because it had several corners and drivers would not see me. The trees were now right on top of the road rather than a couple of feet off, and more importantly, these trees were on private property rather than a public park. As a non-confrontational Midwesterner, I didn’t much fancy getting yelled at by someone for walking through their backyard, or worse, having a gun pointed at me for having done so. The latter probably wouldn’t happen but one never knows.
In the end, going into someone’s backyard was the better option than getting hit by a car, so I geared myself for the spiders, strolled into the woods…and was promptly attacked by MILLIONS OF BRAMBLES. How do something as beautiful as roses come from something as horrible as those. I emerged about a minute later on the other side, safely in the neighborhood, with legs that looked like
Considering the popularity of the park amongst DC residents, I clearly did the whole thing very wrong. When I told my friend Austin the story, he laughed for quite a while before saying, "there are paths everywhere!" Where the paths are, I have no idea, but they are certainly not near the entrance I encountered. But who needs a lovely forest stroll when there are exciting aspects such as dangerously close cars, acromantula, and flesh-tearing plants!