I have been doing it again. Ideas for stories rattle around in my head, but I don’t write them down and see where they take me. For example, for a couple years now, I have wanted to write about sycamore trees. Why didn’t I hardly notice them for most of my life? I think I will write about sycamores in a week or two, Another possible topic: I want to write about socks I have known and loved. Tom wondered why I would want to write about socks. I guess that is a bit hard to figure, but I think it is about where I was when I got the socks and where I walked in them. Not an epic topic, I am quite sure, but it is true that is what I have been thinking about. I also have had a draft about doughnuts in the works for three years. A fourth topic is the one I choose to write about today: my observations about living on the edge of the (so-called) swamp of Washington, DC.
First, I want to go on the record to say I love swamps. It would be hard not to do so growing up on a lake in Southeastern Michigan as I did. My brothers will remember the small swamp off Driftwood Drive with the beautiful dead tree and also all the frogs we used to hear. I love Congaree National Park–even though the wild pigs frighten me. I love Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park–even though I am wary of (and thrilled by) the alligators in both parks. My point is that people who might say that we (or they) need to “drain the swamp” here in the capital city are not using an effective metaphor for this water-loving native born lowlander.
Anyhow, our country is in such turmoil that I–like almost everyone I know–go through bouts of anxiety, anger, and despair. However, here in Arlington, Virginia (just across the river from DC) and whenever I go into the city, I see, hear, and feel hopeful signs. I want to write some words to convince myself–and maybe you–that the glass (possibly cracked) remains half full.
My husband, children, and I first visited the National Mall in 1978, when we moved to Arlington. We enjoyed the museums and, especially the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.* We didn’t have much extra cash then and everything (but the food) was free and wonderful. Currently, Tom and I go to the Mall almost every week and everything is still free and wonderful. Now there are more museums, more gardens, and the museum food, while still not free, is much tastier than it used to be. Often, a gloom settles on me as I read my morning Washington Post and New York Times. Then, Tom and I hop the Metro to the Mall and my faith in the strength, resilience, and fundamental democratic spirit of our country is restored.
Every time we visit DC, we see people thronging to the museums, the carousel, the gardens, the memorials, and the parades with the same happy enthusiasm as always. People also attend and speak out at marches and protests with the same idealistic passion as always. I believe that authoritarian despoilers are threatening our democracy. However, on Mall days, I feel like we, the people, can (and I hope, will) protect the our people, our land, our Constitution, and our democracy.
The National Mall, with pedestrians and American elm trees
freedom of speech on the Capitol Grounds
carousel on the National Mall
planting common milkweed seeds in Arlington, Virginia
Independence Day Parade, Constitution Avenue
March for Science, April 22, 2017
Rolling Thunder 2019
freedom quilt, National museum of African American History and Culture
*I thank the founder of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, S. Dillon Ripley, Smithsonian Secretary from 1964 to 1984, Ralph Rinzler, and many others for the festival,** the carousel, and for helping me feel at home and welcome in the capital city.
**In the past many years, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival has been less well-funded than it was in some years. I hope this will change. In fact, it does look like there are plans for a longer festival this year than last year. This year the festival will be June 24-28 and July 1-5. For more information see the festival webpage.