I wrote one entry in this blog about aspects of time that are experienced differently on this journey than they are at home and the last few weeks’ experiences beg for the topic to be revisited.
Seasonal time has been arrested and then reversed lately. When we left Tarpon Springs in early January, the live oaks had not even started to do their thing. I remember after the freezing temperatures, my son (who is house sitting) called to express concern over the tree in the front yard because it was losing all of its leaves. Reassuring him that it was just “fall” in Florida for the live oaks, I warned him of the scourge to come when that same tree would start to dump piles of pollen all over the driveway, which indeed occurred shortly after this conversation.
We traveled down to the keys, completely by-passing the live oak mess. Other signs of spring were rampant though. The Ospreys were all trading places on their nests, keeping eggs and chicks warm as we made our way southwards. A month later, as we came north again through the same waterways, the nests were all empty. It is amazing that a pair of birds can hatch and raise one or two chicks, feed them, watch them molt from fuzz to feathers and send them on their way as quasi-adults in about a month. Superior parenting skills, indeed! As we have traveled up into Maryland and Delaware, the Ospreys are on their nests with no sign of hatchlings yet. So, we have come far enough, fast enough to have reversed the season for baby birds.
Moving northward, we followed spring from place to place. The blessing was in watching the wild flowers peak in each place we encountered. The azaleas in DC and Alexandria were more beautiful than they were in Savannah. Unfortunately, the knee-high piles of pollen have made life a bit miserable but it’s a small price to pay.
At some point I guess we will leave spring behind in favor of summer. One of the Loop slogans is “Chasing 80.” You are supposed to have a constant 80 degrees as you move around the country. Because we are a little early and are a little ahead of the pack, we have been happy to chase 65 and 70!
Times Revisited on the Chesapeake
Being on the Chesapeake Bay is a time warp in a lot of ways. My family and I spent time here both by boat and car when I was young (we lived in Princeton, NJ at the time). So that is one part of the time warp that I will get to later. Another, is the way that life is lived on the water here. And lastly, is just how early our country’s history began in some of these places.
Anchoring out has been much easier as we have traveled north. There are plenty of rivers and creeks that provide shelter from wind, tide and current and paint the landscape with amazing contrasts. Some places we have anchored look like savannas with miles of yellow-brown grasses waving on every side of us. Sometimes they even obscure the waterways except the one right in front of you. We laughed at one point because we opted away from one anchorage due to a lot of sailboats being anchored in that creek. We went a half mile or so up-river to the next creek and anchored there…alone. We could see the sailboats in the distance as if they were floating on a sea of tall and waving grass but as the tide went out, it they appeared to be sinking. Eventually the boats disappeared completely and all we could see were the tops of their masts. It was an interesting phenomenon.
Other anchorages find us surrounded by muddy shores with swooping bank swallows or sandy beaches replete with wheeling gulls. Now that we are even further north, the edges of our anchorages have traded out the southern pine and cypress trees for giant oaks, maples, chestnuts and poplars, all lush in spring’s myriad shades of green.
A few weeks ago, we anchored near the mouth of the Potomac. Working our way into the cove where we wanted to anchor, we passed lots of sticks grouped so that they were standing in the water near the channel we were navigating. I later asked a local about them and was told that these are fish traps (yes, it says that on our charts but I wanted to know how they worked) and the method has been around as long as there have been watermen on these creeks and bays. The watermen drive long poles into the muddy bottom and create a maze of nets that funnel unwary fish into the center of the system. They cannot escape back the way they came and so they live in the enclosure until the watermen come to harvest them.
We had also passed some black rectangular floats on our way in and the next morning, as we were leaving, we were able to see that they were oyster floats. The rectangular floats have oyster shells in the bottom netting onto which spat is applied. The oyster larvae attach to the shells and grow there. The watermen were out checking them as we passed by. They will do this about once a week until the oysters are about a year old and are mature. The way of work here has changed some with technology, as has the care of the bay and the quality of the water and while there are advances, much of this work is done identically to the way in which some of these watermen’s ancestors did it.
Moving up the Potomac, we were shocked at how much undeveloped land there was along the banks. Miles and miles of dense forests, some at the waterline and others up on high cliffs that overhang the river. Furthermore, we were the only boat, other than a couple of small fishing boats, until we got almost to Alexandria. Even then, the boat traffic was minimal, mostly confined to ferries that run between DC and Mt. Vernon. Again, we are a bit ahead of the real boating season in these areas, which begins on Memorial Day Weekend.
We had anchored out and with an early start the next morning were able to visit Mt. Vernon from our own boat! We tied up at George Washington’s wharf and went exploring! Both of us stand amazed at the type of man that he was and both of us want to learn more. We knew that successful people in his time were very accomplished but touring his plantations drives that home in a whole new light. He developed new ways to build and decorate homes (rustication, which makes wooden siding look like stone), invented new ways to plant and harvest crops and never bought seeds to grow the crops on his plantation, making sure there were always seed gardens to provide the seeds for the following years. He planted, grafted and tended to orchards and went fishing on the river in flat bottomed bateaus, sometimes catching up to a million pounds of fish in a 6 week period with his watermen. He entertained widely, never turning a guest away from Mt. Vernon, often housing over 350 family, friends, servants and slaves (about 300) on the premises, which meant feeding and doing the laundry for all of those people too! Amazing what people actually accomplished before there was TV!
Old Town Alexandria
From Mt. Vernon, we walked back in time again to Old Town Alexandria where many of the houses are a few hundred years old and the newer building have been coded so that they keep the neighborhoods consistently charming. Many cobble-stoned streets and beautiful public parks have made this a favorite of ours. Even the Starbucks is in a stone-lined basement of an old building and it sports a working fire place, slate floors and a timbered ceiling. Again, the spring flowers that we don’t get at home were breathtaking in Alexandria; all sorts of iris and tulips lined the streets and popped up in beds and window boxes.
We worshiped at Christ Church, home church to George Washington and Robert E. Lee and were delighted to walk in early and be included as they rehearsed the kids in running the service (this is done here the first Sunday of each month and honestly gives me hope for our Episcopal church’s future). Some of the kids got to practice seating us in pews that had actual doors, others required me to pin corsages on the young ladies as the man in charge was not comfortable doing this.
Then the priest, a young woman, brought the little kids in for a talk before the service started. They tumbled up the aisle behind her like puppies after their mother and she had her hands full keeping them out of the baptismal font and from climbing on the alter railing or fingering the host as she tried to teach them new vocabulary like “font” and “altar.” When one kid stomped on another’s foot (by accident!) and it resulted in ear-splitting shrieks, I think she and the kids declared a détente and retreated back to the Sunday school area. She looked much calmer and put-together a few minutes later as she processed in with the choir and celebrants!
It was a lovely service, led by the teens and celebrating the graduating seniors. I don’t think I have ever been to a more inclusive, loving, welcoming Episcopal church (I know, kind of an oxymoron!) which makes it all the more ironic that people now want to remove the plaque that commemorates the fact that Robert E. Lee worshipped here. I am pretty sure that those same folks have not done the homework to discover the torture that Robert E. Lee underwent when making the decision to lead troops against family, friends, neighbors and US Military Academy classmates during the Civil War. He and General Washington would be very proud to see what has become of their church today, in spite of the nay-saying history changers!
Throw Away the Schedule!
In my prior post about time, I commented on how we have learned to allow time to guide us even when it may thwart what we had planned. This was reinforced during our visit to DC. We had planned some time to meet with our sweet Andrea Uribe (met her when she interned with us and just meshed to where she is now a part of our extended family). Timing wasn’t great as she was in the weekend prior to finals but she still made time to share “her” city with us. We strolled through Georgetown, where I haven’t been since high school senior trip where I bought my first pair of used jeans. Yes, this was in the dark ages when you couldn’t buy jeans with holes in them in a store and they didn’t come pre-faded and broken in! I loved those jeans and wore them until they literally fell apart!
We ate in a wonderful Ethiopian restaurant called Das. It was our first time and Andrea’s second time and we ordered a sampler of wonderful vegetarian dishes, each better than the last and then we finished off the meal with a Smurfette, a lemon cupcake with blueberries from Baked and Wired because, “You have to have cupcakes in Georgetown!”
At this point, Andrea remembered that it was Embassy Day and that all the embassies were open for visiting. Off we went because this was better than what we thought we had planned for the day, especially since she wants to go into foreign relations and has a trip planned to Bolivia this summer! We visited the Brazilian embassy and were allowed to see the receiving areas and dining rooms, which were quite sumptuous. We by-passed the Japanese embassy, though all of us would have loved to see it, the line was blocks and blocks long. A little further up the street we came to the Plurinational Embassy of Bolivia. In 2009, a new constitution changed the country’s name from the “Republic of Bolivia” to the “Plurinational State of Bolivia” in recognition of the multi-ethnic nature of the country and the enhanced position of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples under the new constitution.
The embassy had native food and drink and a stage set up that erupted into song and dance just as we arrived. The performers were amazing, ranging in age from about 3 up to some grandparents and they danced with their whole hearts while the singers behind them sang songs familiar enough that much of the Bolivian audience could sing along. Before we knew it, they were grabbing people from the audience and the danger of getting a front row spot is that you are also very available to be chosen to dance. It was fun, though I don’t think I ever really got the Bolivian line-dance sequence just right.
From there we walked up to see the National Cathedral where there was a huge flower and craft market going on outside. We made our way past St. Albans school, where Andrea tutors and entered the cathedral. We walked in awe down the central nave and around the sides of the main basilica. Some of the alcoves had floral displays from many countries and I liked Canada’s the best as it was made up of all spring flowers; dogwood, mountain laurel, azaleas etc. Next, we went down to the crypts and saw lots of resting places for the clergy and benefactors who made the cathedral possible and we even got to see where Helen Keller is buried there.
Andrea needed to get back to school to study and so we made our way down from the National Cathedral, through Georgetown but before we could get her back to school, we discovered the Union of African Nations Embassy was open and refreshed ourselves with ginger drink and local coffee. From there, it was a short couple of blocks to the Thai Embassy and we just couldn’t bypass it. I wish we had been hungry because this embassy had cooking classes and tons of Thai food as well as fruit and vege carvings and dancers doing amazing graceful dances.
We finally left the embassy and were able to deliver Andrea back to her dorm. We had walked almost 12 miles and we hoped we didn’t wear her out so that she could study but I suspect she might have napped first.
So, time has played into our travels in that we have been keeping pace and even reversing the seasons, we have been able to journey back into some of the early history of our country and her founders and we have again found that leaving a planned schedule behind in favor of serendipitously experiencing people and places is much more gratifying that marching along checking off boxes!