a hike at great falls park

Sunday, October 16:  This Sunday morning, we talk a walk along the Potomac River at Great Falls Park. It’s a pretty day but not quite as cool as I’d like it to be for the middle of October.  The trees are not yet in full color down here in the lowlands, but in a week or so, I expect they will be.

Great Falls Park is a small National Park Service site in northern Virginia, with 800 acres and 15 miles (24 km) of hiking trails.  The park also has a Visitor’s Center and several viewing platforms that offer views over the cascades.

Great Falls
Great Falls

The park has a picnic area and parking spots for about 600 vehicles; most of them are filled today and there is a line at the entrance to the park.

Great Falls
Great Falls

The falls drop a total 76 feet (20 m) over a series of major cascades and are rated Class 5-6 Whitewater according to the International Scale of River Difficulty. The first kayaker to run them was Tom McEwan in 1975, but only since the early 1990s have the Falls been a popular destination for expert whitewater boaters in the DC area (Wikipedia: Great Falls Park).

Great Falls
Great Falls

As Great Falls Park is only about a half hour from our house, we come here almost once every year, either spring or summer.  Sometimes we walk on Billy Goat Trail along the Maryland side of the river, and sometimes we walk on this, the Virginia side.

Great Falls
Great Falls

Today, the park is swarming with people anxious to get outside in the fall weather.  It’s only when we hike further down the trail along Mather Gorge that we can have some space to ourselves.

Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls

Downstream from the falls is Mather Gorge, named after Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service.  For the most part, Mather Gorge is lined on both sides by cliffs, which are often used by rock climbers.  Here, the Potomac River is rated class 2-3 and has been a popular kayaking run since the 1960s.

Towards the southern end of the gorge, the cliffs become tree-lined bluffs as the gorge widens out into the wider and larger Potomac Gorge (Wikipedia: Mather Gorge).

Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge

Mike is always willing to walk closer to the cliff edges than I am.  I always feel a little dizzy when I get close to steep drop-offs.

Mike at Mather Gorge
Mike at Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge

Across the river, on the Maryland side, we can see the hikers on Billy Goat Trail and some rock climbers.  On our side, we also see some ropes dangling over the cliffs, but unless we go stretch our bodies out over the edge of the cliffs, we can’t see the actual climbers.

Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge

This is about as close as I’ll get to the edge.

me at Mather Gorge
me at Mather Gorge

I feel quite sad today as we leave this place.  When we first arrived for our walk, I ran into an old friend of mine from Oakton; our kids used to play together in various playgroups.  She’s here with her husband and her father.  She seems to be giving me the brush-off and I feel quite hurt by this.  I try to think what I’ve done wrong, or why she’s so obviously uncomfortable talking to me, and I guess it could be several reasons.  The major reason, of course, could be that Mike and I separated for a 7-year period and I went off the gallivant around the world, living and teaching in Korea, then Oman and China (although Mike and I had reunited before I went to China).  I have found many do people judge me for this.  If that is the case, then so be it.  If people want to judge me for choices I make in my life, then I can’t change their minds and I cannot consider them friends.  I myself try not to judge people who struggle over difficult personal decisions, and who do what they feel is necessary in their lives. That being said, I do often question whether I can in good conscience maintain friendships with people who are racists, misogynists, liars, or haters as a general practice.

Of course I could be wrong in assuming that is why she behaved the way she did, and if that isn’t it, then it could be that I didn’t make much effort with people in Oakton once I started living abroad.  I do have to say that I found many of them boring and superficial, focused only on their kids or how big their houses were or how much money they had. I felt like none of those Oakton mothers had lives of their own.  To be honest, I had simply lost interest in the suburban life myself.  This was part of why I needed to escape.

I never did feel this way about this particular friend though.  She was always interesting and kind.  She went back to school at the same time I did, and we both pursed careers of our own.   I liked her a lot.  But living abroad, it takes an extra effort to stay in touch with people, on both sides.  She didn’t make an effort with me, and neither did I make much effort with her.  So, it seems the friendship, which was at one time a nice one, is gone.  This is what happens, I guess; friends are in your life for a time or a season, and then they’re gone.  It made me more than a little sad to have this encounter and this realization.  Combined with the upcoming third presidential debate on October 19 and the overall oppressive political environment in the States these days, I feel pretty depressed when I leave Great Falls today.

Oh well, life is not always happy, even when skies are blue and it’s the middle of October in a beautiful place.

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9 thoughts on “a hike at great falls park

  1. A beautiful place fora walk! As to friendships, time changes everything, and life moves on. Your horizons have broadened greatly in the past years, and not everyone will be able to deal with that.

    1. Thanks, Carol, for the words of encouragement. I never had any ill feelings toward Virginia, so I was surprised that she acted the way she did. But you’re right; life moves on and time changes everything. I’m okay with it now, 10 days after our accidental meeting, but I did feel quite sad about it at the time. I am feeling the same way about surburbia that I felt in 2007 though, and am feeling the urge for adventure again, before I get too old. I now realize I don’t need to leave Mike to do it as he will support what I want to do. 🙂

      1. He truly is. He understands my need to be who I am, a traveler/teacher/explorer, and though I’ve been trying to keep occupied here in Virginia, my wanderlust is pulling at me again. He works long hours and can’t take much time off work, so he’s not around much, but he’s willing to encourage me go abroad to work for a year or to go volunteer somewhere. I’m waiting till the election is over to decide my next steps. 🙂

  2. If that place was only half an hour from me I’d be there every month! What a beautiful October day! As for friendships I have found that long distance ones only remain if both sides make an effort. I used to send long newsy emails to my best friend when I moved away, but she only sent a one-liner back, often months later. Conversations like that soon dry up. It is a shame, but it is what happens if you don’t stay in one place all your life.

    1. It’s funny you say that about going every month, Jude. We’ve lived in this area for so long (28 years), and I’ve been to Great Falls so many times that I find it a little boring now. I do like getting out for a brisk walk in the cool weather though.

      Living abroad, I have lost most of the friends I used to have here in Oakton, except for a couple. It didn’t help that I left my husband for a while and went to forge a life of my own. Most of the friends I made in the year or so before I went abroad, after Mike and I separated, are either still into the single life, or have moved on to different places. Oh well. It seems my closest friends are the ones who I’ve gone through struggles with: especially my friend Jayne (who lives in Jersey, Channel Islands) and Karen. (We both were separating and dealing with teenage boys at the same time). I find it harder to have good solid friendships as time goes on; and I find most of my closest friends are the ones I met while teaching abroad, especially in Oman. 🙂

  3. What a beautiful area and how lucky you are to live close by. I think it’s a natural part of the cycle of life that friends come and go, and I agree with you Cathy. It can be disappointing. Things change on both sides. True friends will always be by your side, even though you may not see them for years. That’s one of the reason I like Facebook. It allows me to stay in touch with people I’m friendly with and to see what they’re doing. My guess would be that your friend’s reticence was probably nothing to do with you. Most likely, she had something on her mind and wasn’t able to give you her full attention.

    1. Thanks, Carol. It is a beautiful area. I don’t know what happened, but it was obvious she didn’t want to talk to me and even tried to avoid me. Oh well, what can you do? I have never been one to beg for a friendship; I don’t see much chance of me changing at this point in my life. I do like keeping up with many friends on Facebook, but mostly I enjoy sharing intimately with friends, face-to-face. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate my Facebook and blog friends; I do! And I especially enjoy the friends who can interact in a more personal way on those social networking platforms. 🙂

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