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