Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Saturday, January 24, 2009
The bike trail still had signs up pointing the way to downtown DC for the inauguration. That made me smile. I was tempted to take one as a souvenir, but they're actually useful on a longer term basis and so I decided to leave them be.
In one of my recent posts I talked about the Bluemont Park restroom. When I stopped there today I noticed that someone had etched "Property of Arlington County Parks and Rec" onto the flush valves of the toilets. Last time I reported on how I found the restroom inspirational; today the measures to foil potential plumbing thieves reminded me of man's darker side.
Monday, January 19, 2009
At the pool I once again worked on my offside roll - that is, rolling the kayak in the opposite direction. Everyone has an "onside" and and "offside" - like being right or left-handed. My onside rolls are pretty bombproof but my offside has been non-existent. Yesterday, though, it worked! I was doing ear-to-the-water braces, sculling braces, and even rolls on the off side. Not with a 100% success rate, but far better than ever before.
Could this be a sign that we're heading in a new direction?
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
My reactions to the place are not based on my expectations of the
So, in my current experience I enter a mundane place and find the wonder in it. While most park users probably don’t even think about the place at all, each and every time I marvel at clean, safe indoor plumbing. I’m not sure if it’s possible to enter into an I-Thou relationship with a bathroom, but if it is, I’m there.
How many other opportunities are there to recognize the everyday wonders of the world? How many things am I taking for granted that I could be appreciating in more depth? A comfortable home? A beautiful vista? Even rush hour traffic, for it means that I have the wherewithal to have a car, and all these other people and I remain gainfully employed in the midst of a deep recession.
Rabbi Mike Comins points out in his book A Wild Faith that there are certain prayers that help us to recognize the sacred and exceptional in our lives. Most blessings in Judaism are intentional, that is, they are said when you’re about to do something or have done something planned. However, there’s also a category of response blessings, to be said in response to an unexpected, spontaneous happening – seeing a rainbow, smelling a flower, and so on.
I’m not ready to start saying b’rochot over the Bluemont Park bathroom (not to digress, but there is a blessing that is appropriate for recitation after having gone to the bathroom), but I’m going to try and take the sense of wonderment I feel over the place with me to more experiences in my life.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
I open my eyes and see that it's 8 AM. This is a good thing. Good because I got a decent amount of sleep despite having been up quite late cleaning up after a New Year's party, and good because it still gives me plenty of time to get to the launch site by 11. Being New Year's Day, it's time for the first kayaking trip of the year! Actually, today's trip was a little bit in doubt - yesterday was brutally cold and incredibly windy. One of our friends who had planned a New Year's Day paddling trip over in Maryland canceled because of the weather, which, I have to admit, was a major motivating force in getting our group organized and out on the water - nothing like a little machismo to get you going in the morning. After my morning ritual of lubricating the brain with a few cups of coffee while staring uncomprehendingly at the newspaper, I chipped some ice off my kayak, loaded it and my gear up, and headed for the meeting point at Bladensburg Park.
As I approached the put-in I couldn't help but notice two bad signs. The water level in the Anacostia river was very, very low, and all of my friends were clustered by their cars outside the park gate, which was locked. One member of the group had actually correctly guessed the combination for the gate and so we could have gone on in and launched, but we decided that wasn't really a good idea. After a quick pow-wow we decided to put in at Gravelly Point on the Potomac instead. Gravelly is just a few miles from my house so I wound up driving about 30 miles round trip for nothing, but what the heck. We drove in a caravan back over to Virginia, where Kingsley joined us - he had been late getting to Bladensburg, but he found the note we had left pinned to the gate about our change of plans. We unloaded and were quickly under way.
Fortunately the winds had died down quite a bit from the day before. The Potomac was still every so slightly bumpy, but nothing of any concern - no risk of injury from exposure. After hanging out at the launch point watching planes take off (the launch is almost directly at the end of the main runway at National Airport*) we crossed the Potomac and headed up Washington Channel. The channel was almost completely protected from the wind, and we all warmed up pretty quickly. At the beginning of the trip I could still feel the effects from partying the night before - headache, and a little feeling of being dehydrated, but as we kept moving and I kept drinking water I felt better.
While traveling up the channel we saw bike racers doing loops around Haines Point. We speculated as to whether the mayor of DC, who is an avid triathlete, was among them. We saw three bald eagles - two mature birds (a nesting pair?) in a tree over Haines Point, then a maturing bird (white head, but otherwise immature plumage) at Ft. McNair. The channel is home to a large marina, so we all gawked at the big boats and daydreamed about ditching our conventional lives and living aboard a houseboat (particularly after we spotted a houseboat with two kayaks lashed to its side).
Washington Channel ends at gates to the Tidal Basin (home to the famous Cherry trees and the Jefferson Memorial). You can never get into the Tidal Basin from the either the river or the channel because the gates are always shut, but today one of the gates was off its hinges and stuck open. Could this offer a rare entry into the basin? We all lined up and threaded our way through the first gate and under a bridge, but alas, it turns out there's a second line of barriers, which were intact. So, we went through the usual comical turning around process that ensues when a bunch of kayakers in long boats find themselves bunched up at a dead end, then headed back down the channel. Interestingly, we saw many of the same sights on the way back that we had seen coming up - with the exception of the eagles.
At the end of the trip Peter wanted to test how waterproof his two-piece dry suit actually was, so he took a stroll into the 37 degree Potomac. Seeing how refreshing it looked, I joined him and we floated around for a bit. Cyndi, who also waded in, snapped a few pictures. I did learn a lesson from this immersion. This winter I've been paddling with pogies, weird tunnel things that attach to the paddle and take the place of gloves. Today I wore a lightweight pair of ploypro gloves under the pogies. At the point when I jumped into the river my hands were no longer protected by the pogies (since I wasn't holding my paddle), leaving me with just the light gloves. My dry suit and layering kept me pretty comfortable in the river, but my hands started screaming immediately from the cold. In an emergency situation I can see how that could have very quickly led to loss of dexterity and therefore difficulty in executing a rescue. I think I'm going to start wearing heavier gloves under the pogies, even if it means my hands get too warm (actually, with me there's no such thing as "too warm").
Trying, as always, to maintain personal/family balance, I skipped the post-paddle gathering and instead headed home to Valerie and the boys. Valerie is always understanding of my need to disappear off to the river for a few hours here and there. In return I try not to push the boundaries.
It was a great way to start the year.
*I will never, ever refer to National as Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, even though that's now the official name. Nothing against the Gipper or anything. See this link for details.