Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Cathedral

The back of the garden is bordered by Rock Creek Park. Several dozen yards and a drop of maybe twenty feet separate the garden from Rock Creek itself. On the other side of Rock Creek is Beach Drive. Beach Drive ends nearby; in the other direction Rock Creek and Beach Drive eventually run right through the city (“the city” here means Washington, D.C.). The creek empties into the Potomac River, and Beach Drive ends somewhere in the area of the Watergate and the Kennedy Center.

If you hike the woods along the creek, you’ll notice that beech trees are common in many areas. Is the name of the road misspelled? Should it be Beech Drive and not Beach Drive? Beach Drive it is, and although the beach commemorated in the name still exists, it’s been decades since any but the adventurous have used it as a beach.

Was the original Beach Drive simply an access road for the beach? The road through the park was built to allow viewing the scenic beauty of the park. Those tender ideals were crushed long ago, and the road is now a commuter route. For an unnerving glimpse of the consequences of this, take a walk along Beach Drive very early in the morning after an overnight rain in the late winter or early spring: the road will be littered with the mutilated carcasses of various small forms of wildlife. I try to be an optimist about this: if there are so many dead ones, the local populations must be very healthy; furthermore, the local foxes and other scavengers won’t let any of it go to waste. When the dead are the likes of frogs and toads, it's easy to rationalize it that way. When the dead one is a box turtle, I can't help asking myself: is this the last one in our local woods?

It’s when I’m having thoughts like this that I appreciate the view above. This shows a stretch of Beach Drive very close to my home. I call it The Cathedral. When I drive slowly through The Cathedral, it’s as if the stress is being gently combed out of my life. It works every time.

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