Leighanne and I drove southward into waves of record-breaking heat, 100 degrees plus high humidity, stopping in metropolitan D.C. to visit son Brent and his girlfriend Catherine at their Arlington apartment. On this first of our stops on the journey West, we visited a Wegman’s superstore and raised our eyebrows at $1000 bottles of wine but settled sensibly on cheap Finger Lake samples and an eight-buck bottle of Greek retsina. We had drinks and dinner with Catherine’s parents in Warrenton, VA then, after dark, returned to Arlington with thunderstorm flashing in the distance and with holiday fireworks exploding overhead.
Over the next day’s pavement it was oven hot. The temperature was predicted to worsen in the next couple of days, to hit 105 degrees by the weekend. “Too damn hot,” as I used to tell the kids long ago whenever we traveled south. I felt like the proverbial fish out of water.
But Leighanne and I visited Huntley Meadows, a 1400-plus acre wetland in the heart of metropolitan D.C., a wildlife island in a sea of seething humanity that I’ve studied several times before, but never on a hell-hot summer afternoon. The big ponds were low on water. We shuffled over the half-mile board walk and saw riverbottom species ranging from common egrets to yellow-billied cuckoos, from dodder to sweetgum trees, from painted turtles to dragonflies. Huntley Meadows is an ecosystem that’s preserved against all odds, and it’s located in the middle of one of the fastest growing urban areas of America.
Fish out of water, or not, the river wasn’t far away. There’s wildness in Huntley Meadows; you could almost smell it. Something that makes the bang-bang power of the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol seem trivial in comparison. Sure, the Meadows could be stolen, trashed, destroyed overnight– like the miles of field and forest that once surrounded it– but this green preserve, if left alone by scheming minds and dutiful machines, would continue evolving its green mysteries forever.
In Old Town Alexandria, near the banks of the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay (where my Susquehanna home waters emptied out) the river/man connection strengthened. It felt good to duck inside the air-conditioned Fish Market Restaurant for cold drinks and calamari and other tasty delights. With L. and Brent and Catherine sitting there and keeping cool, it was like a summer swim in Maine. The fish out of water breathed easily over ice.