The first thing that struck me about this place was the greenness. Remember that one afternoon hugging the bluffs over the Potomac in late July when I was 24, how green it was? I imagined God creating this place in a frenzy:
This is where He smashed His hands on the keyboard that is GREEN, playing all the notes at once and letting a thousand shades explode all over the trees.
Later that summer, I took a bike ride and wrote:
We face the noon sun today belly-up and fancy.
I’ve got my red pants on, my orange shirt on, my red bike and red helmet, and I’m zipping down the bike trail.
You’ve got your late-summer flowers out, bloom a little off but proud. You’re a lady the morning after with her makeup askew, clothes a little rumpled, smiling coyly down the street.
You’ve got your grasses tall and a little heavy, seeds not yet out.
You’ve got your birds flying low unafraid.
I’ve got the sweat dripping down my back, legs a little tired, not giving up.
You’ve got your hot shimmery weather out in full force to draw me out.
Your vines are alive and surging with hot green water, drawn through with a force they cannot understand, shoving on forever through chain-link and against gravity because to be alive is the greatest trick of all, the best reward of all.
We’ve got our wires, pulsing with electricity, threaded over miles of steel train tracks, hung like a trick over it all and holding it all together. A testament to our ability to normalize it all. Dark means nothing. Far means nothing. Difficult means nothing.
(“And yet,” you laugh, “you need me. You burn my ancient gifts to make it. You shove your hands and shovels in to find and crush coal, infinite dead and ancient bodies. Or you harness my other powers, tectonic and hot.”)
Around some corners I take, the world drops away and I can’t hear the squealing trucks or the car radios. It all falls away. “Silence!” I think. But it is not. You’ve got your crickets sawing away with leg on leg as if for dear life, as if screaming for help or belting in some gospel choir just to be heard. Your deer crunch over low bushes and hide themselves rustlingly.
So in the middle of it all I ditch the bike and take a strong stance. I gird my loins and flap my wings. I catch flame. I dazzle. I sing a song of such beauty that all they who hear it instantly die.
In the back of my head I hear her words: “the peacock is a symbol for Jesus, the sly devil.”
I wrote that after a particularly memorable bike ride through the neighborhood I’d move to three years later. It would change a lot by then: lots of new apartment buildings, and even more big pits in the ground for even more apartment buildings. New businesses. New parks and parklets.
This is all to say: I know it’s a bit rich for someone who moved into the area all of fourish years ago to put the back of a hand to her forehead and bemoan gentrification. I am gentrification. But there’s one recent change I want to mark.
The last grassy patch.
That was where the crickets were. It was right along this bike trail. Until a few months ago, it was a wild savanna. The grasses grew to waist height or taller. It was a big expanse, completely unused for I don’t know how long. Wildflowers popped up in it. Crickets and cicadas and fireflies went mad for it. It had that spooky hypnotic wildness that is so hard to find basically anywhere, not a picturesque farm or national park, but the wildness of an unwanted and unused place.
Every time I passed by it, it entranced me. It did not belong in between a railyard and a highway and neighborhoods, and it’s unsettling to be in places that don’t belong. But unsettling in the best sense. One likes to be stirred up a bit.
Now it’s gone, and for good reasons: there is a new apartment building going up, and alongside it some public parks, playgrounds, a dog park, and through the great power of eminent domain, a straightening of the trail for ease of use. All to the good. But I’ll miss that patch of grass. It was the last place I knew that was just its ornery self.