Thursday, August 7, 2008

Roosevelt Island

I was not feeling well, so I decided to pretend to be feeling well. I grabbed my hat and backpack and was on my way to explore Roosevelt Island.

I parked on the bank of the Potomac near Key Bridge, then took a short walk to a footbridge. Behind me were hordes of zipping cars and the slick highrises of Rosslyn. In front of me was the quiet, slender bridge ending at an expansive wealth of green foliage so lush it spilled over into the surrounding water.

A few steps into the island I stopped where the gravelled path split into more paths. I hesitated a moment then followed the widest one, which also looked the most trodden. Soon I came to an eyesore, a jarring implant in the middle of graceful nature. It was a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt, massive, ungainly, and about as feeling as the plain concrete it was built with. I thought of taking a picture but skipped the idea, for I did not want to offend my camera.

I backtracked to where the trails branched off. Mindful of the deplorable effect of following the crowd, this time I picked a trail as thin as a thread that swung to the lower ground along the shoreline. This was a rough one, blocked by fallen trees some low enough to climb over, some not so low I had to crouch to pass under. A couple of red birds darted about then disappeared. Through a gap in the foliage I saw the river, so I picked my way across the wild growth until my shoes almost touched the water. I looked out and my eyes caught quite a pleasant scene.

Right in the middle of the river rose a rock, resting against which was a kayak painted blue and white. A guy was sitting on the rock watching his girlfriend swimming in the sparkling emerald water. I had to admit it was a swell idea to take your lover in a kayak to a lonely rock in a river for a swim on a sultry afternoon. The only thing that seemed a bit odd to me was that the guy did not strip and jump in to swim with her as I would have done.

I got back to my trail and resumed the hike. Eventually I emerged from a tangle of twigs and vines onto a small stretch of sand bordering the river on the island side that faced the District. It was low tide, and beyond the stretch of sand there was an additional stretch of mud. This part of the river was busy with motorboats and kayaks, with the arcs of Key Bridge and the spires of Georgetown University in the backdrop.

View of Key Bridge from Roosevelt Island

The view was picturesque, so I sat down on a drift log to take it all in. After a while, the noise of the motorboats and the neon-orange life vests on the kayakers started to grate on my nerves. I found a new trail and plunged back into the more subdued colors and sounds of the forest.

Soon I came to what I thought to be a footbridge, but the bridge kept going on and on until I realized it was really a footpath constructed from wood that ran above a large tract of swamp. It was such a pleasure to walk on that clear path under a thick canopy of green leaves through which the fierce summer sun was metamorphosed into a soft, diffusing emerald glow that tenderly wrapped around you and caressed all your senses. I sat down on a bench, relaxed and contented. It did not matter that the faint humming of a hustle-bustle life still reverberated to this haven or a passing airplane was rumbling above my head, for what I was getting was precious enough for me.

A couple of joggers passed by and gave me a smile. That reminded me that someone would be waiting for me shortly, so I stood up with reluctance and walked the rest of the trail. At last I arrived at the footbridge that led me back to the riverbank, only this time the island was behind my back and in front of me was a tall glass building bearing the name of a company that fed on military contracts. That was the world I was returning to, just another bee in one of those beehives. But I promised myself that I would go back to sit on that bench again when the magic breath of autumn would turn Roosevelt Island into a mass of red and golden enchantment. As to that hideous memorial, I would just ignore it.

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