I live, I’ve come to realize, in a strange place—a forgotten pocket of inner-ring DC suburb, a sleepy suburb forever believing itself on the brink of becoming something else, but that may have already had its big moment, more than 200 years ago during the War of 1812, when the British army defeated the Americans and crossed a nearby bridge to reach Washington. The bridge goes over a river now so silted and shallow that an army could just wade across, a river of no commercial or navigational importance but of plenty of importance to geese, which congregate by the hundreds on its flood plain to talk and shit.
This river, the meek Anacostia, meanders between industrial rust and railroad tracks and restored wetland, wetland whose reedy grasses poke up next to a bike trail that promises connection to the nearby capital but instead dead ends at the state line. Trails and tracks. Tracks that separate too-clean wannabe-urban development from dirty auto shops and junkyards run by gap-toothed old men who tape vile, racist cartoons to the walls. Such relics hang on in a county that prides itself on being the wealthiest majority-minority county in the nation, indeed one of the wealthiest counties of any demography in the nation, yet forever a poor stepchild next to its gilded neighbors.
This is a place of paradoxes. The longer I live here the more confusing the paradoxes seem. Maybe it is a fitting place for me, also a paradox, the son of a Jewish father who teaches Holocaust studies and a German mother whose father had been drafted into the Nazi army. And raised in Kentucky, of all places, known for basketball and bourbon and tobacco and coal and none of the liberal ideals that fiercely inhabit me. And yet Kentucky is an inextricable part of me, at least in my discomfort in dense urban spaces and my wish for a bit of open ground to do as I please on.
On top of this mess the sky dumps a few inches of snow that sparkles white in the morning sun, and I dig my skis out of the basement and haul them down to the river, which is frozen over and covered in geese, and I ski along the levee, past white and black and brown parents pushing their children down the small hill on sleds—one activity that seemingly unites all people—and I follow the levee into one of our little parks, and turn onto a side trail, and suddenly I can almost forget that I live among dying industry and struggling suburb, and my skis cut sharp lines through flat snow disturbed so far only by deer hooves, and a shadow passes overhead and I look up to see a line of geese flying and calling. And I fall at the bottom of a small hill, because I ski badly (because no one grows up skiing in Kentucky), and I decide to lie in the snow for a bit even though I should be getting on with it because it is a weekday and I have things to do.
We have to steal these moments, I tell myself; we have to turn away from the pressing world and let ourselves be a little strange sometimes.
(Thanks, xkcd, for the geese.)