Since moving to a house next to Rock Creek Park three decades ago, the Park has been my source of peace--the place I go to clear my mind and subdue the stresses of life.
Although circumstances in those 30 years have forced me to make dramatic changes in the ways I enjoy the Park, it remains a source of comfort and wonder.
Initially I lost myself in long solo runs on trails or on Beach Drive (thank you, National Park Service, for closing it to traffic on weekends and holidays). I loved the crunch of dirt and stones underfoot and the cacophony of cicadas and birds hidden in the branches.
When sciatica prevented me from running through the Park, I switched to biking and hiking. The reward for a weekend bike ride could be bittersweet chocolate ice cream in Georgetown or matzo ball soup at the Parkway Deli.
Retirement gave my husband and me the time for long hikes. Every day or two we would explore the Valley and Western Ridge trails. Compared to running, I didn't cover as much ground, but I felt more grounded. The deliberate pace opened my eyes to wildflowers pushing through matted leaves, surprising fungi and intricate moss, toads mating near the horse center and wild raspberries along the trails.
I thought we’d go along like that for years, but sometimes life has other plans. An injury partially paralyzed my legs, and suddenly the muscles that took me up hills couldn’t hold my weight. In rehab I replayed in my mind the movements of hiking in the Park. While I did not make a miraculous recovery, after eight months I did regain limited use of my legs.
At first my husband would push me in a wheelchair on Beach Drive and periodically I’d get out and use it as a walker for short distances. When my legs grew a bit stronger, I transitioned to crutches and then hiking poles for support, my husband carrying along a folding stool so I could rest. My hopes for continued progress have been frustrated by medical complications. But you can still see me these days in the Park alternating between walking with hiking sticks and riding a mobility scooter in regular visits to Rapids Bridge. There we watch the little fish at the base of the bridge and envision Washingtonians a century ago journeying to this same spot for a day in the country.
I miss being on the woodland trails, but still gain peace and strength by recalling the "grounded" pleasure of hiking in Rock Creek Park. And, as the natural world draws me outside, it shows me there is still so much to enjoy.