Ground Control to Major Tom

Great artwork by an unknown local high school student posted in a public display.
Great artwork by an unknown local high school student posted in a public display.

I’m in limbo. Moving. Not yet moved. Leaving. Not yet gone. In the serene and maddening in-between. An outer space of no-particular-place-to-go and a life-about-to-start in a new place. We’re smack dab in the middle of a move from New York City to northern Virginia on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The One Train has not left the station. But. It’s definitely in transit.

The differences between suburban northern Virginia and living Downtown in New York City are vast and mind-blowing. It was liberating when we moved to New York City to shed our car. No more paying for gas. I’d left the monotony of driving behind. The subway would take me anywhere I wanted to go. And I truly loved riding it. I was pretty sure me riding the subway would single-handedly save the environment. But that was two years and a thousand subway rides ago.

Although I’ve come to enjoy writing and reading poetry, I cringed when a vagabond poet panhandler unleashed his wayward verse on the 4 Train. I also don’t miss the stench of urine the swept up as a fragrant backwash to departing R trains on the platform while waiting for the D train to Brooklyn. I’ve scanned the empty tracks in vain waiting for subways and peered toward the distant horizon for an elusive crosstown bus on 42nd Street.

After feeling trapped, stymied and stalled on the island of Manhattan, I like being able to drive around again on my own schedule anywhere I please anytime I want.

Goodbye tall buildings, smelly subways and crowded sidewalks. Hello nature. Virginia seems lush and verdant. Alive with plants. Teeming with animals. My favorite places in New York City were the places that provided a refuge from the city. Leafy green places that never felt crowded or noisy.

My antidote to New York City began with The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. (I don’t know anything about plants, but I just liked the peaceful vibe there.) I often simply walked along the Hudson River Esplanade. (In the dead of winter, I saw ice floes floating down the river. Once, I saw a beach ball that was a long way from home. Other times I saw phalanxes of sailboats, endless ferries chugging hard across the width of the river and huge quadruple decker cruise ships taller than some buildings, lumbering toward the ocean. I hoped they had fun, but I reassured myself as I waved back at them that their toilets would all stop up and they’d probably get a virus.) The Bronx Zoo. (It may not be better than every other zoo in the world, but it may be the most necessary zoo in the world. A place to escape the urban jungle.) Governor’s Island (a small island just off the southern end of Manhattan, which featured a ton of open green space and a hammock grove consisting of 50 hammocks.) And Roosevelt Island (a similar rural getaway with a great walking path with views of the East River and Manhattan.)

In Virginia, after exploring a gigantic mall in Tyson’s Corner and a nifty commercial community of upscale restaurants and stores clustered around some green space, I’ve discovered Lake Fairfax and Great Falls National Park.

I walked the trail around Lake Fairfax. I’d forgotten how still and peaceful a lake makes you feel. How it seems like you’ve been there a year and a half after twenty minutes. Like you just fell out of time entirely. At some point, I walked through a spider’s web. I remember how annoyed I used to be when I’d walk though a spider’s web on a trail when I was a child. But I didn’t mind getting gummy this time. It didn’t bother me a bit.

One day, I will trick my 16-year-old son Avery into getting into one of the glittery paddleboats by the boathouse. We’ll paddle furiously for about five minutes around the lake. Then we’ll both get tired of paddling. We’ll sit for a long time doing absolutely nothing in the exact center of the lake while people on the shore fish and children in the nearby waterpark scream and laugh. If we sit there long enough, all the sounds will fade away to nothing; and we will solve all the world’s problems telepathically without a word being exchanged between us. But we will have forgotten all the answers by the time we paddle back in. That’s always how it works.

At Great Falls National Park, I walked the River Trail. I tried to count the waterfalls from a scenic overlook and found it impossible. Where did one begin and another end? The crashing water and the flowing river felt good deep inside. The deep lines nature carved in the giant rocks lining the shorelines were reassuring. Like the deep wrinkles in an old person’s face, they gave the land character.

Great Falls National Park Photo by Kevin Carter
Great Falls National Park
Photo by Kevin Carter

I saw people on the opposite side of the Potomac River standing on giant rock formations. It struck me that these people stood in Maryland while I was in Virginia. They were Terrapins. I am or will be a Virginian one day. Maybe. (I will probably always be a Tar Heel no matter where I go.)

I am half-way home. In New York City, I constantly thought and dreamed of North Carolina where I grew up. In Virginia, I constantly think of New York and the people and places there that I miss.

Still. Somewhere between the mad crashing waterfalls of a river and the placid stillness of a lake is not a bad place to be when you’re in between places – not quite where you were and not quite settled in the place you’ll be.

Ground Control to Major Tom

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