Friday, August 10, 2007

Trudging to The Awakening

Last year my family and I went to Washington, D.C. for an enjoyable week-long vacation. At the ages of 7 and 11 my kids were neither too young nor yet too old to appreciate all of the historic attractions the area has to offer. We toured both the White House and Capitol, rode the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument, gazed at the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, and on and on. Now over a year later I find one memory that stays with me more than almost any other (except for the hauntingly somber Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery). It is an unexpectedly exhausting and seemingly interminable walk that we took from the Jefferson Memorial to see a 100 foot tall statue of a buried giant rising out of the ground called The Awakening which at the time was installed at the end of East Potomac Park.(I understand it has apparently been sold and is being relocated to Maryland.)

I had read about this unique statue in various on-line tour guides of D.C. and learned that it had been installed a quarter-century earlier, that it was little-known to tourists but that it had repeatedly been voted the area's favorite statue by local residents. "The Awakening" is composed of five pieces, showing the head, an arm, a hand and two feet of a large giant struggling to emerge from the ground. I understand that when the Potomac River occasionally flooded the giant could be seen rising out of the water. It's very striking, and seemed like a unique sightseeing destination.

It also turned out to be deceptively far to walk, especially during an early summer heat wave with two kids in tow and carrying a couple of backpacks filled with water bottles and sunscreen. I just now checked the "D.C." web page and discovered that it still contains the wildly optimistic line that "You can access the park on foot by following the trails from the Jefferson Memorial." Ha! Good luck with that!

We had already walked to the Jefferson Memorial from the National Mall, a trek in itself, but I was optimistic in our endeavor to push on to see the weird statue. My family had no reason not to trust my guidance (my tendency to exhaustively research vacation itineraries has generally served us well) and so we began following the path I had written down for us to take. In no time at all we had completely left all other tourists far behind as we followed the banks of the Potomac River. All along the riverfront African-American and Latino families were fishing and bar-be-cuing (it was Memorial Day weekend) and our white skin and red and blond hair designated us as the clear strangers in the area.

On and on we continued to walk, through the midday heat. After awhile I picked up my tired daughter Casey and carried her snug against me. It seemed like the park must be around each turn we would approach and before very long we had traveled too far to give up and turn back. By this time our little jaunt had become a quest. We're all basically troopers and good sports and so nobody dared to complain, but nobody was happy either. We all did our best to keep the conversation light and cheerful, especially Gina and I as the parents.

After about an hour we finally made it to the statue. By that time we were pretty well wrung out from the long walk that we didn't have much energy left to enjoy ourselves, and it was hot as blazes anyway. We had previously arranged for my sister-in-law to pick us up and she eventually located us. We drove back to the Jefferson Memorial where I treated the kids to paddle boat rides in the Tidal Basin. I had to do most of the paddling and by that time my legs, strong as they are, were pretty wobbly. I remember relying on flat-out willpower to keep peddling so the kids could have a good time. My sister-in-law had brought a little picnic chest with her and the watermelon I ate under the cherry trees that day never tasted so satisfying in my life.

I'm not sure why I'm writing about this. My soul tells me it has something to do with the necessity of keeping your feet moving, to continually press ever forward despite exhausted muscles, anxious feelings and strained relationships, especially when others are depending on you, in order to eventually scale the unpleasant hot hand of a silently screaming giant continually struggling in vain to lift himself from the ground where he has been buried for years.

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