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Living under water


The big views up to the Capitol and down to the Lincoln Memorial pleased him. Out from under the great forest. It was like escaping Mirkwood. This in Charlie’s opinion accounted for the great popularity of the Mall; the monuments and the big Smithsonian buildings were nice but supplementary, it was really a matter of getting out into the open. The ordinary reality of the American West was like a glimpse of heaven here in the green depths of the swamp.

--from Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson (who seems to capture the D.C. Metro life uncannily well for someone who lives in Davis, California)

I grew up in the wide open spaces of the deserts of Arizona, under huge skies and faraway horizons. When I lived in California, I’d love the drives through the Central Valley because you could see for miles upon miles. From our front porch in Alabama, I could watch storms roll in from great distances. During our last visit there, I even felt as if the sky was somehow higher and grander than Virginia, where—especially in the summertime—I feel as if I’m perpetually living under water.

Why? Because trees are in abundance here. Our backyard is a forest and our front yard has so many trees that the grass has to struggle to grow beneath them. There are layers upon layers of branches laden with leaves that stretch at least four or five stories into the air and spread out dense across the houses underneath them. The result is the feeling of living on the bottom of a pond among the grasses and plants that grow there. The sunlight is even dappled like the bottom of densely forested aquarium. Heh, it doesn’t help that the dew point and humidity can make the air feel liquidly.

This does make for a much more pleasantly cooler life out of doors during the summer. In fact, the thermometer in my truck drops about five degrees or more as we drive from the city streets onto our driveway. But, oh, how I miss those wide open skies. Today I took the kids to a park we hadn’t visited before, and while they were caught up in the swings and slides, I couldn’t take my eyes off the puffed up white clouds that slowly made their way across the wide expanse of sky above us. It reminded me of Kim Stanley Robinson’s description above: a glimpse of heaven from the bottom of the pond. Beautiful.

(Images: from my front yard; the park near our house)

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