I am not much of a nature photographer, but you don't have to be very good to get some interesting images near where I live. That's because I am blessed to live near a monument to the foresight of the Republican party. I live near Rock Creek Park.
A little less than a year ago, I was riding on the hiker-biker trail that runs along the creek just north of Military Road. I was struck by a particularly lush little stretch where the canopy of trees over the creek created a vivid, deep green reflection in a pool below an unnamed rapid. I came back a little later with my camera. For the last 11 months, I've returned periodically and photographed the same spot as the seasons changed. A few of the pictures accompany this post.
I've seen deer picking their way across the stream in the cold mists of a November morning. I have seen the canopy of trees, bare, spiky and black, frosted with snow. I've seen mallards feeding. I've seen dozens of city people enjoying the picnic tables and barbecue grills set along the little valley floor between the creek and Beach Drive.
Rock Creek Park at this stage, five or so miles from its confluence with the Potomac, is an engaging mix of the urban and the natural. Thousands of commuters drive by on weekdays, going to and from downtown DC. On the weekends, the drive is closed to cars and becomes a haven for bikers and joggers. People with no weekend country homes, no green to call their own, set themselves and their families up on the banks of the creek to picnic and play, members of the propertied class for at least a few hours. Yet for all this traffic, it's not hard to take a little walk and see no one, to be alone with just the woods and the rocky, tumbling stream, as if wandering in the mountains far from any town rather than well within the confines of the District of Columbia.
It calls to mind the passage from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in which Marc Antony reveals to the Roman crowds the terms of Caesar's last will and testament. Caesar, he tells the crowd, has bequeathed to them his orchards along the Tiber. They will be urban parks.
He hath left them you and to you heirs forever
Common pleasures to walk abroad and recreate yourselves.
I can't vouch for the historical accuracy of Shakespeare's account, but I believe it attests to the feeling, in Shakespeare's time if not also in Caesar's, that it is important to provide a community with parks, with pieces of natural ground to which the people can repair, rest and recreate themselves.
Fortunately, the consensus in favor of government action for things such as parks still held sway in 1890, when a Republican Congress passed the legislation creating Rock Creek Park, authorizing the purchase of up to 2,000 acres of private land. A Republican president, Benjamin Harrison, signed the legislation into law.
Sadly, it's impossible to imagine today's Republicans doing anything so wise. Use tax dollars to buy private land? Set it aside so you can't hunt on it? And primarily for the people of Washington? Today's Republicans take it as dogma that government should be "starved," a principle that they are applying with particular zeal to the National Park Service. Buying private land and setting it aside would be construed as socialism or unconstitutional. Some kind of self-appointed militia would probably arm itself and try to seize the park to preserve hunting rights. And no good Republican of today would vote for anything to benefit the city of Washington, a place the party values at roughly the level of Pyongyang, Tehran, Sodom, and Gomorrah.
I guess I should just be grateful that the earlier version of the Republican Party had its day in D.C.