Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sanctuary in Rock Creek Park

Summer in DC can be neatly summarized in two words: hot and humid. While the flowers are in bloom, and the monuments are well-maintained, this is the season I'd least recommend for visitors...or residents. And as someone married to a government employee, I wish our nation's capital wasn't built on top of a swamp. Those who train for fall marathons and suffered through super-sweaty runs are rewarded with cooler temperatures and low humidity. Those of us with dogs are constantly carrying a water bottle around and trolling for restaurants that put water bowls outside to provide some puppy sanctuary. And while some shiver in January and lament the frigid temperatures, I'll take that any day over red-raced runs in June. 

So, that's my rant. It makes me miss my summers working in Santa Cruz, when the morning runs barely hit 50 degrees, and Rochester when spring carried well into June. I've lived in some wonderful places, and this is my permanent place and I wouldn't trade it, but if someone could stop that whole climate change thing and figure out how to cool things down, that would be great.

Sanctuary, simply defined, is  a sacred place, and people usually think of it in the confines of a church or religious space. But more broadly, it is any sort of haven, or place that provides feelings of safety and serenity. And church provides a lot of that for me, and I've been so grateful to have that sort of sanctuary. But for years, running has provided that as well. I'll leave it to the always eloquent Kathrine Switzer to describe it, "For miles around in open country and wild landscapes I felt God everywhere. I was free, protected, and approved of. The rhythm of running and my own heartbeat tapped out a universal connectedness to the environment that I had never before felt, and I was both exhilarated and humbled." - Marathon Woman.

And she hits the nail on the head here. There is something special about running, for me, that gives that sense of connecting to the world, yet freedom from my own little world, and it's indescribable. And I know that there are many different sanctuaries for all sorts of people, and it can take a long time to find one's sanctuary. 

I love Rock Creek Park, and I think part of that love stems from the idea that Rock Creek Park is an oasis in the middle of the city. This urban park cuts through Northwest DC and sits on over 2,000 acres of beautiful land. It is the third oldest national park in the country, and truly provides an outlet for the 600,000 residents of the city, and the many tourists and visitors who flock to the capital. And if you look at the pictures I took from this evening's 10k run through it, you would have no idea that this sanctuary was just a couple of miles away from our federal government, the hub of the free world.

It has been so hot in the city, and the park has functioned as such an oasis for so many reasons. The forests create so much shade and particularly as dusk falls, helps to drop the temperature so much. And everyone who seeks to kneel at the altar of the park does so on their own terms, without pretense or judgment. People put aside their beliefs and attitudes at the park (with a few exceptions - no one is perfect), and despite their concerns and worries of the day, whether it is work, or family, or car trouble, or the bills, it goes away. The park does not judge and does not care when you mess up. The park forgives you for an unproductive writing day, the park understands when you didn't make the bed or do all of the dishes, or...I think I've made my point. A judgment-free zone, and amazingly enough, a zone where I'm least likely to judge myself.

And despite that so many people do come to this park to run, bike, do yoga, walk the dog, go on picnics, it is so quiet. The temperature was mercifully cooler, and for the first time weeks, I wasn't beet-red after fifteen minutes of running. It felt idyllic in all sorts of ways: the temperature, the quiet, the beautiful landscape that looked like it belonged hundreds of miles away instead of adjacent to the infrastructure that governs the free world. 

I had had a good writing today, but sometimes after hours of the mental exercises of writing, editing, organizing, and crafting a thesis, I was starting to feel foggy. And I've finally learned that caffeine does not always do the trick, particularly after multiple cups of coffee with my writing. So, it was running that cleared my head, and no amount of humidity was going to get in my way. It ultimately worked, and just like the humidity had evaporated after yesterday's downpour, the swarm of medieval thoughts and arguments in my head quieted down. 

Sanctuaries cannot be simply mapped out or searched for in an atlas. They are often found through one's own pilgrimage, one's own journey seeking respite amidst the haze and craze. There are different kinds of stained glass windows, those crafted by an artist, and those crafted by God, all of which allow us to peer through something differently and watch the light stream in.

No comments:

Post a Comment