A D.C. Back Porch

Once or twice a month, J and I retreat from D.C. to a little burg in Northern Virginia where her parents live. It’s quiet — populated mostly by folks entering their golden years — and offers a respite from the continuous, nerve-rattling wail of sirens that permeates our apartment in downtown. We wake up late in the morning, often after her parents have already risen and gone out for a walk, and brew coffee in the silent house. As Mr. Coffee burbles, I watch the strong brew sluice from the basket down through the tiny hole at the top of the pot. I pour myself a steaming cup-full and then take a step out onto the porch.

The sky down here is wide, only slightly narrower than its Midwest cousin due to the hills, and met at the edges by angular rooftops and the verdure of thick leaves fully unrolled for the summer. The sirens are replaced by birdsong. There’s such a diversity of tunes that J’s father is now dipping into ornithology, studying the variations of pitch and timing that give away the origins of these flying minstrels. He’s also been growing tomatoes, peppers and strawberries out back. They’re pretty tasty, too, if the animals don’t get to them first.

This must be what it’s like for folks who have a vacation home, I often think to myself. A rustic cabin on a lake, this is not. But there’s always good home-cooking when we arrive.

The city and the country give and take. Walking the D.C. streets, when I’m afforded the free time, fills my mind with color and fascination at the churning of people in a place steeped in history. There are brightly-painted brick row-houses and gnarly cobbled streets. The culture and demographics are undergoing a painful but historic shift. D.C. also drains me — of energy, of breathing space, of a broader presence of mind. That’s what I come out here for. The dust has time to settle and I can see what’s behind me, and up the road for at least a little ways. Maybe I’ll even notice a fork I hadn’t seen.

Staying out here amid the quiet is always tempting option. Fleeing for even more remote locales, all the more so. And while Thoreau might have us stay in the woods, even he returned to Concord. So as we make our return migration, there is always the idea of the hideaway. A place where nobody knows our name.


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