We’ve been hanging out for several weeks now in DC, delaying our return to Oregon so that we can spend time with our family members who live in the area. My mother and I managed to get up to the house in Page County, Virginia for a quick visit.
It is really a beautiful place and nobody has been there since the last time I visited before leaving for Ouagadougou. My mother was very concerned about the condition the place was in. It was a little overgrown outside
That’s the notorious “tree of heaven” (alianthus altissima) growing in the side yard. In Haiti, the watershed management program got people to plant this tree because it grows enormously quickly and is almost impossible to exterminate. Farmers can plant a row of this stuff along the side of their fields, and the plant will set a good root system quickly, holding soil in place. In three or four years, the tree will be five or six meters high and can be cut, burned for charcoal, used as a post in a building, etc. The tree will sprout again from the roots and be ready to harvest in a few years. Of course, if it is growing in a space you want to be clear, like your yard, for example, you are out of luck. Last year when I was up there, I interviewed a yard care guy whom my mother hired to come in and clear the brush. But now it is back again. And it smells terrible.
But anyway, I was happy to get up to the mountains. I walked up to the top of the mountain overlooking our property, Blackrock in the Blue Ridge range near Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park.
Our house is down to the left, about 2,500 feet down and about two miles distant. You used to be able to see the house from this spot but the trees have grown significantly in the last fifty years. Funny how that works. This is one of my favorite spots and I hope someday to be able to spend significant amounts of time there; perhaps in retirement if President Trump doesn’t run all us liberals out of the country first.
I took the kids to another roadside attraction, the National Capital Trolley Museum. Washington DC, like a lot of big cities, used to have a streetcar system that went all over the place and carried commuters in from the suburbs to the city in comfort and relatively inexpensively. Then, the culture shifted to automobiles, the cities shut down their trolley systems and built superhighways. Now the freeways are jammed and cities are building streetcar tracks again. Portland has a nice big streetcar system, and DC is building one. Long ago, several members of my family including two grandfathers and an uncle worked for Capital Transit, the streetcar company. So this was to some degree a pilgrimage for my kids.
They have a couple of old Capital Transit cars but we didn’t get to ride in any of them as they are under rehabilitation. The one pictured above is a 1907 model from Britain that ran on a golf resort in South Carolina for many years and is made with beautiful wooden seats and interiors. It is also pretty bouncy. In the picture above are cars from DC (on the right) and Berlin (center and left). The kids had a blast. It is a nice, though small, museum. They consider the effect of mass transit on Washington DC’s development, suburbia, government relations, and so on. There is a story that was missing, about the 1919 race riot that featured US military personnel attacking blacks on streetcars – the federal government, which then governed DC directly, had recently decided to desegregate the streetcars and buses in the District. One of my father’s first memories was seeing his own father going out to work (as a streetcar driver) and hearing his mother remind him to take his gun in case rioters threatened him or his riders. There was a very cool model train setup that Phillip loved. And there were the cars to ride on and admire in the barn.
And then we went to the all-y0u-can-eat Asian restaurant. I got a very appropriate fortune cookie, here modelled by my mother
If you can’t read the fortune, it says “if you seek good advice, consult your mother.”
We’re going home tomorrow. I’m looking forward to finally sleeping in my own bed again, seeing my books and games and so on, hanging out with my friends, cooking pie, going for hikes and camping. I have a couple of weeks of summer to enjoy before class starts at Mount Angel in mid-August. There’s plenty of work still to do, including a full rewrite of the Haitian Revolution game, which I’m going to run in my Humanities class at Mount Angel. My co-authors think our game is too complex and chaotic; I’ll see if my students appear to understand and learn what I want them to learn.
In news from Ouagadougou, my friend Djibi did not get his visa to come to the US. He is very disappointed, of course. He had hoped to come and make contacts to sell some of the family’s jewelry to African art stores in the US. But young single men who aren’t really wealthy have great difficulty getting visas in Burkina. Even my boss’s son, a professional-class kid, couldn’t get a student visa at first, though after some appeals to congressmen he got it in the end. On the other hand, my boss got a visa and perhaps we will see her towards the end of the summer. It will be nice to introduce her to my family and my colleagues.