Eyes Wide Open

Ella runs just over two miles on the trail with me today, from the camper to mile marker 53 and back. We always move at her pace. If she walks from the outset, I don’t take her very far. Today, she runs the whole time, would run faster if I let her. She goes back into the camper to nap with Stu, and I go back out to ride to Harper’s Ferry.

A mom and three kids rides on the trail with gear for camping. Her bike is pulling a trailer loaded with gear. The two kids directly in front of her are not carrying gear, just their water bottles. The oldest boy leads, his bike carrying rear panniers, his small body making the bicycle move quickly; they keep a strong pace. They stop at the lock near Weverton. The younger kids are sitting on the edge of the lock, resting, but the oldest is still on his bicycle, standing over it holding it up while he takes a long drink of water. He looks so young, maybe ten years old or a small twelve, but when I first saw him at the front of their group as they passed me, I thought he was an adult.

A little boy with bold smile and a headful of curly black hair is in the bike path with two adults. Unable to safely pass them, I start to slow down, put my feet on the ground. The boy stops and turns toward me. He raises his hands and starts yelling at me, or trying to yell, to give directives, in a voice not old enough to carry any strength.   A woman with him (his mother?) has blonde over brown hair and looks like she is about to laugh at him. What’s funny about this, I wonder? If he keeps doing that, the next bicyclist might be flying down the trail, unable to stop in time to prevent flattening him.

A couple with two kids under five is coming out of the footpath that ducks into the brush and the trees and goes toward the river at Weverton.   Near them is a man, skinny and heavily tanned, his hair a thick and knotted mane of blond, his torso naked, a modern Tarzan, one of those trail walkers that the woman at Bill’s was complaining about (“They walk the trail the way men used to hitch the trains,” she had said while serving hot dogs).   Maybe he stealth camps down in there.  Maybe the family walked down the path to explore and stumbled across him. I wonder if they were frightened, with an attitude like the
woman from Bill’s. The man with the blond mane points toward something as if he is giving them directions, and maybe he is, maybe he’s telling them how to pick up the AT on the other side of the road. They part ways; he walks back toward the river.

At the base of the footbridge, a mom about my age says to me, “Are you local?” as I am unlocking my bike. “Sort of,” I reply, then answer her questions about where the bridge goes. The want to know if they follow it, will they get back to their car on Sheridan road at 340? They’ve been on an AT day trip. One of the teenagers with her offers an explanatory phrase about why they don’t know the way. The dad gestures toward his AT guide book. Yes, I tell them, the bridge is part of the trail. Cross it and then you will see the white blazes again; they’ll take you up a large set of stairs that lead out of town. “Yes, that’s right, the stairs,” says the mom, and we part ways. They must have parked another vehicle at wherever they started to make a one direction hike, otherwise they would recognize the bridge, wouldn’t they?

Once I get to Harper’s Ferry, I rest on a bench in the shade.

I watch people on the corner of town where the Heyward Shepherd memorial is accompanied by a sign about the woman who spoke out against it when it was
dedicated in 1931, a piece of Confederate revisionist history. Twice now I have watched black and brown people stand for long moments, reading the words on the huge rock slab and the small Park Service sign near it, reflecting, discussing what they read and see.

I have rarely seen a white person stop to glance at it, much less have an opinion about it. If they look at it at all, they just scan through the words and move on toward their ice cream stop.

The slab of rock was engraved by an organization called the Daughters of the Confederacy about 100 years ago, the blink of an eye. It was controversial from the outset, and was “dedicated” in 1931, not even 100 years ago. The sign beside it, the one that tells us that from the beginning some people where brave enough to speak out against it, is a National Park Service sign: a self-contradiction, that the National Park Service lets that slab of granite stay there and simultaneously argues against it.

A Wikipedia search about this memorial talks about its controversial history.  There’s a link to the website of the Daughters.   Their headquarters building is in Richmond, Virginia.

It looks like a cross between a fort and a tomb.

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