The day began early, in the pre-dawn hours. In the pre-pre-dawn hours, even. All night under the willow tree restless sleep, tossing, turning, gazing through the knotty web of branches arcing above and around me, cocooned, roofed in wood and vegetation and cloudy sky.
The morning came in a thick fog and pale colors of lilac, lavender and rose; ducks and geese silently gliding into and out of the mist like wishes or ghosts. And then the sun came, slowly, a brilliant orange-gold disc burning a hole through the mist beneath an arch in the Roosevelt Bridge, and reflecting, dazzling like sparks, off the windowed buildings on the banks of the Potomac opposite. Soon after, the tip of Washington’s monument pierced the fog, pointing skyward toward something, or nothing, greater than itself.
It was during this period of world-awakening, beneath a hail of bird song that I made breakfast and coffee after my first night camping, and packed my gear in the muzzling cold and eruption of horizon fire, the sun stabbing forth like a lance on the water’s surface, eventually mounting my bicycle and moving off through a mysterious world of half-veiled objects, and people materializing and vanishing in and out of existence.
The going was peaceful and easy, cycling south on the Mt. Vernon trail, along the Potomac, until I cleared Alexandria and the hills began to pick up in frequency and intensity. This stayed fairly constant for the next couple of days into Fredericksburg—an uneventful two days save for the meeting of a fellow cycle-tourist just outside of Fredericksburg, and the difficulties of learning how to pitch my tent in the dark which falls like a cold, heavy curtain so quickly now. The actor in the play finally removed from his audience, his costume, left to himself—a respite. However, I’m jumping ahead.
It was during my first evening of camping that I met him, early, about three-thirty or four o’clock he came sauntering down from the trail, beneath the willows through the tall grass: Werner, the Swiss. A more peculiar man I’ve never met to the best of my recollection. Dressed in multiple layers of various loosely fitting articles of clothing, he says that he lives in NW D.C.. That could mean under a bridge for all I can fathom, though he did give me an address.
His choice of topics for discussion ranged from the artist Paul Klee, to the swan he observed on this stretch of the Potomac all summer long, to commercial and residential development here and in Switzerland, to his travels around America on a Greyhound bus ($99 for ninety-nine days, though he only rode for eighty-three) many years ago. He spoke of the Matterhorn as a glistening giant covered in ice and snow, and in the evening with the moon above it, glowing like a great flashlight in the night sky, illuminating even more vibrantly this most illustrious of European peaks. His excitement over my journey sparkled frenziedly as he told me I would have the most wonderful of times. Eventually he made his way across the Key Bridge, back to his abode, whatever that be, in the fading light, the darkening night. A solitary swan without a partner. In need of no partner. Utterly sublime.