My advice is: Don’t look straight down; the combination of rushing highway traffic a couple of feet away and, what’s – to me, anyway – a dizzying height, can produce some unsettling sensations. I came to this conclusion after walking back and forth across the river bridge on Route 340 between Virginia and Maryland from one of my newest discoveries in our local treasure chest: Potoma Wayside. Yeah, that’s Potoma, not Potomac – I checked and double-checked the sign. Oddly enough, I’d been just about a hundred yards away countless times – delivering mail at the gas station right at the intersection with Route 671 – Harpers Ferry Road – and had never noticed this little roadside access point nestled in the greenery.
Having eyed the spot on our 21st Century internet mapping services, I figured it just may provide some interesting views of the surrounding geography: Loudoun Heights, the Potomac River and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. My hunches were confirmed as I navigated the bridge on a chilly, windy (but clear) morning; not a very peaceful walk, what with tractor trailers whizzing by so fast I didn’t want to look at them – I just heard the scream of rushing air, tires and machinery as they literally sped by – it made some of my glances down at the River more than a little unnerving, but the adrenalin got the better of me and I embraced the experience. Suspended on that metal structure, one is rewarded with lots of inspiring sights: The sky being the predominant feature, followed by the moving water below, broken up – quite unceremoniously – by the up-jutting rocky bottom, then you’ll come to notice the rolling hills in just about every direction, and – off to the west about a mile or so – the charming silhouette of historic Harpers Ferry.
In fact, I enjoyed the views of the little Town enough to re-cross the bridge about half-way on the upstream side – just to gain a better look, unobstructed by the metal span and the rushing vehicles. Having filed about a hundred shots on my camera (and countless more on my own feeble memory card) and finally admitting that the heights, and the moving traffic, and the cold, and the wind were creating a combined tilt-o-whirl effect on my system, I headed back to my version of civilization: My vehicle and a good cup of coffee.
Now, I’d noticed a walking trail or two heading down through the trees toward the water’s edge, but time and practicality won out and I decided to leave those discoveries for another visit. It may be awhile before I find myself back at Potoma Wayside – way up at the northern limit of our County – but I trust that when I go, it’ll still offer access to that bridge with those incredible views of all that sky, and the rocky, moving water, and the gentle rolling hills, and that little, historic Town to the west where tragic events had come to loggerheads – not only in John Brown’s raid – catalyzing the Civil War – but numerous times during that ensuing conflict. Funny – now – how peaceful it looks – especially from my recent vantage point – as it rests there under the protective shoulders of the nearby hills, at the confluence of those two rivers – the Shenandoah and the Potomac.
I guess time and distance can do that for a lot of situations – seemingly enormous when they occur – appearing at least slightly less overwhelming from a second, or safer, or somehow different perspective. So I can cross the Route 340 Bridge concerned only with today’s lesser hazards of whizzing traffic and dizzying heights – not the roar of not-so-distant gunfire; I imagine I’m joined by countless others in numberless locations across our globe – enjoying the peace allowed by the distance of time – and the selfless efforts of those who ensured the outcomes would allow these later experiences. And for those as yet unable to cross those bridges in peace, they can at least witness the countless examples which show them the way.
If the distance of time can’t heal all wounds, it’s a pretty good start. Just take a look around the slopes of Loudoun Heights, and on the waters of the Potomac River, and in the little Town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
Where have you been today?