• VicSlider1
  • VicSlider4
  • VicSlider5
  • VicSlider2
  • VicSlider3

Socotra House Publishing: Purveyor of Glib Words to the World

Socotra House Publishing is a small press dedicated to publishing and distributing the historical works of Vic Socotra, a non-mortal fellow who captures American and military history with aplomb.

The War on NASCAR (and Us)

Screen-Shot-2016-02-10-at-2.02
(This Toyota Camry started life as an-EPA ‘certified’ street-legal passenger car. Now, it is apparently a threat to the earth).

I still have no idea what to make of the New Hampshire primary, nor the Iowa caucuses, for that matter. How does Bernie administer a historic defeat to his opponent and gain 13 delegates to her 15?

Just as an observation, the traveling political circus that offers a reality-show candidate on the one hand and a real self-avowed Socialist leaves me with my mouth agape in wonder.

And not the good kind of wonder.

I couldn’t get started on the story this morning. I am at a point on the Stones saga that the tale will have to wait until I identify the municipal entity that abuts the NE8 property, since the housing development on the other side that could provide access looks like trouble. The last one- the crown jewel- the approach to the last Stone (SE9) is going to take either a full team effort for an overland assault, or the chartered of a power-boat and captain with a sense of adventure.

As you know, I have been telling bits of larger stories, mostly set somewhere else and far away as a means of avoidance. There is so much amazing stuff to ignore that it has become almost impossible.

Put aside the political nonsense for a moment if you will, but it might just explain why people are acting out in the voting booth. Everything is nuts. I can’t mention a single element of the government that isn’t doing something crazy. The VA? IRS? DoJ?

I don’t know what is going on at Agriculture, but I have my suspicions.

But this morning the lightning rod that vaults to the top of the bizarro-list is the EPA. No, I don’t want us to get all excited over the Supreme Court divided decision to defer enactment of the new rules on coal-fired power-plant emissions. There will be plenty of time for the lower appellate courts to sort out what is what on that, and whether the science was cooked to meet a political agenda in collusion with advocacy groups. I mean, really. The national power grid is kind of important to all of us who don’t want to freeze this winter.

But as I said, that will get an airing in court and some visibility in the process. The one that got me this morning may explain a good part of the appeal to many ordinary citizens of The Donald’s bombast and Bernie’s Burn. The Feds are out of control.

Screen-Shot-2016-02-10-at-2.03

Buried in a nearly 629-page set of proposed rules, the EPA is in the process of prohibiting the conversion of passenger cars to racing machines. As a car guy, my jaw dropped when I heard it and needed to know more.

The alarming language is from a proposed set of “clarifications,” EPA issued as rules for comment last year. Here is the heart of the matter:

“Certified motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines and their emission control devices must remain in their certified configuration even if they are used solely for competition or if they become non-road vehicles or engines.” 80 Fed. Reg. 40138, 40565 (July 13, 2015).

Maybe the Millennials don’t have heart palpitations when they hear an old muscle-car roar, or thrill at the Indy 500 or NASCAR weekends. I do, and always will. Cars were the source of my Dad’s career, the well-being of his family, the life-blood of our city. They were the heart of my passion and life from the time I got my learner’s permit and my first speeding ticket. They are more American than apple pie, and part of the very warp and weft of life in these United States. Protests against this Rule only really bubbled up this week.

Before you grab pitchfork and race down to the local EPA region office, I did a little research and am more confused than ever. The publicity is coming from an organization whose ox is being gored- the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), which produces after-market performance parts.

OK- so industry is concerned about another massive set of regulations that by law are not required to be approved by Congress under the provisions of the Clean Air Act. I am always suspicious of things like that, like Net Neutrality and the rest of the legislation-by-fiat way the Government has been operating for a generation. So I looked at the Federal Register in which the proposed Rule was contained: Environmental Protection Agency, 40 CFR Parts 9, 22, 85, et al.

The document is heavy enough to use as a door-stop. And contained within are at least a dozen contradictions that do not clarify anything, except to apparently make it illegal to make racing cars never intended to run on the street out of production cars.

The EPA takes 629 pages to do it, too. It sure seems like a declaration of war on NASCAR, which I understand a lot of people enjoy watching. It seems as if we now have an unaccountable government in constant need of finding comprehensive solutions to non-problems, and criminalizing us all in the process.

You wonder why people are so mad that they would vote for Trump or Bernie?

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

By Firelight

fire-020816

It was a red-letter weekend, featuring just about everything. Friday and Saturday were sort of like old times, approaching the bacchanalia of the Super Bowl, and Friday night’s excesses morphed into the grand adventure in the District on a chilly but brilliant Saturday, and a return to the scene of the crime at the Front Page Saturday.

Sunday dawned foggy, at least inside the apartment, but I had places to go and things to do. I wanted to slow-cook a rack of ribs and put out a good spread for the Russians, since they are very good to me. I got the ribs at the Commissary on Friday, fresh enough, and went with the tried and true recipe for merriment- cheese plate, shrimp, dip, bagel chips and table water crackers with pistachios. Then, the main course, for half time:

foil-pouch-020816

Vic’s Foil-pouched Ribs

Ingredients:

One large rack of ribs
Adobo spices
Pepper
Pete’s Hot sauce.
Vic’s Secret BBQ

Directions:

Make a pouch from Reynold’s Wrap Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil.

Create a rub out of the spices. Remove rack from plastic wrap. Rinse, pat dry with paper towel. Pat the rub on both sides after placing the rack on the foil, bone side down. Sprinkle some Pete’s vinegar-based hot sauce on top of the rack and seal the foil pouch, transferring it to a roasting pan.

Timing: depending on time available, you can slow-cook at 180 degrees (F) for up to a day or so. In the case of Super Bowl 50, I had to improvise. I arrived at Refuge Farm shortly afternoon, and the Russians were coming just before kick-off at six-thirty. I decided 275 degrees would do nicely, and popped the pan in the electric oven (damn, I wish there was a gas line out in the country!) and went about other affairs.

One of them bemused me. A mystery beer case had appeared in the back seat of the police cruiser during my son’s visit when he had use of the car, and I presumed it had emerged from the basement of the former marital dwelling. The box was one I remembered from college. It was the old study cardboard type with two flaps on the top and flanges in the middle to nestle 24 tall long neck bottles of Schlitz.

It contained my life, 1980-1990. It was sort of weird, looking at it, and stirred all sorts of emotions. I did a quick run-through, considering that the tax filings and bank statements of that era still contained enough personal data that I couldn’t just pitch it, and I no longer have access to the industrial-grade shredders at the office to make it securely go away. So, burning seemed the only logical alternative.

I built a jolly fire, which I would have done anyway, and began slipped my life into it. What a merry light it made!

But of course there were other things to be done. The basic rib recipe is simple enough. The key is the finish. In summer, I would slow-cook and then open the pouch and throw it on the grill to blacken the sauce and get that savory sauce- which is the essence of the barbeque. Normally, I would do the purist approach and make my own. There is a certain validation of self in the creation, which I needed as I watched 1986 go up in flames.

Chef Kathleen Hapa Nom-Nom has a nice take on a sauce with a tasty bit of heat to it and enough brown sugar to give a nice crust. This makes about a cup and a half- enough for the glaze and some left over to dip in when served. Assemble these components:

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup Sriracha
⅓ cup Kikoman’s soy sauce
⅓ cup rice vinegar
⅓ cup brown sugar
⅔ cup ketchup
2 tablespoons fresh lime-juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoons honey from Mattsky”s hives next door
1 teaspoons onion powder

Blend over low heat after sautéing the garlic tender and stir gently to blend thoroughly. Remove from heat after well blended.

The smell of ribs cooking away distracted me from the review of car titles to vehicles I don’t own and insurance and taxes and health records from the kids got me distracted, and I took the easy way out. I had a quarter bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s spicy sauce and the last of a squeeze bottle of Sriracha-brand hot sauce, mixed them up to a pleasant dark consistency and left it at that.

I was almost all the way through 1987 when the sun disappeared and the evening came on. The Russians came over with Jack, the amazing 85-pound German Shepherd, and we sat down to drink wine and vodka and Mattski’s home-made amazing mead, brewed from the honey of the hives on the back-slope of their property. They filled me in on all the gossip that I had missed while away doing whatever it is I do, and the company was grand in front of the fire with the strange images on the flat screen television.

The food was all quite delicious, if I do say so myself, though the commercials and the game were not as spicy as I like. I opened the oven and the foil pouch and slathered the BBQ sauce on, and changed the oven from bake to low-broil for twenty minutes.

ribs-020816

The result was a lusciously moist rack with a nice spicy crust. The halftime show was sort of bizarre, and I think we all agreed we are getting a little old for this version of America.

They went home in the third quarter, and I was surprised to see that the Superbowl can be played virtually without offense. I tipped the last of the documents into the fireplace as it became apparent that the Broncos were going to win and mixed a celebratory cocktail.

What I was celebrating was not entirely clear, but those ribs were great.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

Odds and Ends

IMG_20160206_144523763
(The fabled Cardinal Stone of the North. Near 1850 East-West Highway, Washington, DC. Navigation by Jon-Without, transport and driving by Vic).

Let’s see: I got a call about a birthday party at the Front Page and decided to stay in Arlington for the occasion. I get the feeling I might not be here that much longer, and with a sudden hole in the schedule, decided to get out of the house and clean up some odds and ends.

I sent a note to Jon-without to see if he was up for and adventure, and it turned out he was. We decided to go look at some of the Boundary Stones and take pictures for my current writing project. Jon-without navigated and I drove- this is an adventure in seeing the District that the tourists don’t. I have told you before about the Bogus North Stone in the traffic circle where 16th Street and Georgia Avenue collide. I have a nice picture of it, but it has nothing to do with Benjamin Banneker or Major Andrew Ellicott and the planting of the Stones to mark the Federal Enclave.

We took the Beltway clockwise from Arlington, passing near the West Stone in Fall Church and arced around to Connecticut Avenue, and from there jigged and jagged to the East-West Highway. This is an important Stone, being one of the Cardinal directions, and Jon-without had not seen one before. It is a good one, and we only had to park slightly illegally to walk down the slope from the townhouses to actually touch it.

Slide2-020716

Then we got back in the Panzer on a chilly bright afternoon and loaded up the GPS to head for Fort Lincoln Cemetery, site of NE7. I had been there before and enjoyed the ramparts for the Civil War ear fort which are preserved as a memorial, and in fact, many of the green spaces in that quadrant of the District once contained massive earthen fortifications, now slumped down and thickly wooded.

There was a funeral in progress near the main chapel when we arrived, but we were headed back to section 18, where we were briefly stymied, just as I had been the last time I visited. The directions posted on the web make it clear that some had never actually been visited by the people who wrote about them.

The newest I could find gave us the sector, at least. On the previous attempt, there was a reference to proximity to a maintenance shed, but that may have been a hundred years ago. I had that feeling of disorientation rising, since the grounds are strewn with memorials, but Jon-Without won his certificate for Stone Finding by identifying the distinctive DAR-placed cage around the stone right at the fence-line by the columbarium (not the Mausoleum).

Slide1-020716

NE7 has a marker to mark the marker and has been restored nicely by the Colonel John Washington-Katherine Montgomery Chapter of the DAR. The ground was still saturated by the recent snow melt, and it was slipping and sliding across the graves to get to it, but well worth it.

Swollen with triumph, we decided to try to knock out NE8 as well- hell, it was only a mile away.

If I were to rate the uneasiness factor of the Stones, I naturally would rate SE 8 and 9 as the highest, but for the reasons I mentioned earlier, NE8 has some issues that would mandate a sturdy working party sufficient to watch the car while actually visiting the Stone. I had studied the overhead imagery carefully, since there is a construction yard that now blocks direct access to the scrub-covered patch where the Stone is located. We approached on Kenilworth Avenue, just off the I-295 pandemonium. I had calculated that by following Andalucía Lane, we could get abeam of the Stone and make it an easy conquest.

Not so fast. My spirits soared briefly as the lane appeared to our right, but my hopes were dashed by a towering gate shut tight. We turned around to see if we could approach from the east side but it is a housing project with very narrow streets and very large young people loitering, looking with interest at the shiny car.

“Dammit it. Not today,” I muttered.

Some sort of District infrastructure plant is concealed therein, so this is a matter for a visit on a working day. I noted that a scrap yard belonging to the Joseph Smith & Sons concern is there- I will call them this week and see who controls access to the property.

Jon-without wants to be part of the final assault on SE9, so I suggested we take the route I followed on Friday, and show him were the Stone was located on the banks of the Potomac, and actually stop and see if we could find the alleged hole in the fence. Traffic was loony on the Anacostia Freeway as we passed DC Village, where SE8 lies at the Impound Lot, and then I pulled off on the shoulder by the “Maryland Welcomes YOU” sign. Up close, this is daunting. A deep ditch adjoins the road, and there was deep standing water in it. Then an embankment tangled with scrub brush. If there was a hole in the fence, it was concealed, and this would require hip-boots on a winter day like this.

It was a useful reconnoiter, anyway, and since we had missed lunch, decided to stop at my son’s favorite taco place for a bite to eat and a victory margarita.

Jon-without punched in the address on his phone and navigated us across the Wilson Bridge to US-1 and through Old Town and into the Del Ray neighborhood and Mount Vernon Avenue. This is a hip place to be, and the Taqueria el Poblano is a fabulous hole-in-the-wall place with LA-style crispy tacos and burritos. Jon-without had the former and I the latter, along with a couple great cocktails prepared by Eduardo, a young man with many opinions that we shared in joyful Spanglish.

By the time we were done with that, there was no point in going home to change, and we proceeded on to the Front Page to await the arrival of Marty-2, Mandy, Cindy and Margaret the Birthday Girl with a cast of dozens. From what I could remember, much merriment ensued.

It could not have been a nicer day, and we are two Stones closer to completing the tale.

taqueria-el-poblano-020716

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

Anacostia Dreaming

image
(Scenic View of the 11th Street Bridge heading into Anacostia in SE Washington DC. The new lanes hooking the highway to Maryland Rt 295 might have been the only shovel-ready construction project funded in the 2008 stimulus bill).

I had occasion to be at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) yesterday. It was sort of an odd trip- a Friday, and Congress wasn’t working any more than they usually do on the last day of the business week, and I breezed across the East-West Freeway as though nothing whatsoever was happening in the Capital of the free world.

It is certainly possible that everyone is in New Hampshire for the continuing follies. I put that out of my mind- a hard thing to do this season in this town- and hurtled across the 11th Street Bridge into Anacostia.

The people at the Agency I visit periodically were remarkably helpful, and I got in and out with what passes for blinding speed there. I had enough time to stop at the Commissary and pick up some necessities that would cost twenty percent more on the civilian economy, and found the placed jammed. Must be the consequences of having my usual food depot under massive reconstruction, compressing the available shelf-space into a much smaller area and limiting the amount of goods on display.

Get this: Super Bowl tomorrow and no Fritos-brand snack chips!

The petite Korean woman who hauled my groceries to the Panzer was stoic about the mess, informing me that this will only go on for another six months.

Chores done, and with only the reports to be filed on my visit, I decided to head south from JBAB and see what things were like on the approach to the District Boundary Stone SE9, the last remaining monument to be visited before that particular feckless quest is done and off the “to do” list.

I stayed on the Anacostia Freeway past the Naval Research Labs and the Blue Plains Water treatment facility. Traffic was heavy for that time of day, and I looked for a decent place to pull off on the verge and take a look at the terrain near the sign advertising the advent of the Great State of Maryland, which should mark the line through the wilderness to the stone.

Actually, it is not, which is the case for many of the directions to the Stones. Park on the right shoulder of the southbound lanes of I-295 near the “Maryland Welcomes You” sign and walk west into the forest to a fence. Follow the fence several dozen feet north to reach a small hole. Enter the hole and walk west through the forest. Depending on your route, you may cross an empty field that once was a staging area for the construction of the highway. Continue west to a very steep hill (actually they say it was an earthen dam created to protect the highway from flooding), climb the hill, and walk north along the top of the hill. The stone will appear at the bottom of the hill on the west side after a short walk.

Piece of cake, right? That Stone had confounded me twice, and I wasn’t going to be messed with a third time.

image

As documented by Fred Woodward a hundred years ago, SE9 was once next to the Potomac at Fox Ferry Point, the terminus of an 1800s ferry line from the foot of King Street in Alexandria, or just about due east from the Torpedo Factory. During the early 1950s and again in 1969, the stone was moved some distance northeast of Fox Ferry Point to save it from being damaged by the tides of the river, which have left the shore strewn with an incredible thicket of brush and debris.

Anyway, I managed to slow down enough to get a good glimpse of what we would be dealing with, and how we might best accomplish the mission.

It would take a team of at least three to do it, I thought. A wheel-person would be needed to drop the insertion party, then proceeding on the freeway to the National harbor exit, where the getaway vehicle would be parked in front of the Cadillac Ranch Bar and Grill while the driver was fortified with a margarita or two while the insertion team blundered through the impossibly thick growth, spearing themselves with branches before triumphantly documenting the Stone. At that point they could call the getaway car, which would proceed from the bar back up the Anacostia Freeway to the NRL exit, cross under the highway and head south again for the pickup.

One of the insertion team could accompany the tipsy driver to the Stone, assuming they wanted to actually see it, while the vehicle returned to the bar to await the summons.

It would probably be more fun with four people, or even a chartered bus. But the key would be getting through the fence. I think a pair of bolt cutters might be useful, too. Just in case.

Anyway, what could go wrong?
image

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

It’s What’s For Dinner

Screen-Shot-2016-02-03-at-2.04

It is a rainy winter day in Washington, and gray and the piles of snow that remain are dirty and weeping. Having been down the rapids of all the email and websites since rising, I am pretty sure I am not going to be able to make it through the rest of this extraordinary silly season.

Honestly, this whole charade is so far off the rails that fear the biggest crane on earth could lift the locomotive up enough to place it back on the tracks.

I was desperately attempting to avoid any commentary on that, and when the Lieutenant was spending some time with me on his leave between overseas tours, he would tune the flatscreen to the Food Network, where (with the possible exception of Antony Bourdain’s surreal food show “No Reservations” on the Travel Network) and promptly lose himself in some aspect of American or World cuisine.

bourdain-020316
(Renowned chef and raconteur Anthony Bourdain displays his approval. From Rock and Roll Ghost).

One morning we watched an hour presentation on Meat Loafs of the world, followed by a special on Great Diners.

I was reminded of that as I scurried about, getting ready to host the Big Pink Book Group yesterday afternoon. It was fun. I forget sometimes how much I would prefer cooking to political analysis.

I confess that it opened my eyes to sensory input that has nothing to do with the sad state of politics, though it is related. Accordingly, I thought I might highlight a pair of books that basically sum up the state of the American Civilization at the front-end of the 21st century. Here is the coarser of the two:

Screen-Shot-2016-02-03-at-10.55

Clever, right? I enjoyed it, and have been known to be crude myself. But here is the deal: we have produced a society in which the inability to communicate has become pervasive even as the means to communicate have expanded in a dizzying fashion. I confess I am intrigued with the phenomenon, and bought both books to see if there was a trend here that I was missing.

Back in the day, the publishing world had a rule of thumb: if the cover of the book had a swastika on it, it increased sales. I don’t know why- mostly the books that did so were either historical or accounts of derring-do against unspeakable evil. Next up in the sure fire sales tricks was to provide self-improvement, the most popular of which was weight loss, or its mirror image, the cook book.

For the diet side, I tried one of those radically unbalanced diets later pioneered by that Atkins guy, and now popular as the Paleolithic Cave-man regimen. My solution at the time was to skip breakfast, work out at lunch vigorously, and on the way back to the Bureau, purchase a half-smoke smothered in sauerkraut with mustard and sweet relish, which I would bake in a toaster-oven to a delightful crusty exterior with a juicy squishy interior.

I decided I could become vastly wealthy if I just penned a book with a frankfurter on the cover, crushing a swastika and titled “The Super Kraut Dog Miracle Diet: 30 days to thinner thighs and victory over fascism.”

I never got around to it, and the generation who made purchasing decisions based on the victory over Hitler has now passed largely form the scene, so I think that ship has sailed. But as I said, it is raining like hell and dank and chilly. So it is not a bad day to stay inside and do some cooking. This is one of the recipes that really appealed to me, since it includes all the food-groups except vodka. It might very well answer the question posed in the second cookbook above.

I make cheerful attribution to Trisha Yearwood, the remarkable chef who presents via Trisha’s Southern Kitchen on the food network.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/trisha-yearwood/cowboy-lasagna.html?oc=linkback

Screen-Shot-2016-01-03-at-9.43

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

Groundhog Day

Screen-Shot-2016-02-02-at-10.44.24-AM
(The late crooner Sonny Bono, right, and the sultry young Cher from a screenshot of their monster hit “I Got You Babe).

Punxatawny Phil emerged from his burrow on Gobbler’s Knob and saw no shadow. The burly man in the top hat held the hefty rodent aloft, and proclaimed loudly: “There is no shadow to be cast! An early spring is my forecast!”

He added, “Take your jackets off, you’re not going to need them!”

Well, I respect the meteorological background of many large furry mammals, and that is certainly possible. By way of contrast, the people at the Old Farmer’s Almanac are saying it is going to be a late-lingering winter, and there are two more major storms before the month is out. I was listening for the Sonny & Cher song “I Got You, Babe!” to signify whether or not we were trapped in an endless loop of always-todays and never tomorrow, but I could hear nothing.

I know I have been going on as a bit of a one-trick pony of late. It has been my way of escaping to the past to avoid the present, and I confess I have been playing the album “Look At Us” to try to drown out the noise of the endless election. I am trapped this morning just as durably as Bill Murray in his marvelous film about the events of an endless day in Punxatawny, PA.

The Politics makes me feel as if we are all trapped in the movie, and each morning there will be a new blast of bombast, dissembling, waffling, insinuation and public flatulence that passes for policy discourse. I keep looking around for a grown-up to appear and knock these collective chuckleheads together, but I fear we are out of stock on what used to pass for those folks, and the term ‘common sense’ was not the inverse concept of something really stupid.

None of this is sustainable, For goodness sake, we are borrowing money to get through this very year of execution, and if you or I tried that, the creditors would soon be crowded around our door howling for retribution. If they are not worried, I suppose it is foolish for the rest of us to be concerned and just ride this road as long as we can. But I don’t think we ought to count on the bridge not being washed out up ahead, and perhaps not too far.

But the Big Melt is continuing, and all we have to look out for this morning is the drains backing up. The cars have been bathed in a salt-and-chemical bath, and they need work, though this might be a day too soon to take drastic action. The banks along the highways are still there, bleeding their treated onto the roadway, which makes the woods along the Anacostia Freeway impassible, so I can’t do a damn thing about finding the Last Stone, SE9. That will have to wait until Punxatawny Phil’s prophecy comes true, and the Spring arrives early.

I talked to the Blonde, though, and she is up for the adventure, and Jon-without is onboard, as is Argo. Hell, we may have enough interest to charter a bus for the throng! Accordingly, I am confident that this time a land assault from the highway is going to do the trick and finish off the adventure.

I understand there was some sort of political thing out in the Great Heartland last night. I didn’t follow it, since we were at Front Page with JPeter, Jon-without, TLB, Chanteuse Mary, Heather and New Mark the Frogman. It was a grand time, starting before the counting began and ending before the count was announced. When I got home I decided to just turn in and let the results roll over me in the morning.

Sure enough, in the warm dark embrace of the eiderdown, the clock radio began to babble at the usual time and told me all I needed to know. And then Sonny began to croon to his Cher:

“They say we’re young
And we don’t know…”

I smiled in the darkness. Neither of those assertions is true. Not for those of us who remember the tune when it was new, and Chastity Bono was still a girl. But I think I am going to be hearing that song until sometime in November.

Screen-Shot-2016-02-02-at-10.49.10-AM
(I often wonder if that is Punxatawny Phil’s great grandfather that Sonny Bono is wearing. The vest looks oddly familiar, you know? Do you see a shadow?)

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

Two, If By Sea

Screen-Shot-2016-02-01-at-8.37.56-AM
(The view from the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor outlining our course north under the new Wilson Bridge).

Argo drove off that Spring morning and we both felt a sense of frustration. I motored back to the freeway and took the exit to National Harbor.

The Potomac is one big ass river as it opens up south of the Bluefields water treatment plant. It is broad and brown and probably unhealthy, and it is wild and tangled along the banks where trees and trash are piled willy-nilly, making land transit problematic.

map1-se9-020116
(The overland route to SE-9. We made it only as far as the east side of the highway bridge, and the path was impenetrable for me as a gimp. Argo might have been able to make it, as he is youthful and athletic and much better looking than I am).

Argo and I had tried to find District Stone SE9 in the Spring. It looked simple enough from the overhead imagery- Oxon Hill Farm had relatively secure parking, and a path down the bluff to the forest. In the execution it was brutal- hard to imagine the wilderness that exists inside the limits of the District, fallen trees and clinging vines and uncertain footing. And all sorts of detritus washed down from the city in the periodic surges of rainfall that sweep all before it into the flow.

So, we decided the next attempt would be by boat, and there is a rental concession for kayaks that opened at National Harbor and Argo was in town, and it seemed like a natural- EZ in, EZ out.

Not so fast.

map-se9-2-020116

​We negotiated the kayak rental from a surly fellow at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention center near the cool new Ferris Wheel with the view of the bold styling of the new Wilson Bridge. I remembered when we walked under the old one to see the first Stone, The South corner, a dozen years before, the rumbling above and the suspicion that something might fall down on us out of the darkness.

The rental agent gave us a gruff- and cursory- safety briefing and paddled to the north, battling the current and a strong quartering breeze.

There were no whitecaps but it was only just short of that. The vastness of the great river is quite remarkable when you are sitting a few inches deep in it, and the current and the flotsam and jetsam of the waterway is moving at a remarkable and impressive pace. The proud tower of the Masonic Temple in Alexandria pinpointed where we had to come abeam to what had been Fox Ferry Point, the terminus of the old nineteenth-century boat line from the foot of King Street to Maryland.

We got across the lagoon and under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. We were not a team yet, with no preparation and no practice, and the current pushing inexorably south made progress difficult. I wondered about the incident of coronary in former athletes stroking hard as we tried to hug the coast to avoid the massive pressure of all that water pouring down to the sea.

We got disoriented- the low freeboard of the boat meant we were wet and our phones were useless in their little plastic zip bags, and the shore was a wild tangle of logs and drifted debris. We turned to starboard into a cove short of where we needed to be.

I sighed. We should have printed and laminated the imagery and the directions. But the shore was so tangled with limbs, branches and trash that there did not seem to be a way to land safely.

Or maybe I am a pussy. The Potomac is one big-ass powerful river, and I confess to being a little intimidated by its sheer strength.

We took advantage of the slack current in the cove, and watched a DC police boat watching us. Homeland Security is no laughing matter these days. Argo suggested we beach the boat and go ashore.

Screen-Shot-2016-02-01-at-8.42.09-AM

We would have been on the wrong side of the cove, and based on the terrain and the tangled mass of logs and trash, and was disoriented. It seemed like we would have had to circle the cove east and then north, climbing over the tangle of trash and broken trees. I said “I surrender. No more injuries and no more surgery.”

We backed around and paddled along the shore dodging logs and rocks. It was a lot easier going back down the majestic river with the current- and it was a nice outing even if a failure. I don’t do enough adventures these days but I have to be judicious about the amount of physical risk I am willing to take, since I have come to the realization that I am not only no longer bulletproof, but actually a frail freaking vessel.

We will figure out a way to see that stone. Looking at the map, it appears that we were almost there- but of course we were unprepared. If we had laminated the image we would have done it. I slapped myself aside the head. For God’s sale, I had been planning missions most of my active career, and now I prepared like a rank amateur.

imagery-se9-020116


We turned into the cove just north of the point of Rosalie island. Oh well.

Next time we will just charter a boat with a motor. Maybe in the Spring.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

One, If By Land

image

It was a little more than two years ago that Argo challenged me to get off my ass and finish the Quest for the Stones. He is a go-getter, let me tell you, and lean and lithe and athletic, which is the last thing I was in 2013.

Argo tapped into the increasing obsession about the Stones that spanned a decade, and across the annus horribilis of 2012. That was the year my parents died and the estate had to be closed, a house emptied and sold while I got badly injured in an accident, and then Mac passed on while I was still trying to recuperate and learn to walk again. I felt I had lost a whole generation at a swoop, and I was crippled to boot.

The number of Stones left to document was down to a handful, and I suspect Argo was trying to get my mind off the more immediate problems. One of the Stones looked like it might be as hard- or harder- than the conundrum that was SE8 and it’s Nazi neighbors. The other- NE8- was an afterthought that could be accommodated by something like a drive-by; really, just shooting a duck in a barrel.

Argo poked me a couple times, trying to get me out and about, and I acquiesced. We decided to just do it. Here is the trick, though: DC9 is on the shore of the Potomac, near what once was the ferry terminus from Alexandria, and now is scrub on the west side of I-270. I suppose you could just pull off the highway and clamber down, but that would mean leaving the car to the tender mercies of the Ward 8 driving public, and we decided to rendezvous at the Oxon Hill Farm and park in the National Park Service lot and hike a mile or so in.
In triumph, we thought we might stop for a couple drinks at the pleasure spas of National Harbor before a triumphant (if symbolic) return to the South Stone where the adventure began.

Well, Gentle Readers, I had hoped to address you this morning with a tale of triumph, and the announcement that the District Stones Project was closed out, just as my physical abilities to do so are drifting away.

Sorry- just like everything else these days, I failed. I can tell you that I have a new sense of just what Major Andrew Ellicott and his hardy survey team confronted when the set out to clear a twenty-foot wide path around the boundary of the Federal District of Columbia, and place the forty marker stones at one mile intervals to designate the border of the capital of the new republic.

I am here to tell you that was a task I did not appreciate until I found myself in their world, away from the comforts of today.

The physical world is definitely not boring. In fact, for a gimp entering geezerhood, it can be downright terrifying.

image
(Oxon Hill Farm, operated by the National Park Service).

But it was quite a shock to the system to find that what appeared to be a simple excursion of mild historical interest actually meant putting myself at risk in the wild, while still in the midst of the city.These things really require a expeditionary party, based purely on issues of personal safety. That is part of the attraction of this quest, since it is nothing that the average tourist would ever have the energy or insight to accomplish.

image
(This is the goal. We did not get there. The green cage was placed around the stone by the DAR in 1917 to protect them, and is the best “signature” to find the Stones, since some are truncated by wear or mischance almost to the level of the soil).

The description in the guide of how to reach SE9 was quite vanilla, and matter of fact in tone:

“You can reach this Stone on foot by following the partially-paved path that leads to Oxon Hill Farm from either D.C. Village Lane in Washington or the intersection of Oxon Run Drive and Audrey Lane in Maryland. Leave the path when it turns away from Oxon Cove; then follow the Oxon Cove shoreline to the base of Oxon Cove Bridge, where you must cross underneath I-295 to get to the Potomac River. From the endpoint of the large rocks that surround the base of the bridge, follow the Potomac shoreline about 1,000 feet southwest until you are just past due west of the Masonic Memorial (across the river) and the bridge is no longer visible behind you. If you are on a small sandy beach with car tires and debris, you are in the right place. The stone is 120 feet to the east in the forest at the foot of a hill. From the shoreline, it is just possible to make out the fence protecting the stone, although less so in spring and summer.”

That is complete bullshit.

image
(Aerial photo affixed to a Park Service interpretive marker at Oxon Hill Farm with the cover and interstate I-295 to the upper right).

The Oxon Hill Farm parking lot is safe, patrolled and a place we could leave a couple Yuppiemobiles without risk of having them stolen or trashed in what I thought would be a brief excursion.

We started off incorrectly- we walked into the historic farm area, operated by the Park Service. My leg was throbbing after just a couple hundred feet. And I can tell you whoever wrote the above directions should be dragged out and beaten severely, then shot.

image
(Oxon Hill Farm is bucolic and delightful. It is also the wrong way to the Stone. The Park Service has a program to “Meet the Cows.” We did not participate. Pretty and pastoral, on the way down to the “path” to the Stone. The Park Service keeps this part neatly mowed, and the deer looked at us with only mild alarm. No hunters here. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves at this moment.)

There is indeed a paved road down the bluff toward river level. It actually was quite pleasant once the grade eased- I can’t walk downslope as well as I would like these days, and the arthritis in the “good” leg has proceeded apace since the “bad” leg has been damaged, restricting further my ability to walk normally.

Anyway, we saw a couple deer in a neatly mowed pasture and chattered away as we went, confident we would see the stone and be done with the outing shortly. Remember that part above about “Leave the path when it turns away from Oxon Cove; then follow the Oxon Cove shoreline to the base of Oxon Cove Bridge?”

image
(Raft? Roof? Barge? I couldn’t tell, but it was big and very heavy.)

It may be the rain we have had that year, or it may be that the author of the directions has never been there, or the reconstruction of the Oxon Cove Bridge has changed everything, but where the semi-pavement ended the jungle began.

There is no path. There is a faint game trail leading off along the bank of the cove, and we took it. The ground was semi-dry, and the periodic surge in the river level had distributed the waste of the Capital of the Free World liberally atop it all- plastic jugs, water bottles, shoes, condoms, shoes, assorted clothing, beer cans and anything that floats- in a thicket of trash, overgrown and new. The flooding had undermined trees, which had fallen across the faint trail, and branches and dead sticks poked and thrust as we gingerly moved, step by step, and clambering over tree-trunks. Some downed trees were concealed by the new growth. My gaze was locked down at my feet- if I fell and ripped out the repaired muscles, I was going to be screwed for sure. I was glad Argo was with me- if I got fucked up, at least someone could go for help.

It was that quick, passing out of civilization and into the wild. Argo took the lead, and I was grateful for his presence since I could only gingerly place my feet, and panicked as vines and tendrils threatened to snag my sneakers and pitch me headfirst into spear-like branches.

It was only a half-mile, perhaps, crunching along the discarded bottles and detritus along the bank, where we could follow it, and across a couple little fetid muddy streamlets.
Bugs? Sure. Bugs to spare. I looked down at one of the periodic shoes that were scattered along the trail, never a pair, always singletons, and not one I could see with the remains of a tibia or fibula protruding from it, though the idea of finding human remains occurred to me as a real possibility.

At one challenging clamber over a deadfall, I saw the skull of a large animal. Not human. Deer, I assume. I did not poke at it.

It took more than an hour to cover the ground, approaching the roar of the interstate that surmounted the vertical stone retaining walls. There was evidence of previous structures- bricks scattered everywhere; a heavy wooden lattice- a roof? And even a section of footbridge, now stranded atop a jumble of driftwood.

We made it up a steep bank to the base of the wall of the bridge.

If there had ever been a path here, it was covered with random large stones set as rip-rap to prevent erosion. There was no going forward to the aperture that would permit us to get under the freeway, and there the forward motion ceased.

image
(The castle wall of I-295. It would have taken climbing gear to scale the heights to the break-down lane on the Northbound side of the highway.)

Argo might have been able to do it, but not me, the gimp. I hurt and was starting to get alarmed at the prospects of a fall and another trip to the hospital. Thank God I was not alone. Argo scouted north and south to see if there was any way to get up to the roadbed where civilization whizzed by our 18th century jungle, but there was no way without climbing gear. The road and bridge were as impregnable as a medieval castle keep.

The stone was only a thousand feet away, but it was safe this day, protected by the rampart of the interstate and cloak of the river.

Argo is young and agile. He might have been able to make it. I knew that I couldn’t. The only answer was to turn back. Disappointed, aching, and with the same obstacle course to traverse.

“Next time we do it by boat,” said Argo ruefully. I nodded in agreement. And then we clambered back down the steep slope, across the murky driftwood field on the mud, and back into the jungle.

image
I won’t bore you with the details of the return journey. Argo went on ahead to fetch his car and that left me quite disoriented in the jungle growth- I had been looking down so intently to avoid falling that I had only a sketchy idea about keeping the water to my left. Eventually I emerged from the undergrowth and breathed deep at the solace of flat asphalt that did not grab at my ankles.

I met Argo as he drove back down the road, and climbed in as he did a three point turn to head back up to the parking lot. “Thanks, Argo.” I said with disappointment. “Some of the stones have taken me five attempts to find and document. I will find a charter boat for the next assault. Expensive, but that will close out the quest.” He looked at me dubiously as he dropped me back at my car.

I drove home, legs quivering. I managed to hobble out to the pool and worked out the leg spasms with a long swim and steady, gentle movement. Then I opened the bar early.
It is a daunting prospect to contemplate mortality, and the growing realization that I had better complete this adventure while I can.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

The Impound Lot

(Editor’s Note: this is out of sequence due to a temporal warp that occurred with a solar flare yesterday. It is an account of the second try- the first one with a full platoon- to find SE8. You can call me a Stones pussy if you want, but the first time I tried to find it alone I got the willies. The Impound Lot is in a very strange part of town

image
(The DC Vehicle Impound Lot is the site of Boundary Stone SE8, shown at the lower right, below the buildings of DC Village. The Blue Plains Water Treatment Plant is on the right side of the freeway, and is where the once pure water provided by Montgomery Meig’s Washington Aqueduct eventually winds up).

Blue Plains Drive tees out at the Boss Shepherd Parkway, which is a grand name for a concrete two-lane that ends in Jersey barriers at the DC Impound Lot.

I slowed for the left turn as we passed DC Village on the left, and the gigantic banana palm trees waved listlessly in the humid breeze in the National Botanical Garden warehouse complex to the right.

“DC is exactly like the human alimentary system,” said The Blonde thoughtfully.

“You mean it produces crap?” said the Colonel, peering alertly out of the window of the Bluesmobile.

“In a manner of speaking,” she said. “Think about it. If you tipped it upright on the south anchor stone at Jones Point, you would have the Potomac flowing into the mouth, just like it provides all the fresh water, and then the guts of it in the middle, where the sausage and pork get digested. Then it all winds up here, right at the bottom.”

I wrinkled my nose. “That is why the sewage treatment plant is across the road. Nothing in this hemisphere flows north.”

“Vic, that is such bullshit. In Northern Ohio, the Sandusky River feeds north into Lake Erie. The Red River in Minnesota flows over three hundred miles into Canada.”

“I meant downhill,” I said, defensively, waiting for a tow-truck hauling a late-model black Escalade to roar past before turning left.

“Well, that I agree with. It doesn’t get any more downhill than here. This is the end of the line. So why is the Impound Lot important to finding your precious saboteurs?”

I was on firmer ground on this one. “The impound lot is on what used to be the grounds of the DC Asylum for the Aged and Infirm. Back in Colonial times this was part of a plantation that was owned by William Marbury, the guy who took on James Madison in Marbury versus Madison.”

“Ah,” said the Colonel. “That was the first time the Supreme Court declared something unconstitutional, and that is the same august body that said it was OK to fry the Nazis, pronto.”

image
(The only known image of the monument to the executed Nazi saboteurs near Potter’s Field as it was discovered by DC workers in 2008).

“And I did not start out looking for the Germans. I am looking for the Stones. This is kind of special, though, since apparently some workers found a new tombstone dedicated to the Nazi saboteurs, and the City Fathers are concerned that there might be a movement to make the old Potter’s Field a mecca for skinheads. The neo-Nazis didn’t come close to the real location, and marker was removed to the District Survey Warehouse. But they are interested in confirming the real location of the unmarked graves so they can keep their eyes on it for evidence of Skinhead activity. They obviously don’t want any publicity about it, which is why my friend can’t do it in his official capacity, and he knew I was coming here anyway. He got me copies of the original cemetery plot and the graves.”

There was an entrance to the Impound Lot to the left but the boss’s Parkway continues on along the west perimeter of the lot. There was a sea of cars behind the wire. Some were new, some old. Some had been there so long that bushes and small trees had grown up through them.

“The fine for towing and storage is pretty steep,” said Mattie. “It doesn’t take much for the penalty to be worth more than some of the cars in here. It’s a hundred bucks for the tow and twenty bucks a day for them to park it. A lot of people just assume they were stolen.”

“I’d hate to take a cab here, hoping to find my car.” I drove to the end of the fence, and sure enough, the concrete blocks effectively prevented further progress onto the rutted road around the lot. I stopped, backed up, and drove slowly back toward the gate.

“The deal with the lot is that District Boundary Stone SE8 is at the back of the lot, just outside the fence,” I said. “The drawings of the Asylum he has mark the cemetery with the number of feet from the stone. The working assumption I have with my associate on the Planning Commission is that they mean the District Stone, and not just a stone marker.”

“Can we get to the stone from inside the lot?”

“No, and considering the value of what the city has appropriated in there they don’t appreciate tourists. We need to get outside the wire and onto the Maryland side.”
I accelerated past the entrance where two large men with Glocks on their hips stood near the guard shack.

“I hope we can find the Stone. I heard this one got beat up pretty bad. The original stone was put here by Major Ellicott in 1792. It got moved in 1958, when they were tearing down the Asylum to build DC Village, and then it got lost.”

“Or was stolen,” said the Colonel. “Who steals a four hundred pound chunk of Aquia Creek sandstone?”

“You would be surprised. This is Anacostia. Anyway, the Daughter’s of the American Revolution replaced the stone with replica after the new shelter was completed, and included the trademark steel cage that they placed around the other 38 stones in the boundary they were trying to protect. That got stolen for scrap, and by the 1970s a large land-fill operation covered it with eight feet of soil and gravel. It was not found again until the Clinton Administration, and some hardy individuals decided the best way to protect it was to bury it again, but at the bottom of a concrete drain pipe. Supposedly all you can see is the top of the thing.”

“So what are the odds that the land-fill didn’t take out the cemetery, too?”

“Don’t know. But I do know that the District wants to rip down DC Village and put a new Bus Depot here, and if the cemetery is still here, it could be a problem. They want to spend almost $500 million on the project, and I imagine disturbing the last resting place of a bunch of poor black people and six Nazis would be inconvenient and stir up some stories they don’t want told, don’t you think?”

“Might hold up the project for a long time,” growled the Colonel. “The NIMBYs stopped construction on the new Wilson Bridge in Alexandria for two years over the graves of two Union soldiers from the Civil War.”

“They say you can get to the Stone if you follow the paved path that leads from D.C. Village Lane toward Oxon Run and then follow the fence along the Maryland border southwest until you get to the impound lot. They tell you to bring a flashlight.”

image
(SE8 image taken by Mark Kennedy in 2006 at low water).

I turned right again onto Blue Plains, and followed it to DC Village Lane that runs outside the fence to the family shelter. Sure enough, there was a ribbon of asphalt about the size of a bike path, and I pointed the police car down the middle of it, tall grass brushing the doors. The path curved gently into a meadow, bisected by the fence that marks the very edge of the District of Columbia and the start of the State of Maryland.

There was an opening in the fence, and just across the line was a white sedan with a bold M painted on the door parked sideways across the path. Two men opened the doors and began to get out.

“Well look-ee there,” said The Blonde. “The Metro People are here to greet us.”

I wheeled the blue car to the right and swung it around in the tall grass. “Maybe we can try this from another direction,” I said, and hit the gas to get out of there. “It looks like this might take another try to find the Stone.”

“And the Nazis,” said The Blonde.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

Hole in the Fence

18 September 2009

cone-zone-012916
(The Search Party: Hector, The Blonde and the Colonel).

I am still crackling with adrenaline, and this part is neither embroidered nor tall tale. It does start out like a Sea Story, though, which is to say not “Once upon a time,” but “This is a no-shitter.”

The names, of course, have been changed to protect the guilty, since we were technically sort of trespassing and sort of not in compliance with certain District laws.

We had lunched at the Officer’s Club at Bolling Air Force Base. Of course, it is not that anymore, not precisely since that would be elitist or classist or something in these painfully correct days, but we hardly have time to discuss the cultural change in the United States Military over the last quarter century. Much less how the O Clubs once symbolized the core values of the professional military: a place to go to happy hour on Friday and laugh at the whole thing.

Of course they don’t, any more, not since they started to knock the fun out of the venerable Services, but the magnificent structure still anchors the stately row of homes allocated to the leadership of the Air Force, and if you blink just a little bit, you can imagine what it was like, back in the day.

The Club featured It a lavish buffet that strikingly featured three entirely different styles of pork chops.

Just over the fence from the elegance of the O Club is the rest of Anacostia, and where we were going adventuring now that the commercial activities of the morning were done.

If you want to follow along, go to the Google Home page, select “maps,” search for “Washington DC,” and zoom in on the lower SE portion of the District. That is Anacostia.

If you drag the map along to the edge of the land, you will see from above what we were about to see up close and personal.

I hope you are doing it in the privacy and comfort of your cubical or office. You are looking a clear summer day. Where we were the clouds were drifting overhead and the sky was doing a desultory spritz.

You cannot get the smell from where you are. There is an odor of corruption even over on General’s Row at Bolling, and when the wind is from the south, the smell of the Blue Plains Waste Treatment plant is almost overwhelming.

Shepherd_statue_at_Wilson_Building-012916

That is where, in Mayor marion Berry’s spirit of irony, they moved the statue of Alexander Robey Shepherd from the Wilson Building downtown. You can say that if General Montgomeery Meigs made life in the District possible, it was Boss Shephed and his dynamic crony politics and contractual wheeling-and-dealing that finished it off.

That is where it was on this day, though The Boss is back at the Wilson Building these days, still traveling a century after he died.

In preparation for the expedition, we stripped down the valuables and tucked them away in the trunk of my blue Crown Vic Police Interceptor, the only real car to drive in the District. Then we piled in, four of us, and drove out the back gate at Bolling AFB and over to DC Village.

This was The Day. We had done the reconnaissance, and now it was the confluence of opportunity, access and time.

We drove down the Boss’s Parkway, past DC Village, and into the gravel lot next to the abandoned power plant to the abandoned hospital. We could have driven down the bike path, but we did not want to have the car vandalized or towed and be left on foot.

There is stuff going on there, other cars, a big fenced lot for people doing something in the Butler huts that still function. There are fences everywhere. This is a place where there is trouble.

The Blonde, the Colonel, Hector and I walked back toward the path.

We were headed for DC Stone SE 8. This is a big deal. The stone is at the back of the DC impound lot, a target property for all manner of mischief since it has things of value on it, and accordingly defended. The Stone is- or was- the marker between the Lot and the state of Maryland.

Turning onto the asphalt path between the end-of-season high grass there was a pile excrement. Human, possibly, based on the volume. But whatever left it was big enough not to mess with.

There was deer spoor, too, once we passed through the gap in the fence. The plops were much darker and smaller in mass than what marked the beginning of the path, but shit just the same.

This is not a manicured park. This is abandoned. What we sought was exactly the point between the two jurisdictions, the middle of the fence, less than a quarter mile down in the dense underbrush. The last major work here was in the 1950s, some major grading to fill in wetland, and there were mounds to follow in the grayness.

The remains of camps and cars protrude from the ground there. Beer bottles that have been here a long time. Gas tanks and auto plumbing subsumed by straggly undergrowth.

Hard to walk, following deer paths and on high alert in case the sometime residents of these lonely groves are home.

Forced by terrain, we find ourselves on a minor promontory surrounded by green water and cattails. Backtrack, the pork chops of lunch gurgling in our guts. Wouldn’t just one style of pork chop have been sufficient?

Someone has had a vehicle here and not long ago. We follow two narrow tracks through summer growth higher than our heads. There is a gravel trace that appears, leading from the locked gate next to the Impound Lot. I know, as you do, that this leads close to the stone.

We follow it up to the District Boundary, and what we can see from here is that the fence lurches down into the verdant growth of what had been the Oxen Hill Plantation. An orange traffic cone is there, supposedly one of the markers for the stone, and I jump down and examine it.

No dice. Further on it must be, funny, it looks like such a short distance from above.

Broken concrete, a barrier against passage. Over and through, just on the other side, there it is.

SE8 is not a stone like the others. This one has been lost and found, excavated and reburied since it might have intrinsic value and be stolen. On dry days, you can see the characteristic taper of something at the bottom of a concert culvert. On a day like today, there was only the inky blackness of water down below at the bottom of a narrow concrete pipe.

SE8-012916

We photograph it and move on.

The original stone was removed in 1958 during construction and then either lost or stolen from a storage facility before it could be reset in the ground. It was replaced in 1962, and that one lasted until 1991 when the bicentennial resurveying team dug it back out of the ground, using old photos to approximate its location.

The team then decided that the best way to preserve the stone was to put it back into the earth, this time protected by a taller pipe that was visible above ground. I have now seen 39 of the 40 stones, or the places where they once stood.

Of course there was another hole in the fence, adjacent to the impound lot. There is nothing to defend there, and it was much easier to walk back across the gravel lot in back of the power plant.

Everything overgrown. No people. A caterpillar tractor is idling. Something is happening here, but it is being conducted by invisible beings.

The car is still there, the tires still on it.

“Do you want to find the Nazis?”

“Hell yes. We won’t be back, and if we do, the land will have changed again.”

“Let’s do it.”

the-hunt-012916

Back to the path, back past the pile of shit. We turn left as we cross into Maryland. The cemetery had been located on the District Line, starting just a few feet in. The survey markings on the old maps indicate the number of feet from the SE 8 Stone, and we plow through the tall grass and find a trail of sorts along the fence.

DC Village is on the other side, and we have been there, part of the story I cannot get to today. Breathing heavily, I nearly fall over a felled tree. Feet disappear in the grass. Brambles and stickers grasp. A white-tail deer bolts from a thick copse, startling us.

Looking up we see the tall tree by the traffic circle- you can see it on your image, but that building is gone, even the wreckage we saw last week in our initial survey. We are at the rusty fence now, and passing the demarcation of the old cemetery boundary. The graves begin here, just on the other side.

There is a hole slashed in the fence. The way is open.

Hell yes.

We crawl through, and stand on the soil above the remains of the nameless.

There are hundreds of them all around us in the earth, unmarked. Trees rise up all around. Bottles and cans and strange pipes litter the ground.

Spooky green and gray and dark.

Thirteen rows, each eight feet. Two and four feet between the heads.

Over-here-012916

“That is where plots #276-281 lie,” I say. We move up the hill. There was a perimeter fence, outside which the Germans were buried under military guard. It is still there, a boundary inside a boundary.

There is another hole gouged in the fence, and at precisely 2:08 on Thursday afternoon, The Blonde climbed through, and is standing next to an empty bottle of Muscatel under a low canopy of brush on top of the earthly remains of Richard Quirin, Nazi Saboteur.

In order, next to him, lie Heinrich Heinck, Herbie Haupt, Edward Quirin, Hermann Nuebauer and Werner Thiel.

We found them.

Now, the question was whether the car would still be there when we got back.

It was, and what a trip. Telling the story at the bar that night, I could not help but let a note of triumph creep into my voice. Not only a District Stone, I said, but six Nazis in one afternoon.

The Colonel looked at me and snorted. The Nazis had killed his grandmother in Europe, and as far he was concerned, they could go fuck themselves.

blonde-012916
(The Blonde stands on Nazi saboteur Richard Quirin’s Grave in the Potters Field at Blue Plains, Washington DC).

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303