28-Apr-2011 -- Whereas I was in Washington DC for a series of meetings on geography education, whereas Joy and I had been working together with other fine colleagues on a chapter for an upcoming book called Practicing Geography, and whereas all three of us worked for organizations that promoted and supported geography at all levels and on an international scale, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect capstone to these few days. Indeed, we felt like we needed to do what the book espouses; namely, to practice geography. And one of the best ways to do that is to get out in the field. Even if the field is a manicured lawn next to an apartment building in suburbia. Every location can have special meaning.
Hence after discussing our chapter today, we departed the headquarters of the Association of American Geographers
and within 45 minutes, in heavy traffic, deftly maneuvered by Greg, we arrived at the Piney Branch apartments. This hallowed ground of centeredness, where many had trod before us, was our goal. I myself had also made a few pilgrimages here, lastly as a result of a fast and furious bicycle ride before-the-sunset just one year before during the AAG conference.
During our voyage today, we did manage to see some of the local cultural geography. This included a man who seems to live at a certain busy intersection and his time is wholly occupied by pushing the crosswalk buttons at the intersection's traffic signals, whether pedestrians are present or not. Sadly, we could not tarry and observe, but fortunately, Greg did manage a red light there, so while we were awaiting green, we could observe the man. Now resuming our trek toward our goal, we sought to arrive before the sun became too low for suitable photographs. We found the Piney Branch Apartments without any problems: My DC colleagues were quite familiar with the area.
We parked at the library to the northwest and had an enjoyable walk for 100 meters to the building where we knew the confluence would lie. Knowing the confluence point actually is on the roof, we eyed the roof longingly upon our approach. We even found a van parked on the street belonging to a roofing company. It would have been the perfect convergence of both situation and geography if the roofing employee had stated, "would you like to climb up on the roof?" Alas, such was today only the stuff of geographic dreams.
As it was, we were able to get within about 11 meters of the point while standing on 39 North latitude, on the west side of the building. However, that was only a prelude to even more excitement. We walked around to the north side of the building and located the 77th Meridian. We were deeply engaged in the confluence dance, and were coming closer and closer to a resident seated on his step there. We had not spoken to him and it was a bit of an awkward moment, but we waved in a friendly way. At 7 meters, we called it "good" and it was indeed even closer while on this longitude line than standing on the latitude line. Thus, this was my most successful visit to this site yet, thanks to the tenacity and sheer determination of my colleagues. I am sure that they will not look at this apartment complex exactly the same in the future.
We spent about 25 minutes in total at the apartment complex. The temperature was approximately 79 F (27 C) under light winds and clear skies. It was quite warm for the end of April. I had been to 39 North on numerous occasions, from California on the west to Maryland on the east, and to 77 West several times as well, from New York on the north to Virginia on the south. We saw several human residents of all ages at the point as well as a few birds and chipmunks. Apparently it was the first confluence trek for my colleagues, although they are steeped in geographic methods, research, and fieldwork on a daily basis. I felt honored to be with them on their first confluence visit.
At the conclusion of our successful visit, I proceeded to get quite choked up and could barely talk. I would have liked to say that this was due to my being caught up in the implications, ramifications, and emotions of the Blessed Centered Moment, but Joy had the more likely explanation--that the little bits of green debris that were all over the ground from the oak trees was causing a respiratory allergic reaction.
I did manage to barely pull myself together for the best part of our excursion: Joy was secretly hoping that the confluence would actually be in the large dumpster at the north end of the apartment complex. However, it was not meant to be. Yet to appease her sense of geo-adventure, on our way out, we snapped a few photographs at the "dumpster that could have been." One of the most fascinating items sitting there was a big plasma TV along with some couches. We departed the site and drove to the east, where my colleagues deposited me at the Silver Spring metro (mass transit) stop.
This visit was indeed a grand start to our series of meetings on geography education over the next few days. Get out there and explore the Earth.