By Caroline Izzi
Nobody knows that I drove to Sandy Point at 6 a.m. to watch the sunrise. This was a last minute plan that had popped into my head the night before due to the overwhelmingness of deadlines and emotions. One time I decided to wander the National Mall and stare at the aesthetics of the architecture. Most often, I climb to the railroad tracks by my house where I lie flat on my back to gaze at the sky.
For all of these trips I went by myself. Being alone does not mean you are lonely. To me, an unaccompanied experience is just that—a solo experience. When I tell people that I venture by myself their faces show confusion. Who would opt for an individual trip instead of going with friends? I choose to roam on my own so that I can hear my thoughts. In the world, I look for escapes from my problems. As much as I would like to jet over to Europe for a week of relaxation, I’m a broke college student, so I hunt for inexpensive escapes from my problems.
Maryland, often called “America in Miniature,” delivers a multifaceted environment. Everyone can find an activity to revel in. I pick intimate places to unfurl myself. Recently, I was wandering through Patapsco State Park, a local region, in my backyard, that I’ve never explored but always kept on my radar. I pick my places based on pictures—how uninhabited or peaceful the area seems. What weighed on my mind was time. Living in the moment has always been one of my greatest challenges because I think about the future and the past.
Finding a healthy outlet for stress is why I explore alone. I have to get lost in the world to get lost in my thoughts. Sometimes I stare blankly into oblivion without any care for my lack of presence in the world. Surprisingly, I brought along my lively friend Yazzy, who needed pictures for photo class. Although vivacious, she has a warm quality to her that I find comforting.
Once we got off the highway and drove about a mile, we saw a brown sign for the State park. It was like we entered a different world—surrounded by elongated trees and mystery. The drive would have been more relaxing if the car behind me wasn’t driving on my tail. We’re in this serene place but you’re driving with all this angst? Upon arriving at the gatehouse three cars were in front of us. Yazzy and I were splitting the cost of admission, which seemed to confuse the park ranger in the booth because it took her a good minute to return our change. There was a message on one of the stop signs that mentioned an honor policy. I didn’t see one of those cameras that capture the license plates of trespassers who don’t pay. How refreshing to see that some places still operate this way.
The well known Thomas Viaduct bridge came into view after passing through the gatehouse. I recognized this bridge because the park website used it like Washington, D.C. uses the Washington Monument. The tall arcs were geometrically pleasing and I thought about how pretty it would look on my Instagram feed. On the right was a parking lot with only six or seven cars. We gathered our cameras and maps and jackets and stepped onto the lot covered in brown leaves. A colorful playground was in front of us where a few children were chasing each other around in circles. To the side of it was an outhouse with flyers posted in a glass case. The same pink map we got at the gatehouse was in the corner on display. It looked just as confusing blown up as it did in our hands. Due to our inability to interpret the map, Yazzy and I decided to just start walking. A river, low and greenish in color, started to become visible. A woman with a walking stick got close to the water’s edge. She looked like a hiking veteran with her backpack and binoculars. I wish I had the stamina to trek frequently.
We only walked for a minute until we decided we wanted to find the Swinging Bridge. The map’s foreign language did not aid in our discovery of the bridge. Surprisingly, my phone reception was excellent and I pulled it up in Google Maps—47 minutes walking or 7 minutes driving. With one look at each other we marched toward the car.
Immediately, I was elated that we decided to drive because the road never seemed to end. The road was wide and nicely paved. After a solid five minute drive we saw a hanging metal walkway. Another bathroom station with the same flyers was on the left. Up ahead was a one way parking lot. With no luck of finding a spot, we spun around the loop again to wait for someone to leave. We replaced a jogging couple who looked like they just got back from an INSANITY workout.
Picnic tables and a pavilion were occupied by different groups of people. Hung on the pavilion was a sign for a chiropractor company, but the sign was not what caught my attention. Deep singing in a foreign language echoed throughout the park. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but it sounded like people were performing an exorcism. I walked up to the pavilion to see if people were singing and found nothing. My face must have looked confused because a woman gave me a look as if to say she shared in my disturbance of the unfamiliar noise. The middle aged woman had bright blonde hair and looked like a typical mom to me. She wore bootcut jeans and black sweater with an orange floral pattern growing all over it. The picnic tables were on the left and the pavilion on the right. In between was a walkway down to the river, which is where I found the source of the noise.
The stairs were extremely steep to where I could see myself falling if I didn’t actively pay attention to where I was putting my feet. A group of ethnic people were singing to the river. Ten men and women were dressed in church attire. Children, whose energy needed to be burned out on a playground, played on the steps. I stood in the middle of the steps and observed. The children stared at me like I was an alien. Within the group of singers was an orange tent. I couldn’t see inside but my first thought was that there was a dead body inside and they were about to send it off into the river. I thought to myself…perhaps I should not be witnessing this. I could already see the headline on the evening news.
The same floral woman from before was leaning up against the pavilion starring intently at the group. I approached her and asked if she knew what to make of this strange scene.
“Some young little lady in a white dress got out of the tent and dipped into the water then back to the tent. She was alive at some point.”
“A baptism?” I inquired.
“That’s what we were thinking. Shame those children were dragged along to this thing that they don’t give a damn about.”
I asked the woman what brought her to the park, and she explained that it was a work celebration. The chiropractor company she worked for had been in business 27 years. What place is more commemorative than a park…
Finally the singing stopped and the tent was being taken down. This was an excellent time to investigate what just happened. Two women in their late sixties were watching the men take down the tent. I approached and asked the conspicuous question. From this conversation I learned that it was a Spanish evangelistic church performing a baptism. Congregation members gathered to hear a sermon and sing hymns.
I wouldn’t say I grew up in a “religious home” because whenever I hear that I think of intense practice. But, I was raised to go to church every Sunday and be involved at least two other days a week—Awana, Wednesday Night Dinner, praise band—and I truly enjoyed participating. People seemed more invested in me which made me more invested in church. I feel like I’ve strayed so far from my religion and my fire isn’t as ignited as it was five years ago.
Fifty feet away from the pavilion was the Swinging Bridge. We wandered on along with other people who were coming and going. Of course, another photo shoot had to take place, so we whipped out our cameras. It was hard to get a picture where people weren’t in the background. A swinging bridge over top of a low rise river—it proved its name. Two teenage girls, a blonde and a brunette, walked onto the bridge with a camera. The blonde swung her legs over the edge while the brunette snapped pictures. On the other side of us was a couple taking what looked like engagement photos. Their photographer looked like a professional as she had fancy overhead lighting and a large camera that looked extremely heavy.
I love photography. It’s a way to capture a moment and have it forever. When I’m 80 years old, I hope to pull out a box from under my bed filled with photos of my wedding and my college days. One blog I read wrote that photography helps you see the beauty in the everyday in the most ordinary or unexpected places. Experimenting with different subjects, lighting, angles and colors is my creative outlet.
The “downside” of photography, for me, is that your face is behind a lens instead of out in the open. Sometimes we are so worried with taking the perfect picture of documenting the event that we don’t just live in the moment. My friends always joke “did the thing really happen if you didn’t put it on Instagram?” I suppose it’s all about finding a healthy balance. Photos can produce every emotion, and I use it as my therapy.
Savage Mill is a little gem tucked away in North Laurel. Charm and character hit me right as I arrived, with the wooden doors and unique decorations. The first thing I noticed was the Terrapin Adventures rope course strung throughout the trees that lined the parking lot. No one was climbing. There weren’t really people anywhere, actually, which surprised me because it was a Friday.
I walked in and was overwhelmed by the amount of wood—floors, walls, displays, ceiling. It was a split level layout so I circled around the top before making my way down.
The first shop that caught my attention was called Gallery Imports. Eccentric pieces from Africa were displayed on the ground, walls and ceiling. Each item looked intricately designed in terms of shape, color and pattern. Most of the colors were brown or black with an occasional splash of color. Again, no one else was around except the cashier. I hadn’t talked to anyone yet on this trip, so I approached her—an older lady with dark skin who was wearing a Cleveland Indians sweatshirt.
“You from Cleveland?” I ask.
She looked down at her shirt and laughed, “Born and raised.”
“My mom grew up in Shaker Heights Cleveland area.”
“Darling, I was your mothers neighbor.”
I asked her how she started working at an African decor store and in Maryland of all places. She lived in Africa for 13 years! The Foreign Service placed her and her husband throughout the continent—7 different African countries. “Africa is and always will be a part of me.” This was the most lively conversation I had as all the other shops looked deserted.
So many stores were locked up. Signs that read “Space For Rent” hung behind the metal bars. Nothing caught my attention so I made my way down the stairs. No background music was playing in the hall. It was so low key that it could have looked like it was going out of business. Maybe this is why so many stores had vacated the area. Charity’s Closet caught my attention because of the pink and black aesthetic. A saleswoman greeted me and gave her spiel about the money going to charity. Overall, I was impressed by how much the thrift store created a classy boutique vibe—chandelier wallpaper, hands on salespeople. A passageway between the shelves of shoes led into the room next door, Phil’s Closet.
My favorite store in the entire Mill was ArtCraft. As the brochure read, “It offers the most contemporary and unusual gifts.” Now, you must be a fantastic friend if you’re willing to spend $50+ on a gift. I was flabbergasted by the numbers on the price tags.
The wood hall, as I call it, was connected to an even older building. The first store that caught my attention was a bridal boutique. Grand white and off-white dresses were on display through full length glass. An asian woman, probably the employee, was sitting in a gray tufted chair under the store’s dark wood door. Immediately I drifted into my imagination about what my wedding will entail. Large or small? Color scheme? Indoor or outdoor? How old will I be when I marry?
Speaking of weddings…literally right in front of me was a wedding rehearsal in The Great Room. Everyone was dressed in plain clothing as they were practicing their exits. I leaned against a railing, off to the left, and observed the event planner redirect everyone’s positions. A few minutes later she dismissed everyone and stayed behind to write notes on her clipboard. She looked at me with a stressed but friendly face and shared that this was her first wedding she’d managed alone.
“You sit in a classroom for hours learning about budget management and visual design, but it’s totally different when you’re live and really doing it,” she said. I explained that I’m in an event planning class, currently organizing a charity event, and that it’s quite tedious to piece together the details. I went into college thinking I wanted to be an event planner where I would create grandiose parties. But, I’ve discovered that this is not what I want to do full time. The amount of coordination involved is an arduous task which I do not wish to undertake as a career.
Traveling makes you realize there is so much in the world that is beyond yourself. We are a minuscule dot on this planet. Some of our greatest escapes are in our own backyard. I take pleasure in meditating as I explore what is so close to me. There is so much to learn from our surrounding area. Often we look for answers in unusual places when it was actually below our noses the entire time. I don’t need to go to far to ponder the meaning of life or talk myself through a rough day. Who has the time to do all that.