Stranger than Fiction

A pic of the columns in the National Arboretum. Someone else took this picture.

Everyone had their cameras out, snapping pictures of the columns against a blue sky on a late fall day. One guy stood in the tall grass, like a wildlife photographer trying to capture the lion on her hunt. A group had a big white umbrella to reflect most beautifully on their glamour shot. Don’t anyone tell them that to include the stately columns in the shot, nobody will be able to see her face. The guy with the camera wasn’t that good.

There were the folks with their phones. Some standing on the base of the columns. Others hugging significant others, a pair of cheesy grins. The one lady who kept backing up and backing up and backing up until she fell in a hole. She recovered before she hit the dirt. The parents broadcasting their kids on Facebook live–their kids racing around, jumping from one tile to the next, tagging each other and barely avoiding the couple sitting on the ledge of the cistern having an intense discussion about the failures of the Clinton campaign. He was earnestly trying to get her to care.

The Park Service had drained the fountain for the winter so there was no reflecting pool in the foreground. There were some crunchy leaves stuck to the bottom of the reservoir and some very sketchy looking liquid that The Beast lapped up before he could be pulled away. For those of you tracking, we discovered later that it didn’t sit so well with him. That’s all I’ll say about that.

When we first came to the arboretum, the columns were laid out on their sides, scattered across the top of the hill. From the road, it looked like the abandoned rejects from a rook factory. The hill was mushy and the columns sunk a bit.

Over the years we watched them stand upright. We came back once to see the foundation for fountains. There was a dirt path but mostly you’d walk across the mucky meadow to get to your personal interaction with the columns. Later, they built the winding paver paths and planted grasses and wildflowers. I can hardly remember when it was a ruin. Now people have wedding shoots there without fear that the bride’s white high heels will sink slowly into the mud.

We circled around the outside loop and stepped along the path to the back of the sculpture. There was a nice couple–funny how we call strangers a nice couple–him with an arboretum brochure folded, almost crumpled up in his hand. We walked past them as they were straining to see the tops of the twenty-two columns. Maybe the guy was counting them. She found The Beast entrancing and remarked on his very good looks.

That’s how it started. An exchange of pleasantries about the dog and then some remarks about the remarkable columns. The visitors were a little unsure about them, but The Spouse, with the authority of an arboretum historian, explained that they were actually ruins from the burning of the Capitol during the War of 1812. Wow, was all we could say. They were that old.

Except if the guy looked in his damn pamphlet, he’d see that they weren’t built until 1828 and were a key feature of the Lincoln inauguration. Oops.

“You really had me going there.”

“I had myself going there. It was a good story, no?”

Yes, it was. And hopefully the nice couple either read the inscription in the stone at the base of the columns or shared the incorrect information with others. The latter would be funny. Or maybe they had read the crumpled paper already. They were nice, so would likely not have corrected The Spouse. That is kind of funny, too.

“You know, it was as if you really knew.”

“I really did.”

Cool story, bro. Sheesh.