A mile or so in one direction stands the Capitol; in another, the White House. And on the Southwest Waterfront there is habitat. This habitat is far from pristine. The Army’s Fort McNair was founded in 1791, and to its north lies the Gangplank Marina, whose live-aboards once included Duke Cunningham. The Maine Avenue Fish Market, the city’s most reliably diverse meeting place, opened in 1805.
In this habitat I am a prey animal. As lighting and property values fall away from the water, I avoid some streets and parks after sunset to reduce my risks. I am still sure to feed mosquitoes.
My dog is both predator and prey. In summer she intercepts soft-shell cicadas as they emerge from the ground. Across an onramp from the Federal Communications Commission, on what I’ve come to call the Mousy Knoll, she stalks and pounces in high grass and weeds, speckling her black coat with pale seeds and tangling herself in morning glory vines.
At the Tidal Basin she turns wary, stiffening her posture, flattening her tail against her haunches and kinking it into an inverted question mark. The way she sniffs the ground and the air—and sometimes odd-looking scat—suggest that coyotes have drifted down from Rock Creek Park.
Most of this habitat is indifferent to us. One fingerling is snatched from the Potomac and lifted up by an osprey. A cormorant wrestles another down its throat. Like herons on the piers and turtles sunning themselves on logs, they have seniority as local residents, and as species.
At Buzzard Point, where the Anacostia River meets the Potomac, geese unhabituated to humans swim and fly in undisturbed formations.
This land, now taken up by parking lots, is being eyed for “development,” our default term for undoing whatever living systems have emerged since the land was last disturbed. The face of those systems might be a groundhog whose burrow abuts the southernmost parking lot. Its species is hardly endangered, but for this individual things could go hard.