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August 4th, 2012
09:23 AM ET

Letters to the President #1293: 'A riverside mystery'

Reporter's Note: President Obama’s home is only about eight miles from my own. And yet he never stops by, despite all these letters. Or maybe, because of them.

Dear Mr. President,

I’ve been thinking all day about a peculiar discovery during my run this morning. I set out to go a little over six miles at dawn. The morning was cool, if a touch clammy, and I was feeling good as I wound along. My course today took me on a paved bike path up a gentle incline for the first couple of miles, then through a nice neighborhood where a lot of kayakers live, and then down to the Canal Path I’ve mentioned to you before. It’s basically a nice dirt road with no cars that follows an old canal, all of which parallel the Potomac River.

A mile or so after I hit that part, I was surprised to see a plastic bag filled with trash right in the middle of the path. The bag was the type you might get at a convenience store, and it was overflowing with empty cigarette packs, soda bottles, food wrappers, and on top was a piece of paper with writing. I was surprised, because people rarely litter much on the trail, and I have almost never seen such a large mess in such a prominent location. I assumed it had to be either accidentally dropped by a fisherman or tossed by the teenagers who sometimes hang out down there after hours.

Either way, the area is utterly devoid of trash cans and I had no idea where I would put the stuff if I picked it up, so I dodged around it and had faith that one of the canal maintenance crews which I see now and then would snag it when they came through. Then about a hundred yards farther on, I came upon a pullover shirt also dropped in the middle of the trail; then a pair of basketball style shorts, some socks, and a knee brace.

Proximity united the items, and piqued by curiosity, I circled back to the bag to see what that piece of paper with the writing said. Turns out, it was a rambling, profanity laced tirade against…well, I guess everything. It was not specific. The author was just fed up with life itself, and without seemingly overly alarmist, I would say it appeared to be a suicide note. I left it where it was and returned to the clothing to search the nearest trails down to the river. I was not sure what I was looking for, although a very despondent soul or maybe a body were on my list. I plundered around for five or six minutes and discovered nothing. No sign that anyone had rattled around there in the dark, or slipped into the river.

I left the things where they were, returned to my run, and later called the U.S. Park Police to tell them about it. “I don’t know if it is anything at all,” I said. “Maybe just a serial litterer. But I thought you should know just in case someone turns up missing.” The officer on the phone was very polite and professional and said they’d check it out.

My bet is that I’ll never know what that was all about, but it has made me ponder as I sometimes do all the lonely, hurt, angry, or maybe even sick people who are out in our world, wandering in the nigh, feeling like every path leads nowhere.

Regards,
Tom