Freddie Lundy had just finished a guided tour of his damp, quiet domain on the east bank of the Anacostia lilies.
He had pointed out the first flowering water lilies of the year, which will bloom for the rest of the summer in greater and greater abundance as the water warms.
Lundy has worked at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens for 30 years. He knows the 11 acres of reclaimed marshland so well that he forgets some of the highlights along the way.
When a visitor asked about the bird life, he made a quick backtracks. Redwing blackbirds, mourning doves and wild ducks were fine, but he'd forgotten something special.
He walked about 20 paces from the grant willow oak that shades his often. He stopped at a stand of some tall trees.
"There," he said. "Look up at the top off to the left a little bit."
Perched high in the topmost branches was an errie sight. It was a great horned owl, a rare sight even to those who spend a great deal of time in the woods.
The bird was two feet tall, at least, tacked up in daytime repose. It was staring down with huge, baleful yellow eyes. It never blinked, never took its eyes off the interlopers.
Later, as the sun went down, it would swoop from its perch and feast on the zillions of green frogs, bull-frogs, toads, muskrats, mice and snakes that also call this oasis in Anacostia home.
Kenilworth Gardens, started in the 1920s as the hobby of a Civil War verteran, now stands as the National Park Service's acknowledgement of the mosterious world of water lilies and lotuses, inhabitants of marshland turned by man.
The park boasts hundreds of varieties of lilies and lotuses and forms of wildlife the city dweller might never otherwise see.
It is one of a number of largely unused, close-in parks and public lands where urban folk can get away from it all without using up an entire week-end and a week's pay in the car.
Now that the portentous news of gas station closings and fuel shortages is upon us again, here are some suggestions for nearby wilderness experiences.
The Aquatic Gardens, off Kenilworth Avenue near Eastern Avenue, is a 15-minute drive from downtown. The garden are open from about 7 a.m. until dark, but the best hours are morning, when the lilies and lotuses are still blooming. They fold shut in the summer heat.
There are picnic tables and naturalist-guided tours on the weekend and holidays. No admission charge.
Directly across the Anacosta River lies the National Arboretum, a fabulous 444-acre park that is rarely used to capacity.
The height of the season at the arboretum is azalea time, which is just coming to a close this weekend. The park has banked hillsides covered with the delicate flowers; the view from the bottom can be breathtaking.
Also in bloom now are dogwoods, tree peonies, rhododendrons and wild flowers. There is a rhododendrom show at the administration building this weekend.
The arboretum is tree and open 8-5 weekdays and 10-5 weekends. It is off New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road. NE., about 45 minutes from downtown by car.
For those who like camping in the rough, there is a wilderness campsite on the banks of the Potomac just above Cabin John, Md. It's called the Marsden Tract and offers level grassy campsites in the woods near the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Brickyard Road.
Permits are required to camp at Marsden Tract. They are available at the tavern at the Maryland Great Falls Park, which isn't a bad place to spend the day, either.
The Potomac also offers wonderful hiking ground for folks looking for level, scenic route close by. The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin has just come out within set of strip maps showing the Potomac from Georgetown to Antietam Creek, with markers for all recreational outlets.
Map Two of the series shows the section from Pennyfield Lock, below Seneca, Md., to the mouth of Goose Creek.Along this stretch is a lovely hiker-biker trail and at least one great campsite. I discovered it one day while hunting at McKee-Beshers wild-life management area, and wished for awhile I'd brought a tent and fishing rod instead of a shotgun.
The start of the trail is at Violets Lock, off River Road, about a 40-minute drive from Washington.
Most fishermen know about Fletcher's Landing in D.C. proper which is a fine place to spend a day on the river. Less known and less used is Riverbend Park, off Rto, 193 just north of Great Falls in Virginia. This is a wild stretch of river with fast and slow water, ofterning smallmouth bass and channel catfish in the fast stretches and largemouth bass in the slow stretches.
Boats are available to rent
For hike-in smallmouth fishing try. Difficulties Run, also on Rte, 193 but about three miles below Great Falls, [LINE ILLEGIBLE]
Mark in a clearing right next to the Rte, 193 crossing over the stream.
Walk the mile-long trail down to the river. Don't be alarmed it, along the way, you come across naked swimmers. This is the skinny-dipping capital of the Potomac.
Where Difficult Run meets in river there is excellent smallmouth fishing, particularly for those who bring live minnows for bait.
For novice canoeists, the good news is that the Park Service finally has dammed up the barren stretch of the C&O Canal from Georgetown port so the canal is full again.
It was emptied some months back for maintenace work. Now that the water is back in, flat-water paddlers can again rent canoes at Fletcher's Landing and Swain's Lock.
The Canoe Cruisers Association will begin its free beginners canceing lessons at these two sites this week. The lessons continue all summer.
Free courses are 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesdays at Fletcher's and Thursdays at Swain's Lock.
Fletcher's is at Canal Road and Reservior Road in Washington, Swam's is at Swam's Lock Road, two miles beyond Potomac on River Road.