west virginia: the almost-ghost town of thurmond

Saturday, November 5: During our fantastic communal breakfast prepared by Bernie at The Historic Morris Harvey House, we meet several couples who are either traveling through or staying in West Virginia for the weekend.  We keep our conversation light and carefully avoid discussing the upcoming election, which is sure to cause disagreement. West Virginia is definitely Republican territory, and we’ve seen many signs for Trump-Pence in people’s yards.

We have a lot planned for today, and though the weather forecast calls for sunshine and temperatures in the low 60s, it is quite foggy this morning.  I’m never happy about fog, but I guess it does lend an appropriately eerie atmosphere to our first destination, the almost-deserted town of Thurmond.

We enter the town on the one lane bridge adjoining the railroad bridge, which crosses the New River.  The town, nearly deserted now, is preserved by the National Park Service, but in its day it boasted opera houses, two banks, two hotels, saloons, restaurants, clothing stores, a jewelry store, a movie theater, several dry-goods stores, business offices, and over 400 residents.  As of the 2010 census, only five people lived in the town.

CSX railroad line bridge over the New River
CSX railroad line bridge over the New River

According to the National Park Service website: During the first two decades of the 1900s, Thurmond was a classic boomtown. With the huge amounts of coal brought in from area mines, it had the largest revenue on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. Having many coal barons among its patrons, Thurmond’s banks were the richest in the state. Fifteen passenger trains a day came through town — its depot serving as many as 95,000 passengers a year. The town’s stores and saloons did a remarkable business, and its hotels and boarding houses were constantly overflowing.

The 1987 movie Matewan was filed here, depicting miners’ struggles in the early 1900s.

The two-story Thurmond Depot was built in 1904 after the original station was destroyed by fire.  The upper level housed the signal tower and the offices of the dispatcher, train master, and conductor.  The lower level served travelers coming and going from Thurmond.  The ticket agent’s office, baggage room, waiting rooms, restrooms and a snack/news room were at track level.

In 1995, the building was restored by the National Park Service for use as a visitor center.  Sadly, it isn’t open this morning, making the place really feel like a ghost town.

Thurmond Passenger Depot
Thurmond Passenger Depot

We walk along the railroad tracks despite the warning in the Park Service brochure to “use extra caution when crossing the road and the railroad line” and to “Cross only at the designated railroad crossing and do not walk on the track line.”  The track is still a CSX mainline, with over a dozen trains passing through Thurmond daily.  We’re lucky enough to have one come through while we’re here, but we’re not on the track at that time!

We come first to the U.S. Post Office building.  In its prior life, it was a commissary built by Fitzgerald & Company to provide supplies to the hundreds of railroad workers in Thurmond in 1929.  When fire destroyed the Lafayette Hotel and the town post office, this building became the Post Office.  In the late 1900s, it housed the last business in Thurmond — Thurmond Supply.

Commissary turned Post Office
Commissary turned Post Office
CSX Railroad line
CSX Railroad line
U.S. Post Office
U.S. Post Office

There isn’t much happening in the town this morning, but we do see festive signs of Halloween in front of the post office.

We approach the Mankin-Cox Building, which marks the southern end of the commercial district.  Built in 1904, this building is the oldest in the district.  The Mankin Drug Company was on the right side and the New River Banking & Trust Co. was on the left.

Welcome to Thurmond
Welcome to Thurmond
Mike on the CSX Railroad line
Mike on the CSX Railroad line

There are hundreds of engraved paving stones in the walkway that commemorate the happenings in Thurmond.  You can see a few of them below.  Click on any of the photos for a full-sized slide show.

We see a wooden house set on a hillside above the commercial district.  I’m not sure if it’s inhabited today.

a house on the edge
a house on the edge
The Mankin-Cox Building
The Mankin-Cox Building
New River Banking & Trust Co.
New River Banking & Trust Co.
New River Banking & Trust Co.
New River Banking & Trust Co.

We continue our short walk past the commercial district and find the tall coaling tower.  Tracks ran underneath the coaling station to allow as much as 500 tons of coal to drop via chutes into the coal tenders of the engines.  The tower was abandoned by CSX in 1960.

the railroad tracks
the railroad tracks
Storage shed
Storage shed

While we’re at the far end of the town, we feel the earth reverberate under our feet and hear a rumble in the distance.  Before long, a CSX train roars through the town, reminding us of the lost spirit of the town.

a train roars through
a train roars through
the train
the train
Mike and the train
Mike and the train
me and the train
me and the train
the train
the train

We come upon the Fatty Lipscomb House, built around 1900 and used as a boarding house.  For a number of years the Littlepage family lived on the first floor and rented the second.  At least through 1984, it was used as a guesthouse for whitewater rafters.

Fatty Lipscomb House
Fatty Lipscomb House
stairs to the Fatty Lipscomb House
stairs to the Fatty Lipscomb House

The James Humphrey Jr. house was built around 1920 and was said to have been the train master’s house, according to a U.S. Department of the Interior National Register of Historic Places.

We make our way back to the Depot, getting a view from across the tracks, climbing to the second level, and then checking it out from the railroad bridge.

Thurmond Passenger Depot
Thurmond Passenger Depot
Thurmond Passenger Depot
Thurmond Passenger Depot
Thurmond Passenger Depot from the railroad bridge
Thurmond Passenger Depot from the railroad bridge
The New River
The New River
Conductor's Office
Conductor’s Office
Railroad bridge over the New River
Railroad bridge over the New River

With the Great Depression, several businesses in Thurmond closed, including the National Bank of Thurmond.  The town’s economic vitality waned after two large fires wiped out several major businesses.  In addition, roads improved and Americans began to favor automobile travel. The C&O Railway changed from steam to diesel locomotives in the 1940s, leaving many of the rail yard structures and jobs obsolete.  The town is still incorporated and hosts a reunion for former residents each year, according to a National Park Service pamphlet, “Thurmond: Heart of the New River Gorge.”

We make our way down Route 25 for 7 miles, where we catch glimpses of a stream feeding the New River, along with a pretty series of waterfalls.

stream feeding into the New River
stream feeding into the New River
Waterfall
Waterfall
waterfall
waterfall
a waterfall along the way
a waterfall along the way
waterfall
waterfall

We return to the town of Glen Jean, scattered with a few stately buildings.

stately building
stately building

For thirty years, from 1909-1939, the Bank of Glen Jean provided financial power for the mines, towns and people along Dunloup Creek.  The McKell family provided the land on which the bank stands and William McKell served as the bank’s president for its entire existence.  When William McKell died, the bank closed.  During the next 50 years, the building changed hands ten times.  In 1986, The Nature Conservancy purchased the bank and donated it to the New River Gorge National River to be preserved as a visitor center and park offices.

Bank of Glen Jean
Bank of Glen Jean

Our next destination is Babcock State Park on the east side of the New River.  Since we’re on the west side of the river and have to pass through Fayetteville to cross the New River Gorge Bridge, we stop for lunch at the Secret Sandwich Society.  Here, we share a Truman sandwich: Turkey, peach jam, blue cheese spread, and crispy onions on a toasted baguette.  We order a side of pimento cheese fries.

The Truman Sandwich and Pimiento Cheese Fries at the Secret Sandwich Society
The Truman Sandwich and pimento Cheese Fries at the Secret Sandwich Society

Now the sun has broken through the fog, and we’re on our way to Babcock State Park.

west virginia: the new river gorge bridge & fayetteville

Friday, November 4:  It takes us a good long while to get to the New River in West Virginia after leaving the Skyline Drive. We finally arrive at 4:00, just in time to get a glimpse of the river and the New River Gorge Bridge and to take a long winding drive down to the river bed and then climb back up on the other side.  It’s a good thing daylight savings time doesn’t begin until Sunday morning.  Otherwise it would be dark by 5:00.

The New River is about 360 mi (515 km) long. The river flows through the U.S. states of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia before joining with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River at the town of Gauley Bridge, WV.  We’ll plan to visit the point where these two rivers meet when we drive back home on Sunday.

Despite its name, the New River is considered by some geologists to be one of the oldest rivers in the world (Wikipedia: New River (Kanawha River)), even older than the Appalachian mountains through which it flows.  Local legend claims only the Nile is older.

The New River Gorge
The New River Gorge

As it flows through West Virginia, most of the New River is designated as the New River Gorge National River. It is one of our country’s American Heritage Rivers, designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to receive special attention in furthering three objectives: natural resource and environmental protection, economic revitalization, and historic and cultural preservation (Wikipedia: American Heritage Rivers).

The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge

The New River Gorge Bridge, completed in October of 1977, reduced a 40-minute drive down narrow mountain roads and across one of North America’s oldest rivers to less than a minute. According to the U.S. Park Service website, it is “the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and the third highest in the United States.” A sign at the overlook says it is “the world’s longest single-arch steel span bridge.  At 876 feet above the river, it is America’s 2nd-highest bridge.”  I think the sign’s information is outdated.

The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge

Though the tree-covered slopes look the same from top to bottom, they actually vary with slope, moisture and soil type.  The river bottom, a water habitat, nourishes water-loving plants and animals.  The gorge’s slopes, steep and well-drained, support a mixed deciduous (leaf-dropping) forest.  Secluded shaded side-drainages harbor patches of hemlock-rhododendron.  Evergreens eke out a living from the dry rocky soil on the ridge-tops.  On the flat plateau, a deciduous oak-hickory forest thrives on stable soil.

The New River Gorge
The New River Gorge

The steel used in the bridge is Cor-ten steel, which rusts slightly on the surface.  This surface-rust inhibits deeper rust, protecting the steel and eliminating the need to paint.  It also provides the color which darkens with time.

under The New River Gorge Bridge
under The New River Gorge Bridge
silhouettes
silhouettes
a rock for climbing near the New River Gorge
a rock for climbing near the New River Gorge
climbing rock
climbing rock
silhouette of The New River Gorge Bridge
silhouette of The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge

On the third Saturday of October, the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce hosts “Bridge Day.” On this one day a year, the famous bridge is open to pedestrians.  Thousands of people are drawn to participate in a wide variety of activities, including food and crafts vendors, BASE jumping, rappelling, and music. Bridge Day is West Virginia’s largest one-day festival, and it is the largest extreme sports event in the world.

We follow a one-way winding road from the visitor center down to the river bottom, where we cross over a small bridge.  Mike has fun being Mike.  We get a good view of the big bridge from the little bridge, and then we head up the other side of the gorge.

The New River is odd in that it flows north; this doesn’t usually happen in the American east.

The New River’s shape and form are also odd.  It has great bends that cut deeply into the earth, unusual in eastern North America where meandering rivers are normally broad and flat. Here, the New River slices through ten million years of rock layers.

The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge

As we climb up the road into Fayetteville, we pass a stream with some small waterfalls.

a smallish waterfall on the drive up
a smallish waterfall on the drive up

Finally, we arrive at The Historic Morris Harvey House Bed & Breakfast, our home for the next two nights.  The house was completed in 1902 for Morris and Rosa Harvey. This 3-story, 14-room Queen Anne-style house has five guest areas, seven fireplaces and two antique bathrooms with clawfoot tubs.

After the death of Morris Harvey, the house stayed in the Harvey family until 1931. From 1931 to 1953, it served as the parsonage for Methodist ministers. For the next 40 years, there were various owners.

The Historic Morris Harvey House
The Historic Morris Harvey House

In 1993, the owners Elizabeth Bush and her husband George Soros renovated the house extensively, including replacing the seven original oak fireplaces with Italian tile. Since 1994, the house has served as a bed and breakfast inn. The inn is currently owned by Bernie J. Kania Jr. and his family.

The Morris Harvey House has been placed on the Register of Historic Places by the Department of Interior and has appeared in numerous newspaper and magazine articles, including the book “Historic Inns of West Virginia,” according to the B&B’s website.

The Historic Morris Harvey House
The Historic Morris Harvey House

I’m not sure if the character on the front porch is a prisoner or an elf.

a strange character on the front porch of The Historic Morris Harvey House
a strange character on the front porch of The Historic Morris Harvey House

The gardens are quite beautiful.

garden at The Historic Morris Harvey House
garden at The Historic Morris Harvey House

And a little frog welcomes us into the house.

Welcome to The Historic Morris Harvey House
Welcome to The Historic Morris Harvey House

The Harvey Room, where we stay, has a toilet but no bath; we have to share the bath with one other room.  It seems to have a peacock motif.  I love the Italian tiles on the fireplace.

We take a bottle of wine down to the sitting room and enjoy our wine with some crackers and cheese that Mike thought to bring along.  Again, I love the tiles on the fireplace, along with the chess board.

I play around with the camera awhile, trying to get a decent picture of the chess pieces.

chess board
chess board

We find this interesting little book on the coffee table.

Strange Dreams
Strange Dreams

I like the thoughts in this little book, many of which I can apply to specific situations in my life now.

After we drink our wine, we head out to have dinner at Pies and Pints.  Though there are other restaurants in town, it’s clear this is the only game in town.  It’s packed.  We choose to sit at the bar rather than wait 20-30 minutes for a table.  We order a Spinach Salad (Spinach, red onions, Gorgonzola, red grapes & sunflower seeds, tossed in-house vinaigrette or creamy Gorgonzola) and a Mushroom Garlic Specialty Pie (Roasted mushrooms, feta, roasted & fresh garlic, caramelized onions, olive oil & fresh herbs).  I have a Blue Moon and Mike an Ayinger Beer.

As we sit at the bar, we strike up a conversation with an Arapaho guy, Jeremiah, around 40, who works with the National Park Service and is from New Mexico. His family is in Standing Rock and he wishes he could be there with them. He is also of Two Spirits, as Native Americans recognize seven genders. What an amazing guy and I’m so happy to have met him.

Here it is, the weekend before our election, and all I can think is that I love America’s diversity and can’t understand why people want to destroy what makes America great!

an anniversary trip to west virginia: the skyline drive of shenandoah national park

Friday, November 4:  We’re on our way this morning to Fayetteville, West Virginia to get away for a three-day weekend before the U.S. election on Tuesday.  It’s a trip to celebrate my birthday (Oct. 25), belatedly, and our 28th anniversary (Nov. 13), early. We decide on our way down south, we’ll drive a portion of Skyline Drive from Front Royal to Thornton Gap.

The view from Skyline Drive
The view from Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive is the scenic roadway that winds 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia just west of Washington, D.C.  There are only four entrances to the park; we take the northernmost one, getting off at the next one south.  We have a long way to go to get to our destination in West Virginia, but we want to see some of the fall colors.  Thus we take the slower route for about 28 miles.

Skyline Drive views
Skyline Drive views

We’re so glad we do because it’s a gorgeous day and we’re rewarded with some marvelous vistas.

the valley from Skyline Drive
the valley from Skyline Drive
dappled valley
dappled valley

Forty percent of the park (almost 80,000 acres) is designated as a wilderness area; it represents one of the largest wilderness areas in the eastern United States and has about 500 miles of hiking trails, according to Shenandoah National Park – Skyline Drive: What to See.

autumn colors
autumn colors

It’s surprising to see so much color on the trees in early November; usually the trees are further past their prime at this time of year.

broad sweeping colors
broad sweeping colors
the valley
the valley
me along Skyline Drive
me along Skyline Drive
orange galore!
orange galore!
a tree amidst flames
a tree amidst flames
stark tree
stark tree
profile
profile
etchings
etchings
hillsides in flames
hillsides in flames
white bark trees
white bark trees
overlooking the valley
overlooking the valley

We enjoy our drive immensely, stopping at the numerous pull-outs for sweeping views.

a dramatic scene
a dramatic scene
rich orange hills
rich orange hills
a beacon of orange
a beacon of orange
valley views
valley views
views along Skyline Drive
views along Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive
a stand of trees
a stand of trees

Finally, we exit the beautiful park and head south on Interstate 81, in route to cross the state line into West Virginia.

a birthday walk at meadowlark botanical garden

Tuesday, October 25:  Today, on my birthday, I take a stroll around Meadowlark Gardens.  Mike and I are going out for sushi, Sapporo and sake tonight, but during the day, I’m on my own.  It’s a gorgeous day, as it is more often than not on my birthday, so I can’t resist wandering outside through a golden-hued landscape.

golds of fall
golds of fall

Today happens to be the actual day of my birth: Tuesday.  It reminds of the Mother Goose rhyme my mother used to read us:

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace;
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for its living;
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

pods
pods

It’s funny about birthdays.  Some people, as they get older, say they don’t like to celebrate them; they feel a little bitter that they’re getting another year older.  I don’t feel that way at all.  I love my birthday and usually try to drag out a celebration of it for a week or more. If I’ve made it to another birthday, it means I’ve been lucky enough to have another year of life.🙂

witches and cats
witches and cats

It helps that my birthday is in the best month of the year.  I love October!  I might not feel so cheery about it if it were one of my least favorite months, say February or July or August.

sweeps of flowers
sweeps of flowers
Monarch crossing
Monarch crossing
wispiness
wispiness
pinks and yellows
pinks and yellows
geese at rest
geese at rest
the pavilion on the pond
the pavilion on the pond
the pavilion
the pavilion
turtle
turtle
koi and turtle
koi and turtle

I love these three trees, and their skeletal limbs, reaching for the sky.

skeletal trees
skeletal trees
lotus pond
lotus pond
faded glory
faded glory
grasses and pods
grasses and pods
on golden pond
on golden pond
fountain joy
fountain joy
reds
reds
last blooms
last blooms
sculpture
sculpture
sculpture in the grass
sculpture in the grass

I love nothing better than taking walks outdoors in autumn.

It’s nice and cool today; the air is crisp and sharp and the sky is as bright as polished silk.

greens
greens
pinks
pinks
bushes
bushes
purples
purples
have a seat
have a seat

In the evening, Mike and I go to Yoko Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar in Oakton for my birthday dinner.  My sister Stephanie introduced me to the enjoyable ritual of drinking a sip of hot sake following by a gulp of cold Sapporo, and Mike and I do just that to celebrate.  It’s a quiet birthday, but pleasant just the same.

Another year older, and hopefully wiser, or at least more experienced! 🙂

stuck in a moment: a morning walk at little difficult run stream valley park

Saturday, October 22:  This Saturday morning in late October, a walk in the woods.  It’s been Indian summer and the leaves have been slow to change. Things feel muted, quiet, not jubilant, not exciting.  Dull, quiet, intractable.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

Last October, I was excited to be back home in Virginia after my year in China. I looked forward to spending more time with my family. Now, a year later, I’ve lost my enthusiasm. I came home hoping to spend time with my kids, but alas, they are growing up, slowly, and growing away.  I came home to spend time with Mike, but alas, he is working long hours and on weekends doesn’t have the level of energy or wanderlust I have.

Last year, Mike and I went to Chincoteague for my birthday, October 25, and to Antietam for our anniversary on November 13, but this year he’s been inundated with work and we are combining my birthday and our anniversary by going the first weekend in November to Fayetteville, West Virginia to see the supposedly beautiful Babcock State Park and the New River Gorge. We had a wonderful time in Iceland and we renovated our house this year.  All of these things I should be happy about. I am pleased about these things, but it’s not enough. Something is missing — a sense of purpose, a sense of moving forward, a sense that I’m not bogged down in stagnation.  A sense of love, belonging, acceptance.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I look around me at an America that is teetering on the edge.  I fear that instead of progressing in our values, we’re going backwards.  I’m afraid that the upcoming election could be the start of regressing to 1950 or before.  I look around me and see nearly half of all my fellow countrymen full of hatred and fear and anger.  I am uneasy and anxious.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I am carefully considering whether go abroad again.  When I go abroad, I meet people of all nationalities who are generally more open-minded than many Americans.  I learn that most people are not that much different than I am.  I learn that though cultures may vary, people are the same.  They want justice, fairness, love and success. They want opportunity and acceptance for who they are.  They want to participate in the wealth the world has to offer.  They don’t want to be struggling to put food on the table.  They want to be happy.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

No matter how much I try to escape it, the old reverse culture shock is kicking in.  I’ve talked about this phenomenon before, upon returning home from abroad, that uncomfortable and disoriented feeling you get when you don’t quite fit back into your own country after spending an extended amount of time abroad.  Though at first I was happy to be back, that old feeling is creeping in. I try to shake it off, to ignore it.  I’ve tried to assimilate, to melt back into America.  But I can’t quite do it.  I feel acutely the need to escape.  Wanderlust is like a genie dancing before me, enticing me back out into the world at large.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I need a purpose.  I need adventure.  I need to have like-minded, progressive people around me.  I have been waiting until our disgraceful election is over, then I’ll be making my decision.  Leave or stay?

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

This October has been the worst one I’ve ever had, as far as my outlook, my mood.  Usually, I love the fall.  I love the freedom, the change that is promised with cool crisp air and the bright burst of color in the leaves.  But this year, I just feel trapped, bogged down, frustrated.

I don’t have a complaint about the people in my family except that their lives go on without much understanding of how I feel.  Maybe it’s because I try to put a smile on my face and pretend I’m fitting in. But inside, I don’t really feel that.

I think whatever feelings you have in life, they’re bound to rear their heads and make themselves known.  No matter how much you try to put a lid on them, to deny them, they sit percolating beneath the surface.  I just love it (not!) when well-intentioned people say, Get a job!  Get a hobby!  I have tried to find a job to no avail, and I occupy myself with writing (my blog, a memoir), daily walks, and cooking.  These are solitary pursuits.  I need to get out and interact with people and have a purpose and an adventure.  I don’t want to volunteer my time at this point in my life, as I have experience to offer that I should get paid for!  My hobbies — travel, writing, photography — all call out to me. They’re intertwined, my three loves, and they’re beckoning me, as a package.  I find it dull doing one without the others.

I’m lucky to have a good husband who will support my dreams.  He will support them, but of course he really doesn’t want me to go.  This means I’ll feel guilty, as if I’m abandoning him.  I feel bad that he might be lonely while I’m away.  But he has his hobbies too, and he can do them perfectly well without me: biking, watching sports, and of course, work; though it’s not a hobby, it’s a time-consuming activity nonetheless.

Mike at Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Mike at Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I’m reading a cute Swedish book, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. In the book, 59-year-old Ove is informed at work that they are “retiring the older generation.” Suddenly, he’s not a person, but a “generation!” Ove is a curmudgeon, that’s for sure.  But he speaks some truth when he thinks, later in the book, “This was a world where one became outdated before one’s time was up.”

I’ve talked to many people of my generation who are not seen, not heard.  I want to be seen as a person who can contribute, not a burden, not a has-been!  I often think back to the disheartening time when I faithfully applied for 250 jobs, every day for a year, only to never hear anything back.  At that time I had just completed my Master’s degree at age 52.  Now, though I haphazardly apply for jobs, my heart isn’t into going through all that hassle for no return!  Especially now that I’m 61.  I have the best chance of finding something abroad, although I know I’ve aged out in many places.  But at least I know I have a better chance of finding a job in some far-flung place than in the “land of opportunity!”

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I’m waiting.  After November 9, I’ll decide whether to begin a search in earnest either here or abroad.  I’m not ready to call it quits yet.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

You can find my previous post from 2013 about this trail at: a weekend of indian summer & work, & a little walk in nature.

a hike at great falls park

Sunday, October 16:  This Sunday morning, we talk a walk along the Potomac River at Great Falls Park. It’s a pretty day but not quite as cool as I’d like it to be for the middle of October.  The trees are not yet in full color down here in the lowlands, but in a week or so, I expect they will be.

Great Falls Park is a small National Park Service site in northern Virginia, with 800 acres and 15 miles (24 km) of hiking trails.  The park also has a Visitor’s Center and several viewing platforms that offer views over the cascades.

Great Falls
Great Falls

The park has a picnic area and parking spots for about 600 vehicles; most of them are filled today and there is a line at the entrance to the park.

Great Falls
Great Falls

The falls drop a total 76 feet (20 m) over a series of major cascades and are rated Class 5-6 Whitewater according to the International Scale of River Difficulty. The first kayaker to run them was Tom McEwan in 1975, but only since the early 1990s have the Falls been a popular destination for expert whitewater boaters in the DC area (Wikipedia: Great Falls Park).

Great Falls
Great Falls

As Great Falls Park is only about a half hour from our house, we come here almost once every year, either spring or summer.  Sometimes we walk on Billy Goat Trail along the Maryland side of the river, and sometimes we walk on this, the Virginia side.

Great Falls
Great Falls

Today, the park is swarming with people anxious to get outside in the fall weather.  It’s only when we hike further down the trail along Mather Gorge that we can have some space to ourselves.

Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls

Downstream from the falls is Mather Gorge, named after Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service.  For the most part, Mather Gorge is lined on both sides by cliffs, which are often used by rock climbers.  Here, the Potomac River is rated class 2-3 and has been a popular kayaking run since the 1960s.

Towards the southern end of the gorge, the cliffs become tree-lined bluffs as the gorge widens out into the wider and larger Potomac Gorge (Wikipedia: Mather Gorge).

Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge

Mike is always willing to walk closer to the cliff edges than I am.  I always feel a little dizzy when I get close to steep drop-offs.

Mike at Mather Gorge
Mike at Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge

Across the river, on the Maryland side, we can see the hikers on Billy Goat Trail and some rock climbers.  On our side, we also see some ropes dangling over the cliffs, but unless we go stretch our bodies out over the edge of the cliffs, we can’t see the actual climbers.

Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge

This is about as close as I’ll get to the edge.

me at Mather Gorge
me at Mather Gorge

I feel quite sad today as we leave this place.  When we first arrived for our walk, I ran into an old friend of mine from Oakton; our kids used to play together in various playgroups.  She’s here with her husband and her father.  She seems to be giving me the brush-off and I feel quite hurt by this.  I try to think what I’ve done wrong, or why she’s so obviously uncomfortable talking to me, and I guess it could be several reasons.  The major reason, of course, could be that Mike and I separated for a 7-year period and I went off the gallivant around the world, living and teaching in Korea, then Oman and China (although Mike and I had reunited before I went to China).  I have found many do people judge me for this.  If that is the case, then so be it.  If people want to judge me for choices I make in my life, then I can’t change their minds and I cannot consider them friends.  I myself try not to judge people who struggle over difficult personal decisions, and who do what they feel is necessary in their lives. That being said, I do often question whether I can in good conscience maintain friendships with people who are racists, misogynists, liars, or haters as a general practice.

Of course I could be wrong in assuming that is why she behaved the way she did, and if that isn’t it, then it could be that I didn’t make much effort with people in Oakton once I started living abroad.  I do have to say that I found many of them boring and superficial, focused only on their kids or how big their houses were or how much money they had. I felt like none of those Oakton mothers had lives of their own.  To be honest, I had simply lost interest in the suburban life myself.  This was part of why I needed to escape.

I never did feel this way about this particular friend though.  She was always interesting and kind.  She went back to school at the same time I did, and we both pursed careers of our own.   I liked her a lot.  But living abroad, it takes an extra effort to stay in touch with people, on both sides.  She didn’t make an effort with me, and neither did I make much effort with her.  So, it seems the friendship, which was at one time a nice one, is gone.  This is what happens, I guess; friends are in your life for a time or a season, and then they’re gone.  It made me more than a little sad to have this encounter and this realization.  Combined with the upcoming third presidential debate on October 19 and the overall oppressive political environment in the States these days, I feel pretty depressed when I leave Great Falls today.

Oh well, life is not always happy, even when skies are blue and it’s the middle of October in a beautiful place.

the october cocktail hour: festivals, reunions, and farm tours, along with the more mundane things in life :-)

Saturday, October 15: Welcome to our October happy hour! Come right in, get comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. It’s the perfect day to sit out on our screened-in porch.  Would you care for a Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer), an Appletini, a dirty martini, or a Cosmos?  I’m happy to say I’m expanding my bartending capabilities.  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.

I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

Please, do share what’s been going on with you.  I’d love to hear about the end of your summer and your early fall.  Have you been on vacation or explored new areas close to home?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  How’s your garden?  Have you had any special family gatherings?

Admittedly, I’ve been imbibing on whatever alcoholic drink I can find to drown out the sorrows and frustrations of this election season.  I’ve been spending way too much time reading everything that comes along in the news and on Facebook about the election, including keeping tabs on the various polls.  I have been trying to post only intelligent political articles on my Facebook page, without sinking to the level of the trolls and haters.  All my Facebook friends are perfectly clear on who my candidate of choice is and ISN’T.  As I don’t care to infect my blog with U.S. politics, I will not discuss my preferences here, other than to say I’ve been evaluating my friendships in light of all that I’m seeing and hearing.  In addition, though I’ve never been much of a political person, for the first time in my life I’ve actually donated money and volunteered to work the phone bank during a political campaign.  Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely despise making cold calls of any kind, so this is a big step for me, and one of which I’m quite proud. I cannot stand by idly and not participate when so much is at stake.

I’m not going to discuss the campaign any more except for some comments I’ll make toward the end of this post regarding friendships.  Enough said.

I totally missed posting a September cocktail hour because in the middle of September I organized a big party/family reunion for my dad’s 86th birthday.  The only person who didn’t show up was my youngest son, Adam, who is trying to settle in and carve a life out for himself in Maui.

Soon after we returned from Iceland at the end of August, we went with my sister-in-law, my son Alex and his girlfriend Ariana to Cirque de Soleil at Tyson’s Corner.  It was a spectacular show titled Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities, with fantastic costumes, acrobatics and amazing feats.  What a way to immerse ourselves back home after our fabulous trip abroad.

You can read about our Iceland trip on my blog about my European travels: in search of a thousand cafés.

Cirque de Soleil - Kurios ~ Cabinet of Curiosities
Cirque de Soleil – Kurios ~ Cabinet of Curiosities

It was hard to return from Iceland’s cool and sometimes frigid weather to the heat and humidity in Virginia. I always prefer cold weather to hot, so I was glad for the escape.  But.  Maybe it was the sudden change from sweltering to cold and then back to hot that caused Mike and I to both get sick on the trip, that and the tendency to go, go, go while on vacation.  When we returned home, Mike got better while I got worse.  I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and I suffered through three weeks of pure misery.  When I felt slightly better, I walked my daily three miles in the heat, sweated profusely, then got chilled; after these attempts at my normal routine, I was wiped out for days.  I repeated this several times, thinking I was better, but then was knocked back down.  Finally, I surrendered to the illness, rested a lot, drank fluids and pampered myself.  Finally, by mid-September, I was fine again.  What misery that was!

On September 4, Mike and I want to the Virginia Scottish Games and Festival at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia.  Mike was particularly interested in watching the Border Collie sheep herding, but it turned out there was only one Border Collie and he was herding goats.  Apparently this Border Collie costs $7,000!  He was very keen to round-up the goats when his owner gave the signal.  We watched a parade, ate haggis (which I’d never had) and Scotch eggs, and checked out the shiny British cars.

We stopped at the Living History exhibit, where a man taught us a bit about Scottish history.

Living history
Living history
Scottish paraade
Scottish paraade
Scottish parade
Scottish parade

The week before the Scottish Festival, we had a faux painter paint our dining room (from a deep red to a Sherwin Williams Whitetail and Intricate Ivory using a troweling process); the week after, she did our foyer (using a stippling process with a Sherwin Williams Cooled Blue, Rivulet , and Thermal Spring glaze mixture).  I am pleased with the results in both areas.🙂

It’s been a long year of renovations, painting, landscaping, and KonMari-ing, and our house feels like new now.  We’re exhausted by the whole process and are now ready to relax for a good long while.  We still have to renovate our upstairs bathrooms, but I won’t be ready to dive into that project for a long time.

Here’s our stippled foyer.  The three paintings to the right were ones I picked up at the Longji Rice Terraces in China and had framed.

Foyer with Chinese paintings
Foyer with Chinese paintings

I planned a big family reunion for my dad’s 86th birthday on the weekend of September 17.  My sister from California and my brother from New Jersey came, as well as my sister and her whole family from Maryland.  Sarah came for part of the time and Alex and his girlfriend were also here.  Adam was the only one missing, sadly.  We shared a lot of food and drinks and infectious laughs, especially playing Apples-to-Apples and a rip-roaring game of Charades.  My siblings and I have always been game players, so it was great fun for all of us to be together and let loose with some crazy competitions.

Sadly, I am unable to post pictures of our whole family together as my sister from California does not want her picture posted, and she of course was in many of them.😦

On September 24, I went to Richmond to attend a day-long farm tour with my daughter.  Sarah wrote a great blog about it: Where Farmers Grow.  I hope you’ll check it out.  She’s a fantastic writer.🙂

We started our tour at Victory Farms.

Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms

I didn’t know okra plants had such pretty flowers.

After touring three other gardens, we ended up back at Victory Farms, where we enjoyed a feast of small plates prepared by Richmond chefs.

Back at Victory Gardens
Back at Victory Gardens
feast at Victory Gardens
feast at Victory Gardens

Sarah’s friend Colin, marketing director of Ellwood Thompson’s, a locally-owned and independently operated natural food market, got us the tickets for this event.

Sarah and Colin
Sarah and Colin
Sarah and me
Sarah and me

Shalom Farms, our next stop on the tour, partners with community organizations and existing nutrition programs to meet the needs of families and children. Among others, their partners include after-school programs, food banks, and community kitchens. In 2015 over 200,000 servings of Shalom Farms produce was distributed through local partnerships to meet the growing needs of nutrition programs in the greater Richmond area.

We both found the work at this farm inspirational.

Shalom Farms
Shalom Farms

Shalom, a 6-acre sustainable farm at Westview on the James in Goochland, Virginia, is an agricultural learning lab for visitors and volunteers of all backgrounds. In 2014, over 4,400 volunteers and visitors gained hands-on education and experience, helping the grow over 250,000 servings of fresh produce, according to their website.

Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery , our third stop, supplies its brewery operations with on-site hop, barley, rosemary, hay and pumpkin farming.  We were able to enjoy a beer here and listen to some good classic rock-n-roll.

Tricycle Gardens is an urban garden whose mission is to grow healthy food, healthy communities and a healthy local food system. Their aim is to restore urban ecologies and create beautiful public spaces throughout Richmond, Virginia.

Tricycle Gardens
Tricycle Gardens

I made the mistake of standing in line at the porta-potty near the compost bins, where I was devoured by blood-sucking mosquitoes.  I must have been bitten at least 20 times, and it made the rest of my time at this garden miserable!

On September 30, Mike and I went into D.C., which we don’t do often, to China Chilcano for dinner, followed by a play at the Woolly Mammoth.

China Chilcano

China Chilcano

me at China Chilcano
me at China Chilcano

At China Chilcano, known for its union of Peruvian Criollo, Chinese Chifa and Japanese Nikkei, we sampled some Dorado Dim Sum (pork, shrimp, jicama, shiitake mushroom, peanut topped with golden egg), Bok Choy as Sillao (Baby bok choy, shiitake mushroom, oyster sauce), and Chupe de Cameron (Pacific wild shrimp soup with fresh cheese, choclo, rice, potato, poached egg).  For dessert we enjoyed Suspiro Limeña (Sweetened condensed milk custard topped with soft and crunchy meringue, passion fruit).

At the Woolly Mammoth, we saw another avant-garde play: Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops.  Woolly Mammoth is always on the cutting edge with their performances, and this one is no different.  In Jen Silverman’s absurdist romantic comedy, five different women named Betty collide at the intersection of anger, sex, and the “thea-tah,” according to the playbill.  I enjoy it, but am always a little taken aback by the radical ideas in these plays.

Wooly Mammoth
Wooly Mammoth

Before the play, we sat and enjoyed a glass of wine, which was included in the price of our theater ticket.  Mike was awfully blue and I awfully pink.🙂

We haven’t done much else these two months other than taking our trip to Iceland and recovering from said trip.  I have watched a number of good movies, notably Hell or High Water, in which a divorced father (Chris Pine) and his ex-con older brother (Toby Howard) resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas. I enjoyed this movie and felt some satisfaction at the brothers’ attempts to get back at the bank that tried to cheat their family out of its inheritance.

I also enjoyed the atmospheric The Light Between Oceans, in which a lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat.  I went to see this with my sister from California as she stayed an extra two days after the rest of the family left the reunion.  After the movie, we enjoyed sushi and Sapporo and hot sake with Mike at Arigato.

One day last week, I went to see The Queen of Katwe, in which a Ugandan girl’s poverty-stricken life becomes more promising after she is introduced to the game of chess, for which she has great aptitude. I love this movie, as I always love movies that take place in foreign and exotic locales and feature an underdog rising up to meet success.

As for books, I have read some captivating books.  Here’s what I’ve read since we last met for a cocktail hour: Glaciers; And the Mountains Echoed; The Disappeared; 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.  I listened to my first ever audiobook, Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (read by Hope Davis).  I’ve never listened to an audiobook because I can be a terrible listener, with my mind always wandering off.  But, despite a few wandering thoughts where I lost the thread of the story, I was engrossed in this book and LOVED IT!! I’m now sold on audiobooks.  I’m looking forward to listening to a lot more during my daily 3 mile walks.

I’ve now added another exercise to my walks, a Tuesday-Thursday Pilates class.  I’ve never done Pilates, but I’ve done Yoga.  Both of them I find excruciatingly boring.  But I’ve decided I like Pilates better and I think I’m getting stronger as a result of it.

In addition to Pilates, I’m taking a Memoir class at the Reston Community Center on Monday mornings.  The class is for 55+ people — that includes me!  I’m finally beginning to write a memoir; I’ve dreamed of doing this for a long time; because of the weekly deadlines, I now have four chapters under my belt. I’m getting positive feedback on it too, which encourages me to go on.  Because of this class, I’m reading Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach.  I’ve always been told that if you want to write in a certain genre, you should read a lot in that genre, so in that vein, I read and enjoyed immensely Pat Conroy’s The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son.

Of all the books I’ve read, I think I enjoyed The Disappeared the most.  Here’s the review I wrote about it on Goodreads: This book tells the poignant and tragic story of a young Cambodian man who was forced to leave his country during the Khmer Rouge reign and genocide, and who, while in exile in Montreal, meets and falls in love with a 16-year-old Canadian girl. Their love is beautifully and poetically rendered, and is physical and spiritual at the same time. The story is written in 2nd person, an unusual point of view. When the borders of Cambodia open again, Serey, the Cambodian student and musician, feels compelled to return to his country to search for his family. It is over a decade before his lover, Anne Greves, is able to travel to Cambodia in search of him, and when she finds him, they live together with the dark cloud of the country’s genocide hanging over them and reverberating through their lives. Serey is secretive about his days and when Anne comes to find out he is working for the opposition, she rebels against his secrecy and fears for his life. Beautifully rendered, this book reminds us of sweeping tragedies in countries where peasants or the disenfranchised take up arms and kill off intellectuals and musicians and teachers. Like China’s Cultural Revolution, and like the Nazi extermination of the Jews, it is a dark and grim reminder of the horrible things human beings do to each other when embraced with hatred and fear.

I guess this book struck home with me because of the political atmosphere in our country during this 2016 election.

In regards to that, I’ve been looking closely at and evaluating my friendships.  I read a great article posted by my favorite philosopher, Alain de Botton, on Facebook, from The Book of Life: What is the Purpose of Friendship?

The article starts with: “Friendship should be one of the high points of existence, and yet it’s also the most routinely disappointing reality.”  And then it goes on to say that relationships have a purpose which are boiled down to the following: networking, reassurance, fun, clarifying our minds, and holding on to the past.  I know I can look at most of my friendships and say they have one of these purposes.  They say friends come into our lives for a reason, or a season.

I truly wonder if we can hold on to friends forever.  Maybe I lived in a fantasy world, but I used to believe I could.  Sometimes I still like to believe it is possible.  But how can I really be friends with people who don’t share my basic values of inclusiveness and love for all of mankind; how can I be friends with people who harshly judge and even condemn those who are a different race, religion, or sex than us? How can I be friends with those who condone ugliness and hatred?

I’m beginning to think that I agree with the final paragraph in this article: “We should dare to be a little ruthless. Culling acquaintances isn’t a sign that we have lost belief in friendship. It’s evidence that we are getting clearer and more demanding about what a friendship could be.”  That’s where I am now.

It’s been the nastiest time I’ve ever lived through in the history of my country.

So, on that note, I leave you to go forward into this great month of November, when the election will be upon us, and to make decisions with good conscience. What we decide in November will be of grave consequence to the future of our country.

Cheers!!