Sunday, October 27: The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is Horizon: The space or line where the sky meets the earth. So many places where the sky meets the earth around the world, and millions of interactions between two elements. It can be water, a city skyline, a forest, a wasteland, a desert, a sunset outside your bedroom window. Is there a particular horizon which speaks to you?
Here are the horizons I saw today from the Skyline Drive on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park. Some horizons are to the west of the ridge, and some are to the east, as the road wanders back and forth from one side of the mountain range to the other.
Sunday, October 27: This morning we have an early breakfast buffet at the Hampton Inn in Staunton, where we spent the night; we’re on the road by 8 a.m. Our goal is to drive around the little town of Staunton and then head north, getting on the Skyline Drive from Route 211 at the Thornton Gap Entrance Station. Mike reasons that if we get an early start and we head from south to north, we won’t hit the crowds that come in droves at this time of year from northern Virginia.
First we drive around Staunton which is a very cute town indeed, but I don’t take many pictures because we want beat the hordes of visitors to the mountains. After all, it does seem to be close to the peak for leaf color, if not slightly past peak. The weather is fabulous: though it’s cloudy this morning, sunshine and a cool and breezy 63 degrees are promised. That means everyone in the state of Virginia will be heading to Shenandoah National Park.
I love the old houses and hilly neighborhoods in the town, many of which are all decked out for Halloween. Staunton is a significantly larger town than Lexington (where we had dinner last night) with its nearly 25,000 people, compared to Lexington’s nearly 7,000. Staunton is known for being the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. president, and the home of Mary Baldwin College, historically a women’s college. The city is also home to the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (Wikipedia: Staunton, Virginia).
We drive through a number of small towns on our way to the entrance to the park, and then we pay the $15/car entrance fee. Luckily, from this entrance and at this time of morning, there is barely a line, so we get right on the Skyline Drive and head north.
According to the National Park Service, the Skyline Drive runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park and is the only public road through the park. You can enter Shenandoah at four places: Front Royal near Rt. 66 and 340, Thornton Gap at Rt. 211 (where we enter), Swift Run Gap at Rt. 33, and Rockfish Gap at Rt. 64 and Rt. 250 (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway). It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park on a clear day.
There are 75 overlooks that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. The park purposely leaves the roadsides unmowed so wildflowers put on a show all year long. In early spring you can see trillium peeking through the grass. June’s display of azaleas is spectacular, and cardinal-flower, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod keep the color coming right into fall.
Click on any of the images below for a full-sized slide show.
fall in all its color
Looking toward the Piedmont
me at an overlook on Skyline Drive
all decked out
the Shenandoah Valley
We come across a magical yellow and green forest, where people have pulled off along the side of the road and are wandering under the tall canopy of trees as if in a dream. The forest is mesmerizing because of the very sparse undergrowth, the canopy of gold reaching to the heavens, and the sunlight streaming through the trees.
tall tall trees
sunshine and tree trunks
heading down the road again
I’m so happy to be in the mountains for my birthday weekend. After two years of being in Oman, where fall is basically nonexistent, this breathtaking foliage and amazing views are the best birthday gift of all. 🙂
view of Shenandoah Valley
Finally, as we leave the park at the northern Front Royal entrance, we see a long line of cars waiting to get into the park: the northern Virginia contingent. Thank goodness we were already staying in the south and heading north so we were able to avoid these long lines! A perfect ending to a perfect birthday. 🙂
Saturday, October 26: After our hike at Douthat State Park, we head to the town of Lexington to see the two universities that sit side by side in the town, and to celebrate my birthday with wine and dinner at Bistro on Main.
We make our first stop at Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Founded in 1839, VMI is the nation’s first state-supported military college.
According to VMI: Historical Development of VMI: Early in VMI history, Colonel Preston declared that the Institute’s unique program would produce “fair specimens of citizen-soldiers,” and this observation has been substantiated by the service of VMI graduates in peace and war. Since the Institute was founded, VMI alumni have fought in every war involving the United States, starting with the Mexican War just four years after VMI graduated its first class.
VMI alumni continue to serve their nation with 266 having achieved the rank of General or Flag officer in the Armed Forces of the United States and several foreign countries, most notably Thailand and the Republic of China. During World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, over 300 alumni gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, and two alumni were killed during Operation Desert Storm. Two VMI alumni were among those killed on September 11, 2001 in the terrorist attacks on America and 12 alumni have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After leaving VMI, we go right next door to the private Washington and Lee University. Though the campuses are neighbors, they are as dissimilar as two places can be.
Founded in 1749, Washington & Lee University is named for two of the most influential men in American history: George Washington, whose generous endowment of $20,000 in 1796 helped the fledgling school (then known as Liberty Hall Academy) survive, and Robert E. Lee, whose presidency and innovative leadership brought the University into the national limelight.
On the campus grounds is the R.E. Lee Memorial Church, founded in 1840. It’s part of the Episcopal Diocese of SW Virginia. It has a labyrinth for meditation, something that has always fascinated me.
According to a pamphlet available beside the labyrinth: The labyrinth is a form of walking meditation, introspection, prayer, contemplation, and even stress management. It is important to know that no two experiences are the same. The Labyrinth is not a maze. There are not choices to make; every turn is a part of the path. The path leads steadily to the center even though from time to time, you will appear to be moving away from it. Some people find the walk consists of three stages: first, releasing or letting go of the details of your life, which quiets the mind. Second, receiving insights and discernment, which usually happens at the center, a place of reflection, meditation and prayer. Third, returning, with new understanding to the world.
I don’t walk the labyrinth this evening as it’s getting dark. But I have walked labyrinths before in various Episcopal churches and I’ve always found it a very powerful experience.
Surprisingly, we come across the grave of Traveller, Robert E. Lee’s most famous horse during the Civil War. Traveller was a horse of great stamina who was difficult to frighten. However, during the Second Battle of Bull Run, he was frightened and lunged, causing Lee to fall and break both of his hands (Wikipedia: Traveller (horse)).
In 1870, during Lee’s funeral procession, Traveller was led behind the caisson bearing the General’s casket, his saddle and bridle draped with black crepe. Not long after Lee’s death, in 1871, Traveller stepped on a nail and developed tetanus. There was no cure, and he was shot to relieve his suffering.
Traveller’s bones went from being buried behind the main buildings of the college to being bleached and displayed in Rochester, New York. Later, they were moved back to the college and displayed in the Brooks Museum, now Robinson Hall on the campus; there, they were vandalized by students who carved their names in the bones for good luck. They were moved in 1929 to Lee Chapel’s basement, where they stood for 30 years, deteriorating from exposure.
Finally in 1971, Traveller’s remains were buried in a wooden box encased in concrete next to the Lee Chapel on the campus, a few feet away from the Lee family crypt inside, where his master’s body rests. The stable where he lived his last days, directly connected to the Lee House on campus, traditionally stands with its doors left open; this is said to allow his spirit to wander freely.
We head into the charming town of Lexington, where we take a little drive through the streets.
At Bistro on Main, we find a reservation is necessary, and we don’t have one. No tables are available, so we sit at the bar, where it’s much more lively and convivial than a private table. I order a glass of wine and Mike and Alex order special microbrew beers. I order Shrimp and Grits – cheddar grits, mushrooms, scallions, garlic, & white wine cream sauce. Yum! Mike orders Four Cheese Spinach Lasagna– with a tomato basil cream sauce, and garlic crustini. Alex order his first ever Duck Breast – pan seared, blackberry sauce, Parmesan roasted potatoes and vegetable of the day.
The bartender, who is very charming, tells Alex that he better to be prepared to join Duck-lovers Anonymous, a special group for people who get hopelessly addicted to duck. We talk later about the waiter; Alex and I both wish we were more like him. I point out that Alex himself seemed quite charming while the waiter was in our company. We agreed that some people we meet in life naturally bring out the best in us. 🙂
Saturday, October 26: My birthday was Friday, the 25th, and as always on my birthday, it was a glorious day, brisk and windy with a palette of fall colors rustling in the trees. Nature never lets me down on my birthday; it always gives the best gift of all. Sadly, I had to work all day Friday, so I didn’t get to enjoy the fall weather on the actual day. However, when I got home at night, Mike and Alex made me a special dinner.
The real fun begins this morning, Saturday. We drive our dog Bailey to my mother-in-law’s house, where we see a mangy-looking fox trotting down the sidewalk, as if he’s at home in the neighborhood.
Someone has really gone all out for Halloween. Gravestones spell out funny death-related messages: Yul B Next, Yetta Nother, Ima Goner, and M.T. Tomb.
We drive over 3 hours south to the mountains of Virginia, where we go on a fall hike at Douthat State Park, a 75-year-old traditional family park. This was one of Virginia’s six original state parks. Douthat includes two miles of stream fishing, a 50-acre lake stocked with trout, a sandy swimming beach with snack bar, boat rentals, a gift shop and camp store, cabins, and more than 43 miles of hiking, mountain biking and bridle trails. The park also has 32 cabins and three lodges that accommodate 15, 16 and 18 guests each (Virginia.gov: Douthat State Park).
We decide to take the Blue Suck Falls Trail, a 3 mile moderate to difficult trail that connects several of the trails in the northwest region of the park to the trail head near the Visitor Center. The falls, and hence the trail, get their unusual name from the Appalachian term for a whirlpool or a ‘suck’, which may be found at the base of the falls. At higher elevations the trail traverses the ridge top, often along a narrow path, and connects to the George Washington National Forest trail network. The views of Blue Suck Falls are normally the highlight of the trail; today, sadly, the falls are a mere trickle (Hiking at Douthat State Park). It’s an uphill climb, and we find we’re not the only ones to be disappointed by the almost invisible falls. Someone has written on the sign: “This is it?”
Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.
The lake at Douthat State Park
no swimming?? but it’s a beach!
The Blue Suck Falls Trail
The Blue Suck Falls Trail
empty spaces in the shelter
me another year older
moss up close and personal
Blue Suck Falls
Blue Suck Falls
Blue Suck Falls
me with Alex
fungi on a log
leaves, moss and rocks
Alex does a handstand
Alex does another move
After coming down from the falls, we walk along the dam and the lake. At the bottom of the dam, we come across a whole family of young children fishing, their miniature mountain bikes strewn all around the shore.
After our hike, we drop in to the camp store, where we get cups of hot chocolate and hop in the car for a drive to Lexington.
Sunday, October 20: Today, we go out to Stribling Orchard in Markham, Virginia to pick some apples. We have apple crisps and apple pies and apple butter and apple cobbler on our minds. I guess after last weekend’s dreary and rainy Columbus Day holiday, everyone in northern Virginia has decided to get out of their houses and come here, because it’s packed with families of apple-pickers. Oh well, so much for the peaceful, idyllic outing we envisioned.
On the way we pass this pretty little homestead. A sign out front says “Mount Pleasant ~ Circa 1795.”
We pass a scary Halloween display in the town of Markham.
In the orchard, we grab a couple of apple-pickers and some bags to fill, and we head out into the orchard. Luckily the orchard is big enough that we can get away from the madding crowds. We spend about an hour filling up two bags with Jonathans, Granny Smiths, and Rome Beauties.
We accidentally break a couple of the rules of the orchard without realizing it. Alex climbs the trees (forbidden!), and we actually sample one or two apples from the trees (oops!). Oh well, after last weekend’s rain and fog, it’s a lovely day to be out in the countryside.
After we leave the orchard, we drive though country roads past Leeds Episcopal Church. Leeds Parish was established in 1769 by action of the Virginia House of Burgesses and has been in continuous existence since then. The name of the new parish was taken from Leeds Castle in England, the birthplace of Lord Fairfax, whose colonial estates encompassed most of the new Church of England (Anglican) parish. Formal ratification of the parish occurred in December of 1769, and worship services began immediately (The Episcopal Church of Leeds Parish: Our History).
And near the church we find some long-horn cattle.
And some matted wooly sheep.
And some pretty farmland with wooden fences.
Now, we need to get busy putting our apples to good use. 🙂
Wednesday, October 23: I’ve undertaken a project in my Advanced Writing Workshop this fall. I have a small class of 10 ESL students who are very strong writers, especially for being non-native English speakers. I introduced them to WordPress blogs and gave them instructions in the computer lab about how to begin a blog of their own. I’m very proud of their creations.
Here is the list of assignments I gave them. I gave them 21 topics to choose from; they have to make 8 posts during the semester. Six of them have to be from my list and the other two topics can be their own.
Here is a list of possible topics. PLEASE WRITE ABOUT AT LEAST 6 OF THESE TOPICS. YOU CAN CHOOSE ANY TOPIC FOR THE OTHER TWO ENTRIES.
1. ON YOUR “ABOUT ME” PAGE: Write an introduction about yourself. Tell about where you came from, why you came to America, the feelings that you have about being here, your hopes and dreams, and where you see yourself in 5 years. YOU CAN TELL ANYTHING YOU WANT ABOUT YOURSELF HERE. Example: http://catbirdinturkey.wordpress.com/about-me
4. Go to a restaurant in the area that is from another culture than your own. Write about the experience of the food, the difficulties of understanding the food choices on the menu, the colors, textures and tastes of the food, the decor in the restaurant, the service and any companions you have as well as any interesting conversations you have.
6. List the top 10 experiences of your life. Then PICK ONE. Don’t think about it for long. Just write the first things that come to your mind. Write it in a narrative form: first this happened, then this happened, etc. Put yourself back in the place and time. Relax and allow the memories to trickle into your mind. Finish by writing WHY AND HOW this was a significant moment in your life. Example (Here I wrote briefly about my top 10 experiences in Oman: https://catbirdinoman.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/friday-meditation-my-top-ten-happy-memories-in-the-sultanate )
8. Tell about one relationship you have that has weathered more storms than others in your adult life. Describe the other person and how the relationship is. Were there any troubles that you had that made the relationship grow stronger?
9. Write an unusual TITLE. Let the TITLE be funny, silly, poetic, strange. Then pick one and write a story about the title.
10. Go to a museum, an art gallery, or a historical place here in America and tell about the experience, using as many of your senses as you can. Describe how the place feels, how it looks, the sounds and the smells. You can go anywhere that you think is artistic: a flower shop, a fruit market, a library or bookstore, a nature trail or garden, a concert or live music performance or a night club. Example: http://catbirdineurope.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/andalucia-cordobas-stunning-mezquita
12. Describe the closest friend you have made since you arrived in the USA. Tell about your relationship with that person: the kinds of things you enjoy with that person, the conversations you have, how you are similar and dissimilar in your ideas.
13. Go visit a familiar place at an unfamiliar time. For example, you could go to a supermarket after midnight, a city at night, a cemetery at sunset. Describe it and how you feel while you’re there.
14. Pretend you are an object – a cup, a shoe, a book or a pen. Write about this object in the first person. Give it a voice. Using the words “I am… describe your size, shape, color, texture, and how you feel in your surroundings.
15. Look at the objects you have in your drawers and tell why you have those objects and why they are meaningful or necessary to you.
16. Pick up any book you have on your shelf. Turn to page 79. Pick the 4th sentence on the page and write that sentence. Then brainstorm any ideas that come to your mind related to that sentence. Write an essay using that sentence as your topic sentence. 17. Tell about a particularly difficult day you had either traveling or in one of your days here in America. Describe the situation, telling why it was difficult, and how you felt, and how you managed to overcome the difficulty. Example: http://catbirdinindia.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/chandigarh-to-delhi-to-rishikesh-14-grueling-hours
18. Take a walk through your neighborhood and describe the details. Tell about the people you see, the buildings and trees. Tell about the smell of the air, the feel of the sidewalk, the cars in the parking lot or on your street, the sounds you hear.
Monday, October 14: This evening we take a walk through one of the many trails in our neighborhood.
After my weekend away in Monterey, VA, where I’ve had some time to think and talk with Annette of The Beauty Along the Road, who has been a therapist and had training in life-coaching, I think I need to start where I am, here and now, and begin to make some changes in my life.
Besides the peace of mind I’m now starting to feel as I think about possible change in my life, I’m rewarded by a plethora of ferns, mosses, pretty leaves, and fungi. Here’s a sample of the little gifts I find along the way.