the march cocktail hour: a pittsburgh getaway, endless hiking, and the march for our lives

Saturday, March 31: Welcome to our March cocktail hour! It’s still a bit too chilly and damp to sit on our screened porch, so we’ll stay dry and warm inside. I can offer you a Jalapeno Margarita, one of my favorite drinks since I discovered it several years ago at Lolita in Philadelphia, or a Pinot Noir or Pilsner Urquell. I know it’s still officially Lent, so for those of you so inclined, I can also offer sodas or seltzer water of various flavors. Tomorrow, April 1, we can celebrate the strange intermingling of two oddly mismatched holidays: April Fool’s Day and Easter.

Spring is here, but not without its whims.  We had snow last week, which accumulated and then vanished within two days; this week we’re under drizzle, although temperatures are inching upwards.

I hope March has been good to you so far. Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you learned anything new, taken any classes or just kept up with the news? Have you marched or otherwise participated in political protests?   Have you been planning your adventures for the year? Have you had any early spring getaways? Have you sung along with any new songs? Have you dreamed any dreams? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes? Have you undertaken any new exercise routines?

We went to Pittsburgh for a three-day weekend on March 2-4.  Here, we visited the University of Pittsburgh, numerous memorials to the titans of American industry, a magnificent botanical garden and conservatory, the merging of the Monongahela and the Allegheny Rivers – forming the Ohio River at Pittsburgh’s point – and some offbeat museums.  I’ll eventually write more about our trip on my new blog:             ~ wander.essence ~

We went with our friends Karen and Michael to the Ice House Café where I had only two, I emphasize, TWO dirty martinis, and felt pretty darn loopy!

Michael, Karen, Mike and me 🙂

Not feeling so great the following day, I accompanied the American Pilgrims on the Camino for a 10-mile walk starting from Arlington National Cemetery, walking past the Martin Luther King Memorial, shown below, up the National Mall and around the back of the U.S. Capitol, and then back down the Mall again to the Lincoln Memorial.  Someone from the Philadelphia chapter read parts of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech aloud to the group in front of the Lincoln Memorial, bringing tears to our eyes. Then we walked back to Virginia.

Martin Luther King Memorial

I honestly don’t know how I’m going to walk 12 miles/day carrying 15 lbs. in a backpack, day after day, on the Camino.  I was wiped out after this walk, and I only carried 5 lb.  Granted, it was all on pavement, which is hard on the joints and feet!

On that same day, March 10, my oldest son turned 27, but we only got to talk to him by phone since he now lives in Colorado.  He just got a new job as an apprentice butcher, something he’s been wanting to do for some time.  This desire took me by surprise, as he was vegan for a long time!

On March 17, I went on a 7.5 mile hike with the Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group at the Jug Bay Wetlands Natural Area at Patuxent River Park in Maryland. It was enjoyable, despite being a cold and dreary day. Near the American Indian Village, we came to a parking area filled with horse trailers and folks trotting around on their horses.  They told our group they are a group of friends who ride their horses together regularly.

Overall, I walked 103 miles this month, more than the 68 miles I walked in February.  I’ve now put 95 miles on my Keen Targhee boots and 44 miles on my Merrill Trail Runners. I’ve pretty much decided I’ll walk in the Keens on the Camino.  I’ve also started increasing weight I carry in my backpack, alternating between 5-8 pounds twice a week.  The backpack will be the worst part about the Camino, as the walking itself doesn’t bother me, except for some right knee pain.

We saw the movie The Leisure Seeker about an older couple, played by Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, one of whom suffers from dementia.  They take their old RV – dubbed “The Leisure Seeker” – for a road trip to Key West to visit Hemingway’s house.  It was funny and sad at the same time, but I wouldn’t say it was one of my favorite movies.

We had a snowstorm on Wednesday, March 21, with a couple of inches of accumulation, but it melted over the next couple of days.

Just after the snow melted, we went on Saturday, March 24 to the March for Our Lives, organized by the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students were gunned down by an unhinged ex-student.

The March for Our Lives mission statement includes:

Specifically, we are working towards…

  1. Universal, comprehensive background checks
  2. Bringing the ATF into the 21st century with a digitized, searchable database
  3. Funds for the Center for Disease Control to research the gun violence epidemic in America
  4. High-capacity magazine ban
  5. Assault weapons ban

The March was exciting and the speeches by the students extraordinarily moving and inspiring.  I felt choked up the whole time I was there; I was impressed by the people, young and old and of every ethnicity, who came out in large numbers. Students gave rousing speeches, including Martin Luther King’s granddaughter, 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King, which we were there to hear.  Unfortunately, we missed the speech by Emma Gonzalez.  According to USA Today, “About 200,000 people attended the rally, according to Digital Design & Imaging Service Inc., a Virginia-based company that calculates crowd size.” Marches were held all over the country as well.

Here are some photos of the day:

After the march, Mike and I stopped in at Laredo DC Mexican Restaurant, where we enjoyed some small plates and margaritas, making our day, in effect, a March for the Margarita. 🙂

The last Monday in March, I drove down to Richmond to visit my daughter, and we enjoyed a fun dinner together at Little Nickel, a cute new restaurant with a touch of tiki in Southside Richmond.  You can get a feel for it in an article by Richmond Magazine: “Uncommon Cents at 4702 Forest Hill.”  I found the decor and the atmosphere delightful, along with my daughter’s company.

The next day, we went shopping, as we always do, and then enjoyed a delicious meal at Garnett’s on Park.

I’ve been reading away, and have finished this month:

From this collection of books, I most loved Eventide, about the fictional town of Holt, Colorado (I love Haruf’s writing and his characters), and Katherine Anne Porter’s stories, which took me back to the early 20th century: to Mexico, Texas, Kentucky and Berlin. It was also fun to read about a couple’s Camino in In Movement There is Peace, which gave me a good feel for what to expect when I walk the Camino. I have now finished 23 books out of my 45-book goal for the year.

The way we deal with our nauseating political news these days is by watching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In his opening monologue each night, Colbert relentlessly makes fun of our so-called President, and he is so on-target and hilarious that we can feel a bit of peace knowing that laughter might be the only thing to save us from the daily shock of it all. I love Colbert in general, and find him a fantastic comedian.  One night he sang a song, “Sleep Through the Static,” with Jack Johnson, where he revealed another charming side of himself.  I loved this!!

One more month until I leave for my Four Corners Road Trip.  You’ll be able to read about it on my new blog ~ wander.essence ~ as I prepare for and embark on the adventure.

I can’t wait to read about your March.  I hope it was a good one. 🙂

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maryland heights: the overlook cliff trail

Sunday, November 26:  Today is sunny but brisk, a perfect hiking day, so Mike and I take a trip to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park for a post-Thanksgiving hike. Sarah and Alex went back to Richmond on Saturday and Adam is at work, so we have the day to ourselves.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is similar to the Four Corners area in the southwest USA, except that only three states come together: West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. Here at Harpers Ferry, the three states don’t actually touch, but are separated by the Potomac River and the Shenandoah Rivers, which merge here to form one channel. In the Four Corners, four states (Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico) meet at a single point. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park includes nearly 4,000 acres of land in Jefferson County, West Virginia; Washington County, Maryland, and Loudoun County, Virginia.

Today we will be walking in Maryland on the The Maryland Heights Trail.  Before we leave the house, Mike proposes we walk the entire circuit on a map he’d printed out. There are two routes on the trail.  You can choose one or both, and he hopes to do both. Since I’ve never been here and don’t know anything about it, I agree that it sounds reasonable, although I’m a little hesitant as my original plan was to go for about a 2 hour hike and then go out for lunch on our way home.

The Overlook Cliff Trail is 2.8 miles, or 2 hours round-trip from the trail head.  The Stone Fort Trail is a loop that branches off the main trail and is 4.7 miles, 3 hours round-trip. Both of these distances are from the trail head, so the total distance is less as the Combined Trail is included in both sections. Mike estimates if we do both the Overlook Cliff Trail and the Stone Fort Trail, it will be 5.3 miles, or 3-3 1/2 hours.  Since we don’t get to the trail head until 11:00 a.m., if we follow Mike’s plan, we won’t be able to eat lunch until 2:30 or 3:00.  I don’t know if I want to eat that late!

There are only two small parking lots near the trail head to Maryland Heights, and we manage to squeeze in on the edge of one.  We leave the car teetering precariously, two wheels on the asphalt and two perched on a couple of boulders in a kind of small gully. We cross the old canal to the towpath, where we walk a bit along the Potomac River to the other parking lot.

Bridge to towpath along the Potomac River

The park was declared a National Historical Park by the U.S. Congress in 1963 and includes the historic town of Harpers Ferry, notable as a center of 19th-century industry and as the scene of John Brown’s abolitionist uprising. John Brown (1800–1859) believed that armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States (Wikipedia: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park).

Potomac River
towpath along the Potomac

We reach the trail head, crossing the canal and the road to begin our ascent.

The Maryland Heights trailhead

The hike promises spectacular scenery, geology, Civil War and transportation history.

The first bend on this combined trail offers a nice view of the Potomac. The trail is a continual ascent, with no flat areas at all.

looking down at the Potomac as we climb
Maryland Heights trail
trees and shadows on the hillside

Veering off the Combined Trail, we stop by the 1862 Naval Battery. Positioned 300 feet above the Potomac River, the Naval Battery was the first Union fortification on Maryland Heights.  Hastily built in May 1862, its naval guns were rushed here from the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard.  Along with a detachment of 300 sailors and marines, the battery was equipped to protect Harpers Ferry from Confederate attack during Stonewall Jackson’s famous Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862, according to a park sign.

Naval Battery
grasses at the Naval Battery
View across the Potomac to the town of Harpers Ferry

Thwarted that spring, Jackson returned to Harpers Ferry in mid-September 1862, during the Confederacy’s first invasion of the North. Jackson’s three-day siege included an infantry battle on the crest of Maryland Heights on September 13, in which the Confederates advanced south along the ridgetop.  The Naval Battery guns were turned uphill to pound the crest, but orders to retreat forced the Federals to abandon the mountain and this battery.

Looking up from the Naval Battery

On September 22, one week after the Union surrender at Harpers Ferry, U.S. forces returned to Maryland Heights to build fortifications at better locations on the crest and slope of the Heights.  The Naval Battery lost its defensive importance and eventually became an ordnance depot.

After leaving the Naval Battery, we return to the Combined Trail and turn right.

We walk along until we come to a branch in the trail.  We have already walked 40 minutes, all uphill.  A sign at the branch tells us that the Stone Fort Trail, to the left, is a “strenuous but rewarding hike to the summit.  The route passes Civil War forts and campgrounds, scenic overlooks and weathered charcoal hearths.”  It also says the distance is 3.3 miles, or 3 hours round trip!  That doesn’t even include going to the Overlook Cliff Trail, straight ahead, which is described as a “moderate but pleasant hike to a scenic overlook of Harpers Ferry and the Shenandoah Valley,” with a distance of 1.4 miles, 1.5 hours round trip.

So confusing!  Mike had estimated the entire hike, doing both trails, would take 3 to 3 1/2 hours.  This sign is telling us that from this point, after already walking 40 minutes, that if we go both directions, we’ll have to hike 4 1/2 more hours.  So, adding the 40 minutes both ways, up and down on the combined trail, the whole hike is turning into nearly a 6 hour hike!!

Mike doesn’t believe this is correct, but I can see the trail and it looks straight uphill and very rocky. I’m dubious.

We decide we’ll go take the Overlook Cliff Trail. At this point, we walk a narrow, rocky descent to the cliffs overlooking Harpers Ferry.

a tangle of trees

The sign at the branch in the trail tells us that we are “hiking the same mountain road that defeated Federal troops descended on September 13, 1862.  Despite a six-hour resistance upon the crest against a 2,000-man Confederate advance, Union defenders received orders at 3:00 p.m. to withdraw from Maryland Heights and “fall back to Harpers Ferry in good order.”  Forty hours later, with the capture of Harpers Ferry by Stonewall Jackson, Union commander Col. Dixon S. Miles surrendered 12,500 men, including the 2,000 defenders from Maryland Heights.”

Forest on the Overlook Cliff Trail

Now we going down and down the steep Overlook Cliff Trail. I feel like we’re descending nearly half of the distance we ascended to get up here in the first place.  This means we have to climb back up to get back to the combined trail.

The trail is an easy downhill until we get close to the cliff, where we must scramble over boulders to get down.  Finally, we have views of the Potomac River to our right, the town of Harpers Ferry ahead, and the Shenandoah River to the left.

A fabulous view is always worthwhile!

Overlook Cliff view of the Potomac
the Potomac from Overlook Cliff
Potomac River View
Potomac River

Harpers Ferry, formerly spelled Harper’s Ferry with an apostrophe, is the easternmost town in West Virginia. The town’s original, lower section is on a flood plain created by the two rivers and surrounded by higher ground.  (Wikipedia: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia)

The town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, with the Shenandoah River on the left, and the Potomac in the foreground

I visited the town of Harpers Ferry in January of this year.  You can read about it in my post: harpers ferry, west virginia.

view of the Potomac River from the Overlook Cliff

Harpers Ferry was named for Robert Harper, a millwright who continued a ferry operation here in 1747.  The waterpower of the two rivers – harnessed for industry – generated tremendous growth in Harpers Ferry.  By the mid-19th century, the town had become an important arms-producing center and east-west transportation link.  John Brown’s raid and the Civil War brought Harpers Ferry to national prominence.  Destruction from the war and repeated flooding eventually led to the town’s decline.

The town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, at the confluence of the Shenandoah River and the Potomac Rivers

After leaving the overlook, we backtrack to the first intersection.  We had agreed that we’d determine whether to do the Stone Fort Trail after we returned from the Overlook Cliff Trail.  The Stone Fort Trail is described on another sign as “a more strenuous hike, steep in spots, to the summit.  Along the way are weathered charcoal hearths and the ruins of Civil War defenses and military campgrounds.  Scenic vistas reveal Maryland Heights as a strategic mountain citadel on the border between North and South.”

Apparently, according to the National Park Service website (different from the signs!), you “hike one mile uphill past Civil War artillery batteries and through boulders to the Civil War Stone Fort. The trail curves out of the Stone Fort past breastworks and descends steeply over one mile back to the green-blazed trail.” (National Park Service: Harpers Ferry Hikes).

I’m not convinced I want to walk uphill another mile and then downhill on a rocky slope for another mile at this point.  For one, my stomach is rumbling, and two, I wasn’t expecting so much climbing! I suggest to Mike that we come another time and focus just on the Stone Fort Trail, now that we’ve already done the Overlook Cliff Trail.  Luckily, he agrees and we begin our downhill walk, passing once more by the Naval Battery and its pretty grasses.

Back at the Naval Battery on the way down

Now the path has become quite crowded, as the Overlook Cliff Trail is the most popular of the trails.  We don’t see anyone walking up the Stone Fort Trail.

Finally, we finish our walk and manage to get our car out of the precarious spot.  A group in a red sedan is waiting for our spot, but I don’t see how they will park there as the underbody of their car is so low to the ground.  I warn them they may have a tough time. We have a Toyota RAV, so our car sits higher.  As we drive up the road a bit and do a U-turn, we drive past to see the people trying their best to jockey into our abandoned spot.  It looks like they’re either going to hit the cliff or get their car hopelessly stuck.  Oh well, what can we do?  We warned them. 🙂

On our way back, we stop in Purcellville to have lunch at Jose’s White Palace and Cantina.  I get my go-to Mexican meal of a Chili Relleno and Mike gets Yucca Frita Con Chicharon (pork), the “Latin American alternative to French fries,” and a bowl of Posole Con Pollo soup (white hominy chicken and house-made sauce).  Finally, food! 🙂

Total steps today: 13,102 (5.55 miles) – almost half of which was uphill!

the august cocktail hour: sultry days & sunflowers {escape to iceland tomorrow!}

Friday, August 12:  Welcome to my almost-finished house for our final happy hour of summer! This is our last time to mingle before I head off to Iceland tomorrow.  Come right in, get comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink.  I’m sorry to say I haven’t graduated from my Moscow Mules (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer); I’ve been quite content to drink these since our last cocktail hour.  I imbibed on some strawberry daiquiris when I visited my sister in Maryland this month.  If you’d like one of those, I’d be happy to whip one up, or I can offer wine, beer, or even some soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

It’s been the most hot and humid summer imaginable, so I think we’ll just sit on our new counter stools at the bar. They finally arrived after our last happy hour. 🙂  It’s nice and cool inside, so it will be much more pleasant.  I’m sad to admit that we’ve hardly been able to use the screened-in porch because it’s been over 90 degrees and very humid every day.

Our counter stools are in!
Our counter stools are in!

Tell me about your summer. 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?

summer flowers
summer flowers

I’ve been to a couple of movies, some wonderful, and others not so Absolutely Fabulous. My favorite was the intense and moving Dheepan, about an ex-Tamil fighter who cobbles together a makeshift family to escape his war-torn Sri Lanka.  He becomes a refugee in France. His “wife” and “daughter” are strangers to him and to each other, but they must pretend to be a family in order to get papers to leave.  He ends up in France working as caretaker for a rough property where a lot of criminal activity is taking place.  He doesn’t want any part of it, so he keeps his head down and tries to avoid being noticed.  The movie shows what it’s like for a refugee family to arrive in a new country without knowledge of language or customs, and to be cast into difficult, and even terrifying, situations.  I think it should be required watching, especially for certain people who want to close borders and build walls, those who would prefer to ignore the suffering of others.  This kind of sentiment is running rampant in the U.S. these days, and I find it appalling, heartless, and sickening.

I went to see Absolutely Fabulous and though it was funny in parts, I found myself getting annoyed by its overall silliness.  Actually, the only reason I went to see it was because I had met Joanna Lumley in Oman in 2012, and I wanted to see her again. 🙂 (absolutely fabulous: a surprise encounter with patsy stone)

At home, on Netflix, we finally watched the cute movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, partly filmed in Iceland.  I always enjoy watching movies and reading books that take place in our holiday destination.  The movie was quite charming, and really got me psyched for our trip.

We also saw the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith as accomplished pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu.  He uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who suffer repeated concussions in the course of normal play.  Though I don’t often enjoy movies about sports, I found this exceptionally well done as it depicted the relentless attacks on him by the NFL, a powerful organization.  I’m always for the underdog!

On the last weekend in July, Mike went with his high school friends to Ohio, so I took the opportunity to visit Sarah and Alex in Richmond.  Sarah moved into a new apartment at the beginning of June and I hadn’t been able to see it yet, so after we met for lunch at Mom’s Siam, we went straight to her house to check it out.  She hasn’t gotten it fully furnished or together yet, but she’s slowly getting settled.

Mom's Siam
Mom’s Siam

Alex and Ariana met Sarah and I for dinner at The Black Sheep, mainly because I had a craving for their marvelous chicken and dumplings.  We had a great time.  Alex looked quite handsome with a new haircut given to him by Ariana. 🙂

Alex, Sarah, me and Ariana at the Black Sheep in Richmond
Alex, Sarah, me and Ariana at the Black Sheep in Richmond

By the way, we found out our prodigal son Adam is now in Maui.  We knew his retreat in British Columbia ended on July 11, and we assumed he was still in Vancouver until we got a call from him on Tuesday, July 19, telling us he had bought a one-way ticket to Maui on July 12.  He’d been there a week already and was working on a banana plantation for a room and fruit.  When he called, he had just started working at a hostel four hours a day in exchange for a room. He eats food from the free shelf, where visitors leave behind food. He’s always believed in living in a world without money, and I guess he’s doing just that, sort of!  I don’t understand it and never will, but he’s got to live life according to his principles and I have to say I admire him in some ways.  On the other hand, I know he has credit card debt, so he’s not fiscally responsible nor is he actually living without money!

Thank goodness, he’s been good about calling us once a week to let us know what’s going on.  He seems very happy and says he wishes he had gone to Hawaii back in October when he first thought of going.  I wish he had; he would have saved us and himself a lot of money and heartbreak.  Who knows what will become of him, but I’m happy that for the time being he seems at peace and is actually working, even if not for money.  This past Tuesday night, he called to tell us he is starting to work for a ceramic artist helping to sell his very expensive ceramics; he gets an hourly wage and some commission on any sales.  Slowly, slowly.  I’m trying hard to have no expectations and to continue to send love his way.

On Friday morning, Sarah and I went for a hike on the Buttermilk Trail along the James River.  The trail was quite muddy as it had rained overnight.  We then went shopping at Target, where I bought her some new bedding, a hair dryer, and bath towels, all of which she needed and was thrilled to have. We also had lunch together.

Later that afternoon, I drove an hour south and visited with my dad and stepmother in Yorktown.  We had dinner together and chatted until I went up to bed to read my book, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  I hardly slept all night because I was near the end and couldn’t put it down.   My lack of sleep made it hard to get off to an early start, as I planned, to drive to Salisbury, Maryland to visit my sister Joan on Saturday morning.

Here’s my review of State of Wonder on Goodreads: I loved this book about Dr. Marina Singh’s journey into the Amazon jungle to find her former professor, Dr. Annick Swenson, as well as to find answers to the questions surrounding the death of her colleague, Dr. Anders Eckman. They all work for Vogel, a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota, and Marina has worked with Anders for 7 years in a small lab. Forty-two-year-old Marina is involved in a kind of secret relationship with 60-year-old Mr. Fox, the CEO of Vogel, who is not a doctor but an administrator. She calls him Mr. Fox, which speaks to the type of arm’s-length relationship they have. Mr. Fox sends Marina to look for Dr. Swenson because her research to develop a drug in the Amazon is taking too long and Vogel is getting impatient with her lack of communication about her progress. Dr. Swenson is doing research on how the Lakashi women can bear children even into their 70s. Marina’s other mission is to find out what happened to Anders and to possibly recover his body to send back to Minnesota.

Of course, I love any kind of story that takes place in exotic locales, with characters I can understand. This is an adventure and awakening story, a kind of journey into the “heart of darkness;” I found it immensely compelling and I love Ann Patchett’s writing.

I’m now reading And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, which I’m enjoying, as well as a book my sister recommended by Dan Harris of Good Morning America: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.  I’m also making my way slowly through The Mathews Men by Bill Geroux; though it’s well-written and interesting, my books of choice are not normally non-fiction.

In Salisbury, we sat out at Joanie’s pool bar, where my brother-in-law Steve served us up some mixed drinks.  My nephew Seth and his girlfriend, Julia, hung out with us too.  It was fun to visit with my sister and to hang out by her pool on Sunday too. 🙂

me, my sister Joan and my nephew's girlfriend
me, my sister Joan and Julia

On August 4, after a number of failed attempts to meet in May and June, I finally met with a lady who runs a wine touring company.  She asked if I’d like to try out being a tour guide for her company.  I agreed to give it a try on Saturday, August 6.  I went with tour-guide Jim, who showed me the ropes; we took a group of ten 30-something ladies on a bachelorette tour of 3 wineries.  Our first stop was Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, where the owner warmly welcomes guests into the main tasting room in the living room of her c.1820 house.

Zephaniah Vineyard's tasting room
Zephaniah Vineyard’s tasting room

Next we stopped at Stone Tower Winery, set on 306 acres atop Hogback Mountain.  This is a large more commercial enterprise, and though beautiful, was not as appealing to me as the other two more intimate wineries.

Stone Tower Winery
Stone Tower Winery
pond at Stone Tower Winery
pond at Stone Tower Winery
vineyards at Stone Tower Winery
vineyards at Stone Tower Winery

The tasting room was quite chilly, so we ate lunch in a cavernous and only a little-less-chilly room with live music.  We couldn’t easily sit outside as it was hot, humid and spitting rain sporadically.  The young ladies seemed to be having a wonderful time.  This venue is much less homey than the other two, although the setting is lovely.

Our last stop was The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards, a family owned and operated winery housed in a refurbished dairy farm. The restored hundred and six-year-old stone and wood bank barn has been transformed into a tasting room, surrounded by eleven acres of rolling hills and woods.

The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station

The tour was fun and the owner has booked me for two tours in September.  It’s very occasional work, she has told me, which is fine by me.:-)

This week, we’re having our entire basement painted.  It hasn’t been painted since we bought the house in 1994 and it was sorely in need of refurbishing. Our boys grew up hanging out with their friends down there, and you can only imagine what disrepair it was in. There were several holes punched in the wall from some wild activities.  As soon as we return from Iceland, the whole basement will also be re-carpeted, and with a new sectional we just had delivered, it will become Mike’s “man-cave.” I’ve gently nudged him out of the living room, where I have my desk and computer.  Now we’ll both have space to work and not be crowded together into one corner of the living room. 🙂

The house projects never seem to end!  It seems they have been going on all year, but I guess it’s to be expected after so many years of neglect.

Several weeks ago, I received my refurbished Canon Rebel back from Canon USA Inc. and I hadn’t had time to try it out.  I’ve needed to decide which camera to take to Iceland, my Canon or my trusty old Olympus.  Wednesday, I finally took the Canon out to Burnside Farms, where the sunflowers are now in bloom.  I didn’t take my Olympus, because I’ve already taken sunflower pictures with it in the past at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area: an afternoon with light-crazed sunflowers.  Below are all the pictures I took with the Canon.  I’d love to know your opinion.  It seems to me that the pictures are sharper than they were before, but too many of them were overexposed and I had to adjust them in post-processing.  Any hints from the photographers out there?  I’d love to hear advice.

Below this batch of Canon pictures are pictures taken with my iPhone 6s.  Which do you think are better?  I think I’ve pretty much decided to leave my Canon at home and take my much-used and dependable Olympus to Iceland.

sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

Here are the photos taken with the iPhone.

Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

It’s pretty sad when iPhone pictures are better than a camera for which I paid $400, as well as another $300 for a telephoto lens. 😦

Thanks so much for dropping by for cocktail hour.  It was sure great to see you all again.  I really haven’t had a very exciting or interesting month, but I hope to have more adventurous things to report when I return from Iceland.  I hope you’ll share what you’ve been up to.  I may not be able to answer you until after August 25.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!  I’m so ready for fall and cooler weather. 🙂

cocktail hour between the holidays: the early december edition

Sunday, December 6:  So much for good intentions!  I planned to start posting my cocktail hour more regularly after I wrote the last one on December 1, but here I am only getting to it a month later.  Welcome to our between-the-holidays cocktail hour.  Forget the patio; we are now moving indoors where it’s nice and warm.  Mike tells me he’d rather not entertain until we’ve finished our house renovation, but as we are just getting ready to sign a contract with a contractor this week, that wouldn’t be till the spring.  I can’t wait that long to have a gathering with my blogging friends!

Please, come in and make yourself comfortable.  I’ve made some hot apple cider, and I also can make you can egg nog drink, alcoholic or not, as you wish.  Lots of great wines too and some craft beers.

I’ve been trying to keep up with you on your blogs, but in case I missed anything, I’d love to hear how you’re preparing for the holiday festivities.  Have you put up your Christmas tree yet?  Decorated your house for the holidays?  For my American friends: did you have a nice Thanksgiving? Have you been outside exploring nature?  Have you seen any holiday light shows or been to any holiday markets?  Have you had your first snow of the season?  Have you seen any good movies or read any good books?  Have you been to any plays or concerts?  Have you completed any house projects?

We just picked up our Christmas tree this afternoon, and it’s now sitting in a bucket of water until we can decorate it sometime this week.  Mike put the wreaths on the windows and a spotlight near the front door which illuminates the wreaths. Other than that, I haven’t done anything holiday-related other than to buy myself some Christmas presents, notably a new Canon EOS Rebel SL1 and a telephoto lens.  I won’t be opening it until Christmas, but it’s already been delivered. 🙂

Mike and I went on a beautiful hike on Billy Goat Trail along the Potomac River on Sunday, November 8, which I wrote about here: a november rock scramble on billy goat trail.  The following weekend, we went to Shepherdstown, West Virginia and Sharpsburg, Maryland, where we stayed in a B&B, walked all around Antietam Battlefield, and had a wonderful time celebrating our anniversary.  More about that later. 🙂

I had a fabulous Thanksgiving on November 26 at my sister Joan’s house in Salisbury, Maryland. My sister Stephanie from California and my brother Rob from New Jersey couldn’t make it, but my dad and stepmother were there, as well as my sister Joan, her husband Steve and my nephew Seth.  Sadly my niece Kelsey, who is now married to Dave, had to go to Dave’s house for the holiday, so she wasn’t there.  However, in a rare alignment of the stars, all three of my children were in attendance.  It was a wonderful day.

The table's all set
The table’s all set

We drove 2 1/2 hours to Salisbury and when we arrived, my sister was busy cooking.  The table was already set.  We visited and hung out while the turkey cooked, drinking wine and eating cheese & crackers and smoked oysters.

Joan and Steve, perfect hosts as always, made sure everyone was happy and had what they needed.

Joan and Steve
Joan and Steve

Some of the kids and Mike threw a football around in the front yard.  Mike somehow ruptured the tendon on one of his fingers, causing it to dangle at the joint. Later he found out from the doctor it’s called mallet finger. As an ex-football player, he was quite embarrassed about it!

frisbee game: Top: Sarah, Alex, Adam, Seth. Bottom: Mike
football game: Top: Sarah, Alex, Adam, Seth. Bottom: Mike

Mike took a picture of my sister and me out by the pool.

Joan and me
Joan and me

When dinner was finally served, we all loaded up our plates and joined each other around the table for a wonderful meal.

Everyone except me
Everyone except me
Everyone except Steve
Everyone except Steve

After dinner and dessert, we drove back home to northern Virginia.  The next morning Sarah wanted to invite her Aunt Barbara, Mike’s sister, over for brunch.  We had a somewhat healthy version of huevos rancheros and bacon and waffles.

healthy huevos rancheros
healthy huevos rancheros

I finished reading Isabelle Allende’s The Infinite Plan on November 24, which I really enjoyed.  Then I dove right in to The Outside of August, by Joanna Hershon.  I find this story intriguing because it’s told from the point of view of a daughter whose mother, Charlotte, is always escaping to foreign lands.  They can’t really figure out what she does when she goes away, nor why she feels compelled to always leave. The family feels the mother’s absence intensely when she’s absent, and they seem to always be waiting for her return. Of course, I can identify with this story as I can see a lot of myself in that mother.  It’s interesting that it’s told from the children’s point of view, and focuses on how her absence really affects the children.  Of course, in my all-too-real life, I can see the effect my absence has had on my children, although they insist that they are proud of me for following my dreams and for my bravery and adventurous nature.  They say one thing, but their actions often speak differently.  I’m nearly finished the book and am anxious to discover why the mother always felt the urge to escape to exotic lands. Maybe it will tell me something about myself that I don’t know.

I went to see the movie Steve Jobs.  It was an excellent movie and it just so happened Adam was home on the afternoon I was going to see it and asked to come along because of his fascination with Jobs.  Adam is brilliant, and like Steve Jobs, he doesn’t see the need to go to college.  He wants to change the world like Jobs did, but in a way that involves permaculture, organic farming, etc.  At this moment, I can see Adam struggling to find a direction and I wish with all my heart that he’d reconsider going to college.  One thing I’m figuring out is that I cannot force my children to do what they don’t want to do.  It’s a losing battle, and I’m learning to give it up.  I have to step back and give them the reins and see what they can figure out on their own.  But I must admit it’s frustrating to see such a struggle going on with him when he could have it so easy.

Mike and I went to see Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks and, another night, we went to see singer Madeleine Peyroux at The Barns at Wold Trap.  I really loved the movie, Spotlight, in which journalists in Boston took on the Catholic Church over the abuse of young children by priests. I was less impressed with Brooklyn, about an Irish immigrant girl.  It seemed tedious and predictable.

I had a goal to send off my novel to 10 agents by the end of November, but I only sent it out to five.  I don’t know why I’m so resistant to putting it out there.  Of course I’m afraid of rejection, but shouldn’t I be more afraid of it sitting on my computer, unseen by anyone, as it has for the last twelve years?  I hope to send it out to at least five more agents by year-end.

I’ve been doing way too much shopping, such a foolish thing to waste my time on.  But I find myself in the house all day and feeling trapped.  I just have to get out and see other human beings.  I’m considering signing up for a real estate course just for something to do where I can get out with other adults. I’ve always enjoyed looking at houses and my banking background will come in handy.  I don’t really want to teach ESL in America as the pay is horrible for the amount of work required.  And now, I don’t want to go abroad because I need to stay home for various reasons, mainly my children, Mike and the upcoming home renovation.

In 2000, I did The Artist’s Way 12-week course.  Doing that inspired me to write short stories and eventually my novel.  Now I’ve decided to undertake The Artist’s Way at Work: Riding the Dragon.  I just started it on December 2 and it will take 12 weeks.  Who knows what this might open up for me.

I find myself quite depressed about all the violence that is happening in the world, especially related to ISIS: the Paris shootings, the Beirut attacks, the downing of the Russian plane, the recent killing of a governor in a state in Yemen.  The killings in San Bernardino this week by a husband and wife who pledged their support to the caliphate.  Will the violence ever end?  I have that same uneasy feeling I had after September 11, the time period during which my novel takes place.  I wrote the novel at a time when I felt shaken by world events, and those events keep repeating themselves in different forms today.  I don’t begin to know the solution to dealing with the ISIS caliphate and their violence-with-a-vengeance campaign.  I don’t even know if people such as these, people who are so hell-bent on forcing their world view on all of us, can be bargained with in a non-violent way.  Would they be wiling to bend, even a little?

Here in America, we have our own brand of terrorism as well, with disenfranchised and alienated people taking their anger to the extreme by grabbing an easy-to-access weapon and randomly shooting innocent people.  I can see the alienation that is taking over our country and we should work on correcting that deep issue rather than thinking more gun laws will solve what I see as symptoms to the problem.  I am for some gun control, especially for assault-type weapons, but I also would like to know that when I feel threatened in any way, I can go out and get a gun myself to defend my family.

No matter what, I refuse to be afraid.  I will not let these people have power over me, and I hope most Americans will refuse to stand down. I am not going to let someone else dictate to me what my life will be.

Back to more pleasant things.  We haven’t yet had any snow in northern Virginia, but we have had many rainy and dreary days.  I love to go outside to walk every day, if possible, and the weather has put a damper on that.  The weight I lost over the last couple of months is slowly creeping back, so I need to pull back on my eating.  But on these cold and dreary days, comfort foods are calling my name.  We’ve been making a lot of soups, the perfect remedy to cold winter days.

Here’s one view along my favorite 3-mile walk around Lake Audubon.  We’ve had a lot of gray skies like these lately.

Reflections on a gray day around Lake Audubon in Reston
Reflections on a gray day around Lake Audubon in Reston
Lake Audubon
Lake Audubon

SCAN0001We went this past Friday night to Mike’s company’s holiday Christmas party.  I haven’t gotten dressed up like that in years, and I have to say, I really don’t like getting dressed up! I’m always so uncomfortable wearing pantyhose and walking in heels.  I don’t know why on earth someone can’t invent some comfortable pantyhose!

It was a fun gathering with lots of fantastic food, especially crab cakes and a pasta bar and a great salad bar.  It was nice to meet many of Mike’s coworkers. The best thing about the party was this crazy photo booth thing where you got inside and did silly poses and the photo booth printed out a column of pictures.  It was so goofy and loads of fun!

Finally, on Saturday, we went to Richmond where Mike went to the University of Richmond vs. William & Mary football game and I met Sarah and Alex for lunch at Fresca…on Addison.  Later that evening, we picked up Alex and his girlfriend Ariana, and we all went to the Dominion GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and then had a Cuban dinner at Kuba-Kuba.  I’ll post something about that later.  It was great fun and got us all in the mood for the holidays. 🙂

I know I’ve talked a lot about what’s been going on with me, but I hope you’ll tell me what’s happening with you in the comments.  I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to. Hugs to you all and thank you for coming.  Have a holly jolly Christmas and a happy New Year!

 

the final attack trail at antietam, the antietam creek aqueduct & return to virginia

Sunday, November 15:  Finally, we embark on our last hike at Antietam, the Final Attack Trail.  This afternoon is gorgeous, cool but not too cold or windy, with the sun shining in full force.  This is my favorite hike at Antietam with its rolling hills and grand vistas.

After capturing the Burnside Bridge, over 8,000 Union soldiers crossed Antietam Creek.  They marched across the fields where the trail is located for the final advance to drive the Confederate Army from Maryland, only to be turned back by A. P. Hill’s final Confederate counterattack.  It’s disturbing to realize how many lives were lost in this place with no decisive victory in the end.

This part of the battle lasted from 3:00-5:30 p.m. and saw five times as many casualties than there were in the action at the Burnside Bridge.  These final 2 1/2 hours of combat concluded the 12-hour struggle of the bloodiest day in American history.

Starting off on the Final Attack Trail
Starting off on the Final Attack Trail

As we proceed along the trail, we find exceptional views of the Antietam Valley and the series of ridges and farms that the Union 9th Corps advanced across.  Across the valley is the Sherrick Farm, built in the 1830s by Joseph Sherrick Jr. and leased to Leonard Emmert at the time of the battle.

View of Antietam Valley and Sherrick Farm
View of Antietam Valley and Sherrick Farm
The Final Attack Trail
The Final Attack Trail

Next we head toward Otto Lane and make a stop at the 11th Ohio Monument, where we stop to admire the views.  This entire trail traverses the Otto farm. After the battle, the Otto and Sherrick Farms served as field hospitals.

Otto Lane
Otto Lane
path leading to Otto Lane
path leading to Otto Lane
path leading to Otto Lane and the 11th Ohio Monument
path leading to Otto Lane and the 11th Ohio Monument
Mike at the 11th Ohio Monument
Mike at the 11th Ohio Monument
Otto Lane
Otto Lane

The gully next to Otto Lane was used as a respite from the terror of war by the Union soldiers.

ravine
ravine

Next we head down the trail to the 40-acre cornfield.

Taking the Final Attack Trail to a 40-acre cornfield
Taking the Final Attack Trail to a 40-acre cornfield
Final Attack Trail
Final Attack Trail
Final Attack Trail
Final Attack Trail

In the head-high corn of the 40-acre cornfield, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Powell (A.P.) Hill made the Confederate’s final attack.  Hill’s approximately 3,500 men, who had been tending to the surrender of the Union garrison at nearby Harpers Ferry, left Harpers Ferry at 7:00 a.m., marched 15 grueling miles, waded across the Potomac River and arrived about 4:00 p.m.  Three of Hill’s five brigades, about 2,500 men, would arrive in time to attack, according to a National Park Service pamphlet: The Final Attack Trail.

Final Attack Trail to the 40-acre cornfield
Final Attack Trail to the 40-acre cornfield
Cornfield on the Final Attack Trail
Cornfield on the Final Attack Trail
Final Attack Trail to the ridge
Final Attack Trail to the ridge
hilly ground
hilly ground

The huge hackberry tree below marks the extreme southern end of the battlefield.  It was at this end of the field that A.P. Hill’s Confederates made their counterattack to support D.R. Jones’ division that was being pushed back to Sharpsburg.

the hackberry tree at the extreme southern end of the battlefield
the hackberry tree at the extreme southern end of the battlefield
climbing to the ridge for the Final Attack vista
climbing to the ridge for the Final Attack vista

At the top of the ridge, we can see one of the best battle panoramas at Antietam.  From this spot, we can see most of the ground covered in the Union 9th Corps advance and A.P. Hill’s counterattack.  The Union army stretched for close to 3 miles to the north, slowed by the difficult terrain and the corn.   In the end, the entire 9th Corps collapsed from left to right and fell backwards toward the bridge.

Along the Final Attack vista
Along the Final Attack vista

Artillery Ridge was used by the artillery of both sides.  Union soldier Charles Cuffel remembered that “the cannonading was very heavy, each side appearing to employ all the guns at their command, and to use them with utmost vigor.  The air seemed to be filled with shrieking missiles, and there was ocular evidence on every hand that somebody was getting hurt.” (National Park Service: The Final Attack Trail).

We continue walking across Artillery Ridge and return to where we started the hike.

Me with cannon at Artillery Ridge
Me with cannon at Artillery Ridge

Burnside’s advance and A.P. Hill’s counterattack concluded the twelve hours of fighting on September 17, 1862. On this end of the battlefield, the Union men fell back to where we started our walk.  The difficult terrain, the confusion of battle, and a timely Confederate arrival all combined to stop the Union army and led to a tactical draw.

General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia held their ground on the 18th, then withdrew back across the Potomac River to Virginia.  The battle ended the first Confederate invasion of the North and provided Abraham Lincoln an opportunity to issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

Sherrick Farm
Sherrick Farm

After leaving Antietam shortly after 1:00 today, we go to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (the C&O Canal) built originally from 1828-1850 to create a navigable waterway from tidewater at Georgetown (Washington, D.C.) to the Ohio River.   By the time 1850 rolled around, progress had left the C&O Canal behind and canals were obsolete.  Cost overruns, labor problems, and rocky terrain delayed building the canal, but new railroad technology had made great strides.  The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad completed the link to the west, while the canal stopped far short or reaching the Ohio River (National Park service pamphlet: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal).

After closing in 1924, the canal sat abandoned for 30 years.  Now bypassed by freight and commerce, the canal was soon discovered by people with different goals.  The canal’s nearly level towpath ran 184.5 miles along the Potomac River.  In 1971, Congress established the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.  Today, hikers, campers, bicyclists and others can explore the Potomac River valley’s rich history, wildlife and geology.

I’ve been on different parts of the C&O Canal during my many years living in northern Virginia. You can read about some of the other places of interest here: https://catbirdinamerica.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/great-falls-park-the-patomack-canal/ and https://catbirdinamerica.wordpress.com/2015/11/08/a-november-rock-scramble-on-billy-goat-trail/.

Today, we go to the C&O Canal to visit Antietam Creek and the Antietam Creek Aqueduct, begun in 1832 and completed in April 1835.  The C&O Canal used 11 navigable aqueducts to carry the canal over rivers and streams that were too wide for a culvert to contain (Wikipedia: Aqueducts on the C&O Canal).

Antietam Creek Aqueduct
Antietam Creek Aqueduct
Antietam Creek Aqueduct
Antietam Creek Aqueduct

By the time we arrive for lunch at 2:15 back in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, we’re famished.  We decide to try out the Mexican restaurant at Mi Degollado II.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mike at Mi Degollado

Mi Degollado II was built in the old Yellow Brick Bank in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. It even has the old bank vault in it.

After lunch, it’s sadly time for our anniversary weekend to come to a close.

Mi Degollado
Mi Degollado

We drive back a couple of hours home to northern Virginia, happy to have celebrated our 27th, or 20th (whichever you want to call it), anniversary on such a beautiful weekend. 🙂

breakfast at the inn & the cornfield trail at antietam

Sunday, November 15:  After having a wonderful breakfast at the Jacob Rohrbach Inn, we walk around inside and outside to take pictures before checking out and heading to Antietam National Battlefield.

Jacob Rohrbach Inn
Jacob Rohrbach Inn

When we get to Antietam, our first stop is the Dunker Church, possibly one of the most famous churches in American military history. This historic structure began as a humble country house of worship constructed by local Dunker farmers in 1852. During its early history the congregation consisted of about half a dozen farm families from the local area (National Park Service: Who were the Dunkers).

Dunker Church
Dunker Church

The Dunker movement began in Germany in the early eighteenth century; the name derives from its method of baptism by full immersion. However they were more commonly known as the German Baptist Brethren.

According to National Park Service: Who were the Dunkers: Dunkers practiced modesty in their dress and general lifestyle. Other Christian principles which the Dunker’s stress are: pacifism, members both North and South refused military service; the brotherhood of man, including opposition to slavery; and temperance, total abstinence from alcohol. A typical Dunker Church service supported their beliefs in simplicity. Hymns were sung with no musical accompaniment from organ, piano or other instruments. The congregation was divided with men seated on one side and women on the other. The churches were simple with no stained glass windows, steeple or crosses.

Inside the simple Dunker Church
Inside the simple Dunker Church

During the battle of Antietam the church was the focal point of a number of Union attacks against the Confederate left flank. At the battle’s end the Confederates used the church as a temporary medical aid station. At least one account states that after the battle the Union Army used the Dunker Church as an embalming station. One tradition persists that Lincoln may have visited the site during his visit to the Army of the Potomac in October 1862 (National Park Service: Dunker Church).

After our brief visit to the Dunker Church, we embark on the 1.6 mile Cornfield Trail, beginning at the North Woods.  The trail covers most of the area where the first three hours of the battle took place. More than 25,000 men in blue and gray struggled mightily for control of this northern end of the field. There were more casualties in and around the Cornfield than anywhere else on the battlefield, with as many as 8,000 men killed or wounded from dawn until 9:00 a.m. during two major Union attacks and a Confederate counterattack.  This is actually an agricultural area; the National Park Service issues permits to local farmers who plant crops and pasture animals that help the park maintain its rural landscape  (National Park Service pamphlet: The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).

We park near the J. Poffenberger farm and explore that for a bit.  It’s beautiful with the bright blue sky as a backdrop.

J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
Mike at the J. Poffenberger farm
Mike at the J. Poffenberger farm

We begin at what was then the North Woods.  Over the years, local farmers used the wood for fences and firewood.  The Park Service is trying to restore the land to how it looked the day of the battle and has planted trees in this and other areas of the park.

What was once the North Woods
What was once the North Woods

From this point, Major General Joseph Hooker’s Union forces moved out.  After marching through the North Woods and into the open fields beyond, the Union soldiers were met with devastating artillery fire from Confederate guns (The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).

For the next 100 yards, we walk along the edge of the East Woods.  Part of this will be replanted by the Park Service.  All of the wooded areas were important as staging and rallying areas for both sides.

Along the edge of the East Woods
Along the edge of the East Woods

Hooker ordered two artillery batteries to move to the high ground and fire point-blank at the Confederates in the Cornfield, clearing the way for Hooker’s infantry.  Then three 1st Corps brigades moved through the area.  One commander was wounded and another panicked and ran away, delaying two of the brigades.  General Abraham Duryea’s Brigade of about 1,000 men advanced alone into the Cornfield at about 6:00 a.m.  In the 30 minutes before the other two delayed units joined them, almost half of Durban’s men would be killed or wounded (The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).

view of the Cornfield
view of the Cornfield
the edge of the East Woods
the edge of the East Woods

The 12th Massachusetts went through the Cornfield where they collided with Gen. Harry Hays’ Louisiana Brigade.  During the struggle, the men from Massachusetts had 67% casualties (dead and wounded), the highest percentage of loss for any Union regiment that day (The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).

There are two main types of historic fences – the five rail vertical and the stacked snake rail. Fences like these at Antietam represent fence lines that were here during the battle.

Me on a peaceful day in the Cornfield
Me on a peaceful day in the Cornfield
fences in the Cornfield
snake, or worm rail, fence in the Cornfield

We traipse across the open cornfield, trying to imagine the mayhem and noise and the smell of death on that horrible day.  It really is hard for us to imagine such devastation, especially on such a perfect and calm day.

Here, we’re walking in the footsteps of the Iron Brigade, who pushed through this field at about 6:30 a.m.  These were all midwestern boys from Wisconsin and Indiana and Major Rufus Dawes describes the carnage: “Men I cannot say fell; they were knocked out of the ranks by the dozens.”

the Cornfield looking back at the East Woods
the Cornfield looking back at the East Woods

Later that morning, Confederate soldiers under Gen. John Bell Hood’s command counterattacked back through the corn all the way to this northern edge.  By 9:00 a.m. the Cornfield changed hands too many times to count.

looking across the Cornfield to the Miller farm
looking across the Cornfield to the Miller farm
the Cornfield
the Cornfield
the Cornfield and snake, or worm, rail
the Cornfield and snake, or worm, rail

After numerous battles and casualties on this spot, the 1st Texas Infantry charged through the Cornfield, losing 82% of their men (killed or wounded), the highest percentage for any Confederate unit in any battle of the Civil War.

the Cornfield looking west toward the Miller farm
the Cornfield looking west toward the Miller farm

Though the history tells of many attacks and counterattacks in this area, I won’t go into great depth here.

The battle not only killed soldiers but it devastated the community.  The town of Sharpsburg’s population at that time was about 1,200.  For every person in town, there were almost 100 soldiers present.  The battle destroyed not only fences and crops, but houses, barns and the residents’ livelihoods.  After the battle, the 80,000-man Union army remained for two months as uninvited guests, according to the National Park Service pamphlet: The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death.

the Miller farm
the Miller farm

David R. Miller owned the farm that included the Cornfield.  Like other residents, he ran to escape the terror of war only to return to a farm that would never be the same.  He submitted a damage claim of $1,237 to the federal government for damage, and the U.S. Quartermaster General reimbursed him $995 in 1872, ten years later (The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).

Diseases also ravaged many of the local families.  David’s brother Daniel died just after the battle.  Another brother wrote “diarrhea was a very common complaint…” adding to the horrors of war (The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).

Mike and I continue our hike today down the Hagerstown Turnpike past the Miller farm, where we encounter a very curious flock of sheep.

sheep at the Miller farm
sheep at the Miller farm
curious sheep
curious sheep
the sheep approach
the sheep approach
just north of Miller farm
just north of Miller farm
the sheep at Miller farm watch us closely
the sheep at Miller farm watch us closely

After leaving our sheep friends, we continue on the loop and head back toward the North Woods and the J. Poffenberger farm where we parked.

me on the path back to the North Woods
me on the path back to the North Woods
Mike heading to the North Woods
Mike heading to the North Woods
the trail to the North Woods
the trail to the North Woods
autumn trees
autumn trees

The landscape along this trail was the scene of some of the most terrible fighting in the history of the United States.  General Joseph Hooker wrote, “In the time I am writing every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before.  It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battlefield.” 

“Incredibly, the fighting in the Cornfield represented only one-third of the day’s action at Antietam.  At the end of eleven hours of battle, more than 23,000 men were killed, wounded or missing.  General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia held their ground on the 18th, then retreated that night across the Potomac River and back into Virginia.  This battle ended the first Northern invasion by the Confederacy and provided Abraham Lincoln an opportunity to issue his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation,” says the pamphlet: The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death.

After we finish hiking the Cornfield Trail it’s only 11:40 a.m., too early to eat, so we decide we’ll hike the 1.7-mile Final Attack Trail before grabbing lunch back in Shepherdstown.

 

 

antietam: the bloody lane trail

Saturday, November 14:  We drive back to Antietam Visitor’s Center and begin the 1.6 mile walk along the Bloody Lane Trail.  This trail winds through the historic Mumma and Roulette Farms, following in the footsteps of Union soldiers as they advanced toward the Sunken Road.  At the Sunken Road, we can see the Confederate position in what has been known since the battle as Bloody Lane.

The story of the Mumma and Roulette families shows how they, as well as others in the community, suffered severely when the opposing armies converged on Sharpsburg.

Before the battle, Samuel and Elizabeth Mumma and their ten children fled the farm.  As dawn broke on September 17, 1862, Confederate commanders feared Federal soldiers might capture the farm and use the buildings as cover to fire at their men.  Thus, soldiers from North Carolina were instructed to set the home on fire.  Throughout the morning, smoke and fire billowed from the burning farmhouse.

Mumma Farm
Mumma Farm

To receive compensation, the Mummas had to prove the fire was set by Union soldiers.  Since it was set by the Confederates, the family received no money for their losses.  With the help of other local families, the Mummas rebuilt their home and lived on their 186 acre farm until they sold it in 1885.  After changing hands several more times over the years, the National Park Service bought it in 1961.

Mumma Farm
Mumma Farm

We leave the Mumma farm and head next to the Roulette Farm. It’s a gorgeous day, but now that it’s getting late in the day and the sun hangs low on the horizon, it’s quite cold.

the trail to the Roulette Farm
the trail to the Roulette Farm

Thousands of Union soldiers tramped through the Roulette Farm as they marched toward the Sunken Road.  As the troops from the 130th Pennsylvania neared the house, an artillery round smashed through the family beehives on the west side of the house; the bees promptly went after the soldiers, encouraging them to speed through the orchard toward the entrenched enemy, according to a pamphlet on The Bloody Lane Trail by the National Park Service.

the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm

Extensive damage was caused by the Union forces.  Because it was the Union forces that did the damage, William Roulette filed a claim and received compensation for damage to the beehives, fences, crops and the use of the farm as a hospital.  His claim also stated that 700 dead soldiers were buried on his property.

the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm

The Roulette family suffered an even greater tragedy when their youngest daughter Carrie May died from disease brought by the armies.

the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
autumn tree
autumn tree
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail

We leave the Roulette Farm and head uphill to the Sunken Road.  This is the center of Union battle lines that were over 700 yards wide.  Every step of this trail now follows in the footsteps of the Union soldiers, many going to meet their tragic fate.  Over 70% of General French’s division, who led the march, had never experienced combat before.

uphill to the Sunken Road
uphill to the Sunken Road

It’s so peaceful here now that it’s hard to imagine that horrific day.

farmland on the way to the Sunken Road
farmland on the way to the Sunken Road
Mike following in the steps of the Union soldiers
Mike following in the steps of the Union soldiers

At the crest of the hill is where the Unions met the Confederates and blasted away at each other at point-blank range for over 3 hours.  Here, the 69th New York Infantry lost 62% and the 63rd New York Infantry lost 59% killed and wounded.

According to the pamphlet, one soldier wrote how “The air was now thick with smoke from the muskets that not only obscured our vision of the enemy, but made breathing difficult and most uncomfortable…we were forced to breathe this powder smoke which the coating of nose, throat and eyes almost like fire.”  A member of the Irish brigade said that their lines of battle “melted like wax before the fire.

me at the corner leading to the Sunken Road
me at the corner leading to the Sunken Road

General John Caldwell’s brigade replaced Meagher’s famous Irish Brigade, and it was these soldiers that would eventually break through and drive the Confederates from the Sunken Road.

the tower overlooking the Sunken Road
the tower overlooking the Sunken Road

About 2,200 Confederate soldiers waited in the Sunken Road, placing their muskets on the fence rails which they had knocked down and piled up for protection.  They hunkered down in this local short cut worn down by years of wagon traffic and erosion.  Just before the Union advance, Commanding General Robert E. Lee appeared briefly to encourage his men.

view of the Sunken Road from the tower
view of the Sunken Road from the tower

For more than three hours, the combatants fired away at one another at point-blank range. Greatly outnumbered, the Confederates tried to reinforce the hollowed out road with little success.  At about noon, after numerous Federal assaults, the thin gray line of Confederates broke.  Union forces seized the road and drove the Southerners toward the Piper Farm.

view of Bloody Lane Road from the Tower
view of Bloody Lane Road from the Tower
fields around Bloody Lane
fields around Bloody Lane

Union General Israel Richardson was mortally wounded as he tried to reposition some artillery and with the breakdown of the command structure, the Federal push toward Sharpsburg faltered.  Thus, after three hours of fierce fighting, little had changed.  Neither side held the Sunken Road, the Union forces fell back toward the Roulette Farm and the Confederates regrouped around Piper Farm.  A total of 5,500 soldiers were killed or wounded during the fighting in and around the Sunken Road, today known as Bloody Lane (National Park Service: Bloody Lane Trail: Attack and Defense of the Sunken Road).

the Bloody Lane
the Bloody Lane
Along the Bloody Lane
Along the Bloody Lane
fences along the Bloody Lane
fences along the Bloody Lane
Monument at Bloody Lane
Monument at Bloody Lane

One soldier writing about The Bloody Lane described the carnage as a “carpet of red, gray and blue.”  

leaving the Bloody Lane
leaving the Bloody Lane

I’m quite moved by all this history, and although it’s hard to imagine that day now, we do take a moment to reflect upon that fateful day.  I think it should be required for all students of American history to visit these and other battlefields and monuments in the United States.  I know Europeans often laugh at the brevity of “American history,” but no matter how short our history is, it’s still our unique story. All of us should try to appreciate the costs of freedom that are often paid dearly with the lives of young men (and nowadays, women).

I’ve never even been to Antietam myself, and I live about as close as a person can get to this area.  I’m glad I got to come today to explore and learn more about this battle that played such a large part in the Civil War.

Completing the loop back to the Visitor's Center
Completing the loop back to the Visitor’s Center
fields of Antietam
fields of Antietam
fences in Antietam
fences in Antietam
fences and autumn trees
fences and autumn trees

After our two hikes today, we head to Sharpsburg to The Jacob Rohrbach Inn, change clothes and head to Shepherdstown for our anniversary dinner at The Press Room.

Me toasting our anniversary at the Press Room in Shepherdstown
Me toasting our anniversary at the Press Room in Shepherdstown

After a delightful dinner, we queue up in Sharpsburg at Nutter’s Ice Cream for a special top-off to our anniversary meal.  It’s so cold outside, it’s hard to get up the courage to eat ice cream, but that doesn’t stop the hordes of people standing in line for their treats.  We actually take ours back to the inn to eat in the warmth of the common room.

We plan to head back to Antietam tomorrow as there are several more hikes that beckon.  🙂