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.  🙂

antietam national battlefield: burnside bridge & the snavely ford trail

Saturday, November 14: After lunch, we head to Antietam National Battlefield, where there are plenty of good hikes and a tragic history.  First we stop in at the Visitor’s Center where we see exhibits about the Battle of Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg. I always amaze myself with how little I actually know of American history, even though it was drilled into me as a child and I have lived nearly my whole life in Virginia, the state which I consider, as a native Virginian, to be the hub of ALL American history!

The doomed battle was fought on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland and Antietam Creek as part of the Maryland Campaign.  It was the first major battle in the American Civil War to take place on Union soil and was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with a combined tally of dead, wounded, and missing at 22,717 (Wikipedia: Battle of Antietam).

Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center
Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center

The first quote we see when we walk in reveals the writer’s shock that such horrors could have actually happened on that ill-fated day.

A bit of history about the bloodiest day in American history
a quote about the bloodiest day in American history

Two days after the battle, Alexander Gardner took this photo of dead Confederate soldiers and a crippled artillery limber in front of the simple, white-washed Dunker Church. Standing out against the dark West Woods, the church was a landmark for attacking soldiers.

Antietam was the first American battlefield photographed before the dead were buried.

a photograph by Alexander Gardner
a photograph by Alexander Gardner

There were many famous people involved in the Antietam Battle, including Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union Army Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.

famous people at Antietam
famous people at Antietam

The battle was a very complex one with multitudes of divisions led by various generals on both sides.  Whole history books have been written about it.  Although the battle was tactically inconclusive, the Confederate troops withdrew first from the battlefield, making it, in military terms, a Union victory. It was enough of a victory to give President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation, which discouraged the British and French governments from supporting the Confederacy (Wikipedia: Battle of Antietam).

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Lincoln on January 1, 1863. In a single stroke, it changed the federal legal status of more than 3 million enslaved persons in the designated areas of the South from “slave” to “free”. It had the practical effect that as soon as a slave escaped the control of the Confederate government, by running away or through advances of federal troops, the slave became legally free. Eventually it reached and liberated all of the designated slaves (Wikipedia: Emancipation Proclamation).

Antietam Battlefield is so sprawling that it has at least nine hikes ranging from 1- to 3-mile distances, with most hikes at around 1.6 miles. We decide we’ll try to do as many of them as we can, but it turns out we only have time to do 2 today and 2 tomorrow before we have to return home to Virginia.

We drive first to the Burnside Bridge.  Here about 500 Confederate soldiers held the area overlooking the bridge for three hours.  Burnside’s command finally captured the bridge and crossed Antietam Creek, which forced the Confederates back toward Sharpsburg.

The Burnside Bridge overlook
The Burnside Bridge overlook
Burnside Bridge
Burnside Bridge

The bridge is closed today for repairs, so we take the Snavely Ford Trail, which follows Antietam Creek for much of its length.  The hike is mostly flat and shady except for one uphill climb at the end of the trail.

We start off in the forest.  Most of the leaves have fallen off the trees by now.

Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail

We find a bench to take a rest, although we’re not really tired yet as we just started the hike!

me on a bench at Snavely Ford Trail
me on a bench at Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail
the trail ahead - Snavely Ford Trail
the trail ahead – Snavely Ford Trail

I love the reflections of the bare trees in Antietam Creek.

Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
the Snavely Ford Trail
the Snavely Ford Trail
Mike on the Snavely Ford Trail
Mike on the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
late autumn trees along Snavely Ford Trail
late autumn trees along Snavely Ford Trail

I’m usually not that keen on forest walks, preferring walks with sweeping vistas, so I keep asking Mike how long before we’re out on the open battlefields we saw while driving in.

Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail

Finally, we do emerge from the forest, where we find fields of grass and the Final Attack trail leading off to the west.

The entrance to the Final Attack Trail
The entrance to the Final Attack Trail
The Final Attack Trail
The Final Attack Trail
Farmland at Antietam
Farmland at Antietam
Circling around to the beginning on the Snavely Ford Trail
Circling around to the beginning on the Snavely Ford Trail

We find this monument at our parking lot near Burnside Bridge, and we hop in the car to move on to our next hike.

Monument at Burnside Bridge
Monument at Burnside Bridge

We leave Burnside Bridge Road and turn onto Branch Avenue where we stop at an overlook.  We can see the Final Attack Trail in the distance, but from this parking spot, we’d have to bushwack through a ravine to get to it.  We realize we should have entered it near where we originally parked.  We decide to save it for tomorrow.

Looking out over the Final Attack Trail
Looking out over the Final Attack Trail

To the north, we can see Sherrick Farm and Otto Farm.

Otto Farm and the Final Attack Trail
Otto Farm and the Final Attack Trail

And of course, I have to have my picture taken with a cannon, something I’ve been doing my whole life as I grew up near Yorktown Battlefield, where General Cornwallis surrendered and America won its independence from England.

me with a canon
me with a canon

We return to the Visitor’s Center to park and venture out to explore the Bloody Lane Trail.  It’s already quite a cold and blustery day, so as the sun sinks on the horizon, the cold whips through us as if we’re frail and flimsy cornstalks. Brrr. 🙂

 

a november rock scramble on billy goat trail

Sunday, November 8: The Billy Goat Trail is a 4.7-mile (7.6 km) hiking trail that follows a path between the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, abbreviated as the C&O Canal, and the Potomac River.  Laid out by the YMCA Triangle Club in 1919, it is one of the most popular, and grueling, hikes in the Washington metro area.

The trail has three sections: Section A, the northernmost, is 1.7 miles (2.7 km); Section B is 1.4 miles (2.3 km); and Section C, the southernmost, is 1.6 miles (2.6 km).  The trail in its entirety offers beautiful views of the Potomac River (Wikipedia: Billy Goat Trail).

This morning, Mike and I hike Section “A,” which is strenuous and involves a lot of rock scrambling and the need for good balance. It’s challenging, to say the least. With its difficult terrain, the 1.7 mile hike takes most visitors 2-3 hours to complete. It takes us about that long today.

You can read more about the trail here: Hiking Upward: Billy Goat Trail.

We park the car on the Maryland side of the Potomac River near the Old Angler’s Inn and head out to the towpath.  Billy Goat Trail is off the towpath after some distance.

The C&O Canal
The C&O Canal

The C&O Canal operated from 1831 until 1924 from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, along the Potomac River. The canal’s principal cargo was coal from the Allegheny Mountains. The 184.5 mile canal’s construction began in 1828 and ended in 1850.  Rising and falling over an elevation change of 605 feet, it required the construction of 74 canal locks, 11 aqueducts to cross major streams, more than 240 culverts to cross smaller streams, and the 3,118 ft Paw Paw Tunnel (Wikipedia: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal).

reflections of November trees
reflections of November trees

The canal way is now maintained as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with a trail that follows the old towpath (Wikipedia: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal).  We walk along the canal towpath for a while until we turn left off the trail to Section A of Billy Goat Trail.

At first the trail seems quite easy; we simply follow a hilly dirt path.  We quickly catch our first glimpses of the Potomac River.

first view of the Potomac River
first view of the Potomac River
looking up the Potomac
looking up the Potomac
Mike on Billy Goat Trail
Mike on Billy Goat Trail
boulders ahead
boulders ahead
the path ahead
the path ahead
tree roots and boulders
tree roots and boulders
trees growing over boulders
trees growing over boulders

We continue past the stream and past a pond and meadow.

pond
pond
pretty skies
pretty skies
boulders and trees
boulders and trees
reaching for the sky
reaching for the sky
meadow
meadow

Then we emerge from the forest and come again to the banks of the Potomac River.

Section “A” traverses Bear Island’s rough and rocky terrain, including a steep climb along a cliff face along the Potomac River’s Mather Gorge. At another point in the trail, hikers are required to scramble over and around huge boulders (Wikipedia: Billy Goat Trail).

the Potomac River
the Potomac River

When we get to the edge, my daredevil husband can never resist climbing up the rock face and perching himself precariously on the edge.  He is not ready to accept that he’s over 60!  Of course, neither am I, but I’m too afraid my clumsiness will betray me!

Mike on the cliff
Mike on the cliff

I’m content to sit in a safer place.

me on Billy Goat Trail
me on Billy Goat Trail

Billy Goat Trail holds fond memories for Mike and me.  When we started dating in the fall of 1987, we would take turns coming to visit each other.  He lived in northern Virginia and I lived in Richmond, and we alternated weekends in each of our respective towns.  One of the first weekends I visited him in northern Virginia, he took me to Billy Goat Trail.  We stopped multiple times along the top of the gorge and talked, him about his first wife’s death from cancer and me about my divorce from my first husband and about my daughter Sarah, who was 2 years old at the time.  We were a lot younger then!

more ponds
more ponds
ponds and meadows
ponds and meadows
boulders along Billy Goat Trail
boulders along Billy Goat Trail
The Potomac River
The Potomac River

At one of the points along the trail, the only way to keep going is to climb down this steeply inclined ledge, shown below.  We always come from the end of the trail where we have to climb down, but the people in the picture below are coming from the opposite end of the trail, and must climb up.  There is usually a line waiting to go up or down this ledge, especially on a beautiful fall day like today.  I always get a little nervous at this point, but it never turns out to be as bad as I think it will be.

a line at the ledge
a line at the ledge

From the top of Mather Gorge, we can see rock climbers climbing up the cliff faces on the opposite shore, on the Virginia side.  I wasn’t able to capture them in pictures.

Mather Gorge along the Potomac
Mather Gorge along the Potomac
Mike along the Potomac
Mike along the Potomac
The Potomac River
The Potomac River
me along the Potomac
me along the Potomac

Every time I hike this trail, I forget how strenuous it is and how hard it is on my body.  My arms and legs get sore and tired from pulling myself over boulders and leaping from one boulder to another and from climbing across too many boulders to count. I know I’m going to be hurting this afternoon and tomorrow.

We finally turn inland and return to the C&O Canal, where we pass a covered bridge and some of the old locks from the days the canal was operating.

covered bridge
covered bridge
Lock 16
Lock 16
Lock 16
Lock 16
the towpath
the towpath

There are lots of walkers, bicyclists and runners out today.  We pass this patriotic man carrying a flag with his two kids following on bicycles.

a patriotic runner
a patriotic runner

Finally, we’re back to the wide part of the canal, and almost back to the car.  I am one sore cookie!

the widened canal
the widened canal
map of Billy Goat Trail at the entrance to the trail
map of Billy Goat Trail at the entrance to the trail
Back along the canal
Back along the canal

It’s been such a gorgeous day today, with temperatures in the low 60s and bright blue skies.  I’m exhausted and my arms and legs are aching, but it was well worth it to hike this trail again.  Though I’ve done it numerous times in the past, it’s been over 10 years at least.  I guess I still have it in me, even after my last over-the-top birthday! 🙂