Saturday, October 28: Today is a crisp fall day, just the kind of day I love and the kind that has been slow in coming this year. It’s been unseasonably warm throughout October, and now, thank goodness, it’s finally cool. Not cold, but cool enough for a hike.
Mike and I head early to Shenandoah National Park to get ahead of the crowds, arriving at Hawksbill Gap parking lot, already overflowing, by 10:15. We start our hike at the trailhead by 10:30 a.m.
We’re doing the Hawksbill Loop Hike, a 2.9 mile circuit with a 860-feet elevation gain and a 2-hour hiking time. This is a rather short walk in Shenandoah National Park, but it’s just right for our first hike of the season. Everyone who knows me knows I don’t hike in summer; I despise the heat and would rather stay indoors all summer long!
Sadly, the colors of the leaves are not as vibrant up here in the mountains as I hoped they’d be; people say the colors aren’t great because it’s been so warm and wet. Many of the trees are already bare and the leaves underfoot are mostly brown and dead.
I love the rocks covered in moss.
I love the weathered misshapen trees found in the mountains; their shapes are a testament to their steadfast resistance to the elements.
I always love bracket fungi, also known as shelf fungi, with their fruiting bodies, or conks, of interconnected rows. They are mainly found on living or dead trees or coarse woody debris, and sometimes look like mushrooms.
I love the ferns, moss and lichens on the rocks.
Some trees are so hardy that they grow on top of boulders.
ferns and moss
rocks in moss and ferns
a little autumn color
rocks, moss and leaves
the path ahead
moss and leaves
We continue along the path, with moss-covered rocks all around us.
fern and moss
Nearing the summit, we find a lone yellow tree glowing amidst the bare trees.
Many trees and branches are all a-tumble and askew in the forest.
And some of the trees have very strange and convoluted shapes.
We reach one overlook where we can see the valley with Massanutten Mountain on the other side.
view of the valley
views from Hawksbill
Hawksbill is Shenandoah’s highest peak at 4,051 ft. We finally reach the summit, which is packed. People are sitting around eating their picnic lunches. We didn’t bring a lunch because we plan to visit Old Bust Head Brewing Co. for a beer, accompanied by lunch from a food truck.
I love the white trunks and branches of some of the bare trees.
After making our way back down from the summit, we hop in our car and drive along Skyline Drive, stopping at several of the overlooks.
Mike at an overlook
Every once in a while, we find some brighter splashes of color.
At Old Bust Head Brewing Co., we eat nachos and chili from a food truck. Mike has a Chukker, or Czech Style Pilsner, which he got addicted to on our trip to Czech Republic, while I have an Apricot Belgian Wit. There’s a lot of activity at the brewery today because it’s overflowing with bikers from The Great Pumpkin Ride. This ride is sponsored by the Fauquier Trails Coalition, a non-profit organization, and is a fundraiser to extend and connect existing trails in scenic Fauquier County. It has options for 32, 53 or 67 miles.
I’m glad I got an October hike in before month-end. Steps today: 11,108 (4.71 miles). Now we have to find one for November!
Tuesday, October 31: It’s time for our October cocktail hour, and I’m ecstatic that the weather is finally getting cooler, the air is becoming more crisp, and the leaves are shouting their last vibrant hurrah before winter sets in. Farm market displays are bursting with fresh apples, pumpkins, gourds and pumpkin & apple butter. Everywhere in suburban yards, straw scarecrows stand on sticks, ghosts float overhead on tree branches, gravestones and skulls lurk in the shadows. It’s my favorite time of year, and on top of the normal October pleasures, I celebrated another birthday on October 25. I’m now the venerable age of 62, but still feeling much younger than that truth-telling number.
Topping off everything else, yesterday morning, there were the Mueller indictments. I don’t plan to say much about it here, but suffice it to say, this was a fantastic belated birthday present. I hope it will be the gift that keeps on giving!
Please come in and take one of my Pottery Barn furry blankets. Wrap yourself up; we’ll sit out on the screened-in porch. It’s cool but not yet too cold. While on our trip, Mike and I became a bit addicted to local Czech beers, especially Pilsner Urquell and Budějovický (Budweiser) Budvar. Mike managed to find the Pilsner Urquell here in the U.S., so I have those to offer. We also have red and white wines, seltzer water and orange juice (always a refreshing combination for those of you who don’t drink), Vanilla Coke Zero, sparkling water and of course my old standby, Bud Light Lime. 🙂
I hope October has been good to you so far. Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you been to the theater or to a concert? Have you encountered any new songs? Have you welcomed any visitors? Have you wandered or journeyed; have you dreamed any dreams? Have you had any massages? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes? Have you embarked on any new endeavors?
Our first week in October was the second week of our two-week holiday to Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic. From October 1st on, we were in Czech Republic, namely Český Krumlov and Prague, and we returned home on October 7. I’ve been writing, slowly but surely, about our trip on my Europe blog: in search of a thousand cafes.
At the same time, I’m alternating writing about my last 10 days in Japan (catbird in japan). It’s all slow going, but eventually the story will be told. 🙂 Throughout the month, I continued to follow Jill’s Scene, who just completed the Camino de Santiago in late October. She and her husband started the 800km walk in early September; I still have dreams of doing it myself in September-October of 2018. I continued to add to my notes about her journey, the weather and challenges she encountered. I haven’t wavered in my dream to do this next year.
As for books, I’m way behind on my goal to read 40 books in 2017. I basically didn’t read much of anything the four months I was in Japan. I was simply too busy. But as of this month, I’ve managed to read 20 books, finishing Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner, which I enjoyed, and How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway, which was okay.
On the plane to Budapest and the flight back from Prague, I binge-watched the Emmy-award winning HBO mini-series Big Little Lies, which I loved. Listening to the opening credits soundtrack repeatedly, I became enamored of the song Cold Little Heart by Michael Kiwanuka. Now I’ve added it to my October playlist on Spotify. On my daily 3-mile walks, I listen to my various soundtracks, including that song, ad infinitum, as well as the podcast Modern Love from the New York Times column of the same name, hosted by Meghna Chakrabarti (WBUR).
Strangely, I haven’t seen one movie in the cinema this month, but Mike and I did see Native Gardens at Arena Stage in Washington on October 14. Appropriately themed as a reflection of our current antagonistic political environment in Washington, the play is about two neighbors, an older stodgy white couple, the Butleys and a young couple of Latino background, the Del Valles (the husband is Chilean and the pregnant wife a native New Mexican). There’s a generation gap, a cultural gap, and a gap in the actual property line; when the Del Valles want to quickly replace the decrepit fence between the properties so they can have an outdoor BBQ for the husband’s law firm, a surveyor finds their property line goes another couple of feet into the Butleys’ yard, encroaching on Frank Butley’s beloved garden. A huge altercation ensues addressing issues of race, environment, and politics. Entertaining as pure surface comedy, it didn’t address in a serious way the actual political divisions we face in our country today.
Our youngest son Adam left for Melbourne, Australia right before we went on our holiday. He went for nearly a month to visit his girlfriend, Maddy, who he met in Hawaii. He informed us the day before he returned that he was bringing Maddy home with him. He had hinted at this before he left, but I didn’t know if it would actually happen. I went to Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) to pick them up on Wednesday evening, October 18, and since I arrived early to avoid the Beltway traffic, I spent an hour or so having a light dinner at Season 52 at Columbia Mall. Here’s a musical sculpture at the mall.
Adam, keen to show Maddy all around in one fell swoop, wore himself out quickly and ended up in excruciating pain from rupturing his eardrum, leaving poor Maddy to fend for herself. I told him that no matter how bad he felt, she was his guest and he was obligated to take care of her.
Despite the fact that, before he left for Australia, he was being disciplined, working hard, saving money and doing some interesting podcasts while taking a course on making podcasts, after he returned, he was suddenly ill, making no effort to return to work, and had his girlfriend here (who is very nice and seems to have a good head on her shoulders, by the way!). In my eyes, he was shirking all his duties and the promises he made to us to have a full-time job if we allowed him to live at home. Every day that he’s not moving forward in his life, career-wise, makes me feel like he’s completely irresponsible and we are total failures as parents, not demanding enough from him or having high enough expectations. Not only that, but feeding into the tension I feel is my fear he will be as indecisive as I have always been about my career. All of this has made for a tense atmosphere in the house since October 21, although I had to force myself let go of my anger and frustration and just accept that he is sick and his girlfriend will leave soon and he can get back to figuring out his life.
It’s so challenging to be a parent, especially when I had such horrible role models and when I seem to have no natural instincts for parenting.
Alex came down from Richmond and since Adam was sick and Maddy wanted to stay with him, Mike, Alex and I enjoyed a pleasant evening at Artie’s in Fairfax on the evening before my birthday. On my birthday, a Wednesday, Adam and Maddy invited me to go with them to sit at a park and then pick up pumpkins, but I can’t say I enjoyed it as the day was on their terms and I felt annoyed that I didn’t do what I wanted, which was to go see a movie.
The day after my birthday, I escaped the house and went to Baltimore to see my sister Joan, who was babysitting her 9-month-old grandson Elliott at my niece Kelsey’s house. It was fun to finally meet my little great-nephew, to have lunch out with Joan and Elliott, and to see Kelsey when she got home from work.
Kelsey and Elliot
Kelsey, Elliot and me
After my visit, I stopped in Bethesda, Maryland to have White Sangria and tapas at my favorite restaurant there, Jaleo. After dinner, I went to the Writer’s Center to hear an interview of author Alice McDermott by Bob Levey of The Washington Post. I always get inspired listening to writers talk. 🙂
On Friday night, Mike and I went out on our own to celebrate my birthday at Nostos Restaurant, which, according to the website presents a “fresh, modern take on Greek culinary culture.” “Nostos” is at the root of the word nostalgia and means a return to one’s origins, a longing for a special time in the past; the restaurant attempts to stimulate senses with a variety of traditional and new Greek dishes.
We ordered an array of mezedes, including: Avgolemono Soup (traditional chicken soup with egg lemon finish), Greek Beans (northern beans with scallions, parsley, olive oil and lemon), Garides Saganaki (sautéed shrimp with feta cheese, tomatoes, pine nuts and raisins), Haloumi Skaras (grilled Cypriot sheep and goat cheese served with greek style taboule).
Mike ordered an entrée of Mousaka (layers of thinly sliced baby eggplant, zucchini, potatoes and seasoned ground beef topped with a rich béchamel).
We shared all the dishes, accompanied by wine and dessert (Portokalopita: orange cake with vanilla ice cream). They brought out the cake with one candle, which I had to blow out. I was glad there weren’t 62 candles!
On Saturday, Mike and I went on a hike at Hawksbill Gap in Shenandoah National Park. Here are a few pictures of our hike, but I’ll write more about it in a separate post.
Hawksbill Gap summit
yellow trees at Hawksbill Gap
At the summit, we had great views of the valley. It has been unseasonably warm this October, so it didn’t seem the leaves were yet at their peak.
We went out to Lebanese Taverna for yet another family birthday dinner on Monday night, this time with Mike’s sister Barbara, Adam and Maddy.
And finally, to end the month, Adam and Maddy carved their Halloween pumpkins.
We had a couple of visitors on Halloween night, including one particularly funny group of dinosaurs.
Happy Halloween and happy autumn. Please do tell me about your month! I hope it’s been a good one. 🙂
Friday, November 4: We’re on our way this morning to Fayetteville, West Virginia to get away for a three-day weekend before the U.S. election on Tuesday. It’s a trip to celebrate my birthday (Oct. 25), belatedly, and our 28th anniversary (Nov. 13), early. We decide on our way down south, we’ll drive a portion of Skyline Drive from Front Royal to Thornton Gap.
Skyline Drive is the scenic roadway that winds 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia just west of Washington, D.C. There are only four entrances to the park; we take the northernmost one, getting off at the next one south. We have a long way to go to get to our destination in West Virginia, but we want to see some of the fall colors. Thus we take the slower route for about 28 miles.
We’re so glad we do because it’s a gorgeous day and we’re rewarded with some marvelous vistas.
Forty percent of the park (almost 80,000 acres) is designated as a wilderness area; it represents one of the largest wilderness areas in the eastern United States and has about 500 miles of hiking trails, according to Shenandoah National Park – Skyline Drive: What to See.
It’s surprising to see so much color on the trees in early November; usually the trees are further past their prime at this time of year.
We enjoy our drive immensely, stopping at the numerous pull-outs for sweeping views.
Finally, we exit the beautiful park and head south on Interstate 81, in route to cross the state line into West Virginia.
Friday, April 18: This morning, we go for a hike at White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah National Park. This four-hour hike follows along a flowing stream and leads to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park. This is the best time of year to go on this hike because of the high water levels from the spring melt-off.
The only bad thing is that I’m exhausted from an overnight stay Thursday night at American Sleep Clinic. I’ve been having sleep problems lately, and last night at the clinic was not at all restful as I was hooked up to a bunch of wires. I am wiped out before we even start out, and the fact that the first half of the hike is uphill doesn’t help one bit.
Luckily, it’s a beautiful day, weather-wise, with a nice cool breeze. Sadly, the green hasn’t really come out on the trees yet, so it’s a little browner than I would have liked. But we do find a few glimpses of color here and there.
Needless to say, when I return home, I take a long hot bath and then drop off to sleep for an early night. 🙂
Monday, October 14: This morning, I have coffee and some Apple Scrapple from Great Harvest Bread that I brought as a gift for Annette and Dan. I guess it’s pretty bad when you bring a gift for someone and then you end up eating a lot of it! I enjoy our chat. I’ve learned a lot about their lives and their farm, the Allegheny Mountain School that I’ll recommend to my son Adam, their own Permaculture certifications and yoga training, and the lifestyle they’ve chosen.
After breakfast, I take off to drive back to northern Virginia, leaving the pretty fog-sprinkled Allegheny Mountains behind, and crossing over the Shenandoah Mountains.
I arrive home with one day left of my four-day weekend, and I spend the next day working for over 3 hours, entering Midterm marks for my students. This job is eating me alive!