A Month of Somedays

If you keep saying, "I'll write a blog post... someday," you will eventually discover that an entire month has passed without a blog post. That month was filled with quite a bit of activity, mind you, but there's still no good reason for me to have spent such a long time not writing. I do go through cycles of what I call input and output, however, which may explain things to some degree. In an output cycle, I'm writing all kinds of stuff, here and in various online fora, and sometimes for print, in effect pouring my brain's contents out for whoever would like a cup of them; at some point, however, I'm running on empty and have to brew up another pot of brain java, so I take some time to fill my head with new stuff: books, articles, music, movies, travels, performances, experiences, etc. Basically, the early part of the summer was a heavy output phase, where I was working to sell the book, to contact people, to put stuff out, and by midsummer, it was time to put in a new filter and start brewing. And here we are.

So what have I been brewing? Well, there's been continued use of the Shenandoah National Park's offerings. Following my trips with Kelly & her mom and with Mary Stevens, I've used my annual pass to make three more forays into the SNP's territory. The first was a delightful, if physically challenging, hike from the Skyline Drive, near the top of the Blue Ridge, down to the bottom of White Oak Canyon. Kelly and I met Mary at the bottom parking lot, took her car to the Ridge, hiked 2400 feet down to our car, and drove back up to drop her off. This driving-intensive strategy allowed us to see all three of the canyon's big waterfalls, which was unexpected, as I'd seen only the Lower Falls and was under the mistaken impression that there were only two of them.

It was also by far the most painful hike I've taken in a long time. Long stretches of flat trails, or even up-and-down trails, can leave me a little sore all over, and a long uphill (like the return hike after viewing South River Falls) can leave me badly winded, but the WOC descent was the longest sustained downhill I've ever done, and its demands were made not so much on my cardiovascular system but on my joints and particularly on my calves. Basically, when you clamber down five miles of trail, you spend three hours with your toes pointing down and your calves contracted, and when you're done, it's hard to do so much as raise your toes off the ground. Our hike took place on Saturday the 19th, and it was Wednesday before Kelly and I were able to walk more or less normally. The bad news was that my camera battery died before we even got to the trailhead, though I did get this pic of Mary next to the biggest orange fungus we'd ever seen:

A week later, having recharged my camera, I went back to the park with my brother to spend a Friday night at the Big Meadows campground. This was a chance for us both to get out of our routines and spend some time together alone, which we haven't been able to do in a very long time. Both of us have busy family lives and jobs that eat our brains and our calendars; though I at least get long breaks and Dave gets to work from home a great deal, it's rare that our schedules overlap well enough to make a get-together possible, and when they do, we almost always commit to a big family get-together of some sort. I honestly can't recall the last time he and I got to spend an extended period where it was just the two of us, but a few months back he decided we should make such a time and agreed to drive up if I arranged the camping logistics.

Big Meadows is one of three designated campsites in the park, with about 200 sites; each has a firepit, and there are communal dumpsters, water spigots, and toilets, as well as a small camp store with firewood, ice, laundry facilities and pay showers. (You can do backcountry camping in most other areas of the park, but there you're on your own, and you have to hike in.) We arrived with our coolers full of goodies at lunchtime on Friday and set up camp, which was still relatively uncrowded at that point.

DSC01999.JPGAs you can probably guess from the photo, we'd picked an absolutely spectacular day, sunny and clear, and thanks to the Blue Ridge's traditional ten-degree difference from the lowlands, it was only about 75 degrees at mid-day. From the campsite, we took the car a few miles down Skyline Drive to the head of the Rose River Trail, a loop that Kelly and I had taken a few summers back. The trip was four miles in total, but before we took the fire road back to the parking lot, we took a brief 0.2-mile spur trail to the bottom of the eighty-foot Dark Hollow Falls, which may be the prettiest fall I've yet seen in the park.

DSC02037 Crop.jpgWhat can I say? Cashwell men like grey.

A lengthy battle with the firepit ensued, ending with enough flame to cook some Hebrew Nationals, and we retired in the darkness, where the overwhelming understanding eventually came through that I desperately needed a thicker sleeping pad between me and the ground. I was up well before dawn, and when the light finally broke, it did so in perhaps the foggiest conditions I've seen since my days in Scotland. The titular Big Meadows were particularly thick with the stuff, and though we did log my FOY House Wren during our walk through them, the visuals were often almost silly:

DSC02047.JPGFrom there we headed back down to the flatter part of Virginia and split up so Dave could get back home in time for his son's swim meet, while I made preparations for my next trip: a day hike with Kelly's brother David and niece Sara, who arrived from Fayetteville, NC, on the following weekend. Thanks to my previous four visits to the park, I had a pretty good idea what would work for two visitors without hiking boots, and on Monday we returned to the friendly confines of the Limberlost Trail, where, naturally, I got them to pose with the same weird volcanic rock formation I'd noted on every previous hike:

DSC02082.JPGThe rock formation, however, is not the main element that every trip through the SNP shares. No, that element is dark and furry and carnivorous, because the SNP is the best place in the eastern U.S. to see a Black Bear in the wild. Before this summer I'd seen them in several locations--Old Rag Mountain, White Oak Canyon, and the trail near Matthews Arm campground--but this summer has been an ursine bonanza. Mary and I saw one from the car returning from our birding trip, and another appeared while Mary and Kelly and I were driving to our White Oak Canyon trailhead. David and Sara and I heard from other hikers that there was one the trail ahead of us, but though David thought he heard something snorting in the woods, we never saw anything... until we returned to the parking lot, where a woman was standing beside her car, calmly eating a banana dipped in peanut butter.

"There's a bear over there," she said, immediately making all of us wonder why the hell she was standing so close to a hundred-pound carnivore while basically offering it food.

DSC02085.JPGOnce the bear had wandered off, we grabbed a quick lunch at a less foggy Big Meadows--dining at the same picnic table where Mary and I had eaten on our birding trip weeks before--and returned home to rest up for the next day's trip to a more urban setting: Richmond.

Neither David nor Sara had ever been to the 'Mond, so we planned a big day: shopping in Carytown, meeting Dixon for lunch at Burger Bach (where David, bewildered by the voluminous list of microbrews, asked the waitress for "an American beer"), a trip to the Fan Tastic Thrift Store (where Sara bought a Santa's sack full of stuff and Dixon found a few items you can see below), and a visit to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where an old friend of Sara's was working. Thanks to having an insider there, we were able to go behind the scenes in the museum library (where Kelly had to bite her lip to prevent herself from properly organizing the as-yet-unfiled documents) and get a look at some special materials, including a stunning collection of insect prints by E.A. Seguy.

DSC02117.JPGEventually we ended up at the VCU Chili's to meet with Ian and our other RVA-based relative, Kelly's/David's niece Memory, which led to this photographic family portrait:

DSC02121.JPGMemory led us to a restaurant in a north Richmond neighborhood we hadn't visited before, a lively (if a tad noisy) joint called Dot's Back Inn, which served us a variety of delicious foodstuffs and capped off the family reunion well.

Not that we were QUITE done with the input phase. There was still our congratulatory dinner with Anna Grey Hogan, Woodberry Class of 2014, who goes off to pursue a theater degree at VCU in less than a week. As a surprise, we brought along her buddy Dixon, who posed with her outside Thai Culpeper in the shirt and shoes he had purchased at Fan Tastic:

DSC02141.JPGAnd then it was time for Kelly and me to pack up for the big event of the summer: the Pressure Boys reunion show in Chapel Hill. On Friday and Saturday the 8th and 9th of August, the P-Boys headlined a two-night benefit gala for the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation, which of course involved nearly every human being we knew from Chapel Hill. To no one's surprise, they were great, even if we didn't pogo as furiously throughout the show as we might have in 1987; to the surprise of most of us, however, they wrapped up the final encore not with a furious ska-punk send-off, but with a soft four-part vocal performance using only Jack Campbell's bass and Rob Ladd's tiny hand drum to accompany their voices. Mind you, I knew what the song had to be once I saw them gathering with Bryon Settle and John Plymale to sing, and sure enough, I was right: the last track from the Specials' debut album, "You're Wondering Now." And when Je Widenhouse stepped up to deliver a beautiful trumpet solo, I knew the night and the month of whirlwinding from trail to home to city to home to club was over.

DSC02161.JPGAnd maybe, just maybe, it's time to start pouring cups again.

At least until New Year's Eve.


0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: A Month of Somedays.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.petercashwell.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/380

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 12, 2014 10:59 AM.

By the Numbers was the previous entry in this blog.

Post Hoc is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.0