Monday, April 14, 2008

from Shenandoah, Virginia: almost heaven

One minute, you’re watching a line snake its way toward the entrance to the White House and an hour later, you’re in the deep Virginia countryside…

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… where us all are wished a good day at a roadside store selling freshly made doughnuts (recipe from 1963!) and BBQ pork, “from our own pork!” (In the alternative, you can get two eggs, two pancakes, homefries, two donuts, toast, ham, bacon or sausage for $6.99).

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It’s cooler today and the skies are a canvas of cloudcover. Shades of gray and white and navy. Or, is it that the mountains project their own tone of blue toward the heavens above?

Spring in Shenandoah. How would you want to experience it? From the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains?

We enter the Shenandoah National Park from the north, picking up the beloved Skyline Drive which slowly moves you along this most beautiful mountain ridge. Even in the first miles, the views take your breath away.

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And really, it only gets better.

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A young man is studying maps in an effort to identify the mountain peaks. I can’t be bothered. I’m too engrossed in the entirety. And the range of spring colors, extending into tones that have nothing to do with lemon or green.

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But it does help to do some research in advance. Hiking trails cross these mountains in various configurations and levels of challenge and we want it all, in a nutshell: something challenging, with views, not too lengthy, but with an impact. The kind that’ll make you say: hey, I hiked that.

We locate the backcountry Meadow Spring trail – a total misnomer as it is a hike straight up the mountain, with no meadow or spring along the way. I pick it because it offers views.

It is quiet here, in the forest. If the Skyline was low on visitors, the trails, even on this Sunday, are pretty much empty. As we pick up the great Appalachian Trail at the ridge, we meet no one. Birds. Just the noise of birds, scratching the wet soil.

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At the summit, we are mesmerized by the ribbons of sky and mountain.

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The clouds discharge a few drops of water and even a dusting of ice pellets. It’s significantly cooler here than back in D.C. But who could mind? Spring in the mountains is a moody time of year, teetering between exuberance and a chilly bite. We see them both in the space of one afternoon.

Driving back to the city along the winding, hilly roads of Virginia, I am shocked how different this state looks from anything in the Midwest. Cows graze, but they are black cows and they are scattered over meadows of spring grasses. There aren’t mega crop farms here, but there are horses and we see them, galloping behind wood fences. Signs point to vineyards. Forests are completely... well, not Wisconsin-like. The forsythia is bushier, the dogwood is everpresent, daffodils spring in patches along the road. And those yellow flowers, growing in the wild or sometimes cultivated – what are they?

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It’s all so beautiful. We are in a rush though. We’re both hungry and I have heard enthusiastic statements about the fried chicken and puffed, savory pastries at the Central in D.C. A good ending to a southern kind of day.

When I was in college back in New York, I knew a young man who would often be seen in his t-shirt, announcing that Virginia is for lovers. I never much liked it because there was a woman with whom he had traveled to Virginia and with whom he would like to forever return to Virginia and that woman was not me. But I'll reconsider it now, maybe giving the slogan a Kermit the Frog extension – “for lovers, for dreamers, and me…” April and Virginia are just such a great pair!