Monday, November 7, 2011

The Final Countdown

The final countdown has begun. We have officially moved into the closing chapter of my time here in Shenandoah. I have exactly two weeks left, ten days of work, and then I am finished. My official housing checkout and inspection is tomorrow morning so we have been doing a lot of cleaning (stove, oven, fridge, windows, bathroom, etc) in order to get things up to scratch.

Nearly eight months have passed since I first arrived here, having little idea what to expect and uncertain what life would be like here in Shenandoah. It has turned out to be quite the adventure and I am sad to see it coming to an end. It has been hard to say goodbye to the many people who have already left, especially since  I still don’t know what comes next, but I have been striving to enjoy these last weeks as much as possible.

There has certainly been no shortage of unique experiences, both within the park, and without, since last I wrote. There is much in the area surrounding the park that I have not been able to explore since I have gone into DC nearly every weekend. A week and half ago Alison and I decided to help change that and joined family friends from her church in California in a grand adventure into the southern Shenandoah Valley.

Much of the trip was spent in Lexington, a charming community at the southern terminus of the valley that features two universities and significant connections to some of the most famous officers who served in Confederate forces during the Civil War. We visited the home where Stonewall Jackson and his wife lived when the war began, and from whence Jackson set off for war in 1861, never to return except for his funeral. We also visited the cemetery where he is interred and ate lunch along the cemetery wall before exploring the history lying inside its gates. We saw his horse, Little Sorrel, as well as the raincoat he was wearing the night he was mortally wounded. Both of these items were on display at the Virginia Military Institute, where Jackson taught natural philosophy and artillery prior to the war. Also in Lexington is Washington and Lee University where Robert E. Lee served as president from shortly after the war until his death a few years later. We saw his tomb in the university chapel, as well as that of his beloved warhorse Traveler.  Also housed in that chapel is the Charles Wilson Peale portrait of Washington as a young colonel in the Virginia Militia during the French and Indian War, the first portrait of Washington ever to be painted, and the only rendition we have of him prior to his role as commander of the Continental Army.

It was a region I have long wished to visit and I was certainly enraptured by all the history surrounding us and could have spent much more time in the area, but we had one more stop to make, this one concerning history of a different century. Our final historical site of the day was the Woodrow Wilson birthplace and Library, thus taking us from civil war to war on an international scale. This destination also marked the third (along with Truman in May and Hoover in June) presidential library/birthplace that Alison and I have visited this year.

Two days later (on Friday) I left the visitor center at 4:00 to walk over to the campgrounds to talk to the rangers there because they were not answering their phone and discovered that it had begun to snow. It didn’t stop until about 2:00 the following afternoon, blanketing the mountain for nearly 24 hours and depositing 10 inches of the fluffy white stuff upon us. That made for quite an interesting weekend!  The three of us who are still living here in Big Meadows  walked over to the visitor center on Saturday morning and ran it for the day since no one else could get in. Both lodges and the campgrounds were quite full Friday night so there were a lot of people trying to leave on Saturday after having that much snow dumped on them. That created all sorts of problems, since many of these people were not used to driving in the snow and quite a few of them did not listen and follow instructions which resulted in cars stuck all over the place due to people trying to get out before roads had been properly cleared. They ultimately evacuated everyone in the lodges and escorted them out of the park in a convoy following snowplows off the mountain. It was quite a day to be listening to the radio!

The drive fortuitously reopened just in time for me to depart for Washington on Monday, allowing me to both visit Alison and to see our new home for the first time. We officially took possession of the place and received keys on Tuesday evening and began moving stuff in right away. It had already begun to take shape as uniquely ours and will continue to do so over the next few weeks as I move the rest of my stuff from here in the park and we craft it into our new home. In addition to moving things in we christened the house by eating chinese food and playing skip bo and battleship on the dining room table that we resurfaced earlier this summer.

The excitement of the new home was marred a bit by the fact that brakes in my truck gave out Wednesday night, creating a rather expensive hassle that we will have to continue to deal with this week. But we certainly still enjoyed meeting the family that lives above us as well as their big fat black lab Buddy and one of the two cats.

My animal encounters this week were not limited only to house pets either. The deer are just moving into the rut, which means the bucks are displaying in the meadow. Then today as I was hiking on the AT I came around a corner and spotted a mother bear and her cub searching for acorns. They were not concerned about me being there so I was able to watch them forage for about ten minutes. Just as I was leaving I became aware of the presence of a third bear which had just come out of a nearby grove of trees and was moving toward the other two. This one was a male, so I am reasonably certain I had stumbled across the famous trio of mama, papa, and baby bear with whom Goldilocks has such a troubling relationship.

So as I enter into the final days here in Shenandoah and begin to transition to a new chapter living in McLean, VA I am reminded of the diversity of opportunities available to us in life and of the importance of training your eyes to recognize them. You never know what might be waiting for you around the next bend in the trail.

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