Friday, July 13, 2012

The Heat is Rising—Today and 150 years ago in the Civil War

It is hot in Virginia. Oppressively hot. Suck the life out of you hot. Now, heat is nothing new for me as I spent a significant portion of my life in Phoenix, AZ, but this is a very different kind of heat than what I am used to. People say that over time you acclimate to the oppressive humidity of the mid-Atlantic states, but after two and a half years here, I most assuredly have not done so. I really can’t complain about my current situation though. Not only do I have a place to live that is air conditioned, but they installed a system where I work, which makes a dramatic difference. I am definitely thankful that I do not have to deal with the heat out on the National Mall every day!

I did get to spend some quality time out in the heat on behalf of the Park Service the last two weekends of June, however, where, for the first time, I served as official NPS photographer at a Civil War Sesquicentennial commemorative event. The final week of June marked the 150th anniversary of the Seven Days Battle outside of Richmond, VA and I traveled down to Richmond on three occasions, working a total of more than 60 hours over 5 days.

It was absurdly hot and sticky and spending that much time out in the heat was pretty tough, but frequently reminding myself that the soldiers had managed to fight a war in such conditions helped to put it in perspective.

The weather was made even more interesting by the arrival of a derecho on Friday, June 29. What is a derecho you ask? It is officially defined as, “A line of intense, mean, widespread, and fast-moving windstorms and sometimes thunderstorms that moves across a great distance and invites all of its windiest friends to damage everything in its path, including trees and power lines until its satisfied that every town in its path is forced to live in barbaric conditions for as long as possible.” It was pretty intense. Of the half a dozen closest houses to where we live, three suffered damage because of falling trees: the first lost a shed in the back yard, the second had a tree come through the roof over the living room, and the third had a tree crush the bedroom. We escaped any damage apart from the loss of power, and in that we were certainly not alone. The storm caused the largest non-hurricane power loss in Virginia history.

I left for Richmond the next morning  but my coworker with whom I was supposed to travel was unable to go because of the storm, which meant I had to cover everything on my own. That also meant that I had a hotel room in Richmond to myself, so when Alison found out that she couldn’t go to work because Starbucks too did not have power, she decided to come down to Richmond instead.  She came to the battlefield and attended many of the programs on Saturday evening and throughout the day on Sunday. I even placed a camera in her hands and put her to work and several of her pictures made it into the final albums I posted on facebook. So we ended up getting to spend a good portion of the weekend together after all, and even work as a husband and wife photography team for a little while.

After finishing everything for Richmond, Alison and I decided to try and escape from the heat with a quick backbacking trip in Shenandoah National Park. It was Alison’s first time truly backpacking and a great chance to get back to a place where my heart comes alive (ie. lots of trees, running water, not lots of people, buildings, etc). It was not as cool as we were hoping, but still a lot nicer than the DC area and a great break from the normal routine.

We ended the week with three meals with three very different groups of friends. On Friday night we had dinner with old friends of mine from Arizona. On Saturday we connected with old friends of Alison from California, including two that now live in Norway. Then on Sunday we had lunch with friends from church in the house in DC where Alison used to live before we got married.

It’s been a busy summer so far, but a good one. We have survived the heat, my first sesquicentennial commemoration, and a derecho. Tomorrow we mark half a year of being married!

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