Dark Side

A few weeks ago, when I posted about running around in the woods, one of my friends commented that I sure made it look enticing out here in the country. And I’m grateful because that’s exactly my point: I really want you all to see how amazing it is out here in Franklin County.

But of course not every day here is full of wonder. And I’m not just talking about the days you get stuck driving behind this guy.

Jim jokes that our cat feels like every time he looks out the window he sees something terrifying. I get that sometimes (raccoon on the porch? Hard pass on that one).

There’s a lot of adjustment moving to a new spot. We lived in the busy DC suburbs for nearly 30 years (even longer for me), and when you leave that behind as a middle-aged person, you also leave behind a real comfort zone.

And it’s eye-popping to explore a new place, but sometimes, just sometimes, you start to wonder if you’re going to be able to find a spot to fit in. That’s where I’ve been for a couple of weeks.

So dudes, wait until you hear some of the stories about trying to find folks to hang out with. And of course, I will still try to entice those nice people I know (like you, Larry!) to come here too.

Spring Fever

Spring has sprung down in Franklin County and with the warm weather, people were going hard at the garden stores this weekend.

Unfortunately, out in Wirtz, the hardware store and the garden store are not open on Sundays (a lot of things aren’t open on Sundays), so we had to drive into the city to get to a garden store.

It’s not a hardship. And we got coffee, too.

The garden store we found is Walter’s Greenhouse. It’s just a few minutes outside of Roanoke, on the road out to the lake.

It’s family run and super friendly. Also super hilly. The lady at the cashier table cheered on the people buying plants: “Come on, girl! Keep going!” We didn’t buy too much, just enough to get started. But Jim loves lurking around garden stores so I know we’ll make this a habit.

The view from the bottom of the hill
… and from the top (how cool is that truck?)

Forest Bathing

Getting out in the woods is so good for your soul, there’s even a name for it: forest bathing.

I’ve been doing a little of that myself over the past few weeks, with my renewed outings with the Shine Runners. I found this fun pub-run group last fall, but took a break from joining them during the winter because (it’s cold and) they run on local trails in the dark. I tried that once. I didn’t like it. And they run fast, in all conditions, for really long distances. Like running superheroes.

These folks had done 20 miles the previous weekend. Still faster than me.

But spring is here and with it daylight savings time. Those evening runs are once again taking place in the early twilight. I am by far the slowest of the group, but I’ve kind of designated myself the go-to person in case anyone wants a casual pace. And it’s been great.

No hunters this particular evening

We’ve gone out to Chaos Mountain Brewing, where you can run by a farm and catch a glimpse of a tom turkey (and hear him gobbling) as well as plenty of good-looking cows. Then maybe sit by the fire pit and enjoy their Marg and Rita gose, mmmmm.

We’ve enjoyed the woods around the Brooks Mill Winery, where Cathy and I took a wrong turn, disturbing some goats and dogs in a little barnyard (their owner came out on her porch in her pajamas to assure us that the dogs wouldn’t hurt us, but please, don’t let them follow us). And last night, a small group (okay, two of us) climbed up Grassy Hill in Rocky Mount.

Swiped from Andy D’s post

Grassy Hill was the most running I’d done in my run/walk combo, particularly as we headed downhill. And I noticed something. As you go running through the woods, you get to feeling very Midsummer Night’s Dream (“Check me out, I’m PUCK, y’all! IN THE WOODS!”).

Maybe it was relief at not feeling like my knees were wrecking themselves. Or not wiping out on the rocks (because Grassy Hill is a misnomer. It’s rocky). But it’s exhilarating.

And who needs to be a superhero when you can be a Shakespearean fairy? Seriously, go run in the woods.

Showing Off in Person

It’s my friend Lorenda’s birthday today, but last week she gave ME a present by coming down to Wirtz and letting me show her around.

My friend is a middle school teacher in a large public school system in busy northern Virginia. Her son is a student at Virginia Tech, a terrific university down the road in Blacksburg, Va. She decided to use the large public school’s spring break to visit her boy and me as well! I’m so grateful.

I’m also grateful that she is a good sport — instead of hiking all day, as planned, we had to spend a chunk of the afternoon waiting for a tree guy to remove a tree that had fallen on the side of the house in a storm.

But first, we hopped in the car and drove all around Smith Mountain Lake and into Roanoke for lunch at the tasty On the Rise Bakery in the Grandin part of the city. Then hustled back to sit on the porch to wait for the tree guy.

Our cat, who has liked no one since we moved him from Fairfax, even liked her.

I hope she wants to come back so we can get that hike in. Or, as the weather gets warmer, a swim. And some belated birthday Homestead Creamery ice cream.

Cherry Blossoms, FraCo Style

This is our first spring in the southwestern part of Virginia, and for a couple of weeks, I found myself really missing the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC.

The cherry blossoms are famous. They ring the Tidal Basin near the Potomac River and draw crowds from around the world. Seriously large crowds, my friends, and the challenge of finding the right time to visit and avoid those crowds is a DC-area pastime in itself.

Beautiful, right? For awhile, it seemed like all of my northern VA friends were posting pictures just like this one, making me wistful for the old homeplace.

But then I noticed something along the roads.

This place is awash in redbuds.

We had a redbud in front of our house when I was growing up. We also had a crabapple, whose flowers mimicked those cherry trees and made the redbud look a little less, well, profuse by comparison. Sad to say, our redbud was not a major player in my childhood floral memories.

They definitely have a different flavor. In the past, I had only seen them as little glimpses of pink contrasting the sea of new green around them.

But when you get a lot of them together, it’s pretty impressive.

Franklin County has a lot of redbuds.

In fact, I was reading an old newspaper article about the initial filling of Smith Mountain Lake where the reporter bemoaned the loss of the redbud trees as the waters rose. And even better, when a friend posted a photo of his own (northern Virginia) redbud, I learned that he is a Franklin County native with stories to tell about growing up here.

So I (almost) quit missing the cherry blossoms because these buds have a beauty that is quite as nice.

Steel Drums in the Mountains

Since we’ve moved out here, I have developed a fondness for bluegrass, since it really serves as a nice backdrop for driving around these mountains and curvy roads.

But the ringing of steel drums may be the real soundtrack of Smith Mountain Lake.

Last weekend, Jim and I went to the Show of Shows, a Variety Extravaganza and steel drum concert held to benefit the Smith Mountain YMCA. Some of our friends play in the bands and suggested we come check it out. It was a an eye opener!

And yes, I said bandS. According to the Laker Magazine, back in 2013 a couple of lake residents went to a steel drum concert in Roanoke and were so impressed that they asked the Smith Mountain Arts Council to bring the group to a lake event. It didn’t take long for the first band, the Parrot Pan Band, to form, quickly followed by the Toucan Pan Band and most recently, the Island Pan Band.

All three bands were in full effect on Saturday night, along with the Star City Swag Jazz Quintet, Star City Squeeze Accordions, jazz guitarist Bill Hoffman, and Ernie Freedman, Latin trumpeter.

The bands perform at nonprofit events all around the lake. And while Trinidadian tones are not at all what you might expect during an evening out in south central Virginia, they sure sound nice and they sure have a great time.

Riding that Bobbing Cow

Last post about our recent bovine visitor, I promise!

When we discovered on Friday that a drowned cow had somehow attached itself to the underside of our dock, I reached for a common resource: the crowd-sourcing answers on Facebook. I first asked the Smith Mountain Lake resident’s group:

Then I shared the post with my friends to get their take on the whole thing. And did I! It received 100 comments, many of which expressed sympathy for the cow or concern about the situation, but listen, my friends are funny. People uploaded a number of à propos GIFs, including the Jed Clampett “What in tarnation?” from Lorenda.

As well as a link to that Top Gear episode where the fellas were visiting the American south and that wag Jeremy Clarkson tied a dead cow to the top of his car, from Chris L.

Also, a lot of commentary:

“You like your steaks REALLY rare,” observed Michael H.

“Did the cow know you don’t even eat meat??” – Ilham, who knows me well.

“If this is what happens when you move out of [your former neighborhood], we’ll be staying here forever” – former neighbor Dan S., seconded by Kristin S.’s “You got that right.”

“Hope you get to moooove it soon” – Cathy C.

“VA more TX than TX?” – from native Texan Seán C.

“That’s not exactly the right way to marinate beef.” – Derek T.

“Anne, you don’t live in Fairfax anymore, do you? I need to keep up better.” – Karen T.

“Holy cow!” – Robin M.

“So, you’re saying he moooo-ved along? Can’t see hide nor hair of him? I’m milking this for all it’s worth. It’s udderly awful. We all hope she has moseyed along and she won’t be ‘herd’ from again. You made it seem very amoosing, though!” – Beth H., who was clearly bovinely inspired, with the cow as her muuuuuse.

“Rich ecosystem in your lake there!” observed science-minded Ilse

“Should you decide to form a bluegrass band, Boathouse Buzzards would be a great name.” – Danny C.


“Anne you get instant country street cred if you form a bluegrass band,” Tosh, who added, “Welcome to the country!”

And there was some on-point advice:

“If you get an invitation to the Appalachian Power hamburger cookout, I suggest you politely decline.” – also Danny C.

“Dear James Reynolds, You may want to cross ‘Tri-County Lake Administration’ off the list of potential summer employers” – concerned auntie Sarah E.

Most of the neighbors in the lake’s residents’ group had sincere (and ultimately, very helpful!) suggestions, but also some wit:

Terry B. echoed Jim’s preferred solution to the dilemma: “Call in the catfish.”

“BBQ?” offered Bob T.

“Go heavy on the smoke flavor,” advised Jim C. He got more specific: “When you grind your hamburger you mix in some country sausage to hide the flavor, as do many deer hunters when they grind venisonburger- 😎

And upon learning that the cow had moved on: “Well, phooey. I was going to suggest dynamite, Anne.” – Betsy A., who, as part of Lake Writers, has an eye for a plot twist.

Real heroes don’t wear capes.

But Cows CAN Swim!

I know they can, I looked it up.

The question came up on Friday, when I was out of town and Jim texted me that there was a dead cow floating next to our dock.

We are very fortunate to live along the shoreline of Smith Mountain Lake, where most of the houses feature a dock. The problem is, occasionally a deceased member of the wildlife community comes along to get stuck on the docks, and I guess that is what happened to Mr. Cow.

What do you do about a bobbing cow? The first thing we did was to put in a report to Appalachian Electric Power, the utility that controls the hydroelectric dam that formed Smith Mountain Lake. Based on some good advice I received when I crowd-sourced the question to the Smith Mountain Lake Residents page on Facebook, I also made a call this morning to the Tri-Counties Lake Administration, which works with AEP to police the debris on the lake. And sure enough, this afternoon, I got a phone call from a gentleman at AEP to make sure it was gone.

I walked down and saw no evidence of our visitor, either visual or olfactory, so my fingers are crossed that he has been assisted in his journey to greener pastures. Even the buzzards are no longer lurking.

As I am not a fisherman, I’m kind of hoping this is the closest encounter I have with nautical wildlife for a good long time.

Rooftop View

It sure is a nice day to go for a walk in my neighborhood.

Since I work mostly at home, I really try to spend a little time in the afternoon marching up and down the street. Today is a perfect day for it.

It’s a brisk 55 degrees in Franklin County.

A cool thing about walking around here is that, because Smith Mountain Lake is so new (around since 1966) the shoreline is made up of a bunch of peninsulas. So no matter where you go, there’s water all around you.

And all those peninsulas were once high points of land, so there are hills to challenge you.

Some of the houses are built between the hilltops and the waterline, giving them a little privacy.

Or a lot of privacy.

You never know what you’ll find at the end of a driveway like this.

And if you’re really lucky, the cows might be out. Oh, hey, cows!

(If you watch the cows for more than a minute or so, they get tired of watching you. That’s humbling.)

A New Sound of Spring

Spring is definitely trying to beat back Winter around here. We have daffodils galore in our yard.

Out in the meadows, you can see new cows, of the youthful variety. (They are precious!) The flowering trees are flowering, and my runny nose will back that up.

But yesterday, the temperature climbed above 70 for the first time in quite awhile. I went for a walk in our neighborhood and was startled to hear a loud engine passing me. Two of my neighbors had dusted off their cycles, and their his-n-hers Harleys roared off down the road.

They weren’t alone. All day yesterday, all along BT Washington Highway, you could see and hear motorcyclists alone or in groups, out enjoying the blue sky and warm air.

But my favorite part of this spring awakening happened this morning. I commented on all the bikes during weights class at the gym, and Denise spoke up (she is the new lady in our class who who wears well-coordinated workout gear and a Yankees ball cap over her long blonde ponytail. Slender and well, elegant, even at 6:30 am, she looks like she would be at home in any gym in the Washington, DC — or any similarly urban — area). “Yeah,” Denise agreed. “I took my bike out yesterday.”

Spring at the lake is going to be pretty cool.