Creeping Out, Creeping Back In

I first drafted this post talking about how lucky we were in our remote part of the country. Until very recently, our reported cases of Covid-19 had been very moderate. Even with the rate of people wearing masks standing at about 50-50, with the wide-open spaces in Franklin County we felt like we might miss the worst of it.

Then Memorial Day came and evidently everyone went to Myrtle Beach, including that virus. Myrtle Beach is a spot on the South Carolina shore, just about five hours south of our area. There’s a boardwalk, and golf courses, and an amusement park, and evidently lots of pent-up need for people to get out to the sand, because they opened up their businesses in June and the virus exploded.

Look, it’s the Coronavirus Highway!

People in Roanoke love Myrtle Beach! And they brought that virus back with them. The worst souvenir ever.

So now our local cases are creeping up. Mask wearing is a little better, but I’m cautious and more mindful of staying home. But for awhile there…

Jim and I went out to eat at our favorite restaurant, instead of doing take-out.

Napoli Cowboy has a nice outdoor area now! And you have to make a reservation.

I made a trip to Rocky Mount for a mammogram, which is no fun but you gotta do it. Hats off to the clinic for being extremely impressive at monitoring patients’ health and getting us in and out quickly.

I started going into Roanoke on Saturday mornings to peruse the tremendous Kolsch selection at Barrel Chest, where they remember you and what you like, with always something new and good to recommend.

I would also include a stop at Roasters Next Door so I could support a local coffee shop that happens to have delicious lavender-pancake flavored lattes.

But now it looks like all of those good things might be on hold and it’s 100% worth it if we can avoid this mess spreading any more than it is.

Escape!

Over the next week or so, I thought I’d write about what things are like here in the Virginia countryside with all of this quarantining, and what I’ve been doing during the lockdown.

One of the things I try to do is get out and walk. Where we live, it’s very easy to take a walk and remain socially distanced.

Even when you walk with someone else.

I walk on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a neighbor, Jane, and her dog, Max.

He is not convinced that he wants to walk with me

We usually get on the road around 7, which is now just as the sun is coming up. Our loop is just about two miles. We see all kinds of critters.

That’s a deer I saw this morning, peeking at
me from over the hill

On the other days, I mix it up with different routes or maybe a little jog. But I try to get out there every day because — a true confession — I want my pants to keep fitting.

Here’s a guy who’s been walking for a cause and he’s awesome.

Here’s a news article that was in yesterday’s Roanoke Times about how regular walking might even help you survive a bout with the ‘rona! Yes, please!

I hope that whatever your situation, you’re able to exercise, even in (or especially in) a low-key way. I’m reading a book, Keep Going, by artist Austin Kelon, who sees walking as an antidote to the barrage of information flying at us every day: “you get outside and you start walking and you come to your senses … people smiling, birds chirping, clouds flying overhead … all that stuff. There’s possibility. Walking is a way to find possibility in your life when there doesn’t seem to be any left.”

It’s Still Spring

So…. whatcha been up to?

Here in Wirtz, we’re probably doing much what you’re doing these days: staying put.

But I’m feeling extremely lucky being able to do it.

For one thing, since moving to this area year ago, I have been very fortunate to work as a freelance writer, with my main client being the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University. In case you don’t know, Mason is the largest public research university in the commonwealth (!) (that’s right, Virginia Tech!), serving students from its campuses in Fairfax, Manassas, and Arlington, Virginia. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is one of the largest colleges within the university, boasting over 20 distinct departments and programs. It has some amazing faculty members, students, and alumni, and I help to write about them.

Like most institutions of higher learning (and even not-so-higher learning), Mason has been hustling to meet the needs of its students in the face of this nasty covid-19 mess. What this means for me is that now all of my colleagues are working remotely, just like me. And the messaging has been flying fast and furious, so I have been fortunate to help keep those messages going.

Let me tell you, being able to work during this time is a huge (I’ll say it) blessing. It helps draw my focus from social media, which is so crazy right now, and the news — none of which seems to be all that good. And it’s springtime here, so I can work from an office view like this one.

Most of this blog has been all about the neat things to see around this area, and obviously we haven’t been out doing a lot of that. But in the coming days I’ll tell you what it’s like socially distancing in the country, because it sure seems different than what my friends are experiencing in bustling northern Virginia.

I hope you are well and healthy and have something good to keep you busy, too.

Snow Birds and White Birds

After the holidays, the environs around Smith Mountain Lake thin out considerably. We have a large population of folks who mostly enjoy the water during the warmer months, and many of them seem to slip off to even warmer climates after the ornaments and lights get put away for another year.

But I want to tell you about the birds that don’t fly away.

I don’t know if I’ve written here about how the colors of the countryside also get quieter this time of year, a muted, mellow palette of pale blue, gray, taupe, sage green, and wheat. Many mornings, as the sun comes up, a gentle pink joins the party.

Often, if you get up at just the right time, all of these colors form a backdrop for some graceful winter visitors. The first rays of sun bounce off the wings of swirling white birds that fish in the lake in the cooler months.

Some mornings, we only see one or two outside our window. Other times, a veritable flock appears.

They all like to perch at Bridgewater Plaza later in the day.

In an effort to learn more about the birds (for instance, what they are), I queried the SML Residents Facebook page and got three possible answers: gannets, kittiwakes, and migratory ringed bill gulls visiting from Lake Erie. (I also learned that the term “sea gull” is a bit of a misnomer, because they can show up around any body of water, but “parking lot gull” sounds a lot less poetic.) I’m leaning towards the ring bill gulls.

This is not one of our birds; it’s a photo by Sunchie Yang from the Audobon Photography Awards. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/ring-billed-gull#photo9

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter too much because no matter what they are, I just love to see them each morning. And it’s nice to celebrate the quiet while we have it, of course, because it looks like Punxatawney Phil missed his shadow this morning and SML will be able to welcome its snow birds’ return six weeks early.

Holiday Surprises and Red Worms

Here’s the winter sunrise that just sneaked up on me while I was addressing graduation announcements. As I write this, the whole sky is turning lavender. One of the beautiful things about winter here is that you’re able to see the sky a little better with the leaves gone and oh, boy, the sight doesn’t disappoint!

I was also surprised last week when the UPS delivery man offered to take my old Thanksgiving pumpkin off my porch for me. It seems that he is devoted to composting with red worms and likes to get some pumpkins in his mix. Imagine this UPS man, out making deliveries and collecting a truck full of pumpkins (with permission of course!). And teaching me something because I didn’t even know that red worms are a thing.

Summer’s Last Hurrah (Part 1)

Labor Day Weekend is a big deal down here at Smith Mountain Lake.

The boat traffic is extreme! Even the automobile traffic is pretty intense, though I saw this notification about the traffic up in our old hometown and felt a little better.

Jim and I took the weekend to lay low. We went to a new spot for a beer on Saturday– a very well-regarded place out here that didn’t impress us much. It was jam packed with a lot of people who gave the impression of having been sipping on their boats all day. Even the ladies behind the bar were a little salty. So we left and moved on to Jake’s Place for dinner on the water.

If you zoom in to the treetops you can peep Mr. Heron.

On Sunday, we did yard work which isn’t exactly Fun-with-a-capital-F but pretty satisfying, nevertheless.

And this evening we popped into our favorite neighborhood spot, Napoli Cowboy, to have a beer with old bar friends Stu and Caroline, new bar friends Alan and Linda, and our favorite bartenders, Sharon and Ashley (they are the nicest people around, and even consistently laugh at Jim’s jokes).

Things are going to slow down here significantly in the coming weeks, and we feel like we appropriately sent off the official summer season.

This is my kind of salty.

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.