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.

My People

I am extremely lucky when it comes to my line of work. I can do most of it from our dining room table, tapping away at my laptop. It’s an introvert’s dream, even if it can feel a little isolating from time to time on the occasion when one isn’t feeling quite so quiet.

So today, before I got started with work projects, I went to mail a care package to our boy – a college student who has exams next week – and decided to shop local on the way.

It’s always coffee time

While in CJ’s, the gentleman in line behind me struck up a conversation about his recent travels in Italy, where his grown-up kids joined him for a decidedly non-traditional Thanksgiving. Me: I see your Italian vacation and raise you a daughter graduating from college in three days, ha HA! One of his buds came in and asked if Tom (the Italian vacation guy) was bothering me. No, I assured him, to which he replied, “Just give him time!”

It’s a jokey crowd around the lake.

I moved on out to the parking lot with a smile on my face. Parked next to me was a vehicle belonging to the marine service company that had fixed our neighbors’ boat this fall. I mentioned to driver how pleased my neighbors were and he introduced himself (Josh) and gave me his card. Now I know whom to call to look at our non-working little boat in the spring.

At the UPS store, the lady behind the counter and I talked about the holiday rush, the stress of college exams, and of course, how I have a daughter graduating from college in three days BECAUSE WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH ME? And then we talked about how quickly kids grow up we both cried a little.

Things move slower in this part of Virginia. I’ve happened into CJ’s when it’s unusually busy and the proprietor has straight-up told me, nah, you’re not getting your coffee for awhile. And when we had trees removed from our back yard this fall, once the tree company guy ascertained that they weren’t immediately imperiling our roof, he told me he’d see us in oh, three weeks.

But even though I still feel like a bit of a newbie here, mornings like this make me feel right at home.

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.

Hey, We’re Home!

Jim and I have done quite a bit of road-tripping lately.

We went to Kentucky, to drop the lad off at school.

This is a garden store with a secret restaurant in the back!
We wouldn’t have found it if our friends the Susankes hadn’t clued us in
Go Cats!

From there, we drove to Block Island. (You got me; you can’t drive to an island! We drove to New London, CT and took the ferry.)

After a few busy weeks at home, we went to Indianapolis, where Jim had a conference.

And then we went back to Kentucky for Family Weekend at the lad’s school.

SEC Nation. Tim Tebow and many superfans
Yes, we stopped off at the library
A cool spot for donuts on Limestone

This was all terrific travel. We spent time with incredible people, ate good food, and saw wonderful sights. But along the way, that thought flew through my head at some point, “It sure will be nice to get home.”

And it was.

Look! Up in the Sky!

My brother in law has a unique set of skills.

This is not my brother in law.

He can fly a plane, and that is extra cool because one fine Saturday over the summer, he was able to arrange for some flying time, and my sister and her family decided to swing down to the Lake for lunch.

I’ve extolled the benefits of Roanoke Airport, but there is another airport right here on the lake.

It’s small.

It has a cat.

A friendly cat

And a seaplane (a lake plane).

You can live there!

And if you’re lucky, you can meet some fun people there and take them to lunch at Waller’s, right down the road.

Ground crew

They Brought the Party

Oh, what a weekend it was!

This past weekend, Jim and I were deep into a road trip to the Midwest, and that’s not what I’m talking about.

The weekend before that, we received a marvelous gift, named Lorenda, Meg, and Aviva. These are three friends of ours from our former neighborhood AND THEY DROVE THE FOUR HOURS FROM NORTHERN VIRGINIA TO COME VISIT!

It is not an easy trip. They did it on a Friday afternoon, which is a doubly difficult maneuver. But they arrived with White Claws, and wine, some AMAZING applesauce cake and a ton of laughter.

The neighborhood we moved from was one of those neighborhoods that circles around the local school system. Thus, everyone’s kids are about the same age, doing similar things, and you all pretty know the main structural information about your neighbors’ lives. Then, of course, those kids go off to college and some people move to Smith Mountain Lake where the new neighbors might not even know where Robinson Secondary School is located.

Lorenda’s husband is a Virginia Tech alum, and now her youngest fella is a student there. She popped in back in April after hiking with her lad, so she knows a little about Franklin County. Meg and Aviva were real newcomers.

And they were wonderful, enthusiastic, energetic guests. We got up relatively early on Saturday (not as early as Aviva, who took in the lakeside sunrise) and drove into Roanoke for the Farmer’s Market and some exploration of the establishments on Market Square.

We saw the Star getting polished up
We pondered purchases as La-De-Dah
We made it over to Black Dog Salvage
And we had a great time in Floyd
The Floyd Country Store has fantastic food and Saturday afternoon entertainment
We even got up early on Sunday morning for water sports! Look at that paddle board skill! True KICK ASS ROCK STAR BABES!

They were tolerant of the ride over Windy Gap and a little disappointed that the Booker T. Washington National Monument was closed. Homestead Creamery Ice Cream was enjoyed by all. And we are so looking forward to them coming back!

Put Your Hand(s) Up!

A couple of months ago, I wrote about how the folks out here at Smith Mountain Lake spend a lot of time working out.

Well, you know what else they do? They volunteer like crazy.

You wouldn’t believe the volunteer options that abound here. You can work at the Booker T. Washington National Monument, you can help the community through a number of non-profit organizations, or you can get involved with your church. Almost everyone you talk to has a volunteer gig.

And I’ve even gotten in on it: for the past ten months or so, I have been working as the PR/Media person for the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour.

The Home Tour is in October each year (it’s been going on for 29 years, y’all!). It’s a big deal, I don’t mind telling you.

These folks work all year to find eight lovely homes situated all around the lake and get their owners to invite hordes of people to come and visit. Of course, those visitors are well organized by plenty of (you guessed it) active volunteers who learn the layout of the homes and make sure that everyone has a great experience.

Here’s the best part: each home is paired with a regional charity, and all of the money made by the Tour, whether through ticket sales or business sponsorships, is divided up between those charities. It’s a big undertaking!

It’s also a huge part of the local community, and I have been so pleased to have been a part of it this year. On top of feeling like you are working for a great cause, it’s given me a way to meet some terrific people, get to know a lot of the businesses around here, and has allowed me to zip around to houses all over the lake so I can take pictures of them for our various communications. It is wonderful to see the creativity of our neighbors.

If this has whet your appetite for peeking at some beautiful homes, I’ll tell you what: take a look at the website for the Tour and if you’re local, go get yourself a ticket! Or you can check out the Tour’s Facebook (@smlcharityhometour) page because I do that, too (hint: I’m going to put something really cool up there tomorrow if I can figure out how to load a video).

I’m not going to suggest that I have any favorite houses on the Tour because they’re all nice. Really, you should go see them.

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.

A Shocking Scene on the Road

I saw something today that reminded me how special this area is.

I had a little bit of business to attend to at one of the local marinas this afternoon (fun fact: there are marinas all around the lake, and some of them got their start 50+ years ago, when a family saw its farmland become covered in water from the Smith Mountain dam project and decide to pivot into a new line of work. These are resourceful folks around here).

I found myself traveling behind a Franklin County school bus, and when it got to a stop at one of the neighborhoods off Burnt Chimney road, two youngsters (both under 10, certainly) climbed out, and as the bus drove away, they jumped on their bikes which they had evidently left at the bus stop this morning to ride to their home.

To someone from the “mean streets” of Fairfax County (up in ultra suburban Northern Virginia), this was a shocker. I don’t know if that shock says more about Franklin County or me.

That Happened Fast

Just like that, We have been here for a year! Our Wirtz-aversary sneaked right past us.

It was not surprising, though. The summer was a blur. One of the Reynolds kids spent her summer at school, taking classes. She was here for the month of May and again for a week at the tail end of July.

Our other college kid was here, working in the kitchen at a local pizza spot. We didn’t see too much of him but it was sure nice having him around.

Jim and I worked on our various projects and responsibilities, did some traveling, and boom, now here we are with the leaves starting to turn and a year in southwest Virginia under our belts.

We’ve done a lot: found work, a church, a doctor, a dentist, a hairdresser (me), a barber (Jim), a place to buy plants, a gym we like, and some fun people to talk to. Those curvy roads aren’t nearly as scary as they were when we first arrived. I’ve loved getting to know our neighbors, both the “from heres” and the “come heres” and appreciate their kindness and pride in this beautiful place.

And I still marvel at the sight of the mountains and am delighted to come around a corner and spy some cows hanging out doing their thing. To wake up every morning and see the lake in our backyard feels like a gift every single time.

I’ve had some folks ask if I miss our old home. Sometimes I do, but I try not to. I miss the people that I used to run into without even thinking about it, and instead focus on appreciating how those tiny interactions brighten a day. So I make a point of running into people here, too.

Last fall, I was chatting with one of the guys at the dump who had moved with his wife from New Jersey, and was planning to move back after ten years at the lake. “I made a life here,” he said. “She didn’t.” I thought that was sad. So that became my Number One Goal: making a life here. I think we’re doing okay.