There are a whole lot of things to do down here at Smith Mountain Lake.
As summer has roared in, the powerboats have roared in with it, toting wakeboards and waterskis while they zip around Sea-Doos (or, in our case, kayaks) all over the lake.
You can volunteer with any number of excellent service-oriented organizations and spend time at any number of churches. You can exercise at the YMCA or at the Carilion Wellness gym, or get your Zen on at the Vita Zen yoga studio. All this without even going into Roanoke!
But lately, I’ve been doing something that has really been making me happy: working. Since May, my former employer from Northern Virginia has given me plenty to do, writing stories about George Mason University faculty research. And since January, I’ve had the opportunity to learn some really interesting about the history of local communities here in Franklin and Bedford Counties.
It’s cut down on my driving around and exploring, but I’ve come across some interesting things that I’ll tell you about in the weeks to come. Because I’ve found that while exploring a new area is fascinating, so is digging a little deeper into it. Talk to you soon.
If you’re at Smith Mountain Lake, I have the perfect place to start.
Bridgewater Plaza is kind of like a boardwalk area. It is situated right where the Hales Ford Bridge goes over the Roanoke River to connect Franklin and Bedford Counties. If you are driving to the lake area from the northeast, Rt. 122 suddenly opens up to a stunning view at this point and it’s very welcoming!
You can do all kinds of things at the Plaza: rent a boat, find plenty to eat, see a show, purchase gifts (while enjoying a sample of very nice fudge), grab a cup of coffee, paint some pottery, or get yourself a wakeboard. You can even start your search for your own lake home because there are a number of savvy Realtors who have offices right there.
It gets C-R-A-Z-Y on summer weekends, but I had the place to myself when I stopped by one day last week.
And lucky for me, our college kid is making pizza over there this summer, so I get to hear all the stories without battling the crowds!
This is our first Memorial Day weekend at Smith Mountain Lake and oh my goodness, what has happened to this place?
We moved to the area at the end of July, as summer was on the wane. And it was beautiful and fun, and still less traffic-laden from the northern Virginia streets we were used to.
Then Labor Day came and went, and pretty soon all the boats you’d see were the intrepid bass fishermen. And wow, did it get quiet.
But this weekend, that all changed. All of a sudden, there were people in the Kroger you didn’t recognize. LOTS OF THEM. They all had beer in their carts (I am not judging; we had friends stopping by so I also had beer in my cart). The boat traffic on our stretch of the lake has exploded, particularly with wake-boarders dipping through waves behind sleek boats blasting reggae music.
Our quiet rural home has become a resort. And I’ll tell you what: it’s fantastic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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
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.
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.
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.”