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.
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.
I don’t do a whole lot of traveling, and maybe I should, because I just got back from a great trip with our eldest child. Here’s the experience boiled down to a couple of quick thoughts:
Keep open to new ideas
For her last spring break of college, our daughter suggested that the two of us take a trip to Sedona, Arizona. I didn’t know much about the destination but we got started researching and it turns out that it’s a phenomenal place. If you can imagine the nicest person you know, and then imagine that person is a place, that’s Sedona.
Keep up the best you can
My girl is 22. She’s a fit little mountain goat when it comes to climbing around on trails. Me, not so much. But I jumped in on those hikes and was rewarded by beautiful scenery and very fine company.
I did not, however, even try to keep up with a 22-year-old when it came to prickly pear margaritas. I did the driving.
Keep an eye on the weather
We went to the Grand Canyon. It was cold. Like, slushy roads and snowballs cold. Boy, I know those tourists at the canyon were surprised because we sure were, too. And by the way, this challenged my expectations of what “Arizona weather” was all about. I was grateful for the hat I’d popped into my bag at the last minute.
Serendipity is everywhere
As I was flying through Charlotte, NC, on the way out to the Phoenix SkyPort, our son happened to be flying through on his way home to Roanoke. We caught up for just a minute right there at the airport. (Okay, I stalked him a little.) But to have a day where one runs into both of one’s kids in airports thousands of miles apart? Magic.
Even the bad stuff isn’t all that bad
On the flight home, my journey took me through Philadelphia instead of Charlotte (one does not simply fly directly to Roanoke). The plan was to fly out and land in Roanoke in time for dinner with the husband and that younger college kid mentioned above.
But then the flight crew was late.
And the weather went south.
We sat on the tarmac for 2-1/2 hours before the plane rolled back to the gate and the flight was cancelled. By the time we got off the plane and were wiggled into flights for the next morning — none of which were heading to Roanoke (one does not simply fly directly to Roanoke) — it was after midnight. I don’t know Philly. I didn’t know where to go for hotel with a shuttle that would get me back to the airport by 6:30 for my early flight to Charlottesville, VA. So I elected to stay overnight at the airport.
I don’t recommend it if you can help it. But I did learn that the security screening opened up at 4:30 am (and the lines are much shorter!), which allows a bit of a nap at the gate before the breakfast spots start opening. Au Bon Pain never tasted so good.
The flight to Charlottesville’s (posh) airport was blissfully short and I was met by a husband who drove the extra hour to come pick me up. And even though they aren’t made of red rock, our mountains never looked so welcoming.
While I was away, the flowers had started blooming and I’m pretty sure there are some baby cows out there in the fields. It’s nice to come home to something that looks spring-y and new.
This quote was written on the chalkboard in the yoga studio here in Franklin County where I pop in from time to time.
The Centre at VitaZen has a full slate of classes and I really enjoy all of them, though I haven’t found the one that is going to be my go-to class. This week, I went to the Thursday after-work class which was so terrific that I think this might be it.
The quote was the icing on the yoga cake during a week when I heard back from an interview for a job that had looked promising but turned out to be less appealing once the potential employers and I sat down to talk. (Clearly, they felt the same way.)
Feeling thus protected, on to other things! Chief among them is a week’s vacation with someone dear in a new place. It will be scenic, I think, but it’s outside the scope of this blog (#thisisnotatravelblog). I can promise you’ll hear more about springtime in the country as soon as I get back.
If you’re going to drive anywhere near our house, you can expect some roads that are pretty narrow and twisty.
They can get a little scary for this suburban gal.
In fact, fear is something I really had to overcome when we moved down here. The roads are generally two lanes (or a little less) without wide shoulders to pull onto. There isn’t much traffic, allowing you to move quite quickly. For the first month or so, I was pretty convinced that there were deer just waiting to pop out in front of the car (knock on wood, I’ve only had rabbits do that so far!), so I tended to hold up whatever traffic we had.
I’ve seen a lot of Ford Super Duty f250 grilles in my rear view mirror, let’s put it that way.
One day, I was rolling up to an intersection with a four-way stop and saw that a van had turned in my direction, but had turned wide and was coming right at me in my lane.
In that instant, as I was trying to figure out how I was going to get out of the ditch that I was going to need to drive into to avoid that guy, the van righted itself and all worked out fine. But I was shook up enough to go home and Google “How do people live in scary circumstances?” Because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.
What I found was a TED talk from Col. Chris Hadfield; you should watch it if you have a minute because he describes exquisitely how it feels to blast off into space, which is undeniably dangerous. For him, though, the apprehension was worth it because by facing that danger he was achieving the goal he’d had since childhood, of becoming an astronaut.
Truly, I am not aiming so high.
But here’s the takeaway that I got. If you can separate the perceived danger (getting run off the road by a country driver) from actual danger (this most likely will not happen), you can achieve an objective that you want.
And my objective is to learn how to live here. We live here. Jim’s job is here. There are many, many cool things about our new home.
Hadfield concluded his talk by speaking about “taking that ability to adapt, and ability to understand, and the ability to take our own self perception into a new place.” That’s enough inspiration for me to keep getting out on the road.
And then he sang David Bowie’s Major Tom, which is pretty darned brave, too.
Jim loves a William Shakespeare play and we have been hearing for years about the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia. Now that we are only two hours away, we decided to check it out.
Staunton is just north of us, and we had a beautiful trip through the woods. Jim made arrangements for us to see a matinee performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which allowed us a leisurely Saturday morning before heading up to see the show.
The American Shakespeare Center has been around since 1988, according to its website, and in 2001 it settled into its current theater, the world’s only recreation of Shakespeare’s Blackfriar’s Playhouse. It is beautiful!
“Sit on the stage if you can,” suggested my friend Colleen when I told her we were going. And indeed, there are ten stools lining the sides of the stage, but at our show, they were taken up by high school students (whose clear enjoyment of the show added to the general merriment of the afternoon).
Because it was amazingly fun. I have never seen a Shakespeare production where:
The bar selling beer and wine at the beginning of the show (and during intermission) is on the stage itself.
The cast begins the performance with some musical numbers: a bluegrass-sounding tune, followed by renditions of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” a raucous “She’s a Bad Mama Jama,” and, at intermission, J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks.” If you haven’t seen The Merry Wives, trust me that these selections are all on point.
They leave the lights in the house up so the actors can see and interact with the audience.
The lady sitting next to you wears a “cold shoulder” top to show off her tattoo of the bard himself on her shoulder.
It was a veritable festival of Shakespeare that made me understand how people can be superfans. I was inspired to include his work into more of my reading rotation, and we will definitely be making that trip again.