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Oh Shenandoah, I Hear You Calling

Construction of two additional buildings started in our neighborhood months ago. Jackhammers pierced the peace in the mornings. They drilled and destroyed asphalts to make room for better walkways. Backhoes shattered everything else. Cement trucks churned as they poured their load of mortar and concrete. Cranes and scaffoldings appeared swiftly. Growing pains of urban progress were in full view.  

That would have piqued our youngest grandson’s interest and imagination. If he could he would surround himself with trucks. Nothing else. But the old me longed for serenity. So Mitch brought me to the mountains for my birthday. (Yes, I know the song “The Shenandoah” refers to the river. But this is my story. So please play along.)

It was a romantic gift, a welcome change from the jungle of high rise buildings and cement pavements. The highland air was fresh and cool. The leaves had not changed colors, but the views of the mountains mesmerized. They seemed to come alive in the distance as they undulated through the morning mist.

Dusk from the high elevations was a protracted one. Hills and valleys dimmed with a slowness that prolonged pleasure. Reds, orange and yellows deepened as day surrendered to night. Blue skies turned to black especially because there was no moon to shed light. The evenings were dark and mysterious. Shadows teased. They took on shapes that either menaced or teased, depending on your mood.

Our cabin, called Ash Cabin, was rustic. There was no television, or phone, or WiFi. It was also historic, built in 1939 and was originally located in Dickie Ridge. It was relocated in 1953, 40 miles south to its present home in Skyland. That was probably when it was split into two bedrooms. Although the double bed was comfortable, it was too small even for a Filipino-sized couple. It brought “intimacy” to an even “closer” meaning. The weather was crisp and cold, but the heater was obsolete and cranky so getting huddled under warm blankets was welcome.

The shower stall was claustrophobic. There was hardly any room to move limbs comfortably. But at least there was hot water and good water pressure. And it was clean. The last time I did rustic was when I went to Baguio after taking the nursing board exams. That was in 1973. I didn’t have money for a hotel, so I stayed in a dorm, a hostel. I couldn’t remember the name. Maybe I blocked it. Hah! 

I shivered myself to sleep then. There was only a thin sheet as cover. The bathroom smelled and the water from the shower was icy cold. My first scream was to fortify myself as I got under the water spray. A louder scream that followed was from shock. I quickly soaped and hurried through my shampoo. The last long scream was to goad myself to rinse. I didn’t care if some soap and shampoo remained. And I didn’t care if I startled anyone with my sollilo-screams.

Shenandoah rustic was kinder, and I was grateful. Mitch and I were surprised at the quality of food offered at the Skyland Dining Room and Taproom. The long lines and long wait times for a table, even on the weekdays we were there should have tipped us off. We recommend the crab cakes and she crab soup. The salads were also good. They didn’t have Malbec which I prefer, but their Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon was excellent. And the views of the valley from the large windows were breathtaking. 

There were nature trails that crisscrossed the hills and meadows. The brochures the park authorities provided were helpful. They explained the options in detail. Easy, moderate, and challenging/difficult hikes were clearly marked. There were even paths available for the handicapped.

We hiked the Stony Man trail close to Skyland. We chose the easy loop that took us to the Stony Man Summit faster. The walk towards the cliff edge was on a downward slope. An easy mile. But it took us close to an hour to get to the fantastic view promised by the park rangers because I was obsessed with taking photos. 

The view when we reached the cliff edge of Stony Man’s “forehead” was indeed breathtaking. Columns of hardened lava from eons past jutted from the earth. Beyond was the chasm. And beyond that was the lush valley of Luray. The blue skies provided depth. My vertigo didn’t prevent my curiosity, but I was frightened as I peered into the gorge. It was majestic. Beautiful. And terrifying.

The walk back was on an upward incline. It showed our age and our vulnerabilities. I was especially winded. We envied fellow hikers who had canes. Mitch spied two stout branches and fashioned them into waist high walking sticks. They provided the third “leg” that gave us better traction and balance. We couldn’t throw them away, so we brought them back with us. Baston and Bastona. We hope to use them often. Happy trails in the future for us. 

P.S. I realized I left my laptop in the cabin after we had driven close to an hour towards Front Royal. It was waiting for us at the front office. Safe and sound. Thank you, Miriam.

Yes, Shenandoah, we do hear you. And we will be back.

 

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