Yesterday was different.
Some very kind friends (from the days of Usenet groups, soc.culture.new-zealand, and the old WYSIWYG News) took us out into the Virginia countryside. They had asked what we would like to see. I suggested that it would be nice to see something of the state beyond the city. Since they are both ironmen and serious bike riders, they are familiar with the beautiful byways of the surrounding states.
And so our tour began with a visit to the State Arboretum of Virginia at Boyce. Proudly displaying over 8,000 trees, the arboretum is based on the Blandey farm which encompasses the ante-bellum estate “the Tuleyries”. The grand mansion with its splendid facade sits discreetly among the trees.The former slave quarters are now part a working research farm run by the University of Virginia. This is situated in a wonderful pastoral landscape of gently rolling hills, interrupted here and there by outcrops of limestone. Fields are mostly bounded by beautifully crafted stone walls.
The arboretum apparently has examples of about half of the world’s conifers and is collaborating with attempts to make the almost extinct American Chestnut resistant to chestnut blight which reportedly killed over 3 billion mature trees in less than a century.
Birds and insects abounded. A huge wasp like creature deserved a respectful distance, and I would not want to meet it if it was angry. I have tentatively identified it as Cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus). This butterfly is (I think) a Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes Fabricius).
In addition to trees and birds, there were extensive wildflower beds and herb gardens (I can’t bring myself to drop the “h”) and some real splashes of colour. After a pleasant hour or so in the Arboretum, our hosts took us to Millwood, a tiny and exquisitely beautiful settlement about three miles further East where we enjoyed a delightful lunch from a local deli in the open air. Lunch concluded with a collection of cookies, one of which had the delightful name of “snickerdoodle”. As our hosts observed, it’s impossible to say the name without smiling. And it was delicious.
Just across the road from us was the “Burwell-Morgan grist mill”, built in 1782, and powered by a water wheel, this mill remained in operation until 1943. It is now a tourist attraction, but what caught my eye was the flag, the original stars and stripes with just thirteen stars of the first states arranged in a circle.
From there, our wandering journey took us along route 50, through picturesque villages like Middleburg and Aldie. I know that when Paul Simon sang of “the cradle of the civil war”* he was referring to Mississippi, but near here is Manassas close to the site of the famous battle of Bull Run, and the Shenandoah Valley where it all began. Mark is an academic who teaches writing and he has a strong personal fascination with the civil war and its battles. He was able to speak knowledgeably of the battles that took place in the area and added enormously to the enjoyment of our tour.
It was a wonderful day and Mary and I enjoyed the scenery, as well as the generosity and excellent company of our friends.
* Graceland by Paul Simon (1986)