Two weekends in Western Virginia
I'm bound to stay where you sleep all day, Where they hung the jerk that invented work In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
As the old joke goes, the way to make God laugh is to make plans. So we didn’t.
On little more than a text message and a glance at the calendar, we made tracks for Shenandoah. But in late September, about a half-million other warm-blooded Virginians had the same good idea.
So, under the final knell of daylight, we left the national park and found a glorified front yard posing as a campsite on Route 340. Where we lacked vistas and altitude we made up with a front-row seat on the river.
But even in our tents and hammocks, a few feet and slightly uphill from the riverbank, we could hear two lanes of traffic whiz in the distance.
We woke with the sun.
Fog clung to the cold river water. A cloud formed over the pan as we cooked breakfast.
On the way home we hit a Tastee Freez, which is surprisingly an actual place and not just a figment of John Cougar Mellencamp’s imagination. We watched Gerry eat himself sick and then celebrate his feat with a novelty-sized ice cream.
In Ruckersville I found an old Silvertone acoustic guitar hiding in an antique store. I didn’t have the cash then, but I do now. I hope I still do when I go back. I hope it’s still there.
The drive to Bolar Mountain was almost suspiciously gorgeous.
To the east, behind us, high pressure kept the clouds far above the lone 747 in the sky. Approaching from the west there was a moody-looking front so wide that its other edges were hidden behind neighboring mountains.
We eased around each turn to meet hushed bursts of gold leaves coaxed off branches – dappled and backlit by sun, suspended midair by leeward gusts.
Wasting no time, we set up shop on a hill overlooking Lake Moomaw, a dammed-up arm of the Jackson River. With tents staked and hammocks hung, we filled a pot with meat, broth, beans and a pile of vegetables and let it sit until we couldn’t wait any longer.
In October, the lake looks parched. From where we stood the water line had retreated fifty yards, leaving behind an odd hybrid -- postcard mountain paradise blended with wizened moonscape.
Diminished as it was, the lake still held a few mysteries and probably more than a few sunken canoes. At 150 feet deep, we all agreed on the odds of some prehistoric creature lurking below. We figured fifty-fifty.
Back at the campsite,
the Dutch oven was starting to gurgle with the smells and promise of 7 hours’ cooking.
As the sun clocked out, we removed the lid and ladled out the stew into tin cups. Broth coated our tongues, so we didn’t need to do much talking.
With dinner vanquished, we walked back down to the lake in complete darkness.
Space-debris glittered and broke apart as it skated into the cloudless atmosphere. Satellites squiggled in fixed points. An arm of the Milky Way split the sky in half. The ruddy, wider part is the center of the galaxy.
After a spell, cloud cover returned to the lake and so did we to our campsite.
Overnight, the rainclouds followed through on their promise. The drops were soft but heavy and satisfying. The tent deflected the water but absorbed the tiny impacts with a trillion thp thp thps. Underneath the nylon pitch, the sound was muted and anodyne, with liquid percussing and rolling off to the edges like an inch of oil in a skillet.
We woke up to the rain, present but abated, and a few scarce logs we forgot to cover overnight.
The weather kept our breakfast short – sausage and eggs with a hobo-pack of cinnamon apples – and it scowled at us as we packed up and headed home.
As we crawled back under the blanket of 4G coverage, we stopped into Edelweiss for seven guts full of sauerbraten, spätzle and jägerschnitzel. Gerry ordered a pretzel but 45 minutes later our waiter reneged, scratching it off our tab only to say that the pretzel “just isn’t going to happen.”
We still don’t know what that means.
serves too much for 7
6-8 strips of bacon
3 lbs. bone-in pork butt
2 quarts of chicken broth
6 cloves of garlic
1 pound each of Great Northern and Black Eyed Peas, soaked and rinsed
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 or 4 leaves of collard greens, chopped or shredded
A few stalks of celery, chopped
Several good pinches of herbes de Provence
S&P to taste
BEFORE YOU CAMP:
1.Cover the pork with some salt, pepper, and herbes de provence. Maybe strategically hide a few cloves of minced garlic
2.Soak the beans, preferably overnight. Rinse.
Ready to roll?
1.Put the oven on the campfire, let it heat up evenly.
2.Cover the bottom of the Dutch oven with the bacon strips.
3.When the bottom is coated and sizzling, drop in the pork. Then add the broth, beans, garlic, onion, carrot and celery. Cover it up and wait a long, long time. We waited about 7 hours. Open it occasionally and stir to help break up the meat, but mostly just to catch a whiff.
4.Before removing from the fire, add the collard greens and let them wilt.
DRY RUN/WET RUN
by the good ones mag
Best Made Co.
Bridge and Burn
Gitman Bros. Vintage
Lamplighter Roasting Company
Levi’s x Filson
Recreational Equipment, Inc