Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A Thread, a Path, and a Winding Road

Over spring break, we drove to Durham, NC to drop off a car and see friends. On the way, we traveled through the Shenandoah Valley, to which I was lured by the melody and lyrics of a song. There, I hoped to look out across the valley, to give the kids the experience of climbing a mountain of whatever size, to hike to a waterfall and visit one of the caverns.

We arrived at the north end of the national park's Skyline Drive with only two hours of daylight left, and rain predicted for the following day. My teenager, in particular, couldn't have been less interested in a scenic drive along the mountain ridge. As we approached the mountains, the only tenuous thread of interest buried in her impressive stream of protest was a lone tree she had noticed from afar, a tiny speck of distinction standing out on an otherwise evenly wooded mountainside. We headed up the winding road, stopped at the first overlook, and much to our surprise found ourselves looking at the tree, rising from a field of blooming spicebush. We drank in the view, quenching our souls with the valley's immensity. At least, that's how I experienced it. But I did notice a spark of interest beginning to kindle in the next generation.
With the sun angling downward, we stopped at Compton Gap to climb a section of the Appalachian Trail to the top of a small mountain. There is nothing like a rockstrewn hillside to turn two unenthused daughters into eager explorers. They beat me to the top, stalked a strange bird--most likely a ruffed grouse--and led me far enough off trail to hear the croak of a raven rising from a chasm.

Farther down the road, we stopped again to see the valley in moonlight, and heard the "peent!" of woodcocks resting between mating flights. Though the interpretive signage told of the forest mending from a previous era when settlers cleared farm fields on the hillsides, the woodcocks wouldn't have a stage for their aerial acrobatics if not for the clearings now kept open for the roadside views.

The next day, the Skyline was socked in with fog. We toured Luray Caverns, headed south to Monticello, then on to our destination. The waterfalls will have to wait. "Oh Shenandoah" means many things to many people. For me, it's two daughters following a path together, and a healing view into infinity.

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