“Where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”

These are a few (poorly taken) shots of rural central Virginia between Alleghany County in the southwest and Fauquier County.  It’s a beautiful journey.  F. Scott Fitzgerald described the American Midwest as “that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”  I myself have always thought his description it fits the Commonwealth just fine.

Most of these aren’t great photos.  For one, they were taken from a moving car, as you can tell from the reflections in the window.  For another, I am a terrible photographer, as you can tell from the unintentional shot of my giant white nerd face.  (My phone is new.)

The best shots were those I didn’t get.  Lord knows I scrambled to get a picture of that bear on Skyline Drive, but it was a blink-and-you-miss-it opportunity.

There were other things that I saw, too, of which I’d love to have gotten pictures.  The first was the thin, immaculate strip of white headstones in a family cemetery, lying adjacent to their farm’s vast, green square of a cornfield.  The juxtaposition of life and death in that image was perfect.  Another was a sullen-looking cow, lying in the exact center of a fenced front yard, regarding passing cars like an apathetic despot.

As you can see, what I captured are really just your standard road trip pics, but they still manage to show some of the beauty of the Commonwealth.

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Heading north.

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Imbecile.

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Skyline Drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park.  [In best Stephen Colbert voice:] “Watch out for bears!”

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Creepy solitary abandoned mountain shack is creepy.

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New Yorkers, these are dormitories for Chicken University, where poultry prepare earnestly to graduate someday to a culinary position with your household.  (These flat, low buildings are often visible from the road in the valleys — I remember thinking that they resembled dog kennels, except that they are entirely enclosed and look quite neatly maintained.)

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“Meet Virginia.”

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I think this is the southern fork of the Shenandoah River, but I’m not sure …

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I have mastered the camouflage of the alien “Predator.”

I did.  And I have the photograph to prove it.

Observe.  The first photo is of me at Shenandoah National Park, climbing Stony Man Mountain over Labor Day weekend.  The second and third photos are of 20th Century Fox’s eponymous film monster, bane of alien xenomorphs the galaxy over.  YOU CAN SEE THAT THE TECHNOLOGY IS THE SAME.

Or … similar, maybe.  I am still not sure how the hell I pulled this off.  (It was supposed to be a normal picture taken by one of my old classmates.)  I suspect my camouflage results from the fact that I am so skinny that light can actually travel THROUGH me under certain conditions.  And it is fueled by the power of nerd.

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I took a wrong turn on my way to the Mary Washington College Reunion!

And that’s why I wasn’t there.  I should have been concerned when the alums I did connect with in Virginia kept sipping their beers, concealing their laughter and leading me repeatedly to roads that led consistently UP.

Anyway, if you DO live in Virginia, did you see me waving?  I’m pretty sure I could see roughly 65 percent of the state from where I was standing.

Seriously, though — this was my birthday trip to Stony Man Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.  It was unforgettable.  The beauty of the Commonwealth was the perfect balm for the knowledge that I am one year older.

The Stony Man Trail is actually a pretty easy hike, even though the peak is the second highest along the Blue Ridge Mountains’ Skyline Drive.

To clarify some of the content of the below photos:

1)  In the second picture, the ONLY reason that I look so skinny is that the mountains are big by comparison.  It’s physics.  Yeah.

2)  Note the sign at the park visitor center.  One of my friends was totally jonesing for that woefully absent blackberry ice cream, which apparently is part of the park’s fame.  (He was talking about it on the way up.)  It must be good, if the park actually has to post a sign apologizing for running out.  The next time I see the mountains, I am going to have to get some myself just to see what the fuss is about.

3)  Spot the face in the inside of the tree.  And what is it?  A portion of my friends will call “Ent” immediately; others will name Cthulhu or one of his minions.  The inside of a tree can serve as a thematic apperception test.

4)  We met an extremely friendly mountain man in the wilds who was kind enough to let us stay in his home.  (It was surprisingly stately.)  He even had a copy of my book on his mantle, next to a happy, meditating dog statue.  (I see what you did there, man.)

I loved the trip.  If you visit Virginia, treat yourself.  The hike is easier than you think, and you need to experience this at least once.

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