Friday, March 13, 2009

Shenandoah Shopping Spree

I pulled into my parking place at Walmart this morning to pick up a few last groceries for our dinner party tonight. I’m making a homemade margarita pizza with spicey shrimp and another one our local pizza place calls “The Shenandoah.” Some of the guests are bringing salads. And for desert I’m making my secret recipe chocolate cake with raspberry filling. Plus fresh strawberries, pineapple and kumquats with my favorite fruit strawberry lime yogurt dip.

I realized walking into the store that the gentlemen who pulled in only seconds after me was now walking beside me. It seemed strange to be walking with someone without acknowledging them so I looked over at him. Just in time to see him hock up a loogie and spit it on the pavement. Oh! The revulsion and regret hit me like a double whammy!

Another woman was walking directly toward me, I looked at her expecting to give her a cheery “good morning” when she acknowledged me but she never looked up, even though we passed by rather close. It struck me as strange.

In the boonies, if you park next to someone and walk toward a building – “howdy’s” and “good morning’s” are exchanged. You’ll hear things like: “Right nice weather today, ain’t it?” “Yes ma’am, isabeen a cold un.” “I reckon it’s a-gonna snow.” When you live in the most rural parts of Virginia and drive in to get your mail at the post office, the person walking toward you expects to recognize you. And if you grew up locally, then they very likely know your family and your ancestors along with a list of the epic pranks, and the tragedies and triumphs along the way. It’s impossible to be invisible in those places. When we first moved there it struck me as odd to make eye contact and exchange pleasantries with the old timers on the streets in the morning. After a while I realized that it’s part of the charm of the place, these people have roots and attachments to the land and each other. Those are cords that aren’t easily broken.

Maybe it’s the production of “Shenandoah Moon” that we’re working on that has me thinking about my old life in rural Virginia. I spent some time in Beldoor Hollow east of Elkton as a child. And I vividly remember sitting out on the steps of a country church on a summer night listening to the calls of the whippoorwill. Even in the still part of the night that place was full of an orchestra of wildlife sounds. It made an impression on me as a child. It was as hauntingly beautiful, and even when I lived and worked in the urban world of Northern Indiana, I remembered that sound. I wrote a song about it many years later, its lyrics speak of solitude and peace.

Shane and I lived for about six years in one of the most rural parts of Virginia, back in the wilderness. I used to tell people to go to the ‘boonies,’ turn left, drive for thirty minutes until they got to ‘middle of nowhere.’ Turn left, drive another thirty minutes and you’d find us. We rented a place on a 300 acre horse ranch. We were the last ones at the top of a mile long lane. There was no need for curtains on the windows and the view from our little patch of the ridge was amazing. There was no privacy fence around the hot tub and skinny dipping under the stars was a treat for the senses. We loved the wildlife for the most part, except for the spiders and the skunks. Our dogs each only got sprayed twice each, though they played with the skunks rather often.

That land got down deep into my soul, and of all the places I’ve ever lived, I’ve never loved any place so intently. I loved looking out to see what mood the mountains were in each morning from the eight east facing windows the length of our bed. The display was different each morning. Fog, rain, sunshine or snow… it’s all beautiful from out there. I remember a particular thunder storm with hail was a spectacular and violent display that wrapped me up in its wildness. I still miss the wild beauty of that place that breaks your heart and mends it, all at the same time.

The Shenandoah Moon story follows families displaced by the building of Skyline Drive in Virginia back in 1933. It explores those themes of loving the land, of having roots and a sense of home, only to have it all taken away by the government and assisted by poverty. There’s some defiance and anger in the tale and hints of profound sadness and grieving. I can identify with loving the land like those people did. No matter where I’ve been since, nothing has seemed quite as beautiful in comparison.
This photo is how I imagine the character I'm playing, Molly Shifflett and her husband Jesse.

As I was finishing up my shopping trip/muse I began to see one man a little too often. I dubbed him “Mr. Creepy” and kept an eye out for this man who didn’t seem to be really shopping but rather just watching. As I was gathering up some cheese I overheard the Manager and two employees talking about some product that had turned up missing. I made eye contact with the manager and we both just shook our heads over it. Silly humans! Oh, and there’s Mr. Creepy again.

I shared interest in spoons with an elderly couple. The old gent suggested that I keep a tight watch on my purse because there had been some thefts that they were aware of. I joked that a thief might be disappointed with the contents of my purse but still, it would be a hassle. The tall slender woman was a bit stooped with deep smile lines and snow white hair. She told me not to worry, they were targeting old women. I told her she should be safe then also. They both crinkled into grins and moved on their slow shuffling way.

And as I left the store I passed Mr. Creepy sitting on the bench in the entrance. It was a good reminder of why people don’t make eye contact in the store here. I missed the wilderness of Virginia just then. Not for long though. Because within ten minutes I was home putting away my groceries. Yes, civilization has its perks such as a quick drive home. But I miss living that intimately with the mountains. Yes, I do.


  1. Having lived in both country and city I know what you are saying. Both have their uniqueness, splendor, convenience. Sad that some people have to resort to stealing and others have to just be "creepy", but it seems to balance out with the nice people who your also passed by.

  2. Thank you for sharing such personal and heartfelt feelings about living in wild places. I've only visited them, but have found that they awaken my senses greatly.

  3. I'm right there with you.

  4. I understand. Living here in town, I've grown accustomed to walking places. But I miss being able to stand out naked in the rain, too.

  5. I loved this post! I've been meaning to send you an email since you popped up on my blog -- I saw that you're in Staunton and we have a daughter in Buena Vista, which I believe is in your neck of the woods. I had never visited that part of the country until 2 weeks ago, and it was spectacularly beautiful! (although at the time we Minnesotans were hoping for warmer weather . . .) I really appreciated this post because I could picture the beauty so well in my mind. You seem to have a fascinating life I would love to know more about. I guess I'd better do some back-reading!

  6. Beautiful. I am reminded of the quote by Simone Weil: "To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul."

  7. I love your comment "I still miss the wild beauty of that place that breaks your heart and mends it, all at the same time." I had an experience like that just yesterday. I saw such beauty it brought tears to my eyes.


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