Archive for September, 2013


I haven’t gotten much hiking in this summer, but on this beautiful early fall day I hiked up The Priest, the highest mountain in our region.  For the first time I climbed it via the Appalachian Trail from the Tye River, a route that gains over 3000 feet in elevation.  A demanding but perfect day.

more pictures available here

Much of our retirement life here in Nelson County has worked out pretty much the way we planned and expected.  We live simply and relatively cheaply.  We grow or raise much of our own food.  We are surrounded by gorgeous mountain views and countless smaller scale opportunities to observe nature.  We have reveled in our quiet and low-stress life.

Life in the Slow Lane

What we neither expected nor predicted was how quickly we would become deeply enmeshed in a variety of overlapping social networks that have connected us to a much larger and more diverse circle of friends and acquaintances then we ever had in our previous life in Cherry Hill.  In the process, our lives have taken new directions we never would have anticipated.  And in the aftermath of Monika’s cancer diagnosis this past January, we discovered we had in place just about the most wonderful support network one could hope for.  If one of us had to be ill, this was the place to be.

The process started with our neighbors, who welcomed us, helped take care of our chickens when we were away, provided nursing expertise at some scary moments, lent a tractor that saved the day in a well reconstruction project, taught us new card games,  and even introduced us to Superbowl parties (where we, who didn’t even know who was playing until we looked it up, had the blind luck to walk off with the bulk of the betting pool winnings).

Two neighbors down the main road a bit, Nancy and Phil Welker, connected us to two local institutions that otherwise would not have been on our horizon.  Phil took me early along to the Massies Mill Ruritan Club, a volunteer service organization that provides various local services (Saturday night dances, an annual and much-anticipated Carnival, food service at various county events, use of its building for weddings and other events, etc.) to raise money, much of which is then given back to the community in the form of college scholarships, and donations to local organizations and programs.

I confess my first encounters with the Club involved more than a little culture shock, but gradually our shared community concerns trumped most everything else.  So I joined and soon was maintaining the Club’s website and holding various offices in the organization.  One Ruritan friend helped us build our chicken coop, and numerous others have proved to be great resources and friends in all sorts of other ways.

Phil and Nancy Welker also introduced us to Grace Episcopal Church in nearby Massies Mill.  The church is small and strikingly beautiful inside, with an interior wooden “carpenter gothic” style.  The large alter window depicts the parable of the Good Samaritan, which in my view gets as close as anything to the positive core of Christianity.  Not being literal believers, we at first found aspects of Episcopalian liturgy to be rather uncomfortable.  But we also came to discern almost as many beliefs as there were members in this friendly and stimulating community.  And when a wonderfully dynamic new rector, Marion Kanour, took over in April 2013, the church blossomed even further into a haven for innovation, open-mindedness and social activism.

In the process we’ve come to understand that especially in rural areas, churches are more than anything communities and centers of social life, not rigid bastions of doctrinal beliefs.  We’ve found ourselves drawn to Grace for its embrace of tolerance and diversity, its love of shared good food and drink (including its weekly Thankful Thursday dinners and its Graceful Brewers Guild), its beautifully-melancholic Celtic evening service, and its nice mix of Nelson County old-timers and “transplants” like us.  We’ve rediscovered the pleasures of collective singing and quiet contemplation. Grace has become a comfortable new home for both of us, and a source of much appreciated support.

Our unusually wet summer continued through the month of August, bringing with it the worst Mexican bean beetle and squash bug plagues I’ve ever experienced.  After the initial harvests of bush beans, these pests did in my several varieties of pole beans and my several varieties of cowpeas.  A plague of rabbits didn’t helped things either.  Weeds were more aggressive this summer than ever before, and by late August the garden was a rather sorry sight.

But the late season Kennebec potatoes did well.  Although slightly damaged by wireworms and white grubs, we did manage to harvest about fifty pounds of Kennebecs, bringing the total potato harvest to something over 120 pounds.  The Thelma Sanders heirloom acorn squash were very prolific (the middle picture above shows about a third of the harvest).  And I’ve just begun to dig up sweet potatoes, a new crop for me.  I grew two heirloom varieties, Chesapeake and Continental Red, from Sand Hill Preservation Center in Iowa, a source, believe it or not, of over 200 heirloom varieties of sweet potatoes alone.