Friday, December 2, 2016

A Tenebrous Day in the Boonies

By Saturday I was recovered and cleared up from Thanksgiving Day, and itching to get outside and explore, so after being woken up, pawed at and squeaked at by an impatiently hungry Rosie Lee who was insistent that a sleep in for me wasn't justified, I grabbed my camera, jumped into Stuart and headed west. I was soon trundling along little lanes while listening to the radio personality lamenting about the traffic being backed up all around Northern Virginia. No car fumes or jams for me, just fresh country air and empty roads.
The mountains were beautifully dramatic on this stormy looking day, and every now and then the sun would leak some bright rays through the heavy grey clouds, spotlighting branches or a patch of tree tops, colors suddenly glinting as though a flashlight beam was being shone down on them. As I crossed over the mountains, the mewing radio voice, still complaining about the roads, broke up, crackled, and was then finally replaced with country and western music. Bye, bye busy suburbia.
The Christmas lights were already in place in Timberville, and Christmas trees glinted through house windows, making them look warm and inviting. Nobody was about, it was a chilly, windy and overcast day, and it seemed I was traveling through a post apocalyptic world, everything was so grey and heavy with barely a soul around. I drove towards Orkney Springs, a strange place at the end of the road, in the middle of nowhere, and close to the West Virginia border.

A strange little place, likely named after the Orkney Isles, since the first landowner here was Scottish. The springs are supposed to be healing waters and a huge hotel was built, supposedly the largest wooden structure in Virginia. The resort has other wooden buildings surrounding it and a few white clapperboard homes flanking the road on the way in, but that's it.
The hotel, built in the late 1870's, reminded me of the hotel in Stephen King's The Shining. It was so imposing as it loomed above me and it was deathly quiet too, there was no one here, the only noises were the crows cawing as they circled above me. As I stood below the ashen skies and ominous ambience, it felt like a horror movie scene.
I walked around the building and then climbed stairs, peering in through the windows that weren't shuttered and roaming the creaky balconies. Still not a soul to be seen, inside or out. I found myself humming the theme tune to The Twlight Zone... There's 175 bedrooms here, and seemingly, not a single person in any of them. The surrounding buildings are known as Shrine Mont, used as a retreat or for conferences. This also used to be an Indian settlement, and relics were found around the springs.
I walked up the hill and into a shrine, built in 1924 from local stone with wooden benches laid out in an amphitheater shape. I was captivated by this man made place of prayer with a bell tower, a pulpit, a font, even lecterns and seats built into the walls. It was so cute, like a grotto from The Hobbit or a fairy tale.
I loved this small carved wooden picture, I wished it was more sheltered from the weather or had some protective varnish on it, it won't last long unfortunately. This inscription was on the pole holding it up, "Little sisters the birds much bounden are we unto God your creator and always in every place ought we to praise Him".
Further along the trail was a labyrinth with a pillar of carefully stacked stones in the middle. I started walking around but the winds picked up, feeling icy as they swept past, and then the first fine flakes of snow started fluttering down. I reluctantly headed back to the car, the cold biting into my thin jacket. I'm going to return here in a few months as I'd like to find the springs and walk up the mountain, maybe a few more people may be about then. I was happy to leave and felt as though eyes were staring at me from darkened windows as I drove back down the silent street.
I meandered along country lanes, stopping occasionally to take photos of the views, an old abandoned garage and even coming abruptly to a halt at the house above. It's the first new build I've ever really liked, a rustically styled home, seemingly built to look like an old  farmhouse and blending in wonderfully with its rural surroundings. Then I spotted a sign for Swover Creek Brewery, and joyfully took the turning. I'd been wanting to return here for months and here I was, by accident, almost upon it. And as I walked briskly across the parking lot to the new tap room, I realized upon opening the door where everyone for miles around had disappeared to. They were here! The place was packed, full of chatting, happy voices and lovely and warm from a fire crackling in a stone fireplace. I sat at the bar and enjoyed a few tastes before plumping for a pint of the Red Clay, a delicious Irish style ale, that went down far too quickly.
The farm's website is here, and as I left I promised myself I wouldn't leave it so long until the next visit.  I stopped outside drawn to a small group near a smoking brazier where a guy with a chainsaw was carving a portrait of a young girl, wearing ear plugs and watching the sawdust swirl and eddy through the air.
Glenn Richardson has an impressive website of carved artwork, and has also done his portraits at the Burning Man Festival. I stood and observed for a while but it was too cold for me. The girl looked a little chilly too, I hope she didn't have to sit for too long. But I'm sure it would be well worth it for her unique likeness.
I had to quickly say hello to the chickens before I ran to the car. I loved these clucky ladies last time, they were so fearless, not bothered about me approaching. After a few minutes chatting, peeping and tuck-tucking with the girls I was back in Stuart with the heater running and driving back down the lane, noticing that it was getting darker and the clouds seemed to be sinking lower. Not too far down the road I stopped again, my eyes nearly popping out of my head as I took in this display.
Obviously someone is a devout supporter of Donald Trump and I chuckled as I looked the scene over, taking in the insults, slurs and sloppy paintwork. I really wanted to see a lot of it closer but although there was no fence, I was nervous to step on the land in case I heard a gun being racked behind me. Whoever did this is definitely a fanatic and I suspected a little unhinged. But it was impressive. I'm very tempted to return in a week or so and see if Christmas lights have been added.
I was thankful to get home before dark so Kota and Rosie Lee could have a quick constitutional outside before we all settled on the sofa, sharing a crackling fire and warm throws. It was good to be home.

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