Friday, January 27, 2017

Magic in the Clouds and Cider in the Mist

Saturday was a cold and foggy morning, the fog so dense and wet that I was sure if I lit a match outside the dampness of the air would extinguish it immediately. I couldn't see my neighbors across the fields or even the crows sitting in the oak tree, but it was wonderful to just sit, looking out of the window, sipping a huge mug of tea, watching the birds and relishing the peace of the countryside, especially after the previous day's chaos.
I wasn't in the mood to be with crowds of people today, so, grabbing my camera bag, I made for the mountains. The fog was still thick as I drove slowly along winding roads, cows like ghosts grazed in the fields and few vehicles were on the roads as I drove towards the Skyline Drive.
As Stuart chugged up the mountain I saw sunshine blinking ahead of me then suddenly we broke through the fog into dazzling bright sunlight with azure skies overhead. The fog was hanging on the side of the mountain, white and fluffy, slowly unfurling in the breeze. I was pleased to see there was no line at the gate and the park ranger informed me that the views were spectacular today, I was in for a treat, which was good to hear, partly numbing the shock at the huge hike in the cost of the annual pass I was renewing today. But as I emerged from the tunnel, stopping at the first outlook, I forgot that, and gazed happily at the wonder nature had spread out across the Shenandoah Valley.
It's such a joyful release to savor the quiet peacefulness of clouds, as though these huge swaths of snowy softness suck all stresses and negative emotions out of me like a great big sponge. I felt that they could lift me up and float me away or that I could lay on them like they were big soft marshmallows.
I  chatted with a couple of guys who were hanging out at one overlook on their own, listening to funky, mellow Indian style music while standing on the wall, enjoying a joint, looking over the white waves as they moved below us. We all stood mesmerized by the hypnotic movements as the winds nudged and swept the fog across the valley floor,
As I stopped at each overlook, there was only ever one other person or a couple, with cameras, or enjoying a picnic. I only saw a couple of hikers. It was strange seeing so few folk up here in paradise today, I wondered if they were embroiled in the turmoil of the marches down in DC.
After a couple of hours I decided to leave these gorgeous panoramas and was soon back underneath the canopy of grey gloomy fog and passing muddy fields and a few other vehicles who likely had no idea of the gleaming sunny scenes above them. I decided to stop in at Cobbler Mountain Cellars, a place not even 10 minutes from my house, which makes wine and cider. I'd never been here before but today decided to try the ciders.
I was delighted to discover, after bumping along a meandering dirt track, a small building on the side of a hill, surrounded by fields, with a few fire pits puffing out smoke to join the thick mist that hung low. There were only a few vehicles and just a small group around one of the fires, I was liking this place already, the ambience was very inviting, the lack of crowds even more so. Inside wines were being tasted at the front of the building and I was sent to the back where the ciders were. Three ladies had just started and invited me to join them. We worked our way through 7 flavors, finishing with the Harvest Pumpkin which was served up warm. They were all a little too sweet for me except the Traditional Jefferson and Mountain Top Hop, both of which I enjoyed immensely and purchased bottles to take home.
We all ordered a pint to take outside to one of the fire pits, where another couple joined us..While protests were raging down in DC, I was relaxing around a campfire for a couple of hours on a mountain draped with heavy mists in the company of new friends. It was glorious and especially superb because it was virtually on my doorstep. I chastised myself for having left it so long to visit this place. It definitely won't be too long before I'm back again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Crowds of Controversy at the Trump Inauguration

On Inauguration Day, as Jeff and I sat on the packed metro, riding in to DC, in front of us were two disheveled young women with uncombed hair, mud spattered boots and torn jeans holding grease stained pizza boxes with 'F**k Trump" written in black marker pen. Directly opposite them sat a smart young man in a black raincoat wearing his red Trump baseball cap and clutching a professionally printed Trump/Pence sign. 'Here we go', I thought to myself. But there were no underhand comments, no disparaging glares, just an acceptance that we were all going to the same event and were on different sides.
I looked at my phone, marveling at the map of DC, every downtown street closed for Trump's Inauguration, the inevitable security in place to protect participants in favor of or against, regardless. The list of items allowed on The Mall was minimal, but luckily my camera bag was within the size restrictions, and at the last minute, we were also allowed to bring in a collapsible umbrella. The evening before, Trump had spoken on TV acknowledging that rain was forecast for most of the day, but had added with a huge smile, that it would be fine. I hoped he was right, it would be difficult trying to juggle a camera and an umbrella.
Food and souvenir vendors were abundant and as we walked the streets it wasn't long before we heard the yells and shouts of protesters. A group had formed a wall of bodies across the street, trying to prevent Trump supporters through, but they were unsuccessful. The police were fantastic, standing in a line behind them, and holding out arms to us, so all we had to do was climb over the sitting protesters and be lifted the rest of the way by the strong arms of the law. Despite being trodden over, likely more vindictively by some than others, the protestors were pretty jovial,  I exchanged laughs with a few of them, and the officers were smiling too.
I actually had a few good laughs with the activists, many of whom had been quite creative with their protests, and they were all more than obliging when they realized a camera was being pointed at them. Jeff and I broke up, since he wanted to get on The Mall, while I was wanting to see the Bikers For Trump, who were situated in the John Marshall Park near The Capitol. Unfortunately when I got there another protest group were making a racket right next to the park, resulting in the Secret Service raising a tall metal fence, thus preventing any access to or exit from the park. Some bikers were caught on the outside and nothing we could say to the Secret Service guys was going to let us through that fence. I didn't want to waste time waiting to see if the fence would eventually come down so I started trotting back towards The Mall entrance. Outside a hotel I spotted a group of people with cameras pointed towards a man in the middle. I discovered it was Alex Jones after asking a photographer and a quick Google search told me he was a controversial right-wing extremist who has a website called Infowars. He was exclaiming loudly how we all needed to go to the protest group I'd just come from to seek justice for the woman next to him who had been roughly handled by police and sustained a cut on her hand. I couldn't see any wound but decided to hang about for the action.
I grabbed this selfie with A.J. before he marched off towards the fences, puffed up with self importance and hauling the lady in question along behind him. I walked quickly alongside him, likely smirking hugely as I was having a tough time suppressing laughter. The cameras were whirring as we made our way to the protest group. He thrust himself into the middle of them and started bawling loudly, resulting in even more cameras being held high in his direction. I stood back, sensing that good wasn't going to come from this situation and sure enough the police shoved through and pulled the puffed up plonker out to the sidewalk.
A short video of him just prior to being led away from the protesters is here. You can see me at the back of the crowd, just to the left of his face, and then I appear briefly on the left side. I left immediately afterwards as it got quite rowdy once he'd been ejected from the crowd.
I spotted some bikers still quietly assessing the fence, as though they might somehow find a piece they could unravel and slip through. They were pretty fed up, poor guys, but they did pose for a photo. I decided to head for security as it was after 9am. The lines were long but I stood at the end and was soon chatting happily with a teacher and professor from CA along with a preacher from NY.
It took a while before I realized that the wall in the middle of this photo is a 'trompe ;l'oeil', a clever work of art that had me fooled for a while. Note the snipers on top of the roofs. Because of security, those folks carrying flags on sticks were told in advance that they'd have to part with them before reaching The Mall, sticks were forbidden. This is why none were seen in photos of The Mall, unlike at Obama's Inauguration where they were allowed.
We stood in line for over 90 minutes but everyone remained in high spirits, even having fun with some protesters who failed to raise any tempers with their heckling. A couple of young lads next to me lamented loudly at the long wait, and by their talk obviously fancied themselves as writers as they chastised themselves for not getting press passes. I leaned over and quietly conveyed my hope that their writing was better than their speech since I'd heard the word 'like' used 9 times in 20 seconds. They glowered at me but at least they shut up. Eventually we got to the security tent where we were thoroughly searched and I was asked to click my camera to prove it wasn't a suspicious device. The security guard happily posed and I thanked him for keeping us all safe. Once through though, I hit another wall of people as it appeared that Pennsylvania Ave had been closed off and no-one could cross.
I bounced up and down trying to see what was happening before I realized that it was The Trump Train on its way to The White House. I spotted his limousine with a big white TV van driving in front of it, a camera man leaning forward filming every movement he made. More bouncing allowed me to spot a few more vehicles and then we were allowed to surge across the street.
But there was yet another security tent to go through before we could get on The Mall. Finally 30 minutes later I was through and managed to find Jeff. People were spilling in from all directions but many were still held up at security. I had chatted to folks who were valiantly battling their way to ticketed seats and wondered if they had succeeded. But our view from The Mall was excellent. We could see down to The Capitol, its balcony draped with flags and could even make out the figures standing in front. Behind us was The Monument with hoards more people spilling onto the plastic white floor laid on the ground to protect the grass underneath. And strangely enough, despite the weather forecast predicting rain from 10am-3pm, we only had a slight sprinkling during the ceremony, enough for me to open my umbrella for about 5 minutes and then pack it away again. Trump had at least got that right.
We couldn't have timed it better. Just as we'd got settled Mike Pence was sworn in and then we saw Trump with Melania walk to the front. We all watched quietly as he became the 45th President and then the cheers erupted, along with booming cannon claps reverberating about us. I looked around the smiling faces, the military behind us grinning hugely and filming Trump's acceptance speech, as many others were. Not really sure why as it would be readily available on YouTube before the day ended. I actually looked for those who were booing or hurling abuse but saw none. We listened to the prayers and I smiled on hearing the multiple 'amens' emitted all around me. I said my own.
After the crowd had quietened down we started walking away, to grab a ride on the Metro before the masses swarmed on the trains.
But everybody stopped in their tracks when Jackie Evancho started singing the National Anthem. At only 16, she had the voice of an angel, reaching clearly to everyone around. Not one person was moving as the notes soared true over The Mall, all of us spellbound by her performance. Hands were placed over hearts, soldiers saluted and everyone had a ramrod stiff back, it was an impressive sight. Applause thundered across the crowds as she finished and folks moved about once more.
As we approached the station there were more protesters and bible bashers hurling insults and jabbing the air with their signs. Thankfully they kept their distance and with a sigh of relief we stepped onto the escalator that would take us down below the ground, away from their negative noise.
Who knows how this presidency will turn out?  The country is so divided with this election that it's been frightening to witness how volatile people have become. Many of my friends oppose this new leader but some are enthusiastic. I'm divided, I see good and bad in this man. I can only hope and hold my breath, like so many others, that we emerge strong and respectable from this. I spoke with many intelligent people while in the security lines, people who spoke well and with trust that America will indeed be great again. This had been an exciting and perspicacious day, but I was glad to escape the city, and leave the crowds behind. I was looking forward to the peace at Meadow House.