Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Bird in the Left Hand

On Sunday I set out in Stuart with one goal. To find Stonewall Jackson's arm. His left arm.
I'd been suffering since Thursday evening with food poisoning from sushi I'd eaten that lunchtime, and I was really itching to get out of the house. But I was feeling extremely weak, still not able to keep food in my stomach, and having dropped 7lbs as a result. But I thought a short drive accompanied by a exploratory saunter in the fresh air would do me the world of good, so I set off for Locust Grove, VA, a mere hour from my house. With a concoction of water and a banana for sustenance, my poor tummy jostled and jumbled about with the vibration of the engine, which was a little disconcerting, but my focus was soon diverted when I came across a huge flock of large black birds squawking noisily on the grass in front of some houses. I stopped the car and watched in amazement as they pecked the grass feverishly with loud chattering, lifting and rolling across the grass like a cloud at any disturbance.
 It was like being in The Birds movie, exciting but without the fear, as this scene was actually an incredible experience, especially being so close to them. The lifted and flew so close to me I wondered if they would brush against my hand if I held it out but I made no effort to move, and then a lady in another car pulled up next to me, also marveling at the sight, and the whole flock spilled across the road into a wood. I parked up and walked towards them but they wouldn't allow me to get near enough for close up photos. But I could see that these were my favorite birds, grackles. Big, bluey black and shiny with white rings around their eyes and long tail feathers. There were also a few starlings who had joined the party and I was a little envious that I didn't have black wings so I could join them, their enthusiasm about whatever they were doing was infectious. I walked after them yet as soon as I got closer, they moved like a tumbling wave a few feet further, so I'd advance again, and they would repeat their retreat. I followed as far after them as I could before having to turn back to the car, as I'd left it unlocked and running in my haste to follow my feathered friends.
I continued driving and was soon on Rte 3, noticing how the road surface was gradually being resurfaced. I always called this the 'singing road' as there's a patch heading south where the road surface issues a pitchy whine as you drive over it. I wondered if complaints were the result of the resurfacing. Probably not, but I'll miss that little quirkiness when I next travel this road.
I reached the Wilderness Battlefield and parked up, walking through a few trees to an open road flanked by harvested corn fields.
The ground was littered with corn husks, bright golden kernels peeking out from wafer dry husks. I loved the patterns the husks made and noticed as I bent to the ground to photograph them that the grass had thousands of tiny blue speedwell flowers peeking through.
 Ellwood Manor was shuttered tightly for the season but I walked all around reading the information boards outside and admiring the views. There was an old herb garden that would be revitalized in the spring and between tall evergreen box hedges, a gravel path led to the open fields. Beyond another corn field, on the brow of a hill, was a small copse of trees and a boundary fence. And I guessed that would be where I'd find Stonewall's arm.
It was a pretty little oasis of shade and stillness on this sunny windy day, and I felt a little sad that the rest of Stonewall wasn't resting here too in this beautiful spot instead of in Lexington, VA. There were no other headstones, just the one, leaning slightly, with a roughly hewn top. But of course, it cannot be assumed that the arm definitely resides here since there are rumors that it had been removed. But I like to think it is here, so I patted the top respectfully and took a photo of the headstone, my camera battery dying as soon as the shutter snapped, making me wonder if it was a sign that because it was cold and windy I shouldn't be out any here longer. I was happy to comply and began the walk back to the car.
 The full story of that left arm is here.

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