Friday, May 26, 2017

Learning about Llamas

In Browntown, off a country road, and then down a dusty beaten track is a little piece of paradise called Twin Creeks, where Tim and Donna Parkman, and their 5 llamas live. We had been invited to spend a couple of hours with the llamas, learning about them and then joining them on a hike. Tim and Donna welcomed us as we arrived and explained how we'd spend the afternoon. As I listened I could see the llamas in their pen staring at us inquisitively. There were 4 that we'd be spending time with, Pete, the youngest at 16 years, all black and sporting a shaggy fringe. Prince is the oldest at 18 years, black and grey with some white points, notably a white crown on top of his head. Santiago and Coffee Bean are brothers at 17 years, both a rich chestnut brown with black markings. There was one at 17 years in the field next to us who has been retired due to knee problems, and who spent much of his time laying down and grazing, slowly moving to another patch once he was dome with the grass within his reach.
What a greeting! Sweet smiles and big toothy grins! After a while I noticed that these gentle beasts seem to have two expressions, a deep frown or a full on beaming smile. Santiago was the only one I caught frowning a couple of times. The others were very mellow, placid and had plenty of patience. Santiago was patient too yet seemed a little haughtier than the others but this was because he's The Big Boss, Leader of the Pack. I was surprised to hear that llamas aren't particularly affectionate, I had assumed that because they were so attractive, that they would welcome lots of fuss, but they don't like their faces being touched, although the neck is OK. Santiago seemed to enjoy a gentle scratch on his back when I stood next to him, but I expect he was simply just putting up with me.
 Beautiful big brown eyes, and look at those cute feet! I did notice that llamas were much more surefooted than horses. Despite the close confines of the pen we were all in, that's 4 llamas and 16 people, not once did I get bumped into or stepped on by these placid creatures. Even when they were backing away, it seemed they knew exactly where they were going. I observed this quite a few times while we were with them. The history of llamas is here; they're related to camels along with alpacas and were crucial to the Inca civilization, providing them with food, wool and transport.
We learned how to put on their harnesses and their saddles, everyone able to have a go. The llamas also carried saddlebags, loaded with treats for them and us. With so many of us in the pen, it was a little crowded, giving Pete the opportunity to flick Santiago's backside, a definite no go area in LlamaLand. We heard Santiago click a warning with his ears back and if he'd been further provoked we would have seen the famous spit that these animals are known for, but for today Santiago was going to let Pete off with just a warning.
They all posed very nicely for the camera, smiling demurely as I clicked the shutter, evidently very proud of their colorful harnesses, decorated with bling and name tags that had been crafted by Donna in keeping with their culture.
Pete always looked at my camera, if not directly at it, then peering at me sideways to ensure I captured his beautiful profile. I adored this chap and found it very hard not to throw my arms about him and give him a cuddle, but wanting to stay on the right side of him, I simply chatted to him and stroked his back.
This was one of the few direct looks I received from Santiago. Complete and utter disdain, I thought. My chuckling at him likely didn't help the situation, but he tolerated us minions with a quiet nobility that only a regal leader could display. As Chief of the Pack, it was very obvious in the way he stands so upright, not slouching like the rest of the llamas or us human visitors. He will make clicking noises at the other llamas if they step out of line, and at us people too. Another noise they make is a humming sound, which Coffee Bean made before leaving on our trek, she was getting impatient in the pen and wanted to get going. Tim told us it was because she didn't know the words...
Their teeth fascinated me, large bottom teeth which need filing until they are gelded, and used along with their top hard palette to grasp and tug at foliage. They have no upper front teeth, only the hard palette so the vegetation once picked is chewed by their back teeth. They also have a tendency to put on weight since they won't stop eating, so they have measured hay twice a day with a couple of hours to graze freely in the field.
We were soon ready to leave, the llamas all anxious to get started and then we were off! Santiago usually leads but for a while was happy to relinquish the first spot to Prince for a while. Pete doesn't like being last so he was in the middle.
Santiago looking very upright and stately as he sauntered along the trail. Tim and Donna have lots of grassy paths throughout their countryside and the scenery was beautiful. We walked along with mushrooms and wild strawberries growing amidst dense bright green vegetation. Birds trilled and Gooney Creek, named after Lord Fairfax's hunting dog, tinkled alongside us as we strolled.
We stopped by some picnic tables, Donna unpacked cookies and drinks for us humans and containers of treats for the llamas. Santiago allowed me to hold down the branch of a tree so he could strip and munch all the leaves from it. Obviously no gratitude was shown by his kingly self but I made sure to let him know that it had been an honor to help him with his snack.
Coffee Bean had been very studious as a youngster and quickly realized that tricks meant treats, so had taught herself to kiss her visitors, knowing full well that each soft kiss would result in a handful of goodies for her. She was intent on getting plenty of kisses until the treat stash had been completely consumed.
Pete quickly became my favorite. the guy's a dude. With his bangs casually draped across his face and his chilled expression paired with many cheesy grins, he was a definite hipster. I teamed up with him for some selfies, (well Tim actually took the photos for me) and Pete was a star, evidently finding the situation as comical as I did.
After our break we started back to the barn, Santiago firmly in the lead this time. Halters and saddles were taken off then we were shown beautiful products made from the llamas' wool. The scarves, made by Donna, were all decorated with wooden brooches, turned by Tim. They have many items for sale on their Etsy page, the link is on their website.
Thanks to Tim and Donna, this had been a wonderful learning experience, close up and personal, and extremely enjoyable. These beautiful creatures had always been animals that I'd admired before from a distance. Either stopping at a field on a bicycle ride, or while exploring in the car, I had admired llamas and alpacas but never really known anything about them. Today I had not only had a lesson on their history, upkeep and behaviors, I had also got to know their extraordinary personalities, enjoying their gentleness and a remarkable combination of friendly aloofness.I now feel that I understand them a little better, and shall be talking about this day for a long time.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Living in a Small Town in VA

On Saturday I went down to Rob's, where Gordonsville was hosting its famous Fried Chicken Festival. Once known as the 'chicken leg center of the universe', I was anxious to partake in some serious munching of this American favorite fare. An interesting audio is here, explaining the history of this event.
Above is the only photo to be found on the internet of these aspiring women, earning good money for their fried chicken, passengers no doubt licking their lips as the aromas wafted up to them the moment the train pulled into the station. Coffee was also offered with the chicken, a veritable feast after a long journey clunking along the rail tracks in a dusty carriage. I was also licking my lips in anticipation as we drove into town.
There was a cook off for the best fried chicken, the winner receiving $100, and I imagined there would be booths which we could walk around to taste all these chicken concoctions. The field it was held in was packed. A few vendor booths were in a line and cars were filling up the parking spaces rapidly.
We walked in among the throng of people, it seemed the whole town was here, and I looked about, trying to locate the numerous stalls with chicken portions coated in a delicious seasoned coating, but there weren't any. Instead was a queue leading up to a board showing the food that was available. Regular fried chicken, wings, legs, thighs or breasts, or a spicy variety. There were sides to choose from too, but this was the only place to eat fried chicken from. So we stood in line and patiently waited to get to the front, which actually didn't take long. And we were glad we had lined up immediately because as we turned to locate a table to eat at, the queue behind us had doubled in length, and before we had finished our meal it had trebled, people snaking back almost to the edge of the field.
We sat and munched, listening to 103.1 WJMA radio who were broadcasting live from the event, good old country music, accompanied by clouds of bubbles that drifted past us. I never did locate where they were coming from, whether it was a machine or a super zealous kid blowing furiously through a wand, but it was kind of nice, even if somewhat odd.
And the verdict on the chicken? It was poo. I was immensely disappointed. The seasoning was OK, but the coating was soggy and the chicken meat seemed to have a strange flavor to it which I couldn't place. Almost like the meat had been washed in dish detergent before being coated. The corn bread was even more horrendous, actually inedible, but the mixed greens were delicious. I wish I could have had a bucket of those, no sugar but a lovely hint of vinegar, simply perfect. But in fairness, most folks did seem to be enjoying their food, I think it was just me that was disappointed. So  as far as I'm concerned, Pam at Nick's Deli in Marshall still reigns supreme as the Fried Chicken Queen.
But if anyone's interested in the Gordonsville recipe, it's here.
This couple caught my attention, dressed for the occasion, and had just completed the Festival's 5K run and by now, no doubt, had a good appetite for the chicken.
We later headed back to Rob's house where his niece, Jessica, was waiting, with two sweet little puppies and an older dog called Gus, for people to turn up and collect their new hounds. She fosters dogs and had brought these three to be picked up by their new parents. She's remarkable, driving 5 hours each way from N.C. in a day. A family came for the two puppies and then we were left with Gus, who was exuding an odor of his nose wrinkling canine cologne, so Jessica decided to bathe him.
We all got wet and frothy and unfortunately Gus didn't really smell that much better afterwards, although he did seem to enjoy the experience. His new family arrived, wanting to give an older dog a loving home, and it was soon evident that they were all going to get on fine. I didn't envy them the ride home though, with the wet fur pong overpowering any air freshener they might have in their vehicle!
On Sunday I pottered down to a tiny town in the boonies called Browntown, where I was going to learn all about llamas. That tale is in the next post.
The village wasn't really a village, it was tiny, with just a few homes and a wonderfully preserved general store. In England it would be called a hamlet, and I fell in love with it. Quiet, peaceful and friendly, with everyone seeming to know each other, each vehicle I passed offering a cheery wave.
Stepping inside the store was like going back in time. The owner was there, chatting to two local guys who had wonderful southern accents. The store had been lovingly preserved and was more like a museum, with vintage memorabilia and furniture everywhere. Artifacts were stacked up on shelves or hanging from the ceiling, original shop furniture gleaming with polish at the back against the wall. The owner pointed out the original wallpaper, dating back to about 1884. His young son had set up a stall at the front of the store, with a notice selling everything for $10. He said the price had been reduced from $22! I wanted to just sit and listen to the guys all afternoon, but feared I would never want to leave so bid farewell and looked around outside.
I found an excellent link on the history of Browntown, along with the name of the general store. I loved the way he left The Washington Post paper on the windowsill with a rock on top to stop them blowing away.
I wasn't sure why there was a station depot here since there was no rail line and from it's history, didn't ever seem to have been one, except for the line 5 miles away. The farmhouse building is the oldest house in Warren County, according to a local, but I couldn't find any information on that either. I reluctantly headed back home, Marshall felt like a city after visiting this idyllic little community, I would have loved to stay.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Weekend of Luray, Lynching and Foxy Feats

On Saturday I should have driven up to PA to meet other urbexer buddies but a 3 hour drive there in the rain caused me to have second thoughts and I backed out. It was forecast to rain a lot of the day up there, and likely on the drive home too, along with traipsing about in thick mud. I guess I'm getting soft in my advancing old age but I wasn't up for it. So instead I headed for the mountains. With the heavy rain we'd already received over the past few days, I was rather curious about a hike I liked in Sperryville, where a couple of creeks had to be crossed before the climb up the mountain could begin.
 Even as I got out of the car I could hear the water crashing down towards the town, and at the end of a muddy track I saw the first creek. It was thundering past, tumbling over rocks and tugging large branches downstream with it. The stepping stones, or boulders, usually used to traverse the water were covered with the rushing current. There had been two cars parked near mine so some folks had gotten wet feet crossing this, but not me. I crouched down, respecting the sheer power coursing past me, and snapped some shots. I wasn't going to make it over to the second creek but I was sure I could safely assume the water level would be the same there, and whoever had crossed this one had likely gotten even soggier feet on the second crossing.
I backed up and plodded down the slippery muddy path back to the car, and continued over the mountain to Luray.
 When I arrived I was greeted to the sound of bluegrass music coming from the fire station, Luray were having their Festival of Spring. The joys of living rural is being able to attend these events without surging crowds and the inevitable frustration of trying to find a parking place. In less than 5 minutes I was walking into the fire station.
 The street was filled with vendors, crafts, food, drinks, services, and a few vintage cars. I walked up and down, looking at all, but the most interesting to me was a guy turning wood, making goblets. His page is here, he's made some beautiful bowls, not sure about the name though. None of his products looked 'bodged' to me.
Walking along the Shenandoah River, there were some dog classes taking place and a mother duck looking after her brood of ducklings on the grass. I fervently hoped she wouldn't be using the river as a means of transportation for her tiny charges, or that the Fair Duck Race events would be taking place. The water was gushing past at a tremendous rate.
 Back on the street I spotted a gentleman with a monkey, who was greeting folks with a huge lick on their cheek. This was Django, the monkey. I was happy to take a couple of photos but was not anxious to receive a thorough face cleaning so made sure I stood back.
 Walking back to the car I spotted a confederate monument, noticing how clean it was, not like some others in the state that have been vandalized, or have received demands that they be removed. An interesting article is here.
The clouds were heavy over the mountains as I drove back towards home, but I had one more stop. This evening there was a movie being shown by a local film maker, Tom Davenport, about the last lynching in Virginia, which happened only a few miles from my house.
 Tom Davenport spoke first about his film and its making, discovering as he progressed that there was a clear divide among people, those who wanted to know more about the event and those who wanted to 'let sleeping dogs lie' I was curious to see how the evening would unfold. 103 year old Rev. Alphonso Washington, the only living survivor from the time, and who was a 'house boy' for the Baxleys, spoke of the night it happened.
The trailer for the movie is here.
An article about the movie.
An article about the book.
Jim Hall's blog.
Everybody in the theater was gripped by the movie. I suppose for such an event to take place so close to home likely made folks feel a little uncomfortable, especially any who knew of or were related to those involved. The last speaker was a gentleman, Rufus Mincey, who told the audience that only 4 days ago, thanks to Ancestry and DNA, he had discovered that he was the grandson of Henry Baxley. You could have heard a pin drop. There was complete silence for a few seconds and then quiet mutterings between people as they discussed the merit of this new information.
As people left the auditorium, many were deep in conversation as they climbed the steps and met in groups outside in the foyer. I surmised there would be many vehicles filled with chatter on their way home that evening. This was certainly a piece of history that had piqued the interest of many.
 Sunday was a lazy day, meeting Emily and Rob for beers and plant buying but I planned a stop at Middleburg. As I drove to and from work each day I'd spotted some 'Foxes on the Fence' on Main Street and wanted to get a better look at them while the town was empty on an early weekend morning. The wooden foxes have all been decorated by local artists and are up for auction to raise money for the town, which apparently suffered hardship throughout the paving episode, which closed some businesses and upset many of the locals. I had to drive through it each day, and often wondered how the town was surviving, it seemed to be an unorganized mess from start to finish, with Main Street resembling an assault course and really requiring a 4 wheel drive vehicle, or better yet, a tank, to negotiate this street. I could see that many of the shops and restaurants were made almost inaccessible throughout the work, desperately trying to encourage folks to stop with 'Still in Business' signs erected in the rubble. But it was difficult to stop, since parking was impossible on much of Main Street and even some of the side roads were closed off. I really felt for the people trying to survive here as the 'work' went on for months, with huge potholes, high ramps, bumps and lumps all the way through so that cars had no chance of driving at the speed limit of 25mph, 10mph was safer. And blinding spotlights dazzled from above, likely rendering sleep impossible for some of the houseowners living in the middle of town.
But the wreckage has finally been cleared up and today the Main Street was dressed with these beautiful foxes, all adorned in original and stunning designs. I really don't know how the artists could part with their creations, they were all wonderful in their own unique way. the ones below were my favorite. I was amazed when researching that there wasn't more information available online. There was a Facebook page but the Middleburg Eccentric gave a beeter insight, although I would have loved to see more of the actual artists, and wondered how long these beautiful pieces of artwork took to create.