Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s been a year since my wife and I last visited our former stomping grounds in Ohio’s Amish country. That’s when I took this shot at dawn of a distant ridge. December’s bare deciduous trees on the rolling hilltops provided a foreground silhouette for the glowing morning sky.
The old adage “all that glitters is not gold” couldn’t be more apt for this photo. The early afternoon sun shimmered off of Boley Lake in West Virginia’s Babcock State Park. The woman sitting on the spit of land beneath the leaning tree added to the setting’s charm.
My wife and I moved to the Shenandoah Valley more than three years ago to be closer to our three grandchildren. We also drew closer to the Civil War.
I remember studying about the Civil War in school, of course. But places and battles like Antietam, Gettysburg, Manassas, Petersburg, and Appomattox overshadowed any Civil War engagements that occurred in the breadbasket of the Confederacy.
That agricultural label was apt. The Shenandoah Valley, especially the area where we live near Harrisonburg, played a vital role in keeping the Confederate States Army fed. The valley is still one of the prime agricultural regions of the Commonwealth.
Many of the citizens of the valley joined in fighting for the south. Others from the Rockingham County area remained neutral, however, preferring to tend their farms. When troops from both south and north moved through the valley, they often bought or helped themselves to foodstuffs, produce, corn, and even livestock.
I recently completed an online university course on the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley. I saw the class as an opportunity to learn more about what some locals still call “The War of Northern Aggression.”
Indeed, the class taught me much about the war, local mores and history, and just how much military action occurred on and along roads we regularly travel. At times, it felt eerie to know the exact number of casualties on both sides in settings we frequent.
I sat up straighter in my chair when the instructor shared a map that showed troop encampments around Harrisonburg, the central city in Rockingham County. When he pointed to where one of George A. Custer’s cavalry divisions camped, I took notice. It was the area where we live. A friend who grew up here told me that he only remembered our housing development as a pasture with lots of limestone outcroppings. He said it had never been plowed.
The most significant battles in the valley took place in the northern section near Winchester, where the photos above were taken. Lesser skirmishes happened in and around Rockingham County.
One such engagement happened near Cootes Store along the north branch of the famed Shenandoah River. I have a new reverence for the place that we occasionally drive by now that I know Confederates chased Custer and his cavalry across the river as Union soldiers forded absconded livestock. For the record, Confederate flags still fly all around that location.
The small historical town of Dayton, five minutes south of where we live, played a defining part in one of the valley’s darkest events of the Civil War. General Phillip Sheridan, commander of the Union Army in the valley campaign, learned that one of his top aides, John Rodgers Meigs, had been murdered near Dayton.
In retaliation, Sheridan ordered the burning of barns, mills, homes, and crops in a five-mile radius around the town. Most of the residents there were Mennonite farmers who had remained neutral during the war. Nor did they own slaves.
Another aide to Sheridan, Lt. Col. Thomas E. Wildes, begged the general to rescind the order because the residents had treated Union troops well. Sheridan relented, but only for the Dayton area. In appreciation, a plague was placed in Dayton honoring Wildes. Elsewhere in the valley, the Union Army implemented the burning. This action devastated the residents and crippled the Confederate food supply.
Those events are known as “The Burning.” Not surprisingly, hard feelings remain today. That attitude mirrors the current political animosity in the U.S.
As I viewed some of the local battlefields where thousands of casualties on both sides occurred, I couldn’t help but compare that violence to today’s heated rancor and divisiveness.
So how long should we hang on to hate? Isn’t it time to intentionally be more peaceable with one another?
The Glade Creek Grist Mill in West Virginia’s Babcock State Park is on most photographer’s “must do” list. I was no exception, especially since moving to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley more than three years ago.
The old mill is most often photographed in fall and winter. I missed the peak of the leaf color by just a few days. Still, I was pleased with the residual colors that framed the mill along its namesake stream.
My wife and I had heard of Blackwater Falls State Park near Davis, West Virginia. But we had never been there. When our neighbors told us that the leaves were at peak color, we did a day trip to check it out. We weren’t disappointed.
It had rained the previous day, so some of the trees had dropped a few leaves. Still, the Blackwater River valley was gorgeous from every angle. This was the view from our lunch table outside the lodge. The scalloped designs and curves of the pair of love seats and the end table in front of us created an intriguing foreground for the lovely leaves beyond.
I’m a person that is usually on the go. However, I know first-hand the benefits of standing still.
I recently went to the Big Meadows area of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to do some birding. I have learned that the open spaces along and near parking lots are favored by certain bird species. Wildflowers and dense brush grow there beneath mature deciduous trees. That combination provides both cover and food for my avian friends.
It didn’t take me long to be rewarded. Though it was windy, the birds were active. Due to the wind, however, most kept low and in the thicket, making it harder to photograph them or even find them with binoculars.
On this overcast morning, the sun suddenly peeked through, and just as suddenly, this lone Cedar Waxwing landed on a pokeweed bush right in front of me. I slowly raised my camera and clicked away.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Cedar Waxings are some of my favorite birds due to their posture, coloration, and behavior make them regal birds. I snapped off four quick shots of this beauty as it checked its surroundings, and then just as quickly as it had arrived, the bird flew off.
Other than the slow raising of my camera and the ear-to-ear smile, I hadn’t moved. I was graciously rewarded for standing still. For the record, cropping and adding my watermark were the only “alterations” done to the photo.
“The benefits of standing still” is my Photo of the Week.
It’s not what you might think. I don’t close my eyes, of course. I just enjoy the peace and the time alone to think. I don’t forget about driving. It would be both foolish and dangerous to do so.
I try to allow extra time for a more leisurely drive. I avoid superhighways. Backroads are my preference because I never know when I might need to stop to take a few photos of the fantastic scenery that Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley affords.
Unlike my younger years, I drive silently. No radio, no CDs playing. I enjoy the quiet unless the road surface is too rough. Then I take in the music that my tires sing to the tune over the various macadam surface textures. The octaves change by the mile.
I’ll use the GPS when I have to. Once I know the way, however, I am on my own, like the other day when I had a doctor’s appointment 35 miles away.
I left nearly two hours before my 2 p.m. appointment. Besides a couple of brief planned stops, I knew there would be photo opportunities along the way. I had been that route before.
Driving in that contemplative state helps to clear my mind from all of life’s noisiness. Plus, I get to enjoy the mountains to my left and mountains to my right. In between, there is nothing but gently rolling countryside dotted by farms, fields, forests, and more gigantic chicken houses than I care to count.
Weather permitting, I ride with the windows down and the sunroof open. I sometimes pay the price if I pass a freshly manured field.
This trip turned extra-special. Once I passed Sulphur Pump Road, I turned south on the narrowest windy way with no ditches and farmers’ fences hard against the blacktop.
The paved path twisted and turned, rolled up, down, and around until I made a slight right onto Battlefield Road. In less than a half a mile, I crossed a short narrow bridge in the curve of the road. Ahead, an old plantation sat high on a ridge behind a grove of mature pines.
At this exact spot at the bottom of the hill, Americans fought Americans in a Civil War skirmish. Hand-to-hand combat ensued, with heavy casualties on both sides. Today, fruit trees and fence line trees waved in the wind.
No historical marker identified the bloody spot. I knew it from a Civil War class that I am taking remotely. It was this week’s lesson.
Farther south, a couple of miles, two different historical markers on opposite sides of the road defined the facts and sight of a deadlier clash, the Battle of Piedmont. Field corn and an impressive planting of soybeans nearly hid both plaques, while the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park created an enchanting backdrop.
I wondered if people knew what had taken place here, the massive loss of life, the many casualties, and prisoners of war, the consequence of the Union victory. If they knew, did they still hold a grudge or even care?
Did they appear only as fields of corn and beans to them? Were people merely on their way from point A to point B in their daily lives as they passed?
I pondered all of this as I arrived at the impressive multi-storied medical office building. I donned my mask, had my temperature taken, responded in the negative to all of the required COVID-19 questions, and waited my turn for my 21st-century exam.
Touring around the Shenandoah Valley, we stopped at a local orchard and vineyard. Noted for both their apples and cider, both hard and regular, Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse has the perfect spot to while away a late summer afternoon.
The summit of Hawksbill Mountain is one of the most popular spots in Shenandoah National Park. There are many good reasons for that.
Hawksbill is the highest point in the park at 4,050 ft. above sea level. You have a 270-degree view from the summit. Hikers love it since two trails lead to the peak, and a covered shelter is available. Plus, the view is incredible.
I chose the Upper Hawksbill Trail for several reasons to do my second hike in the park this year. The trail has less elevation, is shorter, and I had never hiked it before. I wasn’t disappointed. Birds and butterflies were abundant, and most hikers donned face masks as we passed on the trail.
As you can see, the rock outcropping of the peak is rugged and angular. The Appalachian Trail is 500 ft. below. The drop into Timber Hollow, however, is 2,500 ft., which is the most significant elevation change in the park. Unlike others, I stayed well away from the edge.