Record-breaking heat has affected Americans all across the United States this late summer and early autumn seasons. Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was no exception. The shadow of the left wing of a restored and fully functioning DC 3 airplane brought at least temporary relief from the hot sun for this mother and her young daughter attending a recent air show near Bridgewater, Virginia. In the shade of the hanger in the photo’s background is the first Air Force One, Columbine II, used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
My guess is we all have at least one. You know. A place you can go to be alone with the world. You declare it as your personal retreat.
It could be your man cave or your sewing room. It could be a remote waterfall miles up a winding trail.
Your place of refuge might be a park bench or even a busy city street corner where hundreds of people pass by with no notice of you. Still, you’re at peace.
Others find solace sitting on the shore of a farm pond or pulling weeds in the family garden patch. It might be an art museum, or for that matter, even one particular painting that mesmerizes you.
I find my inspirational solitude in many venues. During the winter months, I recharge in a three-mile stretch of marshland called Egan’s Creek Greenway. The stream itself runs north through the middle of Amelia Island, Fla., where my wife and I migrate as snowbirds.
Though it’s a public domain, I claim Egan’s Creek Greenway as my private secret garden. The town’s parks and recreation department maintains this sacred place. Lots of folks, locals, tourists and snowbirds like myself, frequent this marvelous reserve.
Their intrusions don’t bother me at all. In fact, part of the joy is meeting new friends who enjoy the same open space delights. The Greenway is a multiple-use resource.
When I go there, I wear my hiking shoes. I also don my birding vest to squirrel water, snacks, binoculars, a note pad and birding checklist. I also drape a camera around my neck. It’s my way of documenting each and every visit. Get the picture?
Palm fronds are brown from frost or wind damage. Deciduous trees stand bare. Grayish Spanish moss dangles from limbs high and low. A variety of bird species devour the deep blue berries of the cedar trees and the ruby red ones on sparkleberry bushes.
Subtle hints of spring appear even in February. Silver and red maple buds sprout crimson against the live oaks’ perpetual green. The dormant marsh grass stalks show mint green at their bases.
Even in cooler temperatures, people run, jog, bike, walk and bird along the greenway’s well-worn paths that parallel creeks and channels, and crisscross the marsh. On weekends and holidays, the place is abuzz with activity, human and otherwise.
Still, I stroll this paradise in search of whatever finds me. I frequent the Greenway alone, and with my wife, with friends, with family, with strangers. I don’t mind sharing this beautiful secret.
Each trek there unfolds anew with different characters. The results are the same.
Great Blue Heron.
On any given day, I can hear Navy helicopters on test flights over the Atlantic. Train engine whistles echo from the town two miles away. None of this interferes with my enjoyment.
A river otter munches on plants in one of the rivulets. A red-shouldered hawk sits on a snag, its harsh call contrasting with its feathery beauty. Gangs of American robins madly chirp when disturbed by a bossy pileated woodpecker.
A plump rabbit and a skinny doe nibble grass only feet away. Alligators and painted turtles soak in the afternoon sun as neighbors.
Gray catbirds gobble the sparkleberries while cedar waxwings down their namesake’s fruit. Scores of yellow-rumped warblers dart in and out of the thickets, plucking insects. Eastern phoebes sit and bob their tails.
Me? I just smile inside and out, thankful for my secret, sacred sanctuary.
Everyone needs a sanctuary. For my wife and me, our back porch is our quick retreat from life’s demands. A few short steps and we are in a special place. Over the years our back porch has given us many marvelous memories.
We recognize that we are fortunate to live where we do. Our home, built three decades ago off an Amish farm, is situated between Benton, Berlin and Mt. Hope, all in Holmes County, Ohio. Our back porch provides panoramic, inspiring scenes.
The open-air porch was added to our modest home several years ago. We wanted a quiet place to relax during Ohio’s warmer climes. When the weather does cooperate, we especially enjoy lunches together there. It helps to have a wife who is a great cook. I’m no chauvinist, but I’m no chef either. Neva rules the kitchen and I reap the rewards and help clean up.
Somehow the food tastes even better on the porch. One recent lunch featured her homemade butternut squash soup, sprinkled lightly with toasted bread crumbs. A fresh spinach salad with crasins and vinaigrette nicely complemented the soup.
A simple dessert of sweet cherries was washed down with fresh sweet peppermint tea, spiked with basil, giving the tea a sweet-tart taste. The mint was picked just minutes before being doused in boiling water. Other than the tea, no seconds were needed. A single course of each was plenty.
The house serves as a buffer between our busy highway and the backyard, minimizing the traffic noise. We love the quiet.
Well, perhaps quiet isn’t the proper word. Abundant backyard activity breaks any hint of silence. While we dined, we heard the undulating hum of a mower and the rattle of horse harnesses as our Amish neighbor completed his second cutting of hay before taking his own lunch break.
In the meantime, the birds and wildlife kept us entertained as they also dined. With the porch open on the sides, it’s not unusual for birds to zip over our heads to the feeders. That is especially true for the acrobatic hummingbirds. Their feeder hangs from the edge of the porch near the kitchen window. It is fun to watch the territorial hummers chatter and chase each other away from their own version of lunch. They wouldn’t have to do that. There are several places to perch.
If we stay immobile, even the woodpeckers light upon the peanut butter suet feeder that dangles next to a hanging basket of flowers. The little downys, however, are the only ones that aren’t spooked off by our presence. Still, they nervously but needlessly chip and jerk their heads warily as they jab at the rich mixture, making sure we keep our distance.
A green frog, one of six that inhabit our little garden pond, waits patiently for lunch to fly by. The green frogs that patrol our little garden pond adjacent to the porch patiently wait in the sun for their own lunch to fly by. When I hear a plop, I know they are as satisfied as we are.
Beyond the pond, monarch, swallowtail and red admiral butterflies partake in their own flowery buffet on the patch of ever-changing wildflowers. Along with volunteer sunflowers, the coneflowers, Black-eyed Susan’s, daisies, gaillardia and bachelor buttons paint a colorful palette in the shade of the canopy of pines and giant sugar maple.
When human guests arrive, their smiles reveal their appreciation for our sanctuary. Added together these pure and pleasurable ingredients always make for enjoyable and hardy gatherings. I’m more than happy to share the recipe.