This Place

“How do you stand it here?”

“What do you mean?”

The two of us sat together on top of a giant round hay bale, the largest in the field this year, staring out at the stars. In the chill of a mid-February night and the light of the full Snow Moon, we could see our breath hanging in the air in front of us.

“The dark. The quiet. The…nothing. There’s just nothing to do,” he said.

“I’m used to it, I guess,” I answered.

“I will never get used to it,” he said.

“It’s not that bad. I think you’re blowing things out of proportion.”

“No. You just don’t know the difference.”

“That’s mean,” I said.

“You guys don’t even have a movie theater.”

He’d moved at the beginning of the school year. His parents had dragged him halfway across the country when his dad took a new job, all the way from sunny, funky Austin to the lonely, scrappy mountains of Russell County. We’d met on the first day of school, but only because we had to.

“I’m supposed to give you a tour,” I’d explained, my backpack slung over one shoulder. “It won’t take long.”

“Thanks,” he’d said. “I kind of figured.”  

We’d walked up and down the three main hallways and the side wings of the red brick block of a high school. I’d asked about his classes, invited him to sit with me and my friends at lunch. I’d offered to meet him after school and show him around town, or, at least, what little town there was to show. He’d said yes.  

It had been almost a half a year since then.

“It’ll start to get warm soon,” I said. “The redbuds are really pretty in spring.”

“Those are trees, right?”

“Yes. The next town over has a festival when they start to bloom. We should go.”

“Okay,” he said.

“Okay,” I said back. I squeezed his hand.

I’d introduced him to the hay bales on the winter solstice. He’d spent the entire Christmas season lamenting the chintzy 1970s decorations sprinkled along Main Street.

“They’re sort of charming,” I’d said. “Like looking into another time.”

“I spent last Christmas in Germany,” he’d said. “I wish you could see the Christmas markets there.”

“Maybe someday,” I’d answered. “Why aren’t you traveling this year?”

“My dad’s too busy.”

“Come to my house tonight,” I’d offered. “My mom’s making steaks, and I’ve got a surprise for you after.”

I don’t know what sort of surprise he’d expected, but he didn’t seem impressed by the rolling pasture and enormous hay bales.

I’d always walked out to the fields on cold, clear nights. I liked the silence, the peace. And in the winter, I loved the brightness of the stars against the dark, empty landscape. I’d thought maybe he would, too. I didn’t know much about what it was like living in a big city, but I knew it never got dark enough to see the stars.

“This is my own personal light show,” I’d told him. “I wouldn’t bring just anybody out here to see it.”

He’d laughed, then, and said, “So you think I’m special?”

We’d kissed then, for the first time. “I like you,” I’d told him. “You’re a jerk, but I think you’re pretty cool.”

“I like you, too,” he’d said.

I wanted that night to live in my memory, always.

“I like you,” I told him now. “And I like this.”

“I like you,” he said, from somewhere far away. “It always looks the same out here.”

“Not at all! The constellations are changing all the time.” I pointed up, showed him Orion and the Big Dipper. “Some nights,” I added, “you can see the milky way.” Did he truly not notice? “Once, I saw the Northern Lights. They almost never come this far south.”

“I saw them when I went camping in Alaska.”

“I’ve never been to Alaska.”

“You’ve never been anywhere.”

“I’ve been to Nashville. And to Myrtle Beach.”

He harrumphed, released my hand, and hopped down.

“I’m going home,” he said. “It’s cold and I’m bored.”

“Well, excuse me. Sorry I’m not interesting enough for you.” I took a deep breath, let it out. “You’re being a snob.”

He turned around and looked up at me. “Don’t be like that,” he said.

It usually ended this way. Him, walking away from me to go play whatever latest video game he got online, or to video chat with his friends back in Texas, or to tinker with his computer. Me, on the verge of tears, clenching my jaw to keep from yelling at him, feeling like a dumb small-town hick.  

“I’m not being like anything,” I said. “I just wanted to share this with you.”

“I know,” he said. “I’m sorry. Let’s just go home, okay?” He started to walk down the hill.

Strictly speaking, the farmer next door didn’t like having trespassers on his land, but because he knew me, he usually let it slide. Our two families had been sharing this little valley for five generations. He wouldn’t start trouble over two stupid kids sitting around on top of hay bales in the dark.

“I thought it might make things better,” I said. “I mean, for you.”

“What?”

“I thought you might feel better, if you could see what makes this place special.” I hopped down and walked over to him. I caught his hand again, held it up between us in both of mine. “I know it’s not big or loud or anything, but this is something you can only do out in the country. There’s nowhere else in the world quite like this.”

“You’re hopeless,” he said, but he pulled me in and kissed me quick on the lips. “Someday you’ll get out of here, and you’ll understand why I hate it.”

“This is my home,” I told him. “It doesn’t matter where I go. I’ll always be from here.”

“Wait and see,” he said. “You’re too good for this place.”

He turned and walked away. From the bottom of the hill, he called up to me, “Are you coming?”

“No,” I answered. “I’ll stay.”

“Well, see you tomorrow, then.”

I stood right where he left me, planted in that one spot. I looked out ahead at the dark expanse of field and pasture, and at the rolling mountains in the distance, illuminated by the silvery cast of the full moon.   

************

Thank you for reading! This is the second of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.

Here’s January’s story, if you’d like to read it: The Roads

And if you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here. 😊

The next story will be posted on Friday, March 26th.

An Icy Battlefield Hike

One of my goals for 2021 is to get outside more and do some hiking. I used to really enjoy hiking, but in the last few years, I’ve become something of a cave creature. It’s time to change that. Movement is good. A dose of sunlight every now and then is healthy, so I’ve been told.

At any rate, this weekend we met up with our friends Liz and Anthony for a low-key hike at Manassas National Battlefield Park. I’m a little embarrassed to say I’d never visited the battlefield in Manassas before Sunday. It was Liz’s choice. She and Anthony can always be counted on to join outdoor adventures and find the best hiking spots.

Here we are, back in 2016 in Alaska, after rowing out to the Mendenhall Glacier.

It’s good to have outdoor friends, I think.

Since Graham and I are pretty out of shape, we opted for an easy hike on the First Manassas Trail. Or, it would have been easy. See, we didn’t anticipate that the trail would be an ice rink.

We didn’t bring our trekking poles or our ice cleats. But with some caution and some borrowed gear from our friends, we did pretty okay.

Over the course of the five-mile loop, there are lots of historic sites and markers.

It’s a pretty good combination of field and forest, with a river and some wetlands.

It’s a really lovely trail, honestly.

And there aren’t any super steep hills. Until the very end, anyway.

I confess that by the last mile, I was ready to be done. My hips were killing me and my knees were pretty sore, but I made it to the end. Fast forward to today, and I’m hobbling around the house and muttering “ow” every third word. But, I have no regrets.

And there are more hikes in my future.

Found Friday #21: Where’s Gatsby?

I had a whole post written and ready to go for today, and it was not about Gatsby (my wonderful Maine Coon, in case you missed the post about him). But then, this afternoon, he disappeared.

Seriously, I went upstairs to brush my teeth and I couldn’t find him anywhere.

Now, Gatsby’s been known to pull the occasional vanishing act. When he was a kitten, his favorite hiding spot was tucked into the box spring under the mattress. Now that he’s older, he favors the little cubbies and crannies in our master closet.

So, I checked all the usual spots. He just wasn’t there.

And then, I heard a meow. Just a quiet one, from the vicinity of the bed.

So, where was Gatsby, then? Well…

And he’s still there. Hasn’t moved. Sleeping and purring away.

For reference, he has, for the very first time in his fifteen years of life, snuggled in under the blanket I drape over the duvet every morning so that it doesn’t get covered in fur.

I guess he got wise to my game. Cats, y’all…

Q&A! What do you want to know?

At the end of last year, I wrote a post about my goals for 2021. I’m normally pretty shy about sharing goals, but I figured putting them out there would help to hold me accountable this year.

Which brings us to today. One of my goals for 2021 is to start a YouTube channel. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I don’t love seeing myself on camera, despite years of being completely and totally comfortable acting and singing on stage. But I do love the idea of sharing stories about old house living, days in the beautiful Virginia countryside, writing poems and stories, music and singing and songwriting, and eventually, when it’s safe again, some bigger travel adventures.

I’m planning to start putting together some content in the next several weeks, once it starts to warm up a bit outside. In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to reach out to all of you, wonderful readers and fellow bloggers, and see what kind of content you’d be interested in.

Like, I know my everything about my very old house is fascinating to me, but what aspects of living in an older home would you like to explore? And though I love driving down dirt roads in the country and sampling craft wine, beer, and cider, what would you like to know about Virginia’s historic and scenic countryside?

And as part of the fun, to get started, I thought I might do a Q&A here, so you can all learn a little more about me. I’ve seen other bloggers do this, and I love it. 😊 So, ask away! What would you like to know?

I’ll plan to post some A’s to your Q’s in the next couple of weeks.

A Sort of Love Poem

*I had planned to post a sweet song for Valentine’s Day yesterday, and then a poem today. But time got away from me yesterday, as it so often does, and well, here we are. So, here’s a sort of love poem, and a video of me singing some Gillian Welch by the fire. I hope you enjoy both! And if you’re in the US and in the line of fire – er, ice – with this latest winter storm, stay safe and warm!*

Dear Someone,
I don’t need you, but
I’d like to meet you
nonetheless.

It might be fun, Dear Someone,
to see where things could go,
but no, I’m not waiting for you.
See, I’ve got other things to do.

It’s a big universe, after all,
Dear Someone,
and who can say who meets who
and when.
Though I hope we do,
eventually, some time, someday,
maybe.

And so,
Dear Someone,
whoever you are,
if by chance we stumble across each other
at some party or in some bar,
I’m open to the possibility.

Found Friday #20: A new camera lens and an alien creature on a strange planet…

My husband got a new camera lens a couple of weeks ago, and he’s been getting used to it. Graham is a wonderful photographer, though he won’t say so, and he’s captured some really amazing images in the last several years.

I really like this one from Iceland. I just love the quality of the evening light.

And this one, from Bath.

This one’s an old favorite, taken from our balcony on an Alaskan cruise.

And I love this one, which he took while we were sitting with some friends on the beach one day. I don’t even know how he spotted this kid, since it was a really crowded day in the ocean.

The movement, the sunshine, the joy – he just nailed it.

Graham doesn’t often spend money on himself, and so when he said he wanted to buy a macro lens, I told him he should go for it. We should all feel empowered to pursue the things we love, and that includes setting ourselves up with the proper tools.

He’s not quite happy with the quality of the images he’s gotten so far, but he’s enjoying learning his way around the new lens. He spotted a good opportunity a few nights ago to get some practice.

It’s a Japanese beetle (they invade our house every winter) on a piece of volcanic rock, but it looks like an alien creature on a different planet.

I mean, sure, these images are a little blurry, but I still think they’re really cool. I’m looking forward to seeing what he’ll do once he’s a little more familiar and comfortable with shooting with a macro lens.

And in the meantime, I’ll keep encouraging him, and reminding him that perfection doesn’t exist in this universe. 😊

Gatsby the Gentle Giant

Since I’ve written a couple of posts now about Annie, my crazy, wonderful Australian Shepherd, it feels only fair that I should also feature my big, beautiful Maine Coon cat, Gatsby.

Gatsby is almost fifteen years old. I got him when I was a senior in college, and he was just a scruffy little kitten.

Boy did he grow.

I didn’t know when I adopted him that he was a Maine Coon. I just figured he had a little extra fluff, and really, don’t we all? But here we are, all these years later, and he’s grown into a gentle giant with a huge personality.

He has a knack for always finding the sunniest spots.

And the best angles to show off his handsome face.

He and Annie are…not friends…but we’ve managed. Gatsby makes it easy, honestly. His favorite thing to do is nap, so they don’t see much of each other.

At fifteen, I know he’s an old man, but I’m so happy I found him, and I cherish every moment with him. He really is a special animal.

Annie’s First Day Home (Bonus Post!)

Just a quick bonus post today, since I wrote about Annie yesterday and I’ve gotten so many sweet comments about her. When I was looking through pictures yesterday, I came across this one and just had to share.

This was taken the day we brought her home, almost eleven years ago. We look so young! And Graham is wearing a Bob Ross shirt. And I have bangs. And Annie’s eyes are closed, but she’s still cute as ever. Look at those little ears!

I remember this day vividly. Annie sat on my lap the whole way home – a four hour trip from North Carolina to Northern Virginia – and when we were about ten minutes away from our house, she vomited all over me. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

No, really. It was. I can’t imagine my life without my favorite furry weirdo.