Monday, August 13, 2012


WE HAVE LEFT THE DROUGHT BEHIND TO VISIT OUR FAMILY IN THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS OF VIRGINIA. We started in the middle of the night and got into Ohio just as the sun was coming up. This was Ursula's first big trip with us, and she was sleeping in the back. My dog comes up to Chicago with us often, but that's only a short jaunt. She is quiet and patient in the car. At rest stops she is eager for a walk and water, a little break from lying down. But we hadn't thought ahead about what we would do for a longer stop for a late breakfast. We decided to take turns in the restaurant. I wasn't particularly hungry, so Ursa and I went on a walk around the cluster of chain restaurants. I'm not fond of chains, since they are all the same no matter if you're in the mountains or the prairie or the seaside or the middle of nowhere. But here at the sausage place on the border of Ohio and West Virginia I made a discovery. I had noticed before that sometimes at the corporate chains, you can find poorly pruned apple trees amongst the ubiquitous flowering crabs, but here, with time to ponder, as I walked my little black dog I figured out why. These chains tend to landscape with what they probably think of as low maintenance trees, hence the flowering crabs. But if you just plant a crab and don't prune it, it will sometimes revert back to the apple tree in the rootstock. These apples may be smaller, and more on the tart side, but they are very respectable eating and great for pie making.

How do I really feel about these corporations that suck the culture out of a region and wash it with a deadening homogeneity? Well, “hate” is a very strong word. Let's just say that I dislike immensely to drive 8 hours to arrive at a restaurant identical to the one at home. But here, in a cardboard, artificial community encompassing the sausage place, the 24 hour breakfast place, a couple of hotels and gas stations, and a drive through taco place and a couple of burger joints, I figure I can pinch a few apples if I happen to find them. Clearly nobody else wants them, except maybe a rogue squirrel or a rat that frequents the dumpsters out back of each of these places. I fill my arms with apples and hope that another sharp-eyed baker of pies will find the rest. 

Back on the road, over hills and under them, we find ourselves on a two lane highway snaking through the mountains. Here, everything is green, and flowers bloom as they do in my dreams. I believe the Blue Ridge Mountains also suffer from a drought, but not as heavily as we suffer in the Midwest. At any rate, the ramble of Black Eyed Susans at the side of the road gave me a melancholy homesickness for what I didn't have at home. We arrive in time for hugs and a tour around the hunting lodge turned family homestead, and a walk down the path to see the remains of an even older dwelling. Nothing left but the stone fireplace and chimney, about 30 feet tall. A great place, we are told, for a barbeque picnic, especially in the winter, and it sounds lovely. Ursula thinks she is in heaven, tearing ahead on the path and racing up the hills. In the fading daylight we find our way home to dinner. Inside we are temporarily distracted with catching up and visiting, and my dog snatches two steaks from the counter before being caught. Babs, ever the hostess, graciously brushes off our apologies, and she and I rethink the menu, cubing the meat and piercing it alternately with mushrooms and peppers for shish-kebabs. Ursula sleeps off her crime, while we talk and visit and eat and drink into the night.

 In the morning, Ursa and I take a walk down the path and scare up a turkey family. They crossed the path about 20 yards ahead of us, 2 or 3 adults and several half grown poults. My dog took off, but then thought better of the chase when I called her back. Then I thought better of an early morning walk with just the two of us. It's not that I don't want to meet the resident bear; I do. I just don't want to meet him alone, or even with a silly dog. Even with one who looked exactly like a bear cub when she was little. Even one who shares his name.

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