A friend and I have set for ourselves the goal of staying at all six of the original Virginia State Parks. Last week we made it to our fourth, Douthat, in Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains. The trees there are beginning to take on autumn colors sooner than those where I live in the Tidewater region of Virginia. The leaves in the mountains are showing yellows and gold, and hints of red peek from some of the dogwoods and sumac.
The log cabin where we stayed was built in the 1930s by Civilian Conservation Corps made up of 18- to 25-year old unmarried men without jobs. The work earned them twenty dollars a week (of which they kept five and sent fifteen home). The work also taught them skills they could use once park projects were completed. A photograph of some of those men hangs on a wall in the cabin. They look so young. They were so young. As I studied the photograph, I wondered what happened to each of them, how their lives unfolded in the years following their living and working at Douthat. I imagine they are all dead now, gone on to join the communion of unknown saints. Their cabins remain sturdy, the stones they cut and placed for fireplaces and porches secure. Their work still enriches peoples’ lives.
We arrived late Monday afternoon, but it wasn’t until Tuesday morning, sitting on the porch overlooking a lake across the road, that I settled in. The days leading up to the Monday departure had been busy, filled with five grandchildren and William Shakespeare’s The Tempest on Saturday plus the Sunday addition of two sons and their wives and one daughter-in-law’s parents who had come to Virginia from Florida as “hurricane refugees.” Wonderful and fun, but busy. In fact, the entire preceding week had been busy. Most of the busy-ness had been of a good sort—in addition to being with family, it included writing and reflecting with two small groups, making a day trip to Richmond for lunch with old friends, going to bell choir practice, and gathering with neighbors in support of a young woman running to represent us in Virginia’s House of Delegates. All worthwhile and gratifying, but busy.
Plus I’m a bit of a news junkie, and so I had also been busy listening to the news in the car, watching the news on TV after dinner, trying to take in what I was hearing, trying to stay open and informed, trying to discern which representatives I should call, what I should say, what else I could do. Trying to discern where I should send money to help with disaster relief. Trying to figure out how to shape my prayers.
I spent most of that first full day at Douthat watching sunlight sparkle on the water by day—and by night, watching fires flicker at campsites across the lake. I read a little. I wrote a little. I walked my dog. Because there were no televisions or internet connections, I let go of everything that keeps me running, keeps me preoccupied, keeps me stirred up. I fell back in love with silence—miraculous, restful, restorative silence.
At first I felt a little guilty. But soon enough I would be called back to the world—to the personal world of my own commitments and responsibilities, and to the larger world of ongoing hurricane relief efforts, of confounding tweets and petty public arguments, of shooters armed beyond reason and the inexplicable and tragic loss of lives. And so, while I could, I would relax for a while, grateful for the silence, the solitude, and the goodness of time apart.