How long has it been since we first mooted this brilliant idea of a southern road trip? All I know is that since that initial glimmer of a trip that would include literary shrines, Nascar races, country music and Civil War battlefields, the trip was delayed, postponed, and postponed again; and always for a reason: it was planting season, or bee season, or too hot or too cold, or one of the dogs was ill, or a relative was dying. Since that initial glimmer I managed to forget much of the reading I did in preparation for the trip. (The annals of Yoknapatawpha County; Look Home Sweet Homeward; A Good Man is Harder than Ever to Find; Delta Gay Wedding; and Carl Carmer’s Stars Fell off Alabama.) CSB was in better shape, since he made the wise decision to engage in no preparatory reading.
First we had to clear the dates with the chicken sitters and the dog sitters, because we are blessed with most excellent chicken sitters and dog sitters. And then we had to be fairly sure that no one was likely to be born or get very ill while we were away. And of course the garden had to be more or less finished for the season.
Then it was Halloween - and we never get trick-or-treaters here at Let it Bee Farm because it is rather lonely and there is a long driveway and in every way it is ideally suited to scare small children in the dark - and we set off. The first adventure was getting lost in New Jersey. How can you get lost heading straight south on a highway in New Jersey? It’s not as if I have not driven into or through New Jersey before. But while CSB was reading the Times, I managed to get on I-95 instead of the NJ Turnpike, or something like that. I was afraid that we might miss the Walt Whitman rest area. I didn’t actually plan to stop at the Walt Whitman rest area but I just like to consider the delightful randomness of a thruway service plaza named for a radical, freethinking, tree hugging poet. Otherwise, the rest areas/service plazas in New Jersey are a great opportunity to use Google while driving. You want to know the real story of Molly Pitcher? Google her and you will learn that she may not be an actual person, but a composite. But if she was a real person, her name was probably Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, whose husband fought with the Continental Army at Valley Forge, and Mary traveled along with them and brought water (pitchers of water) to the soldiers. You will also learn that Fort Bragg holds an annual “Molly Pitcher Day” when they demonstrate weapon systems for the whole family.
In quick succession, we traversed New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. That morning and afternoon of traversing whole states was tantalizing and deceptive, and reinforced my skewed notion of the size of the rest of the states of the United States. If where I live is the center of the universe, the apex of civilization, and the Omphalos of the world, (and is it not?) then surely everything else is smaller and ancillary. How very wrong. Our first day would be the last day when we would get across any state in less than a day.
The excitement of day one involved neither a literary shrine nor a battlefield or even country music. They were bears. Bears high in a tree. Very high in a tall oak tree. On the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park we encountered a mother bear and a cub collecting and munching on acorns. (Sadly, the photographic evidence is more like evidence of my sub-par camera skills.)) It was a rather skinny oak tree, and they were about fifty feet high and incredibly agile. I feel confident that had I ever gotten that high up in a tree I would not have scampered from limb to limb and managed to gather acorns at the same time. I feel even more confident that if my cub were on the limb just below me I would have been apoplectic with worry lest he fall. The wind was blowing, and the oak tree was swaying in the wind, and the bears on the limbs were swaying, and still they collected acorns.
Of course I was entranced. How many times have I not seen a moose in Maine? Close to a thousand times. Yet here I had just barely entered the Shenandoah and I saw bears. Not suburban bears scavenging in garbage. But happy National Park protected bears bulking up for the winter.