This is the second visit that my wife C and I have paid to the Coal Stove Sink B&B; click here for the post from our first visit. Our hosts, to whom I’ll refer as Zane and Xena, were delightful, as we’ve come to expect, and their animals were wonderful company as well. The video below captures the sights and sounds of several of their animals (you’ll have to endure C’s mesmerizing strides for several seconds, but just look how the leaves seem to turn into shafts of wheat as she walks).
After settling in on a Saturday afternoon, Zane and I prepared for the approach of what would later be dubbed Super Storm Sandy, which served to punctuate the end of the warm season with an exclamation point. We had been hoping to enjoy an early fall float down the Shenandoah River; after all, the weekend before had been sunny and in the 80′s. But alas, instead we had the task of bringing the canoes, tables, and chairs up from the river’s edge, in case the storm caused localized flooding.
The manly tasks having been accomplished, Zane and Xena and C and I were escorted by their [four] dogs on a nice walk along the Shenandoah River and through former cattle pastures turned into eco-friendly farms. After returning and resting a bit, we went to dinner at a fabulous dive called “Chop Stick” in nearby W. The Appalachian Asian fusion fare was exquisite, though we learned the hard way that 8 out of 10 on the spiciness scale might’ve been a bit too ambitious. C and I were glad that none of the leftovers were wasted, not even the edamame shells, since Zane and Xena’s pigs are happy to eat whatever treats are brought their way.
Saturday night back at the Coal Stove Sink’s extensive complex of fortified buildings involved the usual libations imbibed without inhibition. Zane is still working on his second PhD in mixology — I believe he is ABD at this point, but then again, who’s really counting? I’ve yet to fully embrace the bitters that Zane and C are so fond of, but I definitely did appreciate the absinthe wash that Zane employed on our glasses for some of the drinks — very mixologistic.
C and I really enjoyed the brand new art adorning the Coal Stove Sink, right above the bed, by Ben Claassen. (This guy has a Wikipedia page, so he must be really important.) There is a framed montage of Claassen originals hanging on the wall, and then below that, drawn directly on the wall (!), is a series of doodles done by the artist, on his recent visit to the CSS. The only mistake that C and I think Zane and Xena made is that they should have requested of Claassen, upon his first arrival to CSS, a series of drawings depicting what happens when an artist and his girlfriend are invited to a country get-away by what turn out to be axe murderers. Wonder what would have developed from that inspirational idea.
Breakfast on Sunday featured eggs donated by their happy free-range chickens that very morning, bacon that I was assigned the pleasure of cooking to the perfection of croquant-sans-carbon, and a fried tomato concoction, made by Zane from the season’s last harvest, based on a recipe that he made up, involving, if my memory serves, bread crumbs, garlic and cheese. (Perhaps Zane will post the recipe on a blog at some point — they really were quite fabulous.)
C and I always seem to visit the Coal Stove Sink at the magical time when pig becomes pork. Last year we witnessed their two former pigs, Sarkozy and Berlusconi, being rounded up for the drive to piggy heaven. This time we were a little early, and this year’s pigs, Mitt and Alaska, still had one week to enjoy life on the farm before they would become lovely cuts of meat. (Last year’s porcine production, i.e., the Sarkozy/Berlusconi offerings, had unfortunately been wiped out during the power outages following The Derecho of 2012, but hopefully no such catastrophe will occur in the ensuing months. Hmm…derechos and super storms…can anyone say “climate change”?)
C and I were sent off by Zane and Xena with literally dozens of peppers from the last harvest of the season: habaneros, jalapeños, chiles, and bells, if my pepper identification skills are up to snuff. What fine hosts, these two! C and I can’t wait to try to get in that elusive float in the warm season of 2013!
Me, the original gem, is old enough to know that Easy is possible, and Ease can be abundant. And so it was, on this warm interlude towards the end of our October Road Trip.
Geeks do this for old relatives: email detailed directions to the farm. More fun than following them though, and easier: phone in our ETA, and discover our fine host (and First Nephew) is at the local grocery store, and so are we! Catch him at the check-out. (What! What! Cilantro?)
We follow him home and the hounds are loosed for a proper welcome. Our host and hostess gear-up, after ascertaining that old aunt can still get about on her own accord. Yes! So, let there be a vigorous and treacherous stroll through fences, cow pastures, and on the Very Edge of north-flowing waters. The youngun’s give old auntie a hand where needed. And she, with purple walking stick in firm grasp, remains upright (unless bum-sliding across a fallen tree, or two, blocking the path).
Those who survive the stroll are rewarded by permission to access the fancy suspension bridge. It is appropriately bounced, as well as admired.
We sit by the river a while, and family stories flow. More are told as we take our Ease on the screened porch (where tales, mostly true, are “liberal”ly fueled).
A most luscious meal (hold that cilantro!—pour that wine!) is centerpiece to more conversation, and passionate opinions about ice-makers. One son actually talks to his Gr’aunt and Gr’uncle. The other smiles his five words. Good times. Auntie loves ALL of them.
Dessert is sweet: rousing music in rehearsal by a talented quartet—
just inches away from me, blissful in the g-d orange chair.
Good, good times—until a late “Good night”.
Indeed. The black night our only curtains. The “cozy” double bed a novelty for us. We sleep as well as any Queen and King, and arise for the farm’s breakfast for four. Fresh eggs, lattes, a bit of fried pig, and more family fables, and/or foibles.
Alas, the interlude comes to an end. Bidding fond farewells, we head north to dip our toes in history—verbal directions rattling in our heads. Oh, my. We should have known the comment about a “real” T-intersection implied a “faux” one, but we figured it out when our “road” ended in a barn. Good thing Fortitudine* is a genetic trait! (*Turn around if you must, but carry on!)
I had thought about all kinds of good things that I wanted to share here. However, that was before being invited by the host to a world-class rum tasting session. Other than that, I also remember a lively debate on the defense secretary’s view on cyberwar. Using a printout of Panetta’s speech that I stole from my unsuspecting host, I managed to get some of the ideas we discussed organized. I will try to write something good about all the beauty of the guest house next time, if we manage to keep down the rum sampling.
…younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze.
I had tweeted that I was about to pass over the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River and was besieged by John Denver lyrics sent from far-flung friends throughout the Matrix. John Denver was the music of my childhood so this just added to the sense of homecoming I felt when I arrived at this very special place.
Aside from family and friends there are four major diversions in my life (until the next one) and they are technology, farming, politics and ethanology. This place in the woods is a haven for intelligent and heartful consideration and celebration of all of these things. (As an aside, I’m not sure that ethanology is a word but I can’t think of anything better to describe an omnibus interest in alcohol: brewing, wine making, and distilling. So ethanology it is!)
All my memories gathered ’round her
Miner’s lady, stranger to blue water
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky
Misty taste of moonshine
Teardrops in my eye
– John Denver
No moonshining to be found, although I have to admit not looking closely in the barn or some of the nearby hollows. But if you are lucky you might tempt the barkeep to craft a Liberal or to hold forth on gin, rum, or other cocktail esoterica. Expert mixmanship is on the house.
After staying for two short nights I felt like I have felt in only a few places — my great grandmother’s farm, my grandmother’s farm, my father and mother’s farm, and my own farm. It felt like home. Weathered wood, animals lazing in the sun, stillness in the shade of the trees. The waters and the earth and the morning mist hanging in the air.
The comfort of home.
Our parents changed our travel plans late in the game to visit “the farm”. They added a whole extra loop to our tour. We were on the road for two days, but they had promised us that at the farm we would be able to pet dogs, cats, goats and a horse, run around, play with the children there… So, when we arrived in the evening at daddy’s farmer friend, we didn’t mind any of that traveling any more. Mom and dad, too, were looking forward to spending some relaxation time after two weeks of touring the USA…
However, as soon as the car stopped, we were surrounded by guard dogs. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve learned how to handle dogs on this trip. First, there was a small playful white dog that we stopped fearing after we learned how to give her treats. Then there was an impetuous young dog that we met for a day – he was too much to handle and we didn’t manage to overcome our fear. Then came one older dog that was heavier than the two of us together. She was terrifying in the beginning, but she was slow and we learned how to command her, so there was nothing left to fear. Can you can see the build-up? But three dogs at the same time was like being caught in the crossfire! And a stinky black fourth dog showed up later, too! Even though a nice barefoot man in shorts came out of the house and reassured us, we shrieked. We stayed glued to mom and dad while they carried the bags to the guesthouse. They protected us from the beasts.
We visited the main house, too, which was full of old things. We should tell them about the huge shops we saw while driving here… Or do they like some of their things to be old? Why else would daddy take a picture of the set of black cast iron pans hanging on the bare brick wall? On the other hand, their TV is new and big, so they must know that new stuff exists. We saw computers, too.
There were two boys in the house, but they were much older than us and we didn’t see them much. Daddy talked with them a bit about video games. One of them had the longest hair we’ve ever seen on a boy. Only one of the dogs was allowed in the house; it was smaller and less scary and the lady let us give it dog treats. The lady had nice hair and a healthy tan. She told us to remember that we are humans and the dogs only want to smell us and they will listen to us if we raise a finger and tell them to sit. They were still scary when they came running towards us and, just to be sure, we still shouted “Sit” at the top of our voices, but at least we learned to stand our ground.
Daddy said the other guests were bitter liberals and he was going to drink with them and listen to them play music. Mommy, too, sat and listened to the music, so we tried to listen, too. Some of the songs sounded longing, but it was not all sad. It sounded nice, so the man must actually be a musician. They also started joking with their instruments. Yes, it’s possible, they were making them squeal and sound weird.
We got sleepy and went with mommy to the guesthouse. On the way, the only light came from our flashlights and if you looked up you could see many stars. Daddy says at home we don’t see so many stars because it’s often cloudy and the city’s glow drowns out the fainter ones. The dogs were walking with us, but didn’t attack us. There was a nice shower in the guest house. We think it had a glass door! We had a bed and were also given sleeping bags, so we could sleep wherever we wanted.
In the morning daddy said that despite having had several delicious cocktails, he didn’t have something called a hangover. He was happy because he had been looking forward to them and they had stimulated the conversation. We like to play, the parents like conversation; maybe one day we’ll understand. Perhaps the man is a bartender after all…
We were up at our usual hour and woke up our parents, too, but mommy said it was too early for the man and the lady. We had to be quiet in the kitchen where we had breakfast. They had orange juice and corn flakes, so we knew we wouldn’t starve. Mommy was raving about the homegrown tomatoes and peppers, but she didn’t trick us this time either into eating them! We also tried the omelet made with chicken eggs from this farm. Yummy! Later we went and collected chicken eggs ourselves. Did you know they can also be found slightly warm in nests, not only cold in cartons on shop shelves? Cool!
In the afternoon, the man and the lady took us on a walk through the jungle. We walked through tall grass and bushes and poison ivy that makes your skin itch if you walk into it. The man had a machete in his hand and was widening the path here and there. Clearly, he is a lumberjack. The dogs were walking with us, too, and we weren’t afraid, it was… normal. We saw some fishers and they helped us cast a line, too. We continued the walk between corn fields and stopped to watch some big cows from real close. One of us got tired and got carried by the man on his back. He had a curly beard. On we went through some meadows and then we were back at the house. We don’t think it’s really possible, but daddy told mommy that we had walked through a John Denver song.
The next day one of us went to the county fair with the lady and loved it! The other went to the river with the other grownups. Or, rather, ran down to the river alongside the dogs. The man was teasing daddy about his European style swimming briefs, but in our country the man would not be allowed into the swimming pool with his swimming trunks, so we don’t quite understand. Another difference was that we had to keep our shoes on as we went into the water. We threw pebbles for the youngest dog to catch in midair. Daddy and the man and a new guest sat in the river and had more conversation. So much talking, the man must be a philosopher then…
So many more things would be worth mentioning! The giant trampoline. The tree house. The horse and the pony and the peacock and the goats we helped feed… We will see New York another time; we’re glad our parents made this change of plan. We made some lovely new friends!
We were ready to leave at the crack of dawn, as we still had to drive to the airport. We had left our excess toys in the guesthouse for the next children who will visit this place, just like we found toys here. We hugged the dogs and shushed them not to bark, so they wouldn’t wake up the man, the lady and the two boys. We found a box of tasty cookies baked by the lady with a sweet note wishing us a safe trip. Mommy was driving, as daddy had stayed up late again enjoying wine and conversation with the man. We drove over the bridge, then on the tree-lined road, then the farm disappeared behind the bend.
Corina, Mihai (and parents Christina and Thomas)
… are thunderstorms and tomatoes. Fortuitously, this visit to the guesthouse brought both on the same morning! The second morning of my visit found me, as most mornings spent on the east coast do, far from hungry for breakfast. Forget sleep, shifting meal times pose the biggest challenge to this traveler. Thank goodness the guesthouse comes supplied by a lovingly tended (if somewhat scorched, thanks to the record-setting heat) vegetable garden featuring a plethora, from which I sampled: tomatoes, various chilies, white corn, spring onions, and a variety of herbs. Here’s just small sampling of what we enjoyed:
With eyes bigger than my stomach, I sliced a plate of the perfectly ripe, fresh-from-the-vine heirloom tomatoes and sat down on the screen porch to enjoy them. I was sipping my double macchiato (per usual at the guesthouse) when the thunder started. The true to form for southern summers, the rumble of thunder led to a fantastic, lethargic downpour interspersed with rumbling thunder and claps of lighting.
I couldn’t believe my luck. My two favorite things from a childhood spent in the South combined in one perfect morning. What more could you ask for from a guesthouse you might ask? Well, on the usual list of culprits: great cocktails, fantastic scenery, excellent recreation (read: the river), and nothing but the best company. What could we do to make a visit both more spectacular AND more ‘merican at the same time? We got an up-close view of a bald eagle (unfortunately, not the one pictured below, although I did see this one up close in Yellowstone).
After a 10h-flight and 1h-drive, and a relaxing (light) dinner (garden fresh tomatoes & eggs) with my beautiful and generous hosts, I went to bed in the guest house, and not really thinking what that means. But the expected had happened: I woke up right there, in the guest house of a friend’s house in a small town along a quiescent river .. it was one of the most relaxing sleeps I had for a long time. I had my guard dog waiting by my door .. perhaps our mutual trust helped us both, and we were happily looking at one another in the morning.
What made this possible? There are a long chain of events .. the final product of several probabilities must have been an infinitesimally small number; so the said chain of events does not really explain anything.
I am going to keep looking for an answer. Until then or even after I find a partial answer, I am grateful to the current owners for opening their doors to an unknown person.