August 14, 2019

SUNSET OVER THE SHENANDOAH VALLEY LAST NIGHT…

…was like a Hubble shot of Jupiter. Whirling skirling swirling squirreling grays and blues. The cloudy sky that ensued was all wrong for perseids, so we passed on the whole get up at two AM and drive down the hill to Big Meadows (we’re talking Shenandoah National Park here) thing. Talking to a guy who drives here every year from Michigan, UD learned that last night was unusually cloudy, so we’re hopeful at least one of the next three nights will be clear enough for fireballs.

Meanwhile, we hike among the deer and the bear (UD dreamt of bears last night, natch), and gawk at the long mountain/valley/mountain views. Gophers scurry the hallway outside our room.

Big Meadows Lodge is already the land that time forgot, but they’re celebrating their eightieth birthday (UD, tomorrow, in Luray, Virginia, will celebrate her 66th), so here in the main room (only place with internet) they’re piping in nonstop forties swing.

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August 15, 2019

A MOON UNLIKE ANY UD HAS EVER SEEN

The irony was that we were there for the perseids; but sitting on our rickety beach chairs at the Big Meadows clearing last night, the real show turned out to be an absolutely full brilliantly lit moon that insinuated itself as a silver glint among horizonal clouds and then raised itself up to surreality right before our eyes. UD grabbed her binoculars and attempted to make credible the massive and intricately legible orb, its hollows and craters so blatant… When it climbed to higher clouds, they made a golden aura together, the moon now and then blindfolding itself with a black ribbon of atmosphere, and I sat there thinking about my mother who loved the night sky. And of course immediately came the thought that has so often for so long come to UD: We are here to experience the terrestrial wonder that our dead don’t get anymore. We’re doing it for them.

This morning I stood on the lodge’s balcony and watched three gold finches massacre the petals of some purple wildflowers. If butterflies are endangered, there’s no sign of it here. Fern oceans cover acres of woodland floor, and I’m not sure why but it’s very cool when your hike intersects with the Appalachian Trail. Zero-luxuries, zero-prestige Big Meadows Lodge draws an intriguing mix – Mennonites, naturalists, intellectuals, hikers. To my eye, plenty of Paul Fussell’s X’s (scroll down) populate the place, keening over their wildlife books and adjusting the length of their walking sticks. The stolidly downscale Great Room, all dusty wood floors and dusty jigsaw puzzles, buzzes with women in gingham dresses and sweaty kids playing checkers.

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August 16, 2019

UD/BIRTHDAYS

She’s had a ton of great ones. At a restaurant on the edge of a Santorini cliff; in a cafe by a fast-rolling river in Telluride; at a balcony dining room at the top of a hotel overlooking Mexico City’s zocalo; and, many times, at the Bear Cafe (also alongside a babbling brook) in Woodstock, near our upstate NY house. Last night was another one of the greats – a big, boisterous gathering of family and friends at Moonshadows in Luray, down the hill from Shenandoah National Park. There were glitches galore – an immense detour plus immense thunderstorms on their trip from Washington for a group of late-arriving guests; worries about night vision for a guest who would need to drive the dark winding Skyline Drive back to the lodge… But in the event everything worked out perfectly, and UD felt love for all of these people who had gone to so much trouble for her.

Today the rain has cleared out and we’ve done a ton of hiking. If the sky stays clear, we’ll do another wee hours visit to Big Meadow (as close to a true dark sky as you’re likely to find on the east coast), set out our beach chairs, and look up. UD is so full of gratitude and joy today that she doesn’t care whether she sees any fireballs at all.

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August 17, 2019

SKYLAND IS THE OTHER LODGE IN THE PARK…

… and unless you feel like a twisting hour-long drive down the hill and back, it’s the one and only meal alternative to Big Meadow Lodge. Our foursome (Peter Galbraith, first American ambassador to Croatia; Sarah Peck, recently retired Foreign Service officer; Mr UD, and UD) met there and on arrival stared from a silent stony hilltop at a garish orange sun settling into pink clouds. The nature/culture clash was equally garish, with raucous country tap dancing in the bar next to the dining room as we entered Skyland. Fa rumore, as the Italians have it; human beings love to make noise. Indeed after a long day of quiet hiking together, we ourselves really went at it over the meal, yelling about the partisan Supreme Court, the Electoral College, and what to do with ISIS prisoners languishing in camps.

Our group prepares for a final hike before leaving Shenandoah National Park. UD‘s inappropriate backpack, foreground.

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