I used to drive 1,250 miles from Mississippi to New York for college at Sarah Lawrence. My route would take me north on I-81 through Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. So it was then, back in 2001, that I first found the love I have for the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Recently I embraced another opportunity to visit this place that has, for some reason, always felt like home. My solo exhibit in Manhattan had ended months ago, but because of the pandemic, the paintings were still there in storage. The number of COVID-19 cases was decreasing in New York, and it seemed that the airlines were taking appropriate measures to protect travelers, so I bit the bullet and booked a one-way flight to New York. In early June I departed from Tampa and in just a few hours was landing in Queens. Everyone was wearing a mask on the plane, and I had the whole row to myself thanks to Southwest's policy of partially booking every flight.
A rental car was waiting for me, and I drove it to the cafe where my paintings were located, at La Esquina in SoHo. Driving in Manhattan was smooth, with not much traffic on the road. It was actually a pleasure and brought back good memories from when I used to live there. The city was shuttered, still in lockdown and having responded to recent protests; parking spaces were unusually abundant. At the cafe, I found my paintings, loaded them in the trunk of the rental, and skedaddled out of the city just as quickly as I had come in.
When planning the trip, I spent a lot of time identifying cities along my route which had had the fewest cases of COVID reported. So, my first stop was a four hour drive southwest of Manhattan, in a small town called Knoxville, Maryland. It was a great pleasure to turn off of the interstate near Frederick and see the rolling hills and 19th-century homes on my way. On one of the back roads I found a deer and her young next to a creek. I could barely snap a photo before they scampered away.
I had hoped to find a restaurant in Knoxville with outdoor seating or takeout, but as it happened I was so exhausted that I opted instead to eat some of the food I packed in my suitcase - microwavable beans and rice. Always be prepared!
The next day I embraced the morning but didn't linger, knowing I should give myself several extra hours to see the 'scenic route' before arriving at my next stop in North Carolina. This included a beautiful, leisurely drive along the two-lane Skyline Drive, which is accessible at only a few designated National Park entry points and costs $30. Had I stayed on the interstate, the drive would have only taken 7 hours. For me, though, with all of my stopping, photographing, and exploring - and with a daunting encounter with thick fog, rain, and darkness on the Blue Ridge Parkway - the trip took close to 13 hours. I arrived finally at a welcoming little cabin in the woods of Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
There was no chance I was leaving the cabin that night - I was so relieved to be safe and sound - so it was snacks for dinner: popcorn and salmon jerky!
The next morning I ordered a hearty breakfast from a local restaurant. I would need a good start for the hiking adventure I had planned...to see a waterfall. And see a waterfall I did. The Glen Burney Trail is 1.2 miles long and descends about 600 feet to the base at Glen Marie Falls. I walked the entire trail with a backpack full of cameras and recording equipment (new art projects to come!). Below you can see me in front of Glen Burney Falls. Of course it was easy going down. Coming back up is when I got to know the beat of my heart again. And it was totally worth it. Being so deep in nature creates a sense of calm in me while also reminding me of its great power.
That evening I ordered takeout sushi and relaxed in the cabin, embraced the chill in the air and ended up outside on the deck counting stars.
The following morning I enjoyed a cup of coffee on the front porch of the cabin while listening to the birds. I prepared for a long day. It would be a 10 hour drive back to St. Petersburg...which, knowing me, would take much longer.
Alas, this excursion to pick up my paintings was like a whirlwind, lasting only a few days in the midst of a pandemic. And while I wish it could have lasted longer, I am thankful for that time away in the mountains, revisiting a place I love, and grateful that it was my art which brought me there.♥