Shenandoah National Park

Trees and mountains garbed in autumn splendor, thick mist softening the world, deer and bear watching from beside the road, craggy rocks to climb, soul-nourishing views to the east and the west…On our way home from Florida in September, Stephen and I took an evening and a day to drive through Shenandoah National Park along the Skyline Drive. I’ve been wanting to explore and sketch there for years, so we meandered our way slowly along the 105 miles of the Skyline Drive. We stayed the night at the Lewis Mountain cabins, partway through the park, staying in a delightful, clean cabin, where I awoke the next morning to the sound of a Screech Owl right outside the window and the fragrance of fall rising from the damp earth and leaves.

We stopped to enjoy most of the overlooks, savoring the variety of views, and I sketched as many as I had time for. We also took a couple of short hikes (though one was longer than planned, due to missing a turnoff on the trail), stretching our legs and breathing deeply of the refreshing, clean air. I could easily spend days in this place, but I thoroughly enjoyed our short visit.

Here are my sketches that tell the story of our time in that magical place. You can click on the images to see them large enough to read my notes about each location and my thoughts about the park in general. 

McCormick Gap Overlook
Sawmill Run Overlook
Crescent Rock View
Jewel Hollow Overlook
Hazel Mountain Overlook
Pass Mountain Overlook
Hogback Overlook
Shenandoah Valley Overlook


Minnewaska Hike

High flying flocks of geese heading south, honking their connection to one another; red, yellow, and orange trees overhanging tall rock slopes; Catskills clothed in shades of lavender, standing majestically to the north; the fragrance of fall making the air sweet to breathe.

Yesterday Stephen and I headed for Sam’s Point Preserve right after church to spend a perfect fall Sunday afternoon hiking, but when we got there, we found that everyone else had had the same idea and the parking was full and they weren’t allowing anyone else in. Figuring that nearby Minnewaska would also be overcrowded, Steve pulled out his geological survey map collection and did some searching. He found a small back way into Minnewaska through tiny Berme Road Park in Ellenville. We found our way to the park and headed up the Smiley Carriage Road– not one of the well-maintained carriage roads we’re accustomed to in Minnewaska, but not full of the Columbus Day weekend crowds either. 

We hiked up and up, along a very stony, sometimes rutted carriage road, slippery with leaves in some places, surrounded by beauty everywhere.

At one point we met a couple coming down, who told us there was a three-foot rattlesnake coiled in the path a few minutes farther along the trail. I grabbed my sketchbook from my backpack, thanked the couple, and headed up the trail, watching closely for the snake. Sadly, he had left by the time we got to wherever he had been, so my rattlesnake sketching will have to wait for another hike.

We made our way to Naparoch Point, a rocky overlook complete with the deep crevasses one expects in Minnewaska, opening to a view of the blue and lavender Catskills in the distance, the gold-tinged Shawangunks nearby, huge rocks with twisted pines and oaks in the foreground, and blueberry bushes in fall shades of red carpeting the ground.

Autumn along the Rail Trail

Colors are close to peak, and here and there are spots of brilliance, with the fragrance of fall in every breath. This afternoon I meandered along the Rail Trail, pausing to listen and look for birds, to savor the reds, yellows and oranges of the trees, and to breathe deeply of the refreshing autumn air. When the air is like this, cool and filled with leaf fragrance, I feel as though I could bypass eating; the air itself is satisfying and nourishing to soul and body. 

I stopped by Lake Walton to sketch, surrounded by ducks in the water, migrating warblers in the trees, chipmunks foraging in fallen leaves, and color all around… times like this, I forget all else and am simply present in the moment.

Total Lunar Eclipse October 2014

I woke up early, 3:15am, and was instantly wide awake. There was going to be a total lunar eclipse, and I wanted to be sure to see it. I knew the eclipse wasn’t starting until 5:15, and I knew I should go back to sleep until then, but I was too full of anticipation to return to sleep. I was also worried about the weather, not that worry accomplishes anything, and not that I have any control over the weather, worried or not. It had been pouring a few hours earlier (we got an inch of rain in the earlier part of the
night), but, to my relief, the clouds were starting to clear away by the time I padded
onto the damp deck in my bare feet. The moon was hanging round and bright in the sky just above the trees to the west of our house, with silvery clouds scudding to the east. No sign of earth’s dark shadow crossing the moon yet, so I went back inside to make some tea and start a pot of oatmeal cooking.

After frequent checks to be sure the clouds were indeed departing (perhaps by wishing I could make them leave faster?), at 5:10 I settled into my camp chair on the deck, sketchbook in hand, with nickel-sized circles drawn down the page. There were still a few clouds, but they mostly stayed out of the way. As I watched, a small bite disappeared from the upper left of the moon. Over the minutes the small bite became a steadily growing, curved shadow. (Later I read that that curve, which is cast by the curved surface of the earth, was some of the earliest evidence that the earth is round, not flat).

I watched in silence and marveled at the silence. Not that the night was silent– crickets chirped, leaves rustled in the breeze, the muffled sounds of distant traffic filtered through the woods– but the tremendous event in the sky transpired in silence. Of course that is always the case, but watching the earth’s shadow overtake the moon and knowing the immensity of these celestial bodies, it struck me anew how mighty they are. And yet, they move and interact in silence, so easy to miss if one isn’t watching.

I watched and sketched from my deck
until the moon was too low behind the trees, then I drove to a nearby
hill and watched until just before sunrise, when I could no longer see
the moon (which was about to set by then). I ran out of space on my page
toward the end, so just took notes of the final stages before the sun rose– next time I will use a larger sketchbook.

I’ve seen total eclipses of the moon before, and every time I am filled with wonder and delight. It was well worth having a short night; I hope I never sleep through such an amazing sight and never lose my sense of awe at witnessing these celestial events.

Meeting Paul

People had told me that there is nothing like the feeling of holding one’s grandchild. I believed them, knowing that it would certainly be special and that it would seem amazing that my child now has a child. But, nothing could have prepared me for the wonder of the moment when Nathaniel came down the stairs carrying Paul, with a huge smile on his face as he handed Paul to me. I took Paul into my arms and started to cry. There is nothing like the feeling of holding one’s grandchild. I could have held him forever.

When Nathaniel first handed Paul to me
Swaddled in the blanket I made for him

Dressed in his Harvard colors

First time at church

We spent nine wonderful days with Nathaniel, Meghan, and Paul. I walked miles with Paul in the Baby K’tan carrier, that holds him close and snug. In the heat and humidity of Florida, that was not always comfortable, but it was always a pleasure. One of my favorite walks with Paul was when he woke up and decided that day had come very early. He and I took a long walk in the predawn darkness, listening to crickets and enjoying the peace of the early morning. The hardest part of our visit was saying good-bye, and I can hardly wait to see Paul (and his parents) again. 
Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. Psalm 127: 3 (KJV)
Children’s children are a crown to the aged… Proverbs 17:6 (NIV)