I meant to write something every day. Oops.
*shakes travel dust off of blog*
Hi everyone. Lots to report about the final days of my spring break. Let’s pick up where my previous post ended.
I ruined my sleep cycle. I returned from the Steal a Pint at about 6, sat down in my friend’s oversize armchair, fully intent to do some reading, but instead I fell asleep. I woke up at 1 o’clock in the morning and was unable to go back to sleep, so I watched a couple of movies on Netflix until a bit before sunrise. (V For Vendetta and Anna Karenina. I highly recommend both.) Before the sun fully came up, I showered, fed my friend’s cat Guin, and drove up to campus. One of my favorite past-times from undergrad was going to the top of the parking deck behind the performing arts center to watch the sun rise.
I love this sleepy town.
I left the deck and headed for George Washington National Forest. I always wanted to go hiking there, but never made the time to do so in my undergrad. I did my research and found a nice, not-too-difficult trail known as Lovers’ Leap. As I drove up into the forest, I quickly realized that Lovers’ Leap was not directly off the main road. The travel directions I printed off were entirely unhelpful in my quest to find which road would take me up to the trail head, and after driving straight and uphill for about 20 minutes, I found myself as Reddish Knob. I’d been there before; the Catholic Campus Ministry group I joined at JMU once had Mass on the mountain. Although I hadn’t planned to go up to Reddish Knob, I was glad it’s where I ended up.
I’d forgotten how beautiful the Valley can be.
I drove back down the main road through George Washington National Forest until I reached a T intersection, where going straight through would take me back to JMU, but turning right would take me to “Bird and Wildlife Trails.” I came out here to hike, I thought, and I’ll be damned if I leave without even breaking a sweat.
I stopped at the first pull-off point I found. I parked and approached the trail marker. Wolf’s Ridge. I’d never heard of it, and the sign gave little to no indication of the trail’s length or difficulty, but I figured, fuck it, I’m gonna hike this damn thing. So I started walking. About an hour into my hike, I reached a small creek that cut directly across the trail. There wasn’t a dry way across, so I braced myself to get a little damp. None of the larger stones that breached the surface were stable enough to walk on top of, so I dipped my feet in and walked across. The water was about ankle-deep. My shoes soaked through. Sorry, Mom.
Even though I definitely wasn’t wearing the right shoes for water travel, I had truly missed the feel of a cold river running over my feet. Absolutely rejuvenating. I hiked almost straight uphill for about another hour, at which point two things happened: 1, my shoes dried completely; 2, I saw a large rock outcropping and immediately knew I wanted to climb up to it and sit and read there. So I did.
I stayed on the rock for nearly an hour and read Women in Love. Then I could feel my arms and face starting to get a little sunburned (that slight warm itch on the skin right before it becomes visibly sunned), so I climbed down off the rock and back onto the trail proper. The only problem now was that, after meandering up onto this rock, I’d lost track of which direction I’d come from on the trail. I was now, unfortunately, quite a bit lost in the woods.
I shrugged it off, fuck it, and ended up continuing the trail up the mountain for about another hour and a half. Now having been in George Washington National Forest for ~5 hours, my water bottle was almost empty, my legs ached, and I’d been scratched on my left calf by a fallen branch. I was sweaty, exhausted, and bleeding. I decided to turn around, to not finish Wolf Ridge, and go back downhill. Excluding the hour in which I stopped to read Lawrence on the rock, I’d been walking further up and further in for about three-ish hours. The walk down took about forty-five minutes. Of course it did. I always seem to move faster when I know where it is I’m headed.
I had entered the Forest at 10:30 AM, and I returned to JMU at 3 PM. Bit of a day. I met up with Eryn at Jack Brown’s for a Steal A Pint event at 5, stayed out with her until almost 9, and then went back to the loft and collapsed into bed. Sleep came quickly, and I was grateful for it.
I made plans to go to the Soldiers’ Cemetery at Woodbine this morning, but after yesterday’s woodland adventure I decided I ought to sleep instead. I woke up at 11 AM, and all my muscles were stiff and moving in any way was an absolute chore. I regretted not stretching out before I went to sleep, but I figured a hot shower would solve most of this problem. It did.
It was then almost 2 o’clock, and I decided to drive south to Staunton, Virginia. I had a ticket to see The Merchant of Venice at the American Shakespeare Center (my favorite theatre in the world), and there was to be a lecture by a local Rabbi before the evening’s performance. I got into the town a little before 3, so I had a couple hours to kill before the lecture started at 5:30. I walked the length of the main downtown road, and stopped in at a used bookstore I’d visited many times in my undergrad (Black Swan Books). I checked the shelves for my usual bookstore pursuits—Eliot, Tolkien, Lewis, etc.—but didn’t find anything I didn’t already have.
I was about to leave when I spotted a few D. H. Lawrence books on one of the shelves nearest the entrance. I picked up a 1937 edition of The White Peacock for one of my professors. He’s said before that Lawrence is one of his favorite authors, and I felt this would be something he would like, or at the very least think was kind of cool. He and I talk frequently during his office hours, usually about class and grad school in general, but he also asks how I’m doing. And he listens. Actually listens, instead of just waiting for his turn to speak. So I suppose the book was to be a way of saying thanks.
Dinner. One of my friends told me about a wine bar in Staunton, and as it was a few doors down from the book shop, I decided to give it a chance. I didn’t have enough cash on me to try any of the wines available, so instead I opted to actually eat my dinner for once this week instead of drinking it. I ordered a glass of water and a grilled cheese sandwich called The Wisconsonite.
Cheddar and blue cheeses, dijon mustard, and cranberry sauce. Easily the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had in my life (and that’s really saying something because I’ve eaten a TON of grilled cheeses).
I then headed to the theatre for the lecture, which ended up being less of a straight lecture and more of a dialogue about the anti-Semitism in Merchant and what that means for performers and for the audience in a post-Holocaust society. I saved the Rabbi’s handouts for the World Religions professor I work with in my assistantship at USD. After the dialogue, there was still about 45 minutes before the house opened for the evening show, so I walked back down the street to a Gelato shop I’d seen earlier (but was too full of grilled cheese then to even consider eating dessert). They had BROWNIE GELATO. If you said this was Heaven, I would not disagree.
The performance of Merchant itself was incredible. I’ve been attending performances at the American Shakespeare Center five or six times a year since 2005, and this was by far one of the best shows I’ve seen there. I sat on one of the gallant stools onstage, and was thus very close to the action. When you sit onstage, the actors sometimes also interact with you. They might ask you questions, joke with you, give you props to hold, and so on. This time, I got to hold a briefcase for Tubal (Grant Davis), and Portia (Ginna Hoben) hugged me when Brassanio (Josh Innerst) chose the right casket. But I also had a more profound experience while attending this production of Merchant. Since moving to South Dakota in August, I’ve been struggling with my depression again (when am I not, though?) and I’ve actually not been able to cry these seven months I’ve been out here. But there I sat, watching John Harrell play Shylock, and I was so moved by his performance that when Solanio (Tim Sailer) spat on him, I started crying. At last. It’s amazing what art can do.
Another day I slept halfway through. I did laundry again. I read more. I found a used bookstore a block away and picked up volumes two and four of Virginia Woolf’s letters. I went out at 5 to Jack Brown’s for another Steal a Pint. Then I walked thirty minutes to a very sketchy part of town to visit (you guessed it) another used bookstore. There I bought Terry Goodkind’s Faith of the Fallen, Willa Cather’s My Ántonia, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman. I walked back into town and joined Eryn at Jack Brown’s and was surprised to find my old friend Graydon was back in town. Graydon and I met in the summer of 2014 when we both worked as tour guides at JMU. He also once dated a good friend of mine, and the last I heard from him was that he’d graduated and started teaching in Richmond. So imagine my shock when I look up from talking town Eryn and see Graydon looking back at me.
“I was waiting for you to recognize me,” he laughed.
“Jesus, Graydon, the fuck are you doing here?” I let him pull me into a tight hug.
“Math conference,” he said. “Where’ve you been, girl?”
“South Dakota. Grad school.”
“Fuck, good for you.”
“Get yourself a beer,” he kissed my cheek. “You’re lovely and lovely people should never be without a drink.”
“Graydon, I have maybe ten dollars left to spend freely here and it needs to last me through tomorrow.”
“Shit, put it on my tab. Get whatever you want.” He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me in to kiss the top of my head.
I let myself get a little tangled up in the embrace for a moment before saying, “No one’s ever bought me a drink before.”
Graydon said, “I find that hard to believe.” He sent me up to the bar by myself and I returned with a sour ale.
I was surprised by how flirtatious we were with one another. I remembered Graydon was always a little flirty, but never to me and never this much. Sometimes I’d make a joke that was a little sexual, or say something that could be interpreted as such, and he’d say, “Girl, don’t tease me like that.”
At this point I’d like to clarify that I’ve never been drunk in my life. Before this night, I’d also never had more than one drink in a night. And now, with Graydon buying my drinks, I’d had three. Plus the two beers I’d had earlier (one at lunch and one at dinner). It was a five-beer day. The rest of the night at Jack Brown’s and our later relocation to Eryn’s boyfriend’s apartment is forthcoming in its own short story, perhaps to be published on this blog later. It deserves more room than what can be afforded here.
My last day in Virginia. I spent the better part of the day packing up all the books I bought and getting my station wagon ready for the drive back out to South Dakota. In the evening, I went back to the American Shakespeare Center to see my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays (Coriolanus) live for the first time. I sat on my favorite of the gallant stools, Q1. It was the first stool I ever sat on on this stage, and I’d come to affectionately think of it as mine in a way.
Isn’t it cute?
I’m still trying to wrap my head around finally seeing Coriolanus live. I don’t quite have the words yet. But I suspect I will soon. When my friend came back to the loft (she’d been traveling in the UK over break), she brought presents to thank me for taking care of her cat and her home. The first was a beautiful edition of The Hobbit, and the other was a mug decorated like a Penguin Classics book cover, except it was “Haggis Press” and the book was The Taming of the Bru by William Wallace Shakespeare. I love a good pun.
Sunday and Monday
I left Virginia at 5:30 AM. The drive was a special kind of Hell. I stopped in Davenport, Iowa for the night and awoke the next morning to find about four inches of snow covering my car. I powered through it and made it back to South Dakota at 5 PM on Monday. And now here we are. This has been a post.