Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

My Poussin Painting Weekend

So glad we could introduce one of our favorite people--Rachel Liebling (center)--to one of our favorite places--the Goshen Pass. This shot is from the porch of James' parents' so-called cabin. It's more like a compound than a cabin.

It is difficult to imagine a more relaxing or wonderful weekend than the one I just spent in the Goshen Pass. Looking back on it in retrospect, I see that it was special for reasons far beyond the fun and interesting things we did. It was a time when Life really opened up for us in all her beauty, and with a quiet message to embrace it now.

Our friend Rachel was spending the week with us and she brought all kinds of enthusiasm, music, good ideas, helping out around the house and playing with Sebastian. After school on Friday, we all loaded up and drove alongside the Blue Ridge to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. We visited some studios, took a gorgeous swim (I can never help myself), and had a lovely dinner with the fellows. It was great to taste once again Chef Rhonda’s offerings but also to reconnect with the chef herself. She lives in Charlottesville, very close to us, and I hope to get together with her here in the near future.

After dinner, we drove into the sunset and through the fog of a high pass over the mountains and along the Maury River to the Cabin. We’ve been going to “the Cabin” for many years and it’s a major reason why we moved back to Virginia, so we could be closer and go there a few times a year rather than every few years.

Our friend James had a family place on the Goshen Pass, one of the most beautiful places east of the Mississippi. When his family’s lifetime lease on their cabin turned out to be considerably shorter than agreed, James landed on his feet by acquiring an even more beautiful piece of land with a cluster of Civil War era cabins, right across the river, just this side of where the pass closes in around the Maury and a narrow winding road. He and his friends have been renovating the cabins slowly and lovingly for the past ten years. Though the precise locale has changed somewhat, the atmosphere has been constant. So, the Cabin is more about the place, and a state of mind, than a single building. It's about the way we breathe there, and who we spend time with.

James and Marni on the steps of the under-construction cabin.
Photo: Sebastian. Note the waist-high perspective, which is always a dead give-away when he takes the camera.

In fact, we had thought that we would be sleeping in a tent this time, but since most of the cabin owners were away, we were able stay in possibly the most beautiful one. It was the best of both worlds: completely rustic but tightly constructed, beautiful and bug-proof, with a boys’ room that was paradise for our Sebastian.

Morning and afternoon, we skinnidipped in the Maury River, one of the cleanest rivers in Virginia and even from atop the tallest boulder, with which the valley is strewn, we could not see any signs of civilization. To the west, the Allegany Mountains came right down to the water, in an unfurling of ridges and laurel-filled pocket canyons. To the east, the Shenandoah Valley spread in Jeffersonian splendor. The water bounced through the rapids, clear and glistening in the last rays of August, the air so fresh and with a little hint of coolness. It was bliss to dip my head in the water and warm on the rocks.

After dark, we had a communal feast with James, his partner Marni, and our long-time friend-in-cabin-fun Nancy, who is renovating another of the cabins. We toasted Virginia with some champagne we had been saving, a house-warming and farewell gift from our friends Amelia and Mark. After dinner, a beautiful fire—another part of the cabin tradition. By the fireside, we reconnected with the man who lives on the adjoining farm, a bluegrass musician named Cochran and his artist wife and their artist friend who was visiting from (where else?) Greenpoint.

Other highlights included, in no particular order, bare feet in the dewy grass, morning sun on Castle Rock, a run through the silent and misty pass, chatting with old man mushroom hunters, a photo expedition with Sebastian, Lincoln Logs in a log cabin, a beer run that included getting lost (maybe the best part of the trip) and brunch at the Mill Creek CafĂ©, the kind of place that’s neither extraordinarily good, nor particularly cheap, but that must be visited.

You can rest easy: Virginia still has her share of freaks.

We drove home through the perfect summer afternoon, with dry air, blue sky, hills all around—Virginia was showing off her full splendor. We stopped by Springtree (the communal farm where Meredith grew up) just long enough for cookies and to show Rachel around the place. She had a bus to catch, so no time for a dip in the hardware, a garden tour, or peaches on the way back. We’ll save those for a later visit, which I sincerely hope will be soon.

After a sad farewell to Rachel back in Charlottesville, I felt a desolation much stronger than I have felt in some time. It is always sad to say farewell to a friend after a wonderful visit, and it’s always harder to be left than to leave. It was an amazing weekend and I was sad for it to be over, yet it is only as I am writing this that I understand the contours of that bittersweet feeling.

As I sat with my friends on the river that last afternoon, that slight chill in the air was important. It hid in the shadows and whispered in the breeze and it would be easy to miss it while baking on those rocks or swimming in the stream, which was still quite warm. But the message was there: Summer was beginning to take its leave, as it does this time every year and it is something that I always sense very acutely and it always leaves me a little melancholy.

Summer is my favorite season, it is when I feel most alive. Although I like the bustle of back-to-school and the brisk Fall air Summer’s passing always makes me a little sad, whether its about the changing of the Seasons or the Passage of Time. I am grateful for the winds’ whisperings because I hear in them an alert to be sure to embrace the Now, for it is fleeting. We still have plenty of time left, but we had better use it well, for it will not be around forever.

One final note: Thank you James. It's good to be back.

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