Friday, June 12th, 2015
DC reporting in, #18: Presidential Mansions (3-5)
Close to the southern end of Shenandoah National Park one can find the plantations / mansions of three former US Presidents – Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Madison’s Montpelier, and James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland. Over the course of the weekend I went to see all three (they are pretty close together), and listened to three different versions of “how one might best try to integrate the fact that they owned slaves with still adoring these guys 100000billion%” – none of them worked all that well, frankly.
Ash Lawn – Highland
The yellow part of the house was added on by later owners.
What is left of the old Ash Lawn – Highland is tiny, but apparently there was an annex right where the yellow part of the house now is – still, it remains the smallest of the three Presidential homes, by far. Of the three I liked Montpelier best, both because it was far less busy than Monticello and because they had an interesting tour on James Madison and the Constitution, which meandered slowly from empty room to empty room and took you around the Estate in 2.5 hours, rather than the 30 minutes rush-rush affair that the overrun Monticello is.
Although at Monticello, in my opinion, they do the better job of dealing with the question of slavery.
And, that all said, the tour guide at Ash Lawn-Highland probably knew the most about her subject, of the three.
Sunday, May 31st, 2015
DC reporting in, #17: Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah NP
Two weeks ago – see how we are slooowly catching up? – I rented a car and spent a weekend hiking in Shenandoah National Park (along paths that divert from its Skyline Drive), just about two hours away from DC. The weather was varied – sunny and muggy and overcast and throughout rather hazy with a torrential downpour or three interspersed, and the mix of it all made for a beautiful long weekend and a great variety of photos and experiences. I saw quite a variety of wildlife, including a black bear! My first bear encounter in the wilderness – but as the bear was ‘only’ sitting in a tree and looking down on us hikers somewhat skeptically, it wasn’t scary so much as tinged with respectfullness of the distance one should give a wild animal such as a bear.
The blue ridge mountains are indeed blue when covered in haze and seen at twilight, but for the most part they were hazy but still wildly green and verdant, so that they were really green ridge mountains, rather than blue. Which, however, did not prevent me from having both “Country Roads” and “The Wide Missouri” as earworms (as the word Shenandoah pops up in both…).
The Shenandoah NP is beautiful, and from time to time reminded me quite vividly of driving through the Palatinate back in southern Germany, as the combination of roads-trees-hills felt very similar to me (albeit there are no bears in the Palatinate, and altogether more small hamlets and coniferous trees). It was good to get out into the countryside and just to walk and walk and walk and carry my camera around :-) – it made me recall just how easy it is to get out into the countryside from Flensburg, and how often I do it there, for a weekend day hike, and how much I’ve been a city girl these last months. It was good to see trees upon trees upon trees upon trees for a while.