Friday, June 17, 2022

Explore: Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail

One of our recent excursions took us to the Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail. We chose the Afton entrance.

I packed our lunch and we headed over.

There were slight misgivings when we reached the parking lot only to discover there were (1) no picnic tables and (2) no modern bathrooms and (3) the porta potties were perched right on the edge of the parking lot.

We ate standing outside the van, fashioning our sandwiches on the running board and trying to be as far NOT downwind of the porta potties as possible.

Then we cleaned up our lunch, I grabbed a bag of snacks, and we headed down the trail.


There were wild black raspberries growing on the side of the trail, as well as vetch and viper's bugloss.

In the distance, there was a vocal cow making the sort of vehement protests I imagine she makes when her calf has just come in from a wet pasture and carelessly skipped across the freshly mopped floor. "Do you hear that goose?" asked Rosie (3), with wide eyes.

"That is a cow," said Ethan.

"No, that is a goose. Gooses honk. That is a goose," she said with a knowing nod. All of her nods are knowing, and there is no convincing her ever that she may be incorrect about something.

Rosie with Mimi and Lily

As we neared the entrance to the tunnel, various children ran ahead. Flashlight beams inundated and then dissipated as the children set off in twos and threes.

River (5), while the others forge ahead

It took about twenty minutes to walk all the way through the tunnel. (Well, on average. Some of the children were MUCH faster and had to wait for those of us following certain young ones who talked the entire time to hear the echoes and had to be reminded repeatedly to "keep walking, please.")

We were not a quiet group.

When we reached the other side, we gathered just outside the tunnel and split candy necklaces and sour gummies.

Then we headed back. 

River (5) and Gideon (12). I have no idea what she is doing here.

Ada (10) and Salem (12)

Edee (15) and Eve (7)

Mimi (17) and Lily (18)

Gideon and River

I was pleasantly surprised by the family's reaction to the walk. Several of the older girls stopped to take pictures of the trailside flowers, the older boys chauffeured those who wanted to race ahead, and the Littles vacillated between (i) being dramatic about how tired their legs were and about how so many rocks were in their shoes, which precipitated their being piggy-backed and (ii) demanding put me down right now! at which point they would race ahead three steps, stand stock still, say something loudly to hear the echo, and notice rocks in their shoes.

The tunnel was cool, the outside air was hot, and when we got home we unpacked the picnic bags and crashed in assorted positions around the house.


Wednesday, June 15, 2022


I'm not one who typically figures out a "Word of the Year," you know, the one word that will remind you of your focus for the coming year: Yes, or Hope, or Trust (never my words). There were a few January 1's where I tried that, but I inevitably either forgot what the word was by mid-January or I forgot until the following January that I had even picked out a word.

However, this is the second summer that I have picked out a Word of the Summer. Summer is such an evasive season to me as a mother. As a child, it was this long-awaited holiday that left me deliciously exhausted and sunburnt and bug-bitten and chomping at the bit to start school.

As a mother, it is this long-awaited holiday that leaves me exhausted and sunburnt and bug-bitten and frantically dodging the planning and inevitability of school.

I always assume there will be these long, lazy days of heat and pool towels drying and popsicles and afternoon movies in front of the air conditioner.

And those elements are there: the heat and the drying pool towels and the popsicles and the air-conditioned movies. But they are squeezed in between getting various children to their orthodontist appointments or mowing jobs or babysitting jobs or driving lessons or summer camps or airports or college orientations. And always looming are the school subjects that probably should have been finished or maybe should have been started or definitely should have been checked (here's looking at you, Math).

And so a couple of summers ago, I decided to pick a focus for the summer that was actually achievable. Something that, no matter what, if I had been intentional, I could look back on the summer and say, "Yes, in the midst of the busyness of summer, THAT did happen." 

And this summer, I picked "Explore."

Ethan and I have always loved exploring, just poking around different places and seeing what crawls out. When the children were all little, the easiest way to be together as a family was to load everyone in the van and just DRIVE. No GPS, no planned destination, no timeline. Sometimes we would get an audiobook from the library, always someone would fuss a bit, and usually some would nap.

Long-suffering Ben with Edee and Mimi in 2009ish

Sometimes we would take a boat, sometimes we would take a fishing pole, but mostly we would just take coffees, sippy cups, diapers, and snacks. 

A grubby Jon-Jon with a live Maverick in 2009ish

Jon-Jon, Abey, and Maverick in 2009ish

Ethan, Ben, and Maverick fishing in 2009ish

On the boat with Papa, circa 2009

But as they have gotten older and more numerous and more opinionated, those times have dwindled off. Our gathering in the van has been limited to the drive to and from church twice a Sunday.

And I hate that.

Which is why recent Monday (Ethan's day off) mornings have found me packing sandwiches and chips and cookies and watermelon, hollering, "Did everyone go potty?" and grabbing my camera to head out to the van.

It all started a few Sundays back when I was contemplating Ben being gone all summer, Lily ready to start college, and two more needing to get their driver's licenses. I started down the path of "Woe is me this stage of life stinks am I really this old," a path that typically ends with me listening morosely to Cowboy Junkies and longing for the days I didn't have to do Pilates just to move without needing to be oiled and could swing without having to vomit.

Sweet Susie, Lily, Ben (Mr. Admissions Counselor), and Ethan. See why I feel old?

I mean, it just wasn't a good place to be. I have meals to get on and laundry to do! 

Also, I am supremely blessed. I have a husband whom I love madly, children that exasperate me in the most wonderful, hilarious ways, and two adult children who outshine me totally and make me so proud I could burst.

Ada (10) and Zebby (8), not the adult children

So on Monday morning I shoved paper plates and paper towels and assorted foods at the children, announced, "Put these in the van! We are going for a picnic!" and we headed off.

It wasn't any kind of grandiose destination. We drove about fifteen minutes away to familiar territory, had a picnic, and went for a walk.

And it was magical.

You know the moment I realized it was magical? It was when I bit into my sandwich, thought, I taste bug spray, and was suddenly transported to many summer meals of my childhood. This just tastes exactly right. I didn't know this is what I needed to taste, but this is it.

We weren't far away and we weren't anywhere foreign, but we were exploring. We were turning over rocks and peeking under leaves and scampering further down the trail to catch another glimpse of the ducklings. 

And even the unexpected seasoning of bug spray served to jolt me from my plain picnic fare and transport me to carefree summers of long ago.

I absolutely loved it. And right then I decided that we WILL explore this summer. Even in the midst of all the comings and goings and goodbye-ing and hello-ing, we will turn over different metaphorical rocks and see what crawls out.

And when I really am old and you come to visit me and we head out to the porch for a picnic, you make the sandwiches and I'll bring the bug spray.

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