596 miles before we sleep.

From Tennessee to the Canadian border, Interstate 81 lays down most of its 854.9 miles in Virginia, 324.9 to be precise. Paralleling the Appalachian Mountains, I-81 follows along Indian and early settler trails. A pretty ride if you’re in the passenger seat, but if you’re the driver zooming along at five or ten or fifteen miles over the limit, you can’t take your eyes off the road .

In Pennsylvania, heavy truck traffic labors up the hills while cars play hopscotch at terrifying speeds. Accidents that tie up traffic for hours are a given, and the drive is bum-numbing for passenger and driver. Until last week, I was always the passenger; now I’m the driver. Peter helped me brake, gasped occasionally, and pointed out interesting sights that I didn’t dare glance at.

Frackville, in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, was our destination, 379 miles from home, an overnight on the way to daughter Carolynn and husband Bill. It’s 596 miles door-to-door. Our stop was planned, but the relentless rain that jammed traffic into bumper-hugs wasn’t on our itinerary. What should have taken five hours, took more than six.

Driving is the best way to get there. Air travel doesn’t take long if you pay for a direct flight, but add in the drive to an airport, hours-early check-in, another hour to their home, and car travel proves quicker and cheaper. Then, when we return in a car stuffed with a huge pumpkin, three mums, gallons of fresh cider, jars of home-canned delights, boxes of cookies, as well as shopping finds and our bags, there are no added fees to pay.

When we neared Frackville, the GPS insisted on “hard right turns.” Wrong. After two loops on and off I-81, I turned hard left and there we were. Cold rain and wind hurried us inside. The motel was terrific — Holiday Inn Express — and there was a super breakfast bar the next morning.

Three more hours on the road and Carolynn, Bill and the dogs were waiting with big smiles, enveloping hugs, and doggy kisses.

The week was packed tighter than our car on the return — gourmet meals, cards, dominoes, dog walks, laughter, talking…lots of talking…especially when Carolynn’s friend Robin was around.

Maple walnut.

My maple walnut yum!

I’d already decided to drive home with no overnight. It is all downhill. We did stop for lunch at Frackville’s Dutch Pantry, noteworthy for its diner history, and treated ourselves to homemade ice cream.

No more non-stop drives in my future, though. Unh uh. I was reeling when we arrived. After 596 miles, my pillow called and visions of the week danced through my dreams.

A garden as autobiography.

 

Beautiful gardens aren’t just about the flowers. Last month’s Friends of the Library Garden Tour was memorable for more than just the plantings. Yes, the flowers were lush, the colors, vivid, but it was the settings and the expanses, that captured my husband and me.

We drove along roads we hadn’t traveled before to visit seven gardens scattered across the county.

It would be hard to pick favorites, but the 1800s farmhouse lorded over by huge sycamores was special. A swooping green swathe to one side led to a gazebo perched atop a spring. The tiny stream, crisscrossed by little foot bridges, caught my fancy. Old-log guest houses nestled around the original house like chicks to a mother hen. A cellist and a violinist kept time with the breezes.

Oh, and the rope swing, did I mention the rope swing hanging high from the tallest sycamore? I wanted try it, but when I attempted to lower myself onto the wooden seat, my knees wouldn’t cooperate. Its height was set for little children. Just as well, I might have launched myself into the next county if I’d been able to soar as high as it could go.

Another garden’s entrance was framed by an old catalpa tree. Set against a hillside, the back of the original farmhouse was ringed by brilliant day lilies as colorful as ladies’ hats at an English wedding. Conifers, hardwoods, and shrubs intermingled perfectly. Interesting rocks and glittering crystals lay amongst the plantings — jewels on grandmother’s Sunday dress. Best of all was an old log cabin set into the scape. The vast field up and away to the right and back of the house hinted at more joy beyond.

A third garden, edged by a stream, had a decidedly fairytale look. Large trees hovered and whimsical touches all ’round made me wonder if three bears or maybe seven little people lived there. The large koi pond was punctuated with stepping stones and bright orange table and chairs. The owners accessorize their garden with “hand-me-downs, found objects, and thrift store purchases.”

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This trio of pictures, taken at my favorite garden, exemplify my blog’s name: Wherever you go…there you are.

Each of the gardens on the tour had their own special magic, memories brought home to caption my photos from that “once upon a time” day.

 

Click on photos to enlarge them; use arrows to scroll through each grouping.

It’s a small world after all.

Peter and Judy.

Peter and I under the Alaska pipeline.

If you didn’t already know it, you don’t need to go all the way to DisneyLand to find out that it’s a small, small world. Peter and I have traveled many miles from home, and met people who knew people we knew.

We’ve had lovely trips, all squeezed into the few short years after Peter’s retirement and before dementia stole his mind. I’ve already posted a series about our very favorite trip, an African safari (see Contents above). Other series to come. We’ve learned a lot wherever we’ve  gone, most notably that people make the journeys as memorable, as do the sights and sounds.

Alaska, 2006: we made friends with a bubbly, out-going English couple, Linda and Keith. “We live in St. Albans,” she said, “northwest of London.”

“My favorite pub is in St. Albans, The Fighting Cocks,” I told her. “Our friends Martin and Anna took us there, during my first trip to England in 1979.”  Keith asked where our friends lived, then laughed when we said Bushey. The two couples live ten miles apart as the crow flies.

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Steve and Jean in Alaska.

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Me, Peter, and Linda, in St. Albans.

During that same trip we met Jean and Steve, both still English to the bottoms of their plimsoles, though they’ve lived in Australia for forty years. I convinced Jean that we should be “pen pals,” though I had to further convince her to drop her actual pen and use email or she’d never hear from me again. Eight years later we continue to correspond several times a month, and are each other’s shoulder-to-cry on during the bad times. Jean and Steve, Linda and Keith became friends on that trip and have visited each other in their opposite hemispheres of the world. Jean and daughter Karen came here three years ago, and we’ve visited Linda and Keith.

I’ve stayed in touch with another Linda from that trip. She lives in Florida most of the time, but summers in North Carolina. Merriwether — yes, related to Merriwether-Lewis —was one of our guides in Alaska. She mentioned she’d gone to Hollins College, not far from here.  When I told her where we lived she launched into the Virginia Tech fight song.

England, Ireland, Scotland, 2010: On our “Circumnavigation of the British Isles” we met a New Hampshire couple. When we said we’d moved to Virginia from a village in upstate New York, they asked what village?

“Clinton,” I said.

“Clinton! Hamilton College! I went to Hamilton.”

He leaned in close. “Ever hear about the hockey ref at Hamilton?  The guy who stomped his skate down on a player’s throat?”

“Yikes! No! Probably happened before we moved there.”

“He was an Indian fellow — Native American — who was always barefoot.”

“Oh-h, Indian Joe,” I said. “He was our neighbor.”

I’d never heard the hockey story, but verified that he did indeed go barefoot even in our bitter snowy winters. He was famous for his garlic too. To this day, I grow Indian Joe’s garlic. I keep it going, sort of like friendship bread.

Small world.

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Janet and David

The Canyons and Yellowstone, 2011: At the orientation meeting, there was a man wearing a maroon and orange Virginia Tech Hokies’ sweatshirt. He beamed. “You folks are from Blacksburg, aren’t you?” David graduated from VT, his wife, Janet, from Radford University. They’re Virginia residents, and we keep in touch.

Netherlands, 2008: On a tulip-time riverboat trip we enjoyed Sally and Lee whose son, we learned, had graduated from VT, and whose thesis advisor lives five houses down our street.

Mexico, 2008: Too bad we didn’t do our whale-watching trip to Baja California before we went to Alaska because we had a lot of laughs with Candy and Mike who live in Anchorage. We might have been able to visit them in their own habitat.

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Martin, Anna, Peter, me, Haute Cagne, France.

Our Bushey, England friends, Anna and Martin, have a place on the south coast of France. Several years ago they called to say they’d met Americans Beverly and Joel who vacation there several times a year. Joel introduced himself saying, “We’re from a little town in Virginia you won’t have heard of— Blacksburg.”

“We have friends there!” Martin said. Turns out we live a block apart.

 

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Peter and I on a Zodiac in Alaska.

Our African safari remains our favorite overall, but the Alaskan voyage on a tiny ship was equally special because we met so many people we still count as friends.