It’s easy to feel jaded these days. There’s a lot wrong with the world: a pandemic, climate chaos, racial injustice, social upheaval, political chasms…I could go on, but why? I’d much rather think about what’s right with our planet and the easiest way to do that is to spend time with the grandkids. They see the little things we don’t. They remind us—me, at least—that sometimes there is great delight in simple things, like racing leaves down a country stream, or collecting eggs from the chicken coop, or roasting marshmallows over an evening fire, or just watching a stick bug crawl up your sleeve. I mean, when was the last time you did that?
I admit that these moments don’t come easy. We’re living through a time when it’s awfully hard to get away, to unplug, even to breathe fresh air. Counterintuitive as it sounds, these days you have to make a plan to have no plans. You can’t just stay home because if you do, routines have a way of raising their ugly little heads and suddenly, before you know it, you’re right back where you started and the dishes need washing, the clothes need laundering, there’s a zoom conference somewhere and somebody needs to walk the damn dog. Sigh.
So… A few weeks ago, the wee wife took things into her own capable hands and decamped three generations of us to Quicksburg, Virginia, a dot on the map in the history-rich Shenandoah Valley, to visit one of the famous caverns there. In some ways, the decision to go made itself: a friend whose family own the caverns (you heard that right) called out of the blue and offered us a lovely farmhouse on the property which was unbooked for the weekend. “It’s empty,” our friend said; “it’s yours if you want it.” Now that may seem like a no-brainer, but there’s some risk to moving two grandparents, two parents, and four children all under the age of seven three hours in the car to visit a cave. “What if it rains?” I said. “We’ll be in a cave!” the wee wife reminded me. “Well, what if someone gets sick or stung by a bee? What if we forget some essential piece of kid paraphernalia and have to improvise? What if there’s no wifi? Are you sure about this?” I said. That’s when she gave me the look; you know the one I mean.
Of course, I needn’t have worried. The weather was perfect and the farmhouse had a deep porch overlooking the peaceful hills and valleys of western Virginia. The chickens in the coop produced more than enough eggs for breakfast. The goats in their pen behaved the way goats are supposed to behave. The caverns were indeed wondrous—full of stalagmites and stalactites and pools of gin-clear water and crystals—but what the kids loved best was the picnic lunch that followed our tour and panning for gemstones and geodes in an old-fashioned mining sluice. We even managed to find our way to a nearby covered bridge—the oldest and longest in Virginia according to Google—but a bridge is just a bridge. What really captured the kids’ attention was skipping rocks and racing leaves in the river below the bridge.
I wonder what will be the memories that last? The cavern? Roasting marshmallows over a fire pit and playing tag under the stars? The chickens and the goats? A windmill and the stillness of an old place? Maybe. But for me, I have a feeling it will be the expression on little Annie’s face as she watched that stick bug crawl along her sleeve. No need for wifi after all.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com