Notes from the Waxhaws


with 2 comments

Well…I’m down off the mountain, and back to the red clay soil and gently rolling hills of the South Carolina piedmont. It was a good trip, if only for a few days, and it helped to get my eyes on some new vistas. It was my first solo trip (for fun, anyways) in a great many years. My only companion this time was the disembodied voice (whom I’ve named Molly) that emanates from the GPS unit in the car. She keeps quiet for the most part, and speaks up only on occasion, when she feels it’s necessary to give me direction.

The trip was amusing, humbling, informative, and at times quite magical. I stayed at the General Francis Marion Hotel for two nights. I was highly impressed with the quality of this little 36-room hotel located in the small town of Marion, Virginia. The hotel, built in 1926 (and at whose grand opening, the author Sherwood Anderson was in attendance),  has been recently and obviously lovingly restored, with a lot of thought given to details. It’s truly a tiny five-star hotel that has been plopped down in the highlands of Southwest Virginia. It’s my new favorite (my old favorite…which I still hold in high esteem… was The Empress in Victoria, British Columbia, which I’ve only had the occasion to visit twice).

General Francis Marion Hotel


Saturday morning, I drove up to Hungry Mother State Park (the name intrigued me). According to Wikipedia:

“A legend states that when the Native Americans destroyed several settlements on the New River south of the park, Molly Marley and her small child were among the survivors taken to the raiders’ base north of the park. They eventually escaped, wandering through the wilderness eating berries. Molly finally collapsed, and her child wandered down a creek. Upon finding help, the only words the child could utter were “Hungry Mother.” When the search party arrived at the foot of the mountain where Molly had collapsed, they found the child’s mother dead. Today, that mountain is Molly’s Knob (3,270 feet), and the stream is Hungry Mother Creek.”

OK…I gave Molly a new life and purpose…I only hope that her direction finding capabilities have improved.

After leaving the park, I drove over to the historic town of Abingdon, Virginia, about thirty miles further west along the central valley of the Appalachians, which was a major corridor for early settlers who made their way through the mountains and beyond to the further hinterlands. When I arrived in Abingdon, it had started to rain, so I didn’t do much walking around. I instead popped into a local coffee house named Zazzy’z and grabbed a cup of coffee, and, since they had free Wi-Fi, did a little research on the rather depressing spectacle that I had witnessed along I-81. The damage that I had seen had indeed been caused by a horrific EF3 tornado (packing winds of up to 165 mph) that passed through Glade Spring in the early morning hours of April 28th. It was truly a humbling experience to happen upon that scene unexpectedly.

I then decided to drive up to the Abingdon Vineyards and Winery, nestled among the trees and hills of the South Holston River. I had noticed a sign for the vineyard along the highway (hey…I think half the fun of travelling is being spontaneous, and going with the flow). I found the address, and punched it into the GPS. Molly quickly responded with the shortest route, and I obediently followed her directions (Sharon never liked using the GPS, and didn’t much trust it. She had another name for Molly…and it started with a ‘B’. Sigh…I miss her). When we arrived (OMG…I just realized I used the word ‘we’…I’ve got to stop that), the place was beautiful, with a small babbling brook, and an ancient looking barn.

Brook at Abingdon Vineyards

Old barn at Abingdon Vineyards

As I pulled into the empty parking lot, the owner invited me into the tasting room to sample some of his wines. We had a nice chat. I mentioned that I had, surprisingly, seen quite a few signs along the highway, both in North Carolina and Virginia, for local vineyards and wineries. He told me that the tobacco farmers in the region were being encouraged to grow grapes instead of tobacco, and had been offered incentives by local governments to do so. So, it seems that this whole area was quickly becoming the new up and coming wine country of the Southeast.

I drove back to Marion, looking forward to the highlight of my trip, and the main reason I came up to this area. This evening, I would be  attending a bluegrass concert at the historic Lincoln Theater in Marion (it seems that everything around these parts is prefixed with ‘historic’). Since moving to the Carolinas, I’ve picked up the odd habit of watching a television program called ‘Song of the Mountains’, which is broadcast every Saturday night on the PBS station in Charlotte. It’s devoted to bluegrass music, a distinctive genre of music that originates from this part of the country. The region called Appalachia has enthralled me. Someone has said that it’s such a distinctive sub-culture of the American experience, that it really should be another country. I find the ‘otherness’ of this region so interesting that I’ve fallen in love with it.

So, on Saturday night, I found myself in the little Lincoln Theater, just down the block from my hotel, where the TV show, Song of the Mountains, is taped. The theater itself is a gem. According to the website for the theater,

The Lincoln Theatre’s Art Deco interior was designed to evoke images of an ancient Mayan temple. The unusual auditorium was embellished with painted appliqués of exotic creatures and mythological gods. In juxtaposition to this stylized architecture, six enormous murals (View the murals…) depicting scenes from national and local history were painted and installed.”

Lincoln Theater Mural

Just being there on a rainy night in Virginia, was magical…like experiencing the real thing after having seen it only in a dream. The music was great, and the concert lasted about three hours. I’m not one who is easily impressed by celebrity, but  the sheer down-homeness of the host, Tim White, and everybody in attendance was refreshing.


Now comes the hard part…to paraphrase the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (in the local dialect), “I woke up this Sunday of a mornin’ and found myself in a dark and misty woods.” Someone has said that one of the most consciousness-raising experiences that you can have (including those that are drug-induced) is that of growing older. Having just passed my 60th birthday without the woman I love, I think I’ve come to the realization that I’ll never really ‘get over’ her loss. A change of scenery won’t do it…and I don’t think that time will heal this wound. The pain will probably get a little duller over the years…but I don’t think it will ever go away.

I checked out of the hotel early this morning. The sky was gray, and the misty clouds were covering the mountains, looking like rain at any moment.  I had decided to drive back home over the mountains, instead of around them. As I got to the North Carolina border near the crest of these ancient mountains, the clouds began to part, and the early morning sunlight began to flood the hills around me…Appalachian Spring. Every shade of green you could imagine. It was like driving through a dream…sunlight and then shadows…sunlight and shadows…an overwhelming sense of peace and silence.

When I happen to lose my way on the road these days, and take a wrong turn, or go down a blind alley, Molly is quick to make adjustments. She just silently consults with her oracles in the sky…pauses a moment…and then confidently says, “Recalculating”…and quickly determines a new route to my destination. I’ve always been a non-linear thinker (some would say, in less kindly terms, scatter-brained). In my life’s journey over the past 15 or so years, Sharon was my sure guide…keeping me on the straight and narrow. At the moment, I’m feeling untethered…and quite lost. I’m hoping  that I’ve become as capable as these two…of determining my bearings…of finding my way home. Lord knows I’ve had help recently from others, one in particular, who have unwittingly and serendipitously (a fine word for ‘by the grace of God’)  nudged me in the right direction…out of the dark and misty woods, and into the sun-dappled light of an Appalachian Spring. Recalculating…

Written by Jim

May 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Beautifully written, Jim. Good for you to get out there and brave a solo journey, but I wouldn’t be too worried about using the “we” for I think our sweeties are still traveling with us.
    The Empress is fabulous isn’t it. For my 50th my husband surprised me with a trip on a float plane leaving out of a Seattle Harbor that landed just in front of the Empress where we stayed. AMAZING!! Great Molly story. I’m thinking Sharon just might be a little jealous? Great post! I hope you’re emailing your website out to friends….this must be shared.


    May 16, 2011 at 5:06 am

  2. I truly appreciate your comments, Patti. I hate to admit it, but when I was worried about the ‘we’…I think I had Molly and me in mind…and I don’t want to go down that
    Yes…The Empress, and its location on the inner harbor of Victoria is…well…storybook. Two of the best things I remember from my stays there are sounds…of the float planes revving their engines as they landed and then took off…and the sea gulls. Makes me want to go back. Vancouver Island…one of my favorite places in the world…


    May 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm

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