Written by Tony Lavato
The air is getting chillier, hints of woodsmoke can be detected when the breeze is right. Is there a more nostalgia inducing smell than woodsmoke? One whiff and you’re back forty years around a campfire with those old friends you vowed to keep up with but never see anymore. (Call them!) Or snug in a cabin while snowflakes fly outside the window and the fire is warm and cozy.
Here in the Piedmont leaves are flickering red, yellow, brown and gold like exotic birds taking wing to head south for the winter. The sky has that peculiar clarity only Fall can bring, cerulean blue punctuated with those startling white fluffy, swirling clouds. It’s a good time to be a local ( I use the term loosely to translate as living here full time, a true local traces back family roots here generations. Indeed, some families can still trace their ancestry directly back to grants from Lord Fairfax, first explorer and grantee by the King of England of tracts of land totaling many thousands of acres.)
That being said. This local has been doing some further exploring up in the Park. A few evenings back James and I joined a crew from the Shenandoah Park Hikers on a bushwhack (off trail) to find a ranch that was taken by eminent domain as part of the land gathered to form the Park. The Hershberger Ranch remains lie situated on the western side of Pass Mountain and consisted of a main house, guest house, bath house, spring, root cellar and A BUILT IN SWIMMING POOL that still holds water almost 90 years after the owners were forced to pack up and leave their home when the Park became a reality.
Walls and foundations remain here, undisturbed except for the ever encroaching grip of nature. The relentless cycle of wilderness reclaiming what was it’s own.
To wander here is to step into the shoes of these persons and to appreciate, at least to some extent, the unbearable hardship it must have been to lose everything you’ve worked for, taking years to build up, improve and maintain. Land which you love, with roots so deep that transplanting these families was often the beginning of the end for some of them.
Our first find laying in the woods is an old washtub, rusty, with a hole in the bottom to boot. These seem to be everywhere there were inhabitants and it is our first clue that we are near the homestead.
Next we find the root cellar or springhouse, hard to tell which this one is. Looking at the construction you have to marvel at the squareness of the corners which still stand while parts of the wall have fallen into the foundation itself.
Further downhill is the actual spring, still running clear and strong, even though we have not had what I would call an over abundance of rain this summer/fall.
The spring has been set so that piping and gravity feed it down to fill the pool, which is half full of leaves but cold and clear, draining out of an overflow on the opposite side. I can imagine floating peacefully in this pool, gazing out over the hollow which has as a backdrop more mountains through the trees. What relaxing summer days must have been spent here in the distant past. Listen, a splash! Frog? Phantom child with an old fashioned bathing suit and maybe some water wings? Or maybe your foot just nudged a rock over the lip of the pool. You decide….
Again, with the light and atmosphere, the presence of long ago lives linger. You know that this place was home and that is was a place of refuge and enjoyment for a family now dispersed, perhaps to Luray, perhaps Sperryville or Flint Hill. Sit a while and reflect…..Let the silence talk to you. There’s nowhere you need to be, but here.