Cruise along the Greenbriar River Bike Trail and you ride the roadbed of steel rails that no longer exist. Building bike trails on railway beds creates an easy gradient for cyclists, with smooth climbs, easy descents.
The Greenbriar River Trail runs beside the river of the same name for a stretch of 77 miles (124 km) from the settlement of Cass to North Caldwell. One hundred years ago the towns along this railway line were active, the communities thriving, or even bustling fueled with enterprising immigrants from faraway countries and newly or almost-free slaves from the nearby Southern states. Proclamations and edicts such as the end of slavery in the U.S. may have been issued, but the reality of freedom would need decades for real effect. All along the river, people made a living harvesting local resources for those who owned land — cutting trees, mining coal and grinding corn on water mills. And the resources rolled on the river or the railways to markets in other places.
Imagine what an amazing network would exist if every decommissioned stretch of railway in North America was converted to a bike trail! We could bike safely across the continent, easy peasy!
Don’t forget to wear blaze orange or hot pink jackets or vests during hunting seasons in West Virginia. When I rode this trail a stretch of months ago, I could hear hunters taking pot shots in the woods. Did they know the bike trail exists?
Wikipedia states “the Greenbrier is the longest untamed (unblocked) river left in the Eastern U.S.” which is a sad thing to learn. Culverts, dams, spills, canals, diversions steal the vitality of the other long rivers in the Eastern U.S.
Roaming in the California Footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson
My affair with Robert Louis Stevenson started early, I was five or six. Daddy read Treasure Island aloud from a thick volume with illustrations by N. C. Wyeth while we three girls took turns sitting next to him on the couch. Little me enjoyed a kindred imagination and the vivid alternative worlds where adventure happened every day. More of that, please!
Perhaps unconsciously, I’ve followed that path, seeking outdoor thrills and ultimately creating opportunities to assuage that addiction to the adventurous options life offers. Stevenson wandered the world, so to follow his footsteps could take many months, probably years. I planned a journey in California dogging Stevenson’s tracks during 1879-80 while the young writer waited to marry Fanny Osbourne, who needed a divorce first.
After a stop in Santa Cruz to photograph the house where I lived for a while back in the day, and a brief stop at San Gregorio Beach to dip my toes in the Pacific, I nosed the rental south on 101 past artichoke fields and cattle ranches. Wind tilted the few bicyclists braving the blustery day. More than a decade had passed since I’d visited this region. Development had been contained, leaving the shore visible where the road passed close. Nature’s whiplash had gouged portions of the cliffs and flooding had eroded the roadbed, but highway department trucks and workers gave the sense that government was attentive to the problem.
Carmel-By-the Sea was my first destination. This picture-perfect secluded upscale community that nurtures the American impulse to shop was a colony for Bohemians and artists back in the 1880’s, a place where Stevenson would have fit right in. Nor did I have any trouble blending in with the Keds and khaki-clad locals frolicking with their dogs on the beach. After lunch on the shaded patio at The Village Corner, I poked around the courtyards of Carmel and discovered a charming design store selling accessories for Beatrix Potter style gardening. Carmel is still an artist’s colony. In another courtyard studio, the artist Lisa Bryan-Day showed me watercolor sketches of horses while we sipped Napa’s fruit.
At sunset I ambled through Mission Trail Park, a nature zone opposite Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, aka Carmel Mission. The meandering trails pass surprisingly close to the back gates of high-end real estate. When I focused on the woods or scanned the distance for the Mission’s red tile roof, it didn’t take much imagination to place Stevenson in the landscape leaning against a pine tree, smoking and considering the evening light. There’s no proof that Stevenson prowled these same hills, but Carmel is on the way to Point Lobos where Stevenson spent happy hours staring at the raging waves. According to his diaries, he would ride a donkey out from Monterey and stay with the goatherds camping in the Carmel Valley.
Just a few miles south of Carmel, Point Lobos juts into the Pacific. I could have biked or walked, maybe done something about that lost muscle tone, but I chose the soft bottom solution and drove through an early morning rain shower. The spectacular feast of colors that composes the Pt. Lobos landscape startled me with elaborate painterly compositions of wind bent cedars, sage green lichen on rocks along the path and purple seaweed massing in the turquoise ocean below. As I tromped along, a bunny dashed across the path. I stopped to paint two water colors trying to capture the purples, blues, yellows, greens, vermillion, and orange. One picture more or less succeeded, but the other was a pale wet mud pie. Perhaps watercolor painting is also a use or lose condition.
A baby deer stared out from a thicket that barely screened the beige backs and legs of its older relatives. I froze in my tracks to watch. Eventually, the fawn turned into the brush to hide. Intermittent sunshine formed sparkling jewels of light on the Spanish moss hanging from trees and on the knee high grass in the meadows. At sea, rocky remnants of earthquakes created a coastal barrier over which the water thunders, splashes and recedes. On Sunday morning, I headed to Monterey which lays large claims on Stevenson’s fame though he only stayed here for three months while his beloved Fanny Osborne completed divorce proceedings. A large sign on the waterfront asserts that Stevenson composed the plot to Treasure Island while walking that beach. Yet, in Napa Valley there was an historical marker that claimed he used a lookout point there as the model for Spyglass Hill.
The sailor’s flophouse where he lived in 1879 has been fixed up and renamed Stevenson House. I pressed close to the glass cases to scrutinize the writer’s silver flask, wallet, and pocket knife. The knife had all the recognizable Swiss army knife features and one curious addition we don’t need today, the button hook. My heart clutched briefly to see the man’s personal items – his lighter/flint box, a silver box that may have stored cigarettes and another for calling cards, a green velvet jacket laid out on the bed in the room Stevenson probably occupied. The quill pen and ink stand seemed too ceremonial; surely all that countryside trekking required a portable notebook and pencil.
While the well-informed state historian plied me with facts about the Stevenson family dining table that came all the way from Scotland to Samoa where Stevenson died and then back to California with Fanny and her children, I studied Stevenson’s photograph. By the lines on his face, I could tell he was a man who laughed.
Monterey was a fishing and and whaling port in Stevenson’s day. Undertaking a whale watching cruise thus seemed in character, albeit with a group of intense and rather humorless tourists clad in expensive waterproof jackets and brand new sneakers, instead of in the company of salty dog sailors. The whale watchers clustered at the bow commanding their chunk of railing until the captain asked everybody to move back. A handful of passengers huddled in the cabin, their stomachs churned by the winter wave action. While the marine biologist blared from the loudspeaker that the whales have super sensitive hearing, she praised the boat captain for staying back far enough so the whales wouldn’t hear the engines. What about the loudspeaker announcing every blow spout, I wondered, don’t the whales hear that? But then I come from the contemplative school of silent nature watching, which I imagine Stevenson shared.
Wrapping up my day in Monterey, I sped north to Napa Valley and Calistoga where Robert and Fanny Stevenson enjoyed the first weeks of their marriage. Calistoga sits among thermal geysers where Native Americans once built sweat lodges and contemporary sybarites soak in hot mineral water or mud wraps. Calistoga strives to conjure its past by cultivating a quasi-frontier era vibe with signs and store names. The railroad track that the Stevenson entourage traveled over still runs through town. Not sure what happened to the trains.
Stevenson’s ailments would have profited by the mineral baths. During his California visit he suffered from pleurisy, eczema and episodes of acute illness probably brought on by malnutrition and stress. Not one to miss a hot soak, I signed up for a mud bath which effectively ended thinking and action that day.
On the morrow, I browsed through the Silverado Museum in the St. Helena Public Library Center. Volunteers lovingly tend a collection of letters, manuscripts, memorabilia, even the lead soldiers Stevenson played with as a child and his wedding ring. During my walks around town, I searched for cornerstones in St. Helena’s older stone buildings that might fix them to 1880, but saw only handsome examples of 20th century local prosperity.
Intent on muscling up hills or down glens, I decided to hike up Mt. Saint Helena where the newly married couple occupied an abandoned mine manager’s cabin for several months in 1880 while Robert wrote The Silverado Squatters. Today, the area is part of Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. About a half-mile up the trail, far enough that some effort is required, a polished stone monument of an open book on blocks of granite memorializes the site where the miner’s cabin stood.
Another plaque I had seen in the area avvered that Mt. St. Helena was the spyglass hill in “Treasure Island‘ which was written after he, Fanny and her children went to live in the Stevenson family home in Scotland later in 1880. Right above the mining cabin site marker I climbed a rocky promontory which offered a clear view of the surrounding landscape. It was easy to imagine Stevenson settled in the chair-like embrace of the yellow orange rock, smoking and staring down at the Napa valley.
Back at the Indian Springs Resort in Calistoga, I turned to my lifelong companion of the imagination, Robert Louis Stevenson, to keep me entertained until sleep.
Carmel has no street addresses. Locations are identified by the nearest cross streets. Inns, hotels and guest houses are clustered around the shopping area. I stayed at the Tally Ho Inn (Monte Verde & 6th Streets) across the street from its more expensive and better known sister property, The Pine Inn Hotel.
I ate Miz’ Rawlings grapefruit this morning. Sweet and juicy, a far cry from the thick skin commercial varieties sold in grocery stores. The best tasting Florida citrus are thin skinned and crack open when they hit the sandy turf. The fruit from Cross Creek was chock full of seeds too, obviously not bred for travel to faraway markets.
“Nutmeg grapefruit is the breed,” says Lee, a tour guide at Cross Creek,
author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ farm in north central Florida. He wandered barefoot through the writer’s house and citrus grove, leading a dozen tourists through the historic property. “Sand sticks in running shoe crevices, not to bare feet,” he says, dusting his soles against his tattered pants legs. Lee’s aw-shucks, gee-willikers style brings to life Rawlings’ backwoods characters in popular books like The Yearling and Cross Creek.
Rawlings won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for The Yearling. Beloved by many young readers, the novel tells of local boy Jody Baxter’s coming of age in Florida’s hard scrapple northern pine country near Ocala Forest. Her novel displayed contemporary realities in realistic voice and bridged subject and stylistic antipodes. The 1938 Pulitzer book, John P. Marquand’s The Late George Apley, hewed closer to 19th century novel forms and subject matter, while John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the Pulitzer winner in 1940, was a thoroughly modern novel rooted in vernacular voice and character.
When she came here in 1928 with first husband Charles Rawlins, both journalism graduates from the University of Wisconsin, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was a neophyte Floridian who thought she could live off the orange grove. The farm was planted with pecan trees, which she ordered cut down to plant citrus.
Prior to the American Revolution, this Maryland hamlet barely an hour’s drive south-east of Washington, DC was the second largest seaport in the American colonies. Ships anchored to be loaded with barrels of tobacco bound for Europe and the rest of the world. Port Tobacco was on the world map.
In recent decades the nearest water to Port Tobacco was a marshy stretch where archeologists are examining residue for shoe buckles, clay pipes and artifacts from the original settlers in this area, Algonquian-speaking tribal peoples. Hardly enough water near Port Tobacco to support a kayak hull, let alone a blue water schooner. But that’s changing, thanks to community involvement in river restoration efforts and the Port Tobacco River Conservancy
The Catholics arrived in 1658, the Episcopals next. One hundred defined lots originally made up the town limits, but the port was growing each year. By 1819 the community built the courthouse
, now a museum. Inside, only one original furniture piece remains, the clerk’s oak desk. The St. Charles Hotel could seat 200 for dinner. Sales of enslaved people for Southern Maryland plantations took place on the auction block outside the courthouse. Sixty business and homes were listed within the incorporated area.
Tobacco was the local currency. For the European market, the leaves were packed in kegs and shipped to England. Most of the merchants were Scottish sea farers. Merchants offered credit to plantation owners and it was the merchant’s responsibility to get the tobacco to Europe and England, taking their pay from the proceeds. Surely agents, scrupulous and not, handled the sales paperwork and letters of credit.
Back in the day, there were more enslaved people of color than whites of European ancestry in the region. After the Revolutionary War, the circuit court system was left in disarray. The circuit court met every three or four months and the arrival of the judicial entourage signaled the opening of a fair, the market and trade season when people gathered in town to witness trials and punishments. That was public entertainment of the era — exhibitionists in the stocks, blasphemers pilloried. Doubtless there were worse punishments wrought.
Two newspapers operated in the town, the Port Tobacco Times and the Times Crescent. The Maryland Independent, a relative newcomer, remains.
Warehouse Landing Road marks the location of the largest tobacco barn in the area, where they grade tobacco grown in Charles County. During the 1920s, there were swimming camps (called bathing camps at the time) for children all along the river. In 1940, the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco formed to preserve and protect this landmark settlement. Catslide House was renovated. In the 1960’s, archeology dig led by the Smithsonian Institution excavated artifacts now displayed in the museum. Elaine Racey, a Courthouse guide, dropped hints about a local ghost while Dorothy Barbour, a docent working in the gift shop, said that more artifacts might be available for display in the museum if a private foundation could be persuaded to sponsor a
How did Port Tobacco lose its waterside supremacy? Over the centuries, plantations from here to the Potomac River cleared the trees and plowed the fields for a mono-crop, poor soil management causes erosion which silted up the waterways. Even in the 21st century, storm water runoff and erosion are primary culprits in the degradation of the Port Tobacco River Watershed and Maryland’s coastal wetland port.
Kayaking will not save your soul or bring world peace, but it will move you from youth through the middling years and onward to wisdom. We’re talking about kayak touring, not the rough and tumble white water sport that gets all the headlines and warnings.
Flat water or sea kayaks are long, stable craft, built to cut through swells and withstand wind. There are other sports suitable for the aging weekend athlete who wants to preserve physical dignity and prowess, but kayaking can’t be beat for visual rewards.
The views are better from a long stable kayak where you sit on a comfortable seat, legs outstretched below deck and feet braced on pegs that connect to the kayak’s rudder. (Not all flat water kayaks have rudders.) During the summer, I usually paddle without the spray skirt, but it’s necessary when Bay chop is sweeping the boat deck or afternoon thundershowers catch you still out. No one can bail or pump accumulating water when you also clutch a double blade paddle. A lifejacket, cockpit skirt cover, bailing pump, whistle and light are essential equipment.
On flat water, found in the numerous inlets, rivers and tributaries of the Eastern Shore of Maryland or Southern Maryland, the land between the Potomac River and the Bay, the paddling effort is slight. You can drift with the river current.
Dip, swush, dip, swush…. Paddle cadence simulates a moving meditation, a soothing zen system for approaching the universe. Suddenly a Great Blue
rises from a burned out tree, wing span long nearly as long as the kayak. A turtle claps into the water, a beaver dives beneath the water. Overhead Canada geese fly formation and there, out of the corner of my eye, a carp burns its yellow belly in the sun drenched surface of the river. If it is evening, and a more secluded watershed, perhaps a deer will be nibbling on tree leaves, ghosting the end of the day, marking it in my memory for all time.
During the 1930s, Pres. Roosevelt, (Franklin D.) visited the hunter’s clubhouse on the four-mile spit of land as a nearby weekend retreat. The name honors the poplar trees on the island. The island has been undergoing restoration for years. Dredged material has restored the island nearly to the perimeters of 1847.
Smith Island, Maryland is famous for its cake. That’s right, Smith Island Cake is like none other. The locals serve a mean crab cake too. Board the ferry at Crisfield, Md.
Tilghman Island, Maryland offers the easy going Bay lifestyle with rental apartments for weekenders from Edge City urban areas.
Tangier Sound – If you’re out kayaking on this water, seek local information about currents and tides. Bear in mind there are rip currents both ways and possibly, motor boats piloted by well-oiled weekend day-sailors with impaired vision for kayakers ahead.
Watch for mid to late afternoon winds which churn up the water and make paddling a strenous activity. Keep your eye on shoreline landmarks such as towers or buildings to measure your progress. If you’re not moving forward, make a new heading, possibly angling to shore. You can’t beat wind force + currents with mere muscle.
Kayak memories are soft. The sun at day’s end, the moon on black water, reeds rustling, nutria and muskrats scurrying away. Fish slapping the water surface with a force that can only be interpreted as glee when they realize that long shark-like creature isn’t a predator.
“It has become so to-day that when you see the flag boldly and proudly displayed you smell a rat somewhere. The flag has become a cloak to hide iniquity. We have two American flags always: one for the rich and one for the poor. When the rich fly it it means that things are under control; when the poor fly it it means danger, revolution, anarchy. ”
Author Henry Miller wrote this in 1941 during a cross-country road trip of the United States of America. He had lived in Paris during the 1930s and settled in California after returning to the States, as described in the Air-Conditioned Nightmare.
I apply Henry Millers mid 20th century observations to the 21st century ornamental habit practiced by Congressional elites, Cabinet members and corporate executives — the wearing small U.S. flag pins on their suit lapels. Do they control the flag and what it stands for?
Train on my way to Savannah, Gee A. Mix of people new to train travel and old timers who know the routines. Pervasive rings of mobile phones display the only creativity modern AmeriCan-Bandana allows: What is your ring-tone?
While most want to fill the space with sound, the rest of us are struggling to empty the sound from our space.
What is the next killer app people asked, back in the 1990s after Netscape, after Red Hat, after Af-Ta. The next one will be the one that silences everything. I don’t mean replacing ambient noise with an iPod generated music mask. My sound neutralizer is a variation of Baby Quiet ®, the helmet that prevents your attention deficient youngster from bashing its brains out against the cement wall in the day care center that wasn’t your first choice but will do the job.
Silence is more than golden. More precious than diamonds and not easy to obtain. When what is most precious is gone, the restoration costs more in terms of energy and effort.