Took Mabel for her morning walk around the campground lake but forgot my camera so I missed the best shot of early morning. It wasn’t there when I came back, ready with camera, but I snapped a few anyway; a mediocre shot is better than no shot at all. Mabel was still interested in the ducks but I kept her on a short leash as we passed. My neighbors will be staying at the KOA in Wytheville (the only KOA with a bowling alley on the property) after changing reservations due to bad reviews. It’s always a roll of the dice when you pull into a new campground and I look for balance in the online reviews. Too many of good or bad and I find someplace else. I have stayed at a variety of campgrounds so far, KOA’s, State Parks, and independent sites. Some have been better than others, but that’s part of the adventure. A few have been throwbacks to earlier years when camping wasn’t so sophisticated, shower shoes are not an option. Before pulling out, the neighbor lady showed some Wisconsin hospitality and left me a piece of coffee cake; I never turn down food. I left a little later, the pool opening at 10:00 or I would have taken an early morning dip. The family across from us were the only campers on the row but they looked to have a busy day. Roughly five visitors were milling about outside their trailer.
Today’s destinations are Monticello near Charlottesville and Appomattox Courthouse. They were both on the same route, a little out of my way, but I could pick up our Southern route when the touring was completed. I heard on the radio on the way in that a rally will be held in Charlottesville this weekend and the DJ was upset that it was happening in his town. I have been out of touch lately and don’t follow much news and most times don’t know what day it is. I never thought I would say that. NPR is all they play on the FM band and I listen for a while then look for yet another classic rock or 80’s station.
Monticello was different than expected and limited on the Mabel friendly places she could visit. I was naively thinking that I would pull up to a parking lot overlooking Jefferson’s home, walk across the lawn, Mabel at my side, and tour the property. Instead they have a large visitor station, a ticket booth that gladly takes your $28 to tour the home and gardens, and a shuttle service that gets you there and back. So, Mabel spent some time relaxing in the camper, the fan providing comfort as she stretched out on my bed.
Once deposited on the top of the mountain, the view was spectacular, instruction is provided on your required location based on the time stamped on your ticket. My tour was starting in 15 minutes so I milled about the first holding pen, two are used for more instructions before your guide takes you to the front door. Our guide was a short female, could have been related to the Kardashians, and gave the talk in a relaxed manner with a minute dash of sarcasm. She knew her Jefferson and had an answer, sometimes not very specific, for the questions asked.
The house has been restored to its original grandeur but only one piece is original; a set of elk antlers from the Lewis & Clark expedition. The home and furnishings were sold after Jefferson’s death to settle debts and another family owned it for 90 years before transitioning it to a Jefferson society. Many of the furnishings are on loan and they use that as a reason to prevent indoor photographs. I liked the clock in the main foyer with the day of the week indicated by cannon balls. The time could also be read inside or outside of the house. The weather vane showing wind direction was also ingenious in that it could be read without having to look at the roof.
Jefferson’s wife predeceased him and asked that he never marry; a promise he kept. His children, specifically a daughter, helped run Monticello taking part in most decisions. Our guide explained that Jefferson had a family with one of his slaves who turned out to be his wife’s half-sister. It’s hard to reconcile the penning of “all men are created equal” by a man who owned slaves, their individual liberties held in check by a system of domination. And I question if this fact should diminish his achievements in other areas. Slavery was evil, there is no question about it, but should that be the defining measure of Thomas Jefferson’s life? Do we have an obligation to look at his life in totality through a lens based on his current time or ours? I don’t have an answer to my own questions but feel it is similar to civilians questioning battlefield atrocities when they haven’t lived the moment. Do we truly know how we would act if living over 200 years ago? I will leave it up to you to decide.
It was getting late, I wanted to make sure Mabel was okay and to see Appomattox, the sight of General Lee’s surrender. Hwy 20 was our chosen route and we made it, with little time to spare. Mabel and I were met at the overflow parking lot, a grassy field, by a pleasant man driving an extended passenger golf cart. Since we had 20 minutes until closing, I accepted his transport offer, picked up Mabel and we were driven, almost like Northern Conquerors to The McLean House, the site of official surrender. I had always thought Appomattox Courthouse was just a…. well… Courthouse. It was actually a town, its buildings restored for us to view as a place of history. We made the most of our time. The McLean home is restored as it was on surrender day, at least the room where the papers were signed was, with each General’s desks in the correct positions. I was surprised to see that Lee had a bigger, more ornate table than Grant. Could it have been Northern hospitality? We roamed the grounds and came across Confederate and Union re-enactors who I approached for a picture and asking if they would oblige a few questions. One turned to the other and asked if it was 4:45, the time they can drop character, and since it was 4:50 they were able to speak about modern times. It was very Westworld to me, the suspension of current reality for a scripted one. Both enjoy history, one was in college and hoped to use his history major in the park system. The other is in high school and both played real life local participants in the war. We saw all the buildings in the 20 minutes on the grounds and took lots of photos, my favorite being the cannon which was just outside the gate. It was the scene of the very last battle of the war, with a North Carolina regiment capturing it from the Union Army.
Time to head South, it wasn’t yet late enough to stop for the night, but it would be soon and I had no ideas. So, we drove; HWY 24 to Stewartsville and then HWY 221 to Floyd, Virginia. The map said there was camping near Floyd, and my spotty Sprint service verified it even providing an address. As we searched the hills of Virginia for the Chantilly Farm Campground I became slightly worried as it was off the beaten path. I didn’t want to hear banjo music but the houses, all nice, calmed my fears and we pulled up yet another hill to the office. It was unoccupied but instructions were left for late arrivals. Intending to pay in the morning, we searched for a spot in what turned out to be a large, Woodstock like field. Three RV’s dotted the hillside with two close to the office and one farther out. We looped around the field passing a small store, an amphitheater, bath house, teepee and what looked like camping sites. After the second pass, I chose a spot on top of the hill, farthest away from the office and other campers. I didn’t want a knock on the camper door asking what I was doing and our spot would have been too far to walk and I would have heard a car. Mabel enjoyed the freedom of space, running among the rolling hills, sometimes getting too far away, her body becoming small among the grass. She did have a light on her collar but it only helped a little. You can tell when freedom makes her happy, it’s in her eyes as she darts about, not listening to commands or coming when called. We needed more puppy classes.
With full bellies and growing tired, we cut short our view of the stars and called it a night.
Thankful tonight for the security of camper walls.