The Vote

October 31, 2022

Today is Halloween. But another scary day was last Monday, the start of the two weeks’ early-voting period here in the Greenville district. We were at our polling site at the Greer Recreation Center, a barn-type structure on a hard-to-find side street.

There, on the morning of day one, eight election workers sat at their computers, awaiting voters. We showed our licenses and received our vote tickets. I studied the ballot. We were electing candidates for 15 offices. Of the 15, only four offered a choice between a Republican and a Democrat: Governor, Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and Probate Judge. A Democrat, Lisa Ellis, (also representing the Alliance Party) is running against a Republican and a member of the Green Party for Superintendent of Education.

The three Republicans for state office are Henry McMaster, for a second full term as Governor; Tim Scott for U.S. Senate; and William Timmons, our local Congressman. All three are dedicated soldiers in Donald Trump’s army of election deniers. In 2016, as Lieutenant Governor, McMaster gave Trump’s nominating speech at the Republican National Convention. He became governor, succeeding Nikki Haley when she became Ambassador to the United Nations.

As the covid-19 pandemic raged in spring 2020, McMaster reopened South Carolina businesses five days after the state reported its highest number of covid infections. The state’s epidemiologist reported that in June the state experienced a 2,000-percent increase in covid cases since March. McMaster ignored a petition signed by hundreds of South Carolina physicians warning of the pandemic’s spread.

In September he demanded that schools reopen for in-person learning. The South Carolina Education Association blasted the reopening plan, saying it endangered the health of the state’s students and teachers. In December, McMaster and his wife tested positive for covid-19.

In a March 2021 letter to the General Assembly on voter fraud, he wrote that “millions of Americans have legitimate concerns about the integrity of the 2020 election.”

Scott also is seeking a second full term. In 2017 he criticized Trump for his comments following the “Unite the Right” white-extremist rally in Charlottesville. He met with Trump and afterward said the president was “receptive” to listening. Otherwise, he stands with the near-monolithic Trump bloc in the Senate and voted against creation of the commission to investigate the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot.

McMaster’s Democratic opponent, one-term Congressman Joe Cunningham, elected in 2018, tells voters that on his first vote in Congress he opposed Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. He lost his seat in 2020 to Republican Nancy Mace. He’s now campaigning to end the state income tax and legalize marijuana for medical use.

Scott’s opponent, Krystal Matthews, a state senator, has made racially charged comments about her constituents and other Democrats, who have urged her to quit the race. She has no chance, none. But then, no South Carolina Democrat has won statewide office for 15 years.

Timmons, first elected in 2018, is unopposed. In December 2020 he was one of 126 House Republicans to support a lawsuit filed with the Supreme Court objecting to the results of the 2020 Presidential election. The Court declined the case. In January 2021 he voted against certifying Biden’s election. In 2020 his campaign ad used the phrase “endorsed by Donald Trump.”

The Republicans running for Comptroller General, the State House of Representatives, Solicitor for Circuit 13, Auditor, and County Treasurer are unopposed. The Republican candidates for State Treasurer and Agriculture Commissioner face token opposition.

The state last went for a Democrat for President in 1976, when it backed Jimmy Carter. Of the state’s seven Congressional districts, Democrats hold one. South Carolina, like the rest of the South, historically is called “conservative.”

A lifetime ago, “conservativism” could be traced to a political and moral philosophy, defined and defended by formidable European thinkers of the early 20th century: the Germans Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss, and Austrian Fredrich Hayek. Voegelin and Strauss moved to the U.S. and Hayek to Great Britain in the late 1930s to escape Naziism. Their scholarly work broadly focused on the primacy of liberty and religion as foundations of social stability, and over time gave birth to a range of political movements loosely labeled “conservative.”

In the era of Trump, those distinguished names are largely unknown outside university philosophy and economics departments. But in 1953 a Michigan scholar, Russell Kirk, published a groundbreaking history, The Conservative Mind, which traced the roots of conservativism to the 18th century British scholar Edmund Burke. Kirk’s book inspired a generation of thinkers and writers including William F. Buckley Jr., who in 1955 founded National Review magazine, still considered the premier voice of conservatism.

Buckley pushed an erudite, politically savvy brand of conservativism. In the depths of the Cold War he pitched the magazine as stridently anti-Communist. He hired as a senior editor Whittaker Chambers, a Communist spy in the 1930s and author of the powerful memoir Witness, which tells of his Congressional testimony against Alger Hiss, a senior State Department official, who Chambers unmasked as a Soviet double agent.

Buckley used his magazine and his clout to expel racists like Alabama Governor George Wallace, anti-Semites, and other extremists from conservative ranks. He backed Barry Goldwater for President in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan still is a demigod to people who call themselves conservative, but the field was getting crowded. Fast forward to 2015, when National Review published a special issue labeled “Against Trump,” calling him a “political opportunist.” Since then the magazine has been hot and cold on Trump and his supporters.

Today, Trump people like McMaster, Scott, and Timmons and nearly all other Republicans, including Christian evangelicals, call themselves “conservative.” They excuse or ignore Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, his theft of classified government documents, support for Confederate sympathizers, sleazy financial deals, slurs on immigrants, ethnic groups, and women, support for white supremacists, and his warm relations with Putin and indifference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

That’s conservativism today. Then Southerners get pulled in. Buckley, Kirk, Chambers, not to mention Edmund Burke, Voegelin, Strauss, and Hayek, wherever they are, are wondering: how did we get here?


October 24, 2022

The church conundrum is back. Where to go, the parish 10 miles away in the next town, Simpsonville, or the one just three miles away in Taylors? It gets complicated quickly.

A generation ago, Catholics joined the parish within whose boundaries they lived. It never was a hard-and-fast rule, it just seemed that way. Like Protestants, they now go wherever they want, if they go at all.  

People go to church because, as they seek sustenance for faith, they hope they find something sublime: the sense that at the heart of life’s mysteries is something sacred, a presence that lifts spirits, offers peace to the restless heart, solace in moments of pain.

We may be awakened to faith by our parents, a spouse, a good priest or minister; by the unrelenting complexity and trauma of our lives. We may get it from the intellectual currents that underpin belief, from St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, St. Augustine’s Confessions, or The Dark Night of the Soul of the Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross.

A Benedictine monk I knew for years said that all men have a contemplative aspect. If we ponder the nature of God (or whether there is one), we can dive deep in theology, to Aquinas’s radical argument: he writes, straining the limits of language and reason, God is pure act of existence—not an abstract idea or sentiment, but the act that forever creates and renews all that is real. If that notion makes us nervous we can steer clear and keep pondering.

Saint Mary Magdalene parish, 10 miles distant, is one of the largest in the state. Prince of Peace, just three miles, is pretty big, too. Both have plenty of parking.   

Protestants pick a church for many reasons: the pastor’s emphasis on Bible study; the tone and content of the services; the music; the fellowship; the convenience, among others. Here in the South many churches have a strong revivalist or evangelical flavor and offer a conversion or “born again” experience. It happens, sometimes with drama. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime, sometimes not.   

The spiritual content of the Catholic Mass is identical everywhere, in any venue or circumstance. The central event of the Mass, the “transubstantiation” of bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ, is the same when it’s performed in a hut in Africa, in a one-room frame church in Appalachia, or when the Pope presides at solemn High Mass, speaking in Latin, at Saint Peter’s in Rome.

So why drive 10 miles versus three miles? It’s something else. It must be.

Fewer people go to church than a generation ago, for many reasons. The Roman Catholic Church still struggles with its sex-abuse scandal. Millions stopped going. Same with Protestants. The Southern Baptist Convention, like many Catholic bishops, tried covering up their sex-abuse cases, it didn’t work. Many are suffering the consequences.

The Eastern Rite Catholic denominations ordain married men to the priesthood. The Roman Catholic Church requires celibacy for priests. The current decline in numbers of priests has many causes, but celibacy probably is among them.  

Yet although the Church’s subterfuge and evasions about sexual assaults drove millions away, millions do still go to Mass. So do we. On landing in the Palmetto State we joined Mary Magdalene, meaning a 20-mile round trip on Sunday. Over time, though, we started thinking, why drive 20 miles when Prince of Peace is ten minutes away.

We attended Mass there two years ago, while visiting our daughter and son-in-law. Covid restrictions had relaxed at bit, but Virginia churches were still requiring masks and social distancing. The Prince of Peace service was a viral, or virus, free-for-all, no masks, no distancing, old folks crowding each other, coughing, sneezing. We got out fast.

I sent an email to the pastor. He answered: we’re doing what the bishop asked us, no more. I understood. The bishop (now retired) is an acolyte of the Republican governor, a Trump man, meaning sunny-side up on covid. At some point that year, South Carolina led the nation in covid childhood infections.

Yet a year later we joined Prince of Peace. Apart from the easier drive, I was intrigued by the ages-old liturgy, in which the priest faces away from the congregation, symbolically addressing Christ. It conveyed a powerful sense of the mystery of faith, the traditions of two millennia.

Most Catholic Churches accepted the declarations of the Second Vatican Council, held 1962-1965, which aimed at aggiornamento, a vast updating, or “throwing open the windows” of Catholic doctrine, teaching, and liturgy. Among them: greater dialogue with Protestants, Jews, and Muslims; use of the language of the congregation in place of Latin in the Mass; turning the priest around to face the congregation. It didn’t outlaw the old ways. Pastors were free to go either way.

The pastor of Prince of Peace sticks with the traditional rite. But when the associate pastor, a much older man, said Mass at the nearby Eastern Rite Maronite parish, he faced the congregation. I wondered why. The “traditionalist” pastor, when he said Mass over there, did not.

We try to look past the nuts and bolts, the personality quirks, to find the spiritual sustenance we seek. The older priest gives us that, Sundays and weekdays. Over time, we heard in the traditionalist pastor’s sermons mainly lectures on Church policy and politics, reminders about procedures and processes—do this, don’t do that. Not what we signed up for.

For the past two weeks we drove to Mary Magdalene. On Sunday, the pastor began by saying, “We are gathered here in the presence of Christ.” He told us his 105-year-old father had passed. “He has gone home to Jesus,” he said calmly. He was unable to travel to the funeral. Instead, he would say Mass at 10 PM for seven consecutive nights in his father’s memory.

Because we didn’t get to Prince of Peace, I picked up the weekly bulletin. The pastor’s letter reported on how busy he is. “For the past twelve years … we have done our utmost to accommodate people’s wishes as far as scheduling funerals, baptisms, and weddings … The sheer volume of funerals, baptisms, and weddings now has made what used to mean just a little extra coordination into a bit of a nightmare. … Something has to give.”

His next sentence also is true: “There are not more priests.” Yes. But what “has to give?” I don’t hear that at the other parish. Like everyone else, we need the spiritual message, not crankiness. So we’re looking at all this, again. And once again, it’s complicated.


October 17, 2022

Last week millions of Ukrainians once again endured the firestorms of Putin’s cruise missiles. Thousands of Floridians and Puerto Ricans still struggle with the cruel cost of the hurricane. Meanwhile millions of Americans, including more than 100 candidates in upcoming elections, support a delusional political movement now attempting to trample the Constitution.

So I can handle another slide into that electronic donut in the hospital radiology department to hold my breath a few times in 30 minutes.

“This is a headscratcher,” Dr. B told us last week. He said my MRI, just a day earlier, didn’t tell him any more than the PET scan a month ago or my mid-August CT scan about new spots on my liver and lung. “They’re suspicious, but haven’t changed since the last CT. They’re not definitized enough for a biopsy. Sticking a needle through a lung is risky. So let’s watch. I’ll order another CT for next month.”

I wondered about “definitized,” but nodded OK. “Thanks, Doc,” I said. We shook hands and I headed for the scheduler’s desk. Four years, 21 CTs.

We decided then to drive to Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee.

Courthouse, Washington County

We have a funny history with Jonesborough. About 30 years ago we took the kids for a week at a state park in southern Virginia, near Marion. One day we drove to Pikeville, Tenn., to visit Sandy’s aunt and uncle, who had sold their farm and moved into town.

This was before cell phones and GPS—it was a much longer trip than I thought. On the drive back to the park we turned off the interstate and made a quick visit to Jonesborough.

Three years ago I wanted to see the place again. It turned out my memory was a little weak on exactly which town we drove through in 1991. So we went to Greeneville instead (this blog, Oct. 28, 2018), missing Jonesborough by about 25 miles.

Jonesborough was founded in 1779. It served as the seat of Washington County, then part of North Carolina. In 1784 North Carolina tried to cede its five westernmost counties to the brand-new federal government, which wasn’t interested. But in one of the true eccentricities of American history, settlers in the five counties established what they called the State of Franklin. They set up a government, which caused conflict with North Carolina, which had reassumed control of the area.  

In 1790 North Carolina again gave up the five counties to what then was called the Southwest Territory.  When Tennessee joined the Union in 1796 the five counties joined the new state. Ten years earlier, in 1786 American folk and real-life hero Davy Crockett had been born in Washington County in the tiny hamlet of Limestone. As we know from history and a half-dozen movies, he died at the Alamo when it was overrun by the Mexican army in 1836.

Storytelling Center

Among the many legends that grew around Crockett is one diamond-hard fact: while a member of Congress, he was the only member of the Tennessee delegation to vote against President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. He promptly lost his seat in the 1831 election. The Act, an indelible stain on American history, forced the relocation of some 100,000 Native Americans from rich southeastern farmland to scrub-desert Indian Territory between 1831 and 1841.

Back to Jonesborough. The state’s oldest town is a cute, cozy place, but not an escape from political conflict. East Tennessee was an economic orphan in the pre-Civil War South. Settlers grew subsistence crops in rocky soil and had no need for the slave system that served the wealthy cotton growers in Middle and West Tennessee and in the Deep South Delta low country. East Tennessee gave the Volunteer State its name: its men went both Union and Confederate. The gorgeous Nolichucky River Valley, between Jonesborough and Erwin, was an island of rebel loyalty surrounded by Yankees. Both launched savage guerrilla attacks.

Tenn. Rte. 81, which crosses I-26 a half-dozen miles past the North Carolina state line takes you to Jonesborough. In the 15 miles we saw not one Stars ‘n Bars. Confederate colors, seen all over the rural South, don’t fly there. These folks probably aren’t Democrats, but they’re not traitors.

The early East Tennesseans had backbone. In 1797, after Tennessee became a state, residents of Washington and Greene countries began forming anti-slavery groups. By 1815 East Tennessee abolitionist societies had formed the Manumission Society of Tennessee. It was on Main Street in Jonesborough in 1819 that Elihu Embree published The Manumission Intelligencer and The Emancipator, the first journals in the United States devoted to the abolitionist cause.

Jonesborough knows how to draw tourists.  The town calls itself the “storytelling capital of the world.” Famous storytellers perform at the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall on Main Street, across from the Jackson Theatre. Folks were buying tickets for the theatre group’s performances of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.”

Main Street, Jonesborough

We looked at the gift shops, the Lollipop Shop, and a place that advertised Amish foods. You can get a “Jonesborough, Oldest Town in Tennessee” tee-shirt for twenty bucks. As we walked about a long freight train roared through the center of town.

It had been many years since our drive-through, my memory was hazy. Now political undertones linger. On the road to Jonesborough we passed a sign advertising the Andrew Johnson National Historical Site in Greeneville. Johnson, the first president to be impeached by the House of Representatives, although he survived the Senate, betrayed Lincoln’s legacy and tried to return former slaveowners to political posts.

Greeneville is the site of the Andrew Johnson Visitor Center, Andrew Johnson Homestead, and Andrew Johnson Cemetery. Luckily for the country, he didn’t get a second term.

The Trump Cult, despite all those arrests at the Capitol insurrection and all those dismissed lawsuits, still is assaulting the electoral system. But I looked at the house where Elihu Embree edited his magazines, and thought of the stiff-necked East Tennessee Yankees who stepped up for the Union. Jonesborough gave us heart.


October 10, 2022

On a nice day, Conastee Nature Preserve is a pretty place. It consists of 640 acres of parkland in Mauldin, S.C., honeycombed with trails, including a murky 130-acre lake. Who has heard of it outside the county? Not many, most likely. Who has heard of Mauldin? People who live there or once lived there.

The Preserve is run by a non-profit foundation. Admission is free but donations are welcomed. The park’s website notes that Conastee Lake has been rescued, more or less, from years of dumping of toxic chemicals by industries in nearby Greenville. The Reedy River, which is more of a sandy, shallow stream, carried the pollutants to the Conastee area, hence the name “Co-Nasty.” The website reports that “the pollution rests inert beneath the scenic woods and waters.” But no swimming or wading in the lake or the river.


Hundreds of miles north, the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge lies along the Potomac River in Woodbridge, Va., at the end of Dawson Beach Road, which runs through the industrial end of town from the commuter rail station. It’s part of a larger system, the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Like Conastee, the Occoquan park offers trails, mostly unpaved roads through low-lying wetlands. The trails wind for a couple of miles to the river shore.

The site once was the home of Native Americans who in the 17th century were driven away by white farmers. The farmers transformed the forest into fields and pastures. In 1950 the Army set up a radio transmitting station at the site, which then shifted to electromagnetic pulse testing, requiring cutting down more trees. In 1994 the Army shut the facility down. Local people then pushed for creation of a wildlife refuge.

The Potomac is close to a half-mile wide where it touches the Refuge. The narrow beach is cluttered with logs, tires, discarded lumber, broken bottles, and other trash half-sunk in thick mud. Like the Reedy, the Potomac carries the stigma of past pollution.

Neither Conastee nor Occoquan Bay offer eye-catching scenery, no majestic, snow-capped peaks, breathtaking canyons, or thundering waterfalls. Yellowstone or Yosemite they’re not. Mainly they’re patches of woods left untouched by the onslaught of suburbia in communities near large cities. You don’t see much wildlife in either, a few squirrels, a few birds. On one visit to the Refuge I thought I saw—someone pointed out—what looked like an eagle’s nest in a far-off tree. But no eagles.

Apart from its tainted past, Conastee is a pleasant spot to wander on an autumn afternoon. Couples, moms with strollers, dogwalkers, and joggers frequent the place. The woodsy trails are tame and level, manicured for the casual walker, not the mountain hiker. On certain stretches the whine of traffic rises from nearby busy streets. Still, you can look over the bridge or across the marsh near the lake and see turtles perched on logs sunning themselves.

The Occoquan Refuge doesn’t have the woodland trails nor the human traffic. Whenever I went it was nearly deserted. In the years we lived nearby I always had the impression the Fish and Wildlife Service added the patch of shore in 1998 because it had not been exploited by the auto repair garages, machine shops, recycling sites, and other industrial businesses that stretch from U.S. 1 along Dawson Beach Road. And yes, people have spotted birds in the area.

Occoquan Refuge

As a kid I spent many hours exploring a long stretch of woods behind the Bergen County, N. J., subdivision where my family lived. New Jersey is another place better known, although unfairly, for pollution, than natural beauty. Anyway, those woods were much the same as Conastee and Occoquan, a patch of untouched land, nothing special or unique. At some point local officials decreed those woods off-limits to building, protecting them from the stampede by developers to throw up giant new homes and subdivisions. 

Both Conastee and Occoquan are more of the same, accidental parks. My last visit to the Occoquan Refuge was just before we moved away. I trudged the dirt roads, feeling the after-effects of radiation and chemotherapy. The sun shone, the road wound past the woods and marshland, back from the cluttered beach and out through the humming industry of the suburbs. I thought: The Fish and Wildlife people did well to save this spot from more metalworking, more car repair, more retail. But yet it seemed to be a stark, unbeautiful, not quite successful stab at nature at its purest.

Conastee, with its big “Lake Conastee” marquee, the detailed trail directions, the kids’ playground, shows the local, single-minded focus on turning a polluted lake into a park. The trail network is a maze of interlocking paths around and the lake and across the sandbar-clogged Reedy. The underbrush is swampy and lush, hinting at nearness to the Carolina Low Country.

The forest, even with no mountains or waterfalls, may—just may—summon great thoughts, as they have for special people whose lives resonate from different worlds. St. Francis of Assisi lived the life of a penitent and beggar and found God in the natural world. Henry David Thoreau, in his two years at Walden Pond, worked out his idiosyncratic philosophy of a simple life, distrust of government, and respect for nature. Thoreau, both admired and dismissed as a cranky eccentric, stood fast in his abolitionist convictions, which would not go well in 1861 in South Carolina.

Walking these woods and others like them doesn’t immediately lift the spirit. But when we do we may find ourselves starting a search for something higher, for the object of our faith if we have faith, or maybe just a moment of precious calm. An hour or two out on these humble trails puts distance, physical and even spiritual, between our lives and whatever darkness afflicts us. Nearness to the natural world, which is God’s domain, draws us to closer to goodness. The forest may not transform your soul or make your heart sing. But then, it may.

Quiet Places

October 3, 2022

It was nearly freezing at Wintergreen, Va., mid-30s, when we arrived mid-week. As we chugged up the three-mile-long mountain road to our rented place at nearly 3,600 feet of elevation, an adult black bear, probably 300 pounds, raced across the road in front of the van and disappeared into the woods. I jammed on the brake and drew a deep breath. We pushed on.

We settled in, got dinner at the nearly empty restaurant, the only one open of the three on the premises. We then shivered in our sweaters.

The next morning the sun rose gloriously above the mountains, the air was autumn-crisp and clear, we could see through the legendary, delicate blue mist for 100 miles.  Then we watched the hurricane reports as Floridians waited for Ian, far from home or sheltering in darkness.

The mountain resort colony of Wintergreen was nearly deserted, the serious foliage rush had not yet started. The silent majesty of the place and its wild surroundings offers a brief touch of serenity, but the hurricane news 850 miles south assaulted the abiding peace of the Shenandoah. Last Wednesday the National Weather Service radar map showed the storm whirling across central Florida then aiming north.

The sun shone on this eccentric spot on a mountain, a mid-grade ski resort—Vail or Killington it’s not. Wintergreen is a refuge for the affluent and semi-affluent who like some distance from their neighbors and love mountains, forests, and cold. Some of the homes are palatial three-level monsters perched on hillsides and concealed in dense treelines; others are modest, A-frames, Capes, ranches, just off the narrow roads.

We’ve been to the place a few times, the most recent more than two years ago (this blog, Feb. 3, 2020) to find a family vacation rental. We drove the 130 miles down from our Woodbridge place in the morning, then through the maze of Wintergreen roads most of the day. We thought we found a nice place, then trekked home and made the reservation. The pandemic showed up. Covid raged through the spring, we canceled, rescheduled, then canceled again.

The two years since then reacquainted us with sickness, tests, and surgeries. So now, back again to Wintergreen, this time from 400 miles to the south. We came in from the west, 30 exhilarating miles through pretty Fairfield and Vesuvius, then 25 more on the quietly gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway.

We stepped outside the apartment that morning and gawked at the distant peaks and the wide valley, still splendid in summer green, then got coffee at the main lodge. We sat, just the two of us, in the cavernous, silent lobby. We looked at the rich paneling and stonework. A single clerk manned the front desk, no guests in sight. None of the fashionable shops were open.

We recalled the last visit: the crispness of winter air, the snow-crested mountains, the exotic, colorful outfits of the ski crowd, the happy cacophony of a dozen languages. We leaned over the railing at the lift and watched the skiers race down the slopes, then drove across the mountainside looking for that special spot.

It all seemed frozen in time. The rental unit, the stunning mountain views, the layout and décor of the visitor’s center, and the restaurant menu remained as we remembered them. We looked for a little while for the vacation house we rented twice. We didn’t save the address, but the image of the site lingered in our memories. Memory wasn’t enough.

We drove down into the valley to get lunch, managing the hairpin turns of Wintergreen mountain, taking in the vernal richness of rolling farmland, acres upon acres of corn that backed up to the surrounding Shenandoah. U.S. 151 winds north through the hamlets of Nellysford, Greenfield, and Avon, past vineyards, breweries, and churches to I-64 and Skyline Drive. Closer to sea level, the sun grew warm.

Shrine Mount, Orkney Springs

I hiked the Appalachian Trail near our rental. The Wintergreen stretch is narrow and heavily rocky and wound gracefully northwest away from the settlement. I spotted bear scat and paused, listened, and looked around, then leaned against a tree, taking in the magic and mystery of the woods. A through-hiker passed and smiled, we chatted. She moved on, I headed back. The storm was coming.  

We drove the 90 miles up the interstate to Bayse under gathering clouds. The Virginia governor had declared a state of emergency as the dregs of the storm approached, but the sun returned, the sky cleared. We tacked northwest to Mount Jackson then straightaway west on U.S. 263 toward West Virginia. The cornfields fell away, mountain forest closed in again.

We passed through tiny Mount Clifton and cruised through Bayse, an unincorporated place of a few businesses, truck-garden spreads, and hidden residential streets. We paused at Orkney Springs, site of Shrine Mount, a pretty complex of colonial homes converted to a retreat center by the Episcopal Church. The noon sun gleamed off the whitewashed houses, a few Episcopalians strolled about.

Back at Bayse, we walked a rugged mile, panting up steep slopes in that hidden spot just short miles from the West Virginia line and hundreds of miles from our South Carolina neighborhood. The quiet path prompted the questions that oldsters keep asking themselves about the past and the future, how we got here, what’s next, that kind of thing.

Dark clouds appeared, bringing a cold rain. We slogged back, fortified in a small way by closing on the boundaries of wild places. The forest will turn brown and gray and frigid winds will rush in. Winter is coming. We pressed on.