I was supposed to tackle much-needed spring cleaning in what passes for a "yard" at the top of this little woodsy hill.
Lots of leaves and fallen branches in need of organization. Vegetable, herb and flower beds crying for new layers of mulch and nourishment. New plants awaiting reburials. Instead, yesterday I started the engine and took off.
If I were on the Mississippi Coast, I'd head to the Davis Bayou wonderland of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Ocean Springs, or hop the ferry to Ship Island or perhaps explore De Soto National Forest. All are primed for spring, in the Gulf Coast definition of what happens locally when the equinox tells us a new season is here.
But by deliberate design, I'm spending the entire spring in my second home, the Virginia Piedmont. It's something I've not done yet, as I tend to heed the strong siren call of the Coast this time of year.
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Now, I want to experience the full-blast unfurling of spring after a winter of cold temps and occasional snow. That's not possible on our tepid Coast, where spring is subtle, definitely short and best recognized by locals who can interpret those subtleties.
This spring I want to watch a forest filled with deciduous trees shake the winter malaise and turn green. I want to watch the male goldfinches shed shades of olive until they are their summer gold. I want to photograph the red buds popping, the dogwoods whitening. I want to put this tiny hill in some sort of order, something I tend to do piecemeal because of so much travel.
How much of this I will accomplish is unknown because I've caught a bad case of . . . something. Why else would I start the engine and ignore the real work? It's a puzzlement to the normally motivated. chug-ahead person writing this.
When I'm at a loss for words, I sometimes turn to Mark Twain. He didn't fail me this time.
"It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is," the inimitable Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, observed. "And when you've got it, you want -- oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so."
And so, I started the engine and drove my little red SUV for her first trip to Shenandoah National Park. She is my replacement for the one killed by a careless driver several months ago. I convinced myself that rather than yard work I needed to exercise Johnie (that's what I call my "new" 3-year-old car, in honor of my Uncle John, from whom I bought it) on windy mountain roads.
A jaunt with Johnie
I started the engine. Johnie and I headed to the Swift Run Gap park entry, only 22 miles from my house. Until mid-April, much is closed, the rental cabins, some campgrounds, as well as the lodges and amphitheaters where in the summer I try to attend flora-fauna talks and walks.
The best way to describe what I see in Shenandoah is "winter-like," at least in higher elevations. The snow and ice are gone but trees are barren and the only green is moss.
Even native redbud trees are deadish, although a few reddish nibs make a colorful promise. In a week or two, a similar foray to the park will be a re-awakening world.
For now, bears remain in hibernation. White-tailed does and their teenaged broods forage the Big Meadows area, unafraid of cars because there just aren't many vehicles exploring the park right now.
Johnie and I pulled off at several breathtaking overlooks that let us users of Skyline Drive take in a vast array of mountains, hills and valleys, including the Blue Ridge, the Allegheny and Shenandoahs. At one overlook, five elders sat on lawn chairs awaiting the sunset. What a great idea.
The highest point I drove to, according to a posted sign, was 3,228 miles. The air was invigorating.
I learned how to more adroitly shift Johnie's gears, but truthfully it was no challenge because the park's speed limit is 35 mph, perfect for lookie-looing and maintaining safe speeds around unexpected roaming animals. For this four-hour spring fever antidote, I put about 119 miles on the car, not much considering the medicinal rewards.
"Oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"
I still don't know what I want, Mr. Twain! I'll just have to do it again and again and again, until I do.
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or c/o Sun Herald Newsroom, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.