Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you …

Sixty-plus years ago, my mother and father built a large one-room Quonset-hut style cabin on a 20-acre parcel of land in northern Virginia surrounded on three sides by the Shenandoah National Park.

They were happy young-marrieds and did everything themselves, starting with the small model they built from balsa wood that sat on a table top in their Bethesda, Maryland home. Later, they rented a boat trailer to haul lumber and steel beams left over from WWII from a military surplus store to their property. These were the foundation of what would become “The Cabin” nestled deep in the forest about 90-minutes away, 10 miles south of Front Royal, Virginia.

It took lots of weekends and vacation time, but the Cabin was fully inhabitable by the time I came along couple years later. I have clear memories as a pre-schooler of walks in the forest, watching it rain from the picture windows along one side of the cabin, catching fireflies and sucking honeysuckle vines, treks to the outhouse, and enjoying “story time” behind the scroll-down screen shielding my bed from the living room.

I helped in the final stages of construction, of course. My job was to make sure the water didn’t stay inside the pail.

When the power company cleared a miles-long, 80-foot swath into the property to extend power to the Cabin, my parents used the open space to plant several acres of Christmas tree seedlings. They even erected an above-ground swimming pool, powered by a small electric pump that pulled water from the nearby Lands Run cascading stream.

Then we moved to Arizona, which is where I grew up.

And Dad sold the land and the Cabin to a dear friend from college who lived in the area.

It was the right thing to do. No way my folks could maintain the Cabin and the property from thousands of miles away. But I didn’t appreciate that then. The Cabin symbolized happy and adventurous times to me. I was so mad that as a 10-year-old, I didn’t speak to my dad for two weeks.

Thankfully, Dad’s dear friend has allowed me to visit the Cabin upon request. The four exquisite days we just spent camped in our Casita less than a quarter-mile from the Cabin was the most time I’d spent there in a half-century.

Memorial Day weekend for me this year was quite a walk down Memory Lane.

We weren’t sure we could get the Casita across the narrow bridge my folks built over the stream so we parked, with permission, on a neighboring property.

It’s a marvel that this bridge, with mostly original materials, still stands as noble sentry to the Cabin. Here’s what it looked like in the beginning.

This was the first car to cross the bridge. You had to be careful to line your tires up just right!

Note how the trees have grown around the cables my folks used to double-secure the bridge.

This is a photo of Mom standing on the bridge with the tractor she’s using to transport steel beams across the stream and up to the site of the Cabin to be used as its foundation, circa 1956.

And this is a photo of Dad standing on one of those foundation beams.

I think this is Mom, setting the frame for the Quonset-hut-style Cabin.

And here’s a shot of Mom, at left, getting some help from neighbor-friend Hannah, a Holocaust-survivor whose artist-husband, Charles, another Holocaust survivor, painted the picture of me as a child that still hangs in my mother’s living room in Dallas. (I’m not sure who the girl to the right is in the photo.)

Georges and I spent our first evening inside the Cabin with Dear Friend, his wife, and a visiting grandson, Peter, freshly graduated from Pomona College soon to head off on a Peace Corps mission in Central or South America.

So much, surprisingly, was exactly as I remembered it, including the main living area in front of wood-burning Franklin Stove.

I remember spending hours staring out picture windows that lined one side of the Cabin. Somewhere we have old pictures of me “reading” my picture books there. This visit they were good for bird-watching and a little rain-watching.

The bed my parents slept in is in exactly the same place. I recall being allowed to sleep in it when I was sick.

The kitchen had running water from the stream, a small fridge and electric stove. Today it looks pretty much the same. (There’s also a small shower in the pantry/closet area off to the left side.)

I had a small bed off to the side of the living room. My parents would roll down the screen attached to the ceiling to shield the light when it was time for me to go to bed.

Here’s what the bed looks like now, complete with roll-down screen. Could it possibly be the original?

The model of balsa wood, which started it all, is now a wall decoration, hanging just to the right of the fireplace.

Georges and I were blessed while there to enjoy a short concert by Peter, an accomplished violinist with a repertoire ranging from Virginia-style fiddling to Bulgarian Folk Music to American and Irish lullabies. Here’s just one example of the former.

My mother in Dallas found and emailed me three photos I’ll bet Peter will get a kick out of. They feature his father, circa 1959, holding what looks like a plastic boat of some sort, playing in the kiddie pool with his sister, Peter’s aunt, and me. (I’m the toddler on the right in the first two photos, the one on the left in the last one.)

This time was precious to spend inside the Cabin, made surreal by the music and memories….

Sometime about dusk, G and I walked to our Casita nearby where we fell asleep to the sound of Lands Run cascading waters, and the others left to return to their home in the city.

We spent three more days camped in the area. I cherished every moment.

We hiked in the woods, marveled at the views from the famous Skyline Drive across the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains through the Shenandoah National Park, revisited the Cabin property and spent hours birdwatching during the day and firefly-watching at night.

It turns out that since we moved away, the park service expanded its boundaries. The Cabin is now surrounded on three of its five sides by national parkland; Dear Friend’s property access is grandfathered in.

Back at the cabin, I noticed the special knob on the door is still there. My folks attached this knob near the bottom of the screen door of the Cabin so I, as a small one, could open and close the door from the steps by myself.

That knob has served generations; Peter told me he remembers using that knob, never knowing its origin.

One day years ago, Dad and I took the trash out to the side of the cabin. Somehow we stumbled into a nest of Yellow-jacket wasps. We ran howling back into the Cabin. Mom put baking-soda paste on our stings. I had seven; Dad had more.

This is the site of the Attack of the Yellow-jackets.

Here are photos of the privvy I remember so well. Note the window with curtains. They can be pulled back for enjoying the view while … using the facilities. (Or you can keep them closed, if you prefer, for privacy amongst birds, raccoons, skunks and other local critters.)

I’m sure this is the only privvy in Warren County with a picture window.

Here’s a shot of the privvy back in the day. That’s my mom showing it off through the open door.

The Christmas trees are pretty much gone. Dear Friend helped plant them, and they provided a half-century of celebratory trees, one at a time each year, for his family.

The pool still stands. Here it is today, just lacking a bit of water.

And here are a couple of shots from yesteryear. That’s me and my parents. In one of them, Dad is holding my black blow-up seal-shaped floaty.

These memories are precious. My parents divorced a couple decades later; my father passed away in 2010.

But G and I did more than just sit around and reminisce. One day, we hiked up the Fire Road from the Cabin to Skyline Drive. It’s about a two-mile hike, relentlessly uphill, past an 80-foot waterfall that isn’t prominently marked on National Park literature.

Here’s a short video of the water rushing down Lands Run Falls.

And this is the marker off Skyline Drive at the upper end of the hike from the Cabin, noting the trailhead down to the falls.

Another day, we cruised Skyline Drive through the park. Here’s a photo from the view looking generally east from near the northern end of the 100-mile scenic byway.

And here’s the view looking generally west from just a few miles further down the parkway. (Note the blue haze to many of these photos. It’s caused by isoprene, which is produced and emitted by certain trees and gives the mountains their distinctive color. Major producers of isoprene are oaks, poplars, and eucalyptus.)

This is a “hitchhiker” we passed along the way.

We hiked the Stony Man Trail at Milepost 41 and marveled at the nearly 360-degree views.

Later, we hiked to Dark Hollow Falls from MP 50. It was more crowded; we managed to get back to our car just as the rain started.

We also did our fair share of birdwatching – and listening – while camping near the Cabin. We fashioned a bird feeder from an empty plastic club-soda bottle.

Here’s a partial list of the birds we think we saw, or heard, in the area:

  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Olive-Sided Flycatcher
  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Robin
  • Eastern Towhee
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Blue Jay
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Gray-cheeked Thrush (or was it A Swainson’s?)

We sent this photo to good friend Bill in McKinney, Texas, and he informs us that it is likely of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, black morph, making it a female.

I’m guessing this is more blooming Mountain laurel, which is sprinkled through the forest in defined areas. A lovely “stripe” of these white blossoms bisected the green-forested trail to Lands Run Falls.

Of course, we also put our feet up and did some relaxing.

And we worked up quite an appetite with all that hiking, watching and listening. So here’s what we did about that.

All in all, it was just about the best four days imaginable. I’m thankful to my multi-talented parents for their creation of this haven of happiness and to Dear Friend and his family for drawing such joy from it across generations.

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you.

Look away, you rollin’ river

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you

Look away, we’re bound away…

32 thoughts on “Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you …

  1. After each post I think, well…they won’t top that no matter how many miles the perimeter trip takes them. But then comes the Shenandoah post that is wonderful in so many ways…the old photographs, the insights into what an interesting and dynamic couple your parents were, the little bed you slept on, the privy, the construction of the cabin (I like to see women on tractors!), the low door knob, and so much more. And of course I always like the bird count.
    Thank you for letting us follow your journey from hotter than hot Texas.
    Fran

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elayne Vick, Grapevine, TX May 31, 2018 — 10:35 pm

    Keven and Georges:
    I’ve read every chapter of this blog, and this was the BEST! Thankyouthankyou for taking the time during this fantastic trip to produce a wonder, fully described, beautifully photographed “theme” every few days. I have no special connection other than reading about your retirement in the DMN. I am SO hooked! Take care!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Elayne. We are thrilled that you’re enjoying the posts.

      Like

  3. Naomi Bennett May 31, 2018 — 6:55 pm

    Just a note to tell you how much I am enjoying the descriptions and thoughts as you travel the perimeter. I am taking notes for potential travel opportunities. Looks like a dream come true for you both! Looking forward to the next post!

    On Wed, May 30, 2018 at 10:28 AM Postcards from the Perimeter wrote:

    > Keven & Georges posted: “Sixty-plus years ago, my mother and father built > a large one-room Quonset-hut style cabin on a 20-acre parcel of land in > northern Virginia surrounded on three sides by the Shenandoah National > Park. They were happy young-marrieds and did everything themse” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Naomi! So glad you’re enjoying the posts. You’re right; we are too!

      Like

  4. Now that was a grand-slam home run. How very fortunate to be able still to see such cherished memories and the place where they took place. Really rare and remarkable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Darwin. Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Like

  5. Thank you so much for this post! Your parents brought Ruth and me to this spot when we visited them – maybe 50-55 years ago. I thought it was magical and absolutely loved it. I never forgot our short visit there. I was too young to know exactly where we were, but I knew it was a special place. Loved seeing the pictures – just as I remembered it. Brought tears to my eyes! Thank you !!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so cool, Janet. I didn’t know that you’d been to the Cabin. So nice to know! Thanks for the comment.

      Like

  6. So lovely in every way. The Quonset hut is remarkable. In the 50s and 60s there was a lot of military surplus around. My folks had a little structure that was supposedly a greenhouse. But the talk of the town was the swimming pool said to be made from missile silo surplus!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love this!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Italy was so much fun! We were traveling with a great group of people. We need to fill you guys in when we see you.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a special place and such lovely childhood memories. Lucky it is still there and that you can visit!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have enjoyed all your posts, but this one has such a special quality to it because it is so personal. How amazing that you had access to all those photos to add to your post. I love the audio enhancements, particularly of Peter playing the fiddle. And I adore the Quonset hut! So glad you got to relive these marvels of your childhood, and that Georges got to experience them with you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thx Madeleine! So glad you enjoyed this. Thx for the feedback!

      Like

  10. We read this in the airport on our way to Glasgow to trace MacEachern history and at the same time were reviewing and signing offers on our Cape Breton family home. This really hit home, so to speak. Connecting to a place is a forever thing. That yours was so well preserved and matched your memories is extraordinary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kim. OMG re your offers! Are you happy/sad about them?

      Like

  11. Colin Gravois May 30, 2018 — 4:44 pm

    What a poignant moment…and such beautiful memories, and those photos of days gone by make your stay there most memorable. Didn’t realize Mom was so resourccful in her young days. It’s getting better and better, but this one has it all. Thanks for bringing us back there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Colin! So glad you enjoyed it.

      Like

  12. Oh, Keven. What bliss to have such vivid, fond memories, doubled by the good fortune to revisit their origin.
    I love this blog.
    Thanks for sharing your adventures with us.
    ~ Fluffy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Fluffy. So glad you’re enjoying the posts!

      Like

  13. Thanks, Keven for reviving some warm memories for me too…the three of us kids playing and your parents taking very good care of us….❤️ and could I remember the black seal tube?? I secretly coveted it lol! Thanks again for some memories of a wonderful childhood! So glad you could enjoy that beautiful spot with Georges!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cathy! So you remember that seal floaty, too? Cool! And yes, how about the time you and Charlie and I played cards and Charlie got mad because we could do the “bridge” shuffle with the deck and he couldn’t!

      Like

  14. Carolyn Baldwin May 30, 2018 — 12:13 pm

    What beautiful memories, and exceptional parents you were blessed with, Kevin. I know we were lucky to know them both in Tucson. 💕💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, indeed. Thank you, Carolyn!

      Like

  15. What a wonderful trip down Memory Lane, while creating new memories. I’ve been following along and have enjoyed all your posts, but this one the best!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Patty. A very emotional post for me.

      Like

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