The First Winter Snow

I recently read “Mud Season: How One Woman’s Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running The Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another.” This is relevant because, as a former Texan, I didn’t know what a mud season is.  Turns out that, further north than here, the ground freezes to a certain depth and does not thaw before the melting winter’s snow.  Until the ground thaws enough for the run-off to sink in, there is mud.   Continue reading “The First Winter Snow”

A Walk in Fieldale, VA

We don’t go to a lot places in the evening because we have chickens.  If you don’t have chickens, you probably would never think of this but just about everything else in the world wants to eat them.  In order to protect them from nighttime predators, you have to lock the coop up behind them after they go in to roost.  If you are a chicken owner, that means that you absolutely must be home by dark.

The Rogues were scheduled to play in a street dance fundraiser for the renovation of the Fieldale Recreation Center last Saturday evening, so we thought that we’d go catch a few songs and check out the Textile Heritage Trail.  We caught the full act of the warm up group, Heart Strings, before we had to go and we had a great time.

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Heart Stings Opening For The Rogues at Fieldale Rec Center Fundraiser

This was one of many fundraisers to help revitalize the Fieldale Recreation Center.  Fieldale is a jewel of  city, well, a town, in Henry County.  Like everything else here, it has struggled in the post-NAFTA economy and seems to have been all but forgotten, lost in time.  This, despite the fact that there is a Smith River access within walking distance of the downtown, plus the Fieldale Walking Trail that runs along the river,  the Textile Heritage Loop Trail, and a beautiful city park.  It really is an incredible destination to an outsider.  Fieldcrest towels were made here, once upon a time.

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Fieldale Rec Center Street Dance Fundraiser

In a larger economy, a developer would have swooped in and claimed the small but quaint downtown area for their own.  It is a small oval-shaped commercial district with early twentieth century brick storefronts, anchored now by the Fieldale Cafe and a beautifully restored Shell station that is actually an antiques store.  Given the river access for kayaking and trout fishing, it would seem like an outfitter would do well here.  The Virginia Home Inn consistently gets great reviews on TripAdvisor. Reviews of the Fieldale Cafe call it “the ultimate local diner” and a “hidden gem”.   Obviously, Fieldale is not wholly undiscovered.

 

We went a little early because Mother had not yet seen the Textile Heritage Trail that is nestled next to the City Park, across the street from the Smith River.  I had taken some photos of it back in 2014 but I wanted a chance to snap some more shots of it.

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Trail Head for the Textile Heritage Trail in Fieldale

The trail is short, only about a quarter of a mile, but features a variety of walking surfaces.  It starts and ends as a crushed rock trail, it has some bare earth lengths along the way, and there is a raised boardwalk in the middle.

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A Winding Crushed Rock Path On The Textile Heritage Trail in Fieldale

Much of the trail winds.  It makes for some gorgeous shots.  It is almost all shaded, with dappled light changing every potential shot as clouds and leaves above shift with the breeze.

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Mother Reading A Placard On The Textile Heritage Trail in Fieldale

There are placards all along the trail that explain the history of the textile industry in Martinsville and Henry County, so the trail can be as educational as you want it to be.  Even without the placards, it is a truly beautiful trail.

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A Shot From The Textile Heritage Trail That’s Popular on Instagram

I uploaded several of my shots to Instagram and have been pleased that they have been popular there (@lifeinmhc).  I couldn’t decide between two boardwalk shots and all of the filters in Instagram are just outstanding with the trail photos.

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A Shot From The Textile Heritage Trail That’s Popular on Instagram.

Our walk and the concert that Saturday were both fun but now I’m more anxious for fall than ever.  I also want to go back to Fieldale in particular to get more shots.  Fieldale Walking Trail is just across the street from this one and meanders along the river.  I can just imagine shots of the Smith in the fall colors.

Where do you go for fall colors?

Classic Car Crazy

I would love to see the numbers on how many classic cars there are in this area in relation to the number of living souls.  It seems that there is a classic car show at nearly every event, plus events called “Cruise Ins” that are just classic car shows on their own.  We had classic cars in Dallas but I just never noticed this level of enthusiasm there.  (I did once get a ride in a Model T, but that was a fluke).

The first big car show I saw here was at the 2015 Pig Cooking Contest at the Spencer Penn Centre. On Friday night, they have the actual cook off.  On Saturday, vendors are crammed all throughout the restored school house and spill out on the lawn and there is a car show out back.

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My husband loves the old trucks.

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He could spend hours looking at them.

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I’m a sucker for the old Fairlanes.

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The entire back parking lot was filled with classics and I thought that it was a big show.

After the Pig Cooking Contest, we headed over to Fieldale, which has a heritage festival annually on the same day.  There is an antique store there, Fieldale Antiques, that may be one of the prettiest buildings you’ll ever see.  Well, maybe the prettiest gas station. But, seriously, it is worth the trip just to see it.  It isn’t listed on TripAdvisor and it doesn’t have a web page.  You’ll just have to take a leap of faith.  They don’t have a lot of stock, or didn’t when we went.  In fact, it seemed more like odd items of local significance stored for another day.  In an esoteric way, it’s what you would get if you had an art gallery of antiques.  Very odd. Very eclectic. You’ll want to combine it with some other sightseeing to justify a trip of any length, but … do.

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Later that year, we went to the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival in Ferrum, Virginia.  A word about the scale of this festival:  the closest thing I can compare it to is the Dallas State Fair without the buildings or the midway.  The festival is phenomenal and completely redefined what is a “big” car show. It was a veritable sea of cars.

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The cars were lined up in row after row after row.  There must have been acres of cars.

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Some were in pristine condition.

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Others, not so much.

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We even found the same model my husband’s aunt used to drive when it was new.

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I couldn’t pick a favorite.

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I’m not sure what some of them were.

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Of course, my husband liked the trucks.

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I think that I like anything with fins.

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Whatever you like, I’ll bet it will be at the Folklife Festival.  So far, it seems to be the “granddaddy” of car shows around here.  This fascination with classic cars may be yet another reason that this is just an excellent area in which to retire.  A classic car enthusiast could follow classic cars here the way a live music junkie could follow music in Austin.

I’ll have to add that to my list.

The Gravely Preserve

Mother has always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail.  At seventy, and after two years of little to no activity, the move to Virginia has reawakened her desire to get on the Trail.  We aren’t that far from it and the section through Virginia is supposed to be one of the most accessible, according to her.  She’s found a section hike that is just under five miles, round trip, within a short drive and it looks like this is something that is going to have to at least be attempted. No one just dives into the Appalachian Trail though so we’ll have to work up to it.

There is no shortage of local trails to take in first while we are building up muscles (maybe?) and stamina.  Before the unseasonably warm temperatures drove us indoors to hide, we went to the Gravely Nature Preserver in Ridgeway.  It’s a 75-acre preserve with a variety of trails that wind through the thickly wooded land.

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The trail is easy, without a lot of ups and downs until you get to the end, where you go downhill at a pretty decent grade. It’s not treacherous at all but it’s worth going down it instead of up.

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There are multiple trails to walk in the preserve, all of them starting off of the main trail loop, the Cliff Jones trail, and there are a few points of interest along the way.  The Cliff Jones Trail is only about a mile long and is entirely shaded.  About midway along the trail, there is the Burgess Family Cemetery.

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It is a reasonably large family cemetery but the tombstones are in fairly bad shape, many having fallen over and beginning to crumble.  There is a lot of deadwood along the whole trail, leaving a question about how well the trail is maintained or if the focus is just on the natural state of unkempt woodland.  It was still worth the visit.

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The trail itself is well marked and clear of debris.  There was almost no litter.  One of the side trails, the Rhododendron Trail, is supposed to lead through a “tunnel” of the woodland shrubs which flower in May.  We didn’t attempt that trail on this excursion because it was marked as moderately difficult and the rhododendron had long stopped flowering by the time we were there.  It is something that, along with the Burgess home site trail, we hope to catch next spring.

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The Gravely Preserve is off of the beaten track and there is little chance that a tourist is going to stumble across it accidentally.  It is a nice attraction for the town of Ridgeway though and I hope that more people do make the effort to check it out.

Smith River Fest Approaches

I have never made it to the Smith River Festival since I’ve been here.  There is just so much going on this particular weekend.  It looks like so much fun.  There is a 5K mud run, a rubber ducky race,  a boat race, tube rentals, a beer garden, and, this year, an angling pond.

Our big conflict is the mid-atlantic beer festival held in Roanoke on the same weekend, MicroFestivus.  For $40 (if you buy your tickets early), you get admission to the event, an event pint glass, and forty tastings.

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Moving to Martinsville-Henry County

Hopefully, this post answers the question of “why?” and “why here?”

It is my hope to share some glimpses of our area here and there. Primarily, this blog is a creative release for me but it would also be nice for someone to sing some praises for this area. It deserves it.

We moved to Henry County in the spring of 2014 from McKinney, Texas.  Now, I loved McKinney and I still love McKinney but it had just become too popular.  It was voted the best place in the country to live in 2014 by Money Magazine. I could walk from my home in the Historic District and pass by the McKinney Equine Patrol out on patrol or Happy Trails Carriage Rides out with a load of tourists on my way to the downtown square where there were shops and restaurants and wine bars surrounding the old courthouse that had become a performing arts center.  What’s not to love?

People here all seemed mystified as to why would leave Texas to move to Henry County.  They didn’t even know how wonderful McKinney was (is).  There is just a pervading sense of “anywhere’s a better place to be” here.  While McKinney was wonderful, Henry County (and the independent city of Martinsville that sits in the middle of it) has a great deal to offer.  Somehow, a lot of the locals just don’t see it.

In fact, we are both amazed that this whole area seems to have been entirely overlooked despite some extremely obvious advantages:

  • All Four Seasons, including a leaf change – Texas is just incredibly hot.  We got out before the weather truly became what I call “biblical” -floods washing away trains, cattle, and roads followed by droughts that make the black clay crack and shift.  The climate here is perfect for anyone who wants all four seasons and the winters are not significantly different from Texas except that, where Texas gets ice, Virginia gets snow (at least, most of the time).  Summers are hot by Virginian standards but it seems rare that it breaks 100 degrees while that is fairly common in Texas during the latter half of the summer (from August into October).
  • Economy – this may seem counterintuitive to the locals but the same economy that’s been devastated by NAFTA means that everything is cheaper … much cheaper.  Real estate, groceries, restaurants …  In our experience (with certain exceptions), the cost of living in Martinsville-Henry County seems to be about half of what it was in Dallas.  Granted, there aren’t any jobs to speak of but if you are on a fixed income or a telecommuter, this is great.
  • Proximity to “Big City” Life – There really has been no sacrifice in terms of stores and culture.  Martinsville has a good museum that is connected in some way to the Smithsonian.  The Piedmont Arts Center has constant art exhibitions.  The Patrick Henry Community College has an active performing troupe that offers several musicals throughout the year and there is live music everywhere. The Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount (Franklin County), about thirty minutes north brings in big name entertainers to an intimate setting (Amos Lee, Keb Mo, Colin Hay, just to name the ones that I’ve been interested in).  Roanoke, sometimes called “Festival City” because they have something going on every single weekend, is only about an hour north.  Greensboro, NC, is only about 30 minutes to the south.  Danville, our immediate neighbor to the east has a lot of the chain stores for shopping and going out, plus an active river walk restoration project.
  • Jobs are not that far away – If you have a degree and the wherewithal to commute, the lack of local jobs is not a problem.  Greensboro and Roanoke are both large(ish) cities and there are plenty of jobs available.  Of course, as more and more people are being able to telecommute, work can be as close as rolling out of bed; making for the perfect combination … life in a sleepy hamlet of friendly people and outstanding beauty while not having to worry about how to make the car payment. If your entire life goal is to amass as much money as possible, this may not be the place for you.  If you are looking for a good quality of life, this just may be ideal
  • Healthcare – Since we’ve moved my mother to Henry County in 2016, I’ve had to acknowledge the whole healthcare concern.  So far, we have had a little trouble finding a GP but I haven’t truly made a concerted effort.  We may need to drive down to Greensboro which would be annoying but it would also give us an excuse to get some shopping and sightseeing in occasionally. However, the big picture stuff is covered.  Martinsville has a hospital and I’ve heard good things about it.  More importantly, there are two fantastic hospitals not far away, just in case the worst happens.  Wake Forest Baptist, about an hour away, and Duke University Medical Center, about two hours away, are both highly ranked on the list of best hospitals in the US (for cancer).  Wake Forest is ranked #17 in 2016  and Duke ranks #27.  UNC, at #32, isn’t far either. This is actually a trade-up for Mother as the local leading hospital in Dallas, UT Southwestern, ranks at #50.

Hopefully, this post answers the question of “why?” and “why here?”

It is my hope to share some glimpses of our area here and there.  Primarily, this blog is a creative release for me but it would also be nice for someone to sing some praises for this area. It deserves it.