Seems like the entire human race is back in the cave watching the shadows.
Not for long, of course, and to varying degrees. Some studios in the city must be unbearable for any extended length of time, and in some places with large parcels and room to wander, this forced grounding could be considered welcome. That’s the case here.
When I purchased this wooded land just up the hill from the Rappahannock River and just a few miles from the end of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, where the river meets the Chesapeake, I felt at home immediately. The horse farms made for fine neighbors, and the fields of corn and soybeans offered an Americana landscape that is getting harder and harder to discover.
Not long after I purchased these acres, my father and I came up from Virginia Beach to tape off the area in the woods to be cleared for the house, as well as lay out how I wanted the driveway to wind through the trees. He looked around and said, “You’re not far from Richmond, are you?” I agreed, told him it was about an hour or so, and that I could make it to DC in two-and-a-half, as well as to his place at the beach in an hour and a half on a good day. “This is really centrally located, Dad,” I told him. I grew up in two homes, both on the Island, and both unique for the friends I had, the growing up, the ties, the crazy freedoms I collected as I grew older. When we moved from home one to home two, I never once felt like we weren’t going to be “home” anymore. We simply relocated ground zero. I never told him, but that move Dad made probably did more to define “home” to me than any floor plan could possibly contain.
Back here on the river as the months passed, I built the home, contracting out the stacking of the logs and the framing as well as the mechanics, of course—I didn’t want to blow up. But I did nearly all of the inside myself such as the interior walls, the stairwell, the floors and trim work, the kitchen cabinets, in addition to the landscaping when I’d drive up from the beach and sleep in the shed. It makes this place more “home” because of the bruises and blood invested, of course; we can make a house our home by the work invested, the time committed to converting the frame and foundation into a memorable homestead. My new neighbors came by when they saw my jeep out front to welcome this ‘Come Lately” to the area. One of them bragged about the town.
“It’s really centrally located, Bob,” he told me.
“Yes, I was just talking about that with my father,” I replied.
My neighbor went on: “Sure, the village is just three miles from here, and Urbanna is about fifteen miles from here and has great restaurants. And if you don’t mind driving a bit, Gloucester has some good food stores and shopping, but it’s about twenty or twenty-five miles.” My diction and sense of relativity was being redefined. I was fine with that.
I’m pleased it hasn’t changed much in the twenty-four years I’ve been here. Now, I head to the village daily for coffee, sometimes a drink at the Galley, sometimes to just walk about the docks. When I have the energy and time, I’ll make the trip clear over to Urbanna up river about fifteen minutes for some oysters. Yes, centrally located has found me here.
In these twenty-four years I’ve walked to the river almost every day I’m home, and my son—who grew up here since he was just three when we built the place—has taken pictures of these sunsets his entire life. We’ve planted gardens and raised apple trees and a few dozen crepe myrtles I bought for a dollar a piece twenty-one years ago when they were less than a foot tall, which now tower over the house at more than thirty feet. I’ve blazed trails and laid out mulch and scattered about benches and sitting areas in holly-crowded cutouts off the trails.
Then there is the wildlife. While still building the home but after Kenny the builder already framed out the roof, I was walking home from the river and as I came down the winding driveway, I noticed an adult bald eagle perched on the corner of the eave. He took off, of course, but many have returned over the years, and in more abundance. Hawks call out too in the late afternoon, and it is why I quickly named the place “Aerie” for a few reasons. One, an aerie is an eagle’s or hawk’s nest, and two, it is the name of the first John Denver album I ever remember copping out of my sister’s collection when I was a kid, and it made me want to live in nature, surrounded by wildlife, and here I am. It’s not the Rockies, but it’s closer to my nature anyway, water. In the winter, fox ramble about on a nightly basis, and deer are everywhere, particularly after we plant beautiful flowers.
There have been some setbacks. Most notably, Hurricane Isabel in 2003. This monster ripped thirty oak trees up at the roots and dumped them all over the property, including a half dozen sixty-foot tall beauties right down the middle of the driveway. Out in the hinter parts of the property a few downed trees are still working their way back to the soil, all covered by foliage and brush most of the year. Holly, too, and laurel, makes the land quite private in winter since the dark green bushes and trees are everywhere.
And birds. I don’t remember their names, but they’re all here, like an aviary from some museum. I’m certain this place qualifies for “Bird Sanctuary,” and my son has for years recorded in a journal the ones he has seen, matching them up with his tower of guides.
When I worked full-time in Virginia Beach (though I only had to make the drive twice a week), colleagues were curious how I could possibly live so far from work. Then they’d come here and quickly say, “Oh. Okay. Yeah.” This life can’t be bought in the city; not for less than five times what I paid and even then I’d only have one quarter what is here, and there is no price you can put on the health of living in the country with bay breezes and endless trees. We are outside almost all of the time. Even now.
Yes, even now.
When the call came down to “Stay In Place” because of coronavirus, I had no issue. Life here didn’t change much. There’s nobody out here. Sure, if I drive into the village people buzz into the Great Value or Hurd’s Hardware, or swing by one of the “to go only” restaurants, all of us careful of each other, each of us sanitizing our hands upon reentering our cars. No one in this town on the edge of the bay has ever made me feel like a “Come Lately,” and it feels good to be at home. And we’re all really really clean right now. And as of this afternoon the map of Virginia shows this county is one of only a few in the entire Commonwealth which still has no recorded cases of the virus. But all of that aside, the cause of my bragging about home this afternoon is how easy it all has been, being here, living life here. To carry this reflective dirge a bit more—since we are all home reflecting on our routines in the greater picture of how we pass our time on what Tim Seibles calls this “big wet rock,” I can honestly say this land works well for a good quarantine. I’ve lived in five states, spent extended time in several countries including Russia, Spain, the Czech Republic and various third-world locales, and there are only a few places I have ever felt I could stay for good, and I wouldn’t even need an official “lockdown” to do so. This is one. It just happens to be home.
Is there anything missing in this picture I’ve painted of Aerie? Of course, there always will be no matter where we settle down, no matter what path we follow. As beautiful of a place this is for me to spend the rest of my years, under the right circumstances I can leave tomorrow and begin again somewhere else. I could head back north, head out west, sail away. That’s my father’s fault. Without even knowing it, he taught me through a very subtle example that the most important part of being centrally located is understanding the “center” we seek is within, and it moves with us. And thank God, because the pursuit of this life is what makes this life worth living, never the arrival. One of the things I love about being here along the river, not far from the Bay, is I get to look out across the reach and wonder where, if I ever decide to live anywhere else ever again, where will it be? I like wandering the paths here at Aerie and wonder what can be planted, what more my soul might harvest from this land. In a perfect quarantine, the people I love, the ones I laugh with, the ones who finish my sentences, would all be here at Aerie through it all. But, no. So it helps me that I finally understand that home for those of us who seek simplicity, is a place, like love, which we simply “call” home, and for a brief time we let it absorb us like water, like breath, like the fluid promise of dawn.