In My Own Back Yard

17 Apr

A friend stops by my classroom.

“How was your weekend?” She asks.

While listening to my story, she smiles, shakes her head.

“How do you find these things? There’s nothing to do around here!”

I tell her about web sites and checking notice boards, but I’m reminded, most of the time my wayfaring is simple serendipity, finding something good when I’m not especially looking for it. Saturday was a prime example. After changing my mind about a local event, I needed to reshape the day with less than 24 hours to spare. Luckily though, I really didn’t need to leave my own backyard, so to speak, and finding happiness there is something I definitely want more of. How can I convey Saturday’s weather other than to say it was spring perfection? New green landscape, splotched with full flushes of cherry and plum blossoms, and lawns full of bright popcorn limbs of forsythia amid eruptions of daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths stretching out for miles as I drove north on Rte. 29. Clar had his little head in the wind, soft black floppy ears trailing behind as his nose took in the warm morning air. Soon, he won’t be able to go with me on my rambles. I’m not at all happy about that, and he won’t be either. But Saturday’s plan was a picnic somewhere in Nelson or Albemarle County and then, a local band at Rapunzel’s in Lovingston in the evening. The time between was open to . . .serendipity.

On my way north, I stopped in Lovingston at Trager Brothers Coffee Roastery to test drive their cafe au lait. I have been wanting to go there for quite a while, but hadn’t been able to catch them open. The roastery is in the middle of a quaint town I have always loved. Lovingston’s Main Street reminds me of a tiny model village set under a Christmas tree, folk Victorian farm homes within a mix match of architectural era businesses. A grocery, a cafe, a bakery, a church, a bookstore/coffee shop, the town has a perpetual nostalgic feel. Upon reaching the middle of the thoroughfare, TBC’s sign swung out to the road. “Open”, finally. Up the gravel drive, behind an older two storied home, I curved and bumped. The front of the tiny cafe was completely open to the gravel lot and backyard, the side portico, shaded with chairs and tables.

A bright good morning smile greeted me from Katherine, a Randolph College grad who made me a frothy rich red eye cafe au lait and for a most reasonable price. She explained that they were undergoing renovations, but I fell in love with the tiny place. It’s like going over to the neighbor’s house for coffee on a Saturday morning and finding a personal barista in the kitchen. Trager Brothers Coffee is sold in several places in the local area as well as in regional markets. Their beans are organically grown and the roastery is committed to preparing coffee by hand in small batches, which improves the flavor and protects the environment. This attentiveness to quality over quantity reflects a trend among many places I have visited and loved in the last few months. The idea of buying local, of supporting the efforts of artists, both what I would call domestic artists and those of a more traditional variety has been a part of my social philosophy for many years. So I’ll drive, nearly 30 minutes on summer mornings now for a cafe au lait somewhere other than a cookie cutter coffee establishment that shall not be named (coughStarbuckscough) since the main locally owned coffee shop in Lynchburg has closed. Clar can come along, relaxing under my chair, while I have an amazing cup and sit with laptop to write.

Lovingston is peaceful. The people I have met there are so unlike typical ruralites. While they are definitely a people connected to the land and to the community, they are also quite interested in the arts, in music, in growing and creating. Organic farms, vineyards, cideries are sprouting rapidly across the landscape, especially down the Rte. 151 corridor. Locally sourced restaurants are following. Folk culture, supported by these businesses, reflects in their art, their music, their writing. It’s so hopeful to me, this commitment back to the community, back to the artisan, the farmer, the craftsman. Perhaps a folk Renaissance is coming, squired by the generation behind me, who has tired of the “yuppie” material world in which we reared them. I hear the change in the music, see it in the style of their living. . . and I’m coming along with them.

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Post picnic, I headed down to Nellysford. First stop, Bold Rock Cidery, where I tasted all four of their cider selections. Honestly, I’ve been a cider snob since it tends to the sweet side, thinking those without much of a palate go that direction in the adult beverage department. However, upon tasting I am starting now to appreciate it much more. The Vintage Apple was bright and quite crisp with a lemon edge back note. On a hot day, after that lawn mower winds down, an icy cold one would be an eye roller. The Virginia Draft came next. Mellow and smooth, it yields to the sweet too quickly for me, much like the traditional ciders I have had in the past. The premium ciders surprised me, though, resembling sparkling wines and champagnes. Dry enough to mirror respectable Prosecco, they impressed me. Crimson Ridge Vat #1 was near to a demi- sec champagne, with honey notes. It would pair exceptionally well with beef tenderloin and horseradish. My favorite, though, was the Vintage Dry. The driest of their ciders, the lemon pop was quite pronounced. I’ll serve it with grilled summer fare. And at only 10$ a 750 ml bottle, its something I can easily offer friends in my backyard as we dine al fresco.

After tasting, Clar and I traveled down to Devil’s Backbone Brewery, a familiar venue and restaurant for me from last summer. What a perfect site and stage for local outdoor theater and musical events! I sat in the sun cascading in stripes through the high arched windows and across the gleaming wooden floors, starting my evening with a Schwartz Bier Black Lager brewed on site. Pork Flat Iron, came next, a perfect paring of a grilled pork tenderloin glazed with sweet jalapeno mustard. Roasted red potatoes and baby carrots accompanied it. Devil’s Backbone and similar local restaurants are establishing a standard of fresh food and craft beverages in the area and the response is most encouraging.

As the sun began to set, I made my way to Rapunzel’s to end the day where it had begun, the tiny town of Lovingston. As I took my seat, I saw Katherine again from Trager Brothers.

“Cyndi!” She tucked into my front row table with a smile just as bright as the morning’s.”How was the day?”

We talked about Nelson and it’s slow change. Even though the IGA grocery has closed and the corridor’s growth hasn’t quite made it to the tiny hamlet, there’s hope. Hope for an organic grocery, or more cafes, a vineyard or a cidery…maybe even a traditional tavern. As the music began, it hit me…this community is so alive. Cody and Freeman Mowier, their parents sitting right next to me, opened the evening playing a few original tunes on acoustic guitars. The room slowly began to fill with greetings and hugs; neighbor after neighbor, friend after friend arrived. In this place there is connection at the heart, and as Chamomile and Whiskey, a local folk-rock fusion band with roots in blues, bluegrass and Irish traditional played, I thought about who this post grunge generation really is,these hipster mountain men and hippie vintage gals embracing Tweets and slow food, Foursquare and organic espresso.

The band’s set list, proudly scribbled on a PBR box flap, prompted song after song, including Long Day dedicated to guitarist Koda Kerl’s father, whose memorial service was held hours earlier at the Rockfish Valley Community Center. His mother sat in the audience, his friends and fellow musicians there as well . . .off stage, sometimes on stage, but always connected to the real life behind the song, behind the music. In their debut of A Thousand Sleepless Nights, a slight nod to the rhythms of U2 reminded me of other small communities I’ve known. C&W’s banjo player, Ryan Lavin’s Irish roots reflect in his vocals and picking, and Marie Borgman’s fiddle harmonizes right along.

This connection…

Is it the land…Is it the sky? Is it a place and people interlaced in creative movement through this green Virginia valley? There is a simple, but great beauty there among them and luckily I found it, right in my own backyard.

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