Not-So-High Peaks

So many possibilities of how to spend the day! There are canoes and kayaks, there is fishing, there is hiking, there is chilling out to read a book in the sun or in the comfort of an Adirondack lodge. What to do? During breakfast I peppered our wait staff with questions about hiking in the local area. I was tempted to hike up Blue Mountain, but the prospect of a 2-mile straight up climb intimidated me. The compromise was a 1-mile climb up to Castle Rock, which is said to have a 360-degree view (at half the labor cost of the climb up Blue Mountain). The bonus was that one of Charles’ poems last night was about his climb up to Castle Rock. Based on the weather, which promised to be warm in the afternoon, I decided on a hike for the morning followed by an afternoon on the water.


The hike was excellent. The difficulty of the climb was just about right for my present level of physical conditioning. The last couple hundred feet were pretty much a straight-up rock climb, but it was short enough that it presented no real difficulties.

The Final Steep Ascent
Panorama Shot from Castle Rock


After the hike, the weather wasn’t as good as I had hoped for, concerning spending time on the water. The wind was blowing quite strongly, and the water was pretty choppy. Not the best conditions for kayaking or canoeing. I did try a little fishing from shore, but the main activity for the afternoon was sitting in the sun and reading. Still not a bad way to spend a fall afternoon!


We spent some time in the late afternoon on our cabin’s porch before the rain came. It rained all evening and most of the night, which made our cozy cabin even more cozy. A sunset, however, was not to be seen.


Some of the Best in New York

Last Spring, at a fundraising auction for Lima Christian School, Elaine was the winning bidder on an Adirondack “escape.” Today we headed out for two nights at Hedges at Blue Mountain Lake and a night at the Adirondack Hotel on Long Lake. We always want to wring every drop of enjoyment out of every trip we take, so we planned to stop in Manlius, NY along the way to do a factory tour of the Stickley furniture factory. Wow! What a day this turned out to be!


The Stickley factory offers free tours every Tuesday at 10:00. This was perfect timing for us, because we wanted to leave home early in the morning, and we couldn’t check in to our cabin until 3:00. We arrived at the factory with just about 10 minutes to spare.

E at Stickley Entrance

We both love “arts and crafts” furniture, sometimes known as “mission oak.” Stickley is known for their high-quality line of this sort of furniture, so it was fascinating to hear their story and see their production line. One of the things we learned is that Stickley stopped making the original line of arts and crafts furniture around 1915 and then re-introduced this style in 1989. So if you have any original Stickley arts and crafts furniture, that is considered to be a real heirloom item. The new stuff is based on the original designs, but it uses updated methods and some updates to the designs. Our tour guide was George Webster, and he did a great job.

George Webster

Our tour started with the computer-assisted sorting and selection of incoming lumber. I was fascinated to see how the computers scan each board and identify the flaws as well as the usable portions of that board. They then cut the good stuff from the flawed stuff and discard the unusable portions. The good parts are identified right from the start to be used for a particular item of furniture. Apparently the database has information on every single board needed for every item of furniture, and it matches up incoming boards that will be used for each item. George said they discard about 50% of the wood that they purchase. This, of course, contributes to the high pricetag Stickley furniture commands. (This was to be an ongoing theme that George developed: doing things the Stickley way is expensive, and this is why the furniture they produce is so expensive.)


Throughout the tour we were to see how the company uses computer-assisted design and processes where it makes sense to do so, and hand-work when it makes sense to do that. Some processes just cannot (yet) be effectively mechanized. This factory employs about 700 people, and we got to see many of them in action.

Another fascinating thing I learned was about the square posts used in many Stickley pieces. Quarter-sawn oak has the most interesting grain, and it also has the most structural integrity. When you cut a post out of raw oak, the quarter-sawn features are only shown on two of the four sides. One of the original Stickley brothers invented a way to miter the post and assemble a new post that puts quarter-sawn pieces on all four sides. Other manufacturers use veneer on the two non-quarter-sawn sides to make it look quarter sawn. But that method lacks the structural strength of the Stickley method. They call their posts “Quadrilinear” posts.

Quadrilinear Post.png

After we left the factory, we took a short ride down the road to visit the Stickley Museum. The museum is in the building that used to be the Stickley factory, up until about 1989. We learned more about the history of the company and saw many examples of their work. By the time we left I can honestly say that I have a better understanding of why Stickley furniture is as expensive as it is. I still don’t know if I can justify spending the kind of money needed to purchase any, but I do understand it better now.


After a couple more hours of driving we arrived at The Hedges. We’ve stayed here once before, back in 2015, so we knew we were in for a treat. This time we were staying in one of their cabins right by the lakeshore. As a guest here you get to use their kayaks and canoes, you can hang out in their lodge or anywhere on their grounds, you can swim at their beach, and they serve a delicious dinner and breakfast to their guests each day.

Hedges Cabin #4.png

Hedges Dining Room.png

After the lovely sunset we enjoyed a poetry reading by professor Charles Bachman from Buffalo. This was a marvelous and lovely first day of a short getaway.  Partial retirement can be pretty nice!

Hedges Sunset.png

The Final Harvest Host and Homeward Bound

Today was the beginning of the two-day drive home, and our destination was a Harvest Host winery in southern Pennsylvania. The Hauser Estates winery is situated at the top of a hill, not far from Gettysburg. The drive to the location was uneventful, and we enjoyed meeting our hosts. The evening featured entertainment on the patio from a female singer/guitarist. What a nice way to end this lovely vacation trip to the Appalachians.




A Harvest Host, a Woodworking Exhibition, and an Old Time Jam at Virginia Tech

We learned of two events taking place in Blacksburg, VA today, and we had made arrangements to spend the night at a winery associated with Harvest Hosts. So, after a leisurely morning, we packed our camper and headed to the Whitebarrel Winery in Christiansburg, VA. As members of Harvest Hosts we agree to make a purchase at participating wineries, farms and museums, and in return we are welcome to spend the night parked in our camper without a fee. The people that run Whitebarrel winery were generous to us and let us do our business in the afternoon and then return well after dark to sleep. We didn’t ask for this, but Maria offered to let us unhitch the camper and just take the truck into Blacksburg. That made things much easier than they might otherwise have been. Maria was a wonderful host, explaining about each of the wines, and guiding us to a special charcouterie board and pizza that they had available. We enjoyed a quiet and sophisticated “lunch” on their patio before heading for Blacksburg.

White Barrel Winery (HH).JPG
Whitebarrel Winery – A Harvest Host

In Blacksburg, our first interest was an artistic exhibit called “From These Woods.” It featured a number of different wood products, artistically constructed, representing everything from tables, to sculptures, to paddles, to instruments. I was very surprised to find the name Mac Traynham again after having seen him first at the Feastival on Sunday. A banjo made by Mac was featured in the exhibit. Nearby were these words about Mac: “Mac Traynham is a giant in the world of Appalachian music, a towering figure who has been plying his trade as a musician, teacher, and artisan for over 30 years. Recognized as a master banjo maker by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities in 2009, Traynham’s open-backed, custom-made banjos combine expert craftsmanship with impeccable aesthetics, with each piece resulting in a sonic whirlwind of beauty.”


Wow. Those are words of high praise. I had no idea who we were dealing with on Sunday! His banjo on display had incredibly beautiful inlays in the fretboard:

Traynham Banjo.jpg

After the exhibit closed we had a couple hours to kill, so we chilled out in the student center at Virginia Tech. I was reflecting how unique college campuses are in that you can just go and hang out in them if you know the right places to go.


The second thing we had come into town for was to be an old-time music jam in a downtown park starting at 8:00. (We grabbed a super Cajun dinner at a place called Boudreaux’s. The seafood gumbo was to die for.) We were a bit late for the jam, but we joined in anyway. It was a genuine, fiddle-and-banjo old-time jam, and the pace was blistering. I had a great time, and I am finding that I recognize more and more of the tunes. This jam was the sort of thing I love joining in on. It was not the relaxed, laid-back style that made me feel comfortable, but it was the “real deal,” and I feel that I learned a lot by participating in it. We stayed until the bitter end at 10:00, which means I was playing my guitar for a solid hour and a half at breakneck speed. Wonderful!


Then it was back down the crooked roads to our home on wheels at the Whitebarrel winery.


The Search for the Perfect Jam

Our strategic location of Claytor Lake State Park not only allowed us to enjoy the facilities of the park, but it also put us within reasonable reach of two different events listed in the Mts. of Music Homecoming booklet. There was an Appalachian farm market with music in the nearby town of Pulaski, and there was a traditional “old time” jam at a Mexican grill in the not-too-nearby town of Pearisburg.


I was able to spend about an hour kayaking around on Claytor Lake in the morning, before the thunderstorms moved in. I loved it.


We headed off toward the town of Pulaski to experience that Appalachian farm market with music. When we got there we found that it was … meh. There wasn’t much on offer from the farmers’ market, and the band was nothing to write home about. It was not something we wanted to spend our whole evening on. So, we did what we could. We headed for the “old time jam” at that Mexican grill in Pearisburg. Our GPS led us to … the Walmart!


We were a bit mystified. There was supposed to be a Mexican grill here, with jamming, but we didn’t see one. I drove around the parking lot, and lo and behold – a Mexican grill. We entered with some trepidation, because there were only a few cars in the parking lot, and we couldn’t hear any music. But when we got inside we found three gentlemen and a lady off to one side singing and playing instruments. They welcomed us warmly, and immediately asked if I had an instrument. When they heard that I had a guitar they enthusiastically encouraged me to bring it in and join the fun.


The songs they were doing were all over the map. Some folk music, some country music, some bluegrass, an occasional gospel song, and some originals that one of the fellows had written. These folks were salt-of-the earth people who were simply gathered together for a fun night of making music together. I contributed quite a few songs, which is really not what I usually do. I just felt comfortable doing so, and it was easy to do. They brought us right into the circle. During the course of the evening I got them to introduce themselves and tell me a bit about who they were. Here are two of them: T-Baby Reed – the guitar man and Earl Thornton with the baritone uke:

TBaby and Earl.jpg


And here is Addison Dobbs with his mandolin (He’s really the only one who consistently lead bluegrass tunes):




And here I am joining in:


Jam at Pearisburg.jpg

It was a really unusual evening, and much different than I had anticipated. But it was a great, authentic, Appalachian music experience. This is what we came here to find.

I Finally Learn (Some) Flatfooting!

The Mts. of Music Homecoming event that was close to us today was a flatfooting workshop at the Blue Ridge Music Center. Even though we have been to this location a few times now, the prospect of learning flatfooting was an irresistible draw. I’ve been watching people dance for the past couple of weeks, and I really want the mystery of what they are doing to be removed. (I tried a flatfooting workshop at a festival a couple years ago and got absolutely nothing out of it. But hope springs eternal, and I once again thought it would be worth trying.) So we headed out to the Blue Ridge Music Center again, prepared to learn dancing, and prepared to enjoy music by the Buck Mountain Band.




The teacher of the workshop, Mary Ann Kovach, was excellent. She convinced us that we couldn’t do it wrong, and she broke down several of the steps into their essential elements so that we could imitate her. The band provided great music, and I managed to “get” a couple of the steps. I also took notes on the steps that were a bit beyond me, and maybe I will be able to figure them out on my own.


We also did some square dancing, and we thoroughly enjoyed having a couple of pre-adolescent girls as our square partners.

After the dancing lesson we headed north to camp at Claytor Lake State Park. This park is in the vicinity of several Mts. of Music Homecoming events, and we thought it would be a good place to locate ourselves for a couple of days.


At this point in the trip we faced a fork in the road, and we took it. Our original plan had us heading to the Asheville area and focusing on non-musical interests. There were no more Blue Ridge Music Trail events closeby. However, a few days ago E discovered that Virginia’s Crooked Road (which we explored pretty thoroughly in 2015) was holding a 10-day, Mts. of Music Homecoming celebration. There were all sorts of events going on all over southern Virginia from June 9 through June 17. We found that we would be able to catch quite a few of these events if we headed back up to Virginia at this point. This decision was a no-brainer.


The first event we decided to attend was billed as a “Feastival.” It was a catered church-picnic type of event, with a bluegrass/gospel band, a couple of highly accomplished musicians, and talks by two local authors who have written books about the food in Appalachia. E had already heard of one of these authors, and had recently placed a hold on her book at the library, so when she saw that we would be able to meet this lady and hear from her, it seemed like a great opportunity.


The event was being held at the Dinwiddie Presbyterian Church, outside the town of Hillsville, VA. A couple miles short of the destination our GoogleMaps directions brought us to a dirt road with a dark, forbidding entrance, low-hanging branches, and prospects of hills and switchbacks that I just wasn’t willing to face. I phoned our contact person at the event, and with some help, we were able to come up with a better route. The only problem was, now I had to turn the trailer around on this crooked road. With E’s help, and our pair of walkie-talkies, we made it happen. We arrived at the Feastival about 20 minutes late.


Fortunately, the eating hadn’t started yet. We missed some music, but there would be much more of that later.


The authors (Ronni Lundy and Libby Bondurant) told interesting stories, and they helped us understand more about the culture of Appalachia. I have become more and more convinced that the people of this area are judged very unfairly by outsiders. The stereotypes are hurtful, and for the most part very untrue.


The music was provided by a band named Changing Lanes, and they were joined by a guitarist named Mac Traynham and a banjo-player named Edwin Lacy. Evidently these two fellows are well-known mountain music “sages.” (Keep that name, Mac Traynham in mind as you read future posts in this trip of ours. We were to learn more about him later.) The music was good, and most of what they played was gospel. I love the fact that gospel music plays such a big role in traditional mountain music.



Oh! We found an RV park just a couple miles down the road from the Dinwiddie Church. Good thing, because it had been a very full day!

Sunset at Lake Ridge.JPG