...there is a Virginia.
We spent a divine week in that gorgeous state, though we didn't see it all, preferring to hang out near the home of Thom Jefferson in the shadow of the Appalachians. To say we are enamored would be an understatement.
We ended up in Virginia in rather an odd way. We had no idea even while we were at Carol and Doug's in Ohio that we'd end up that far south. Our plans had been to take the northern route back to St. Louis, stopping at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland then on to Chicago for a few days.
Instead, while chatting one night with that delightful pair, we took out the good old paper map of the eastern half of the USA and decided to see what was within a 250 mile radius of their house, which we thought seemed like an easy day's cruise. I made an old-fashioned compass from two pencils and a string, Carol and I discovering the proper length of the string by measuring the map's mileage key. The resulting circle amazed me and Craig by just how much it (wait for it...) encompassed.
The states out there are real tiny compared to the west coast where I've spent much of my life, and the midwest where he's spent most of his. I mean, look at this:
See? You can cram half a dozen of those states into one ordinary west coast state, which explains my astonishment when we saw "Welcome to Whatever" every hour or two.
Anyway, we were right up there near where the Ohio border merges with the Pennsylvania border, and our pencil circle scooped up Virginia as nice as you please. Hmm, we thought, we've never been to Virginia, let's go there.
Carol, a former travel agent and now a travel planner and advisor extraordinaire, opened a drawer and started pulling out brochures: the Skyline Trail, Monticello, the Blue Ridge mountains. We were instantly convinced. I hit the internet and found a cabin to rent that looked just right, in the middle of all the brochure territory. Two days later, we headed south.
Virginia knocked our socks off. Oh, the history! And oh, how beautifully they preserve and cherish that history, not only in the more famous places but also in tiny towns along winding country roads. The houses made me swoon, the architecture of the town streets made me chatter unintelligibly even more than usual.
Staunton, Lexington, Charlottesville: those were the three towns in our daily driving tours. They are smart towns, each carefully and lovingly preserved, each with an institute of higher learning or two. The colleges and universities date from the beginning of American independence. These were the colleges of my youthful daydreams, dreams of intellectual privacy and escape and boundless learning; I wanted to start over every time we passed one.
In Charlotesville is Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia. From his home in Monticello, he could watch the famous tower being built. I have no doubt he also put in some hands-on time.
I love Thomas Jefferson and the guidance he gave to that new nation. Some years back, I remember tearing up at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., reading his words etched into the walls then looking up and remembering who was currently occupying the White House. But I diverge.
I love him most (I think) for what he said about education, and how he acted upon his philosophy. That is well told in these paragraphs from a National Park Service learning page:
Keeping with Jefferson's views that religious instruction be kept separate from university studies, he included neither church nor chapel in his design. Instead, the library stood, physically and symbolically, at the center of the plan, housed in the Rotunda. Jefferson also developed a list of 7,000 books to be acquired to fill the library building he had created. This in itself was revolutionary because libraries were not important features of other institutions where learning was based on students' recitation of facts memorized from professors' lectures.
In contrast, Jefferson believed that students should draw their own conclusions from hearing lectures, reading books, observing nature, and conducting scientific experiments. For this reason, he instituted an innovative elective system at the University of Virginia, rather than a fixed curriculum. There were no required courses; the students were free to choose from the available offerings. Jefferson explained, "This institution of my native state, the hobby of my old age, will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of its contemplation."
Of course, we made it a point to visit Monticello. In fact, Jefferson's home was one of the prime movers in our decision to travel to Virginia. You've seen images of his house many times, I'm sure, even if you haven't been there.
I wish I could show you his study and library and where he slept, but they didn't let me take pictures. The house tour was super, though, as was our subsequent wander through grounds and gardens.
It was Jefferson's idea to commission the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803. During their exploration, the pair sent seeds back to Monticello for the President's experimental gardens, which he'd had growing for years before that.
I suppose it was no accident that we followed or crossed the route of the Lewis and Clark Trail dozens of times in our travels, during which (on the eastern portion of the trip) we drove 8,000 miles, which is a little over twice the length of the Trail itself. The Trail begins, of course, in St. Louis, and seemed to meander wherever we drove. In the Pacific Northwest, we followed it along the Columbia when we left the Long Beach peninsula headed to Mount Rainier.
We submerged ourselves in history as we experienced our own daily exploration. Next post, we'll go to Michie Tavern and the Blue Ridge Parkway and have a look at some other sides of Virginia.