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Posts Tagged ‘American Civil War’

Once Magnificent

I know this looks like any old stump of a tree, 

but how I love to sit and listen to its ghostly music

and threads of stories I can almost hear or see,

What creatures made it home in nest or hollow?

What child crawled out upon its limbs?

And did lovers carve their names for those to follow 

to mark a meeting place of moonlit secret trysts?

Children playing, horses neighing, contribute to the city drone,

but were they Yankee or Confederate soldiers

who rested there and longed for home?

Are determined roots still climbing toward the sun?

Or has it simply stopped surviving

in the struggle for a peace hard won?

I know.

This looks like any old stump of a tree,

but to me, it is a magnificent regression. 

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Fencing Off the Fog was a photo-post I did earlier this month.  Friends urged me to write a poem to go with it, and so I have.   With fog drifting into the forests and hollows of this part of Virginia, I often think of the suffering soldiers in the Civil War.  I have placed the photo at the end of the poem.

FENCING OFF THE FOG

There is a forest beside my Southern home,

and a heavy fog is slinking in.

I imagine ghostly images

of  weary soldiers

shrouded in that  gossamer film; 

  and a sea of boy-bodies

 who might only be sleeping

amid tattered desolation and bleeding.

 They were young sons-of-the-south

turned warriors

 marching forward without pause

screaming the Rebel yell, 

not yet knowing it was a Lost Cause.

I need to fence off the fog

until my imagination turns

to the outcome of a more perfect union, 

turning from that waste of war

to sunshine,

in the southern reverie of mint juleps, 

magnolia blossoms

and  peace and love.

I need to fence off the fog.

 

Fencing Off the Fog

Fencing Off the Fog

 

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Another camera-walk in town revealed a secret garden.  Well, secret to me since I have not visited there in some time.  As I walked through the gates to the Stonewall Jackson House rear entrance, I was taken by a brilliant flower show.  Whereas most things are fading about now, the cloistered Jackson House garden is still thriving in spite of our flagging summer season.

Note the Little Critter Top Left

Although visitors come to tour the home of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (of Civil War fame), there is a tendency to discount the wonderful kitchen garden at the back of his house on Washington Street.  I wandered into that place where he actually enjoyed participating in the planting and cultivating.

Beauty of White

Storage Shed -Jackson House Garden

Jackson’s historic garden space is small, but contains a generous variety of heritage fruits, vegetables and rose bushes, all delightful to the eye, each in its own season, and all manned by dedicated volunteers.  I think it is a lovely prelude to entering the house, itself, where he lived prior to the Civil War with his second wife, Mary Anna Morrison.  It is told that he was accidentally shot by his own men in friendly fire and died in the war at the age of 39.

Stonewall Jackson house located at 8 East Wash...

Stonewall Jackson house located at 8 East Washington Street in Lexington, Virginia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas "Sto...

English: Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson photographed at Winchester, Virginia 1862. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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I discovered a new motivation for walking – a camera!  I also discovered a new motivation for blogging – a camera!   O.k., you may already know about the power of the little gadget, but this morning I actually took it on a walk and learned about a whole new world.  As I left the house, I thought, “Maybe a photograph will give me a blog post idea. It’s worth a try.”

So, this is the story about how I learned walking is more fun if my sole purpose is to take photographs to blog!  And this is the story about how a blog post and more than one came from walking and “seeing things” from my camera’s eye view.  

It was a surprisingly beautiful day, with clear blue skies and those big fluffy white clouds that make irresistible photo ops, and there was a cool breeze after last night’s rain.  I parked on Main Street right next to our city cemetery.  I love cemeteries – not because I expect to wind up in one, but because they are always so serene and somewhat haunting.  Did I say haunting?  By the way, I love steeples too.  They are so uplifting.

But, my mother is buried in this city cemetery and my best friend, Meche, along with many soldiers of the American Civil War, including Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.  Jackson was a Confederate general who won many a battle against the Yankees.  Before the war, he lived in our downtown in a neat little house on Washington Street and he taught at the Virginia Military Institute.

Approach to Jackson’s Tomb

After paying my respects in this haunting cemetery, it was back to Main Street where I was struck by an overhead street banner announcing a local Pie Festival.  Where else but in a rural community like this would you be urged to enjoy a pie festival?  Our ice cream social was such a grand success I suppose someone thought pie would be a good idea too.  After the serenity of death in our lovely cemetery, this sign screams “life” and the enjoyment of luscious living.

Onward I walked, and I took a few photos of our main thoroughfares.  The tourists were out enjoying the sun, and the Lexington Carriage Company was clip-clopping them around town by horse and buggy.  I stopped in at the carriage company tack room/preparation center and met two new horses who were being introduced to the city.  They had just had their baths and were enjoying lunch.  Their owners invited me to take pictures and said I could learn more about their operation by “liking” their Facebook page at LexCarriage.  Amazing what sporting a camera will do in terms of introducing you to new folks.  It’s much like walking a dog!

As I roamed around town this morning, always looking for likely photo ops, I suddenly realized I was panting and could hardly trudge back to the car.  And checking my watch, I discovered I had walked 40 minutes!  True, it was not fast power walking, but I wandered much further than I would have without my trusty Camera.  The fact is, until the final slog back to the car, I was having a grand time looking around town for likely photographs that might be the inspiration for a blog post.

All the experts advise that walking is the best exercise.  Walking in fresh air and sunshine is even better.  They also advocate finding an exercise you like to do, something you can have fun at.  I must admit, I have never found exercise of any kind to be “fun.”  I much prefer the couch and have to force myself into the right state of mind to actually move.

Now, however, I see myself as a foreign correspondent, looking at the world through my camera’s lens. O.k., so the pics are pretty amateurish.  And the locale is local and not foreign.   But the act of photographing while walking is my newest inspiration.

“I thought about making a fitness movie for folks my age and calling it Pumping Rust.” ~Author Unknown   

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A visit “downtown” always gives me a jolt because I feel I am peeking at the past.  Lexington, Virginia (no, not Kentucky!) was the county seat of Rockbridge in 1778, and is a place steeped in history and charm.  In fact, the historic core of the city is a Nationally Registered Historic District.

In 1993 a film crew, actors and actresses came here from Hollywood.   The town’s main streets were quickly transformed for the filming of a quick segment in the movie, Sommersby, starring Jodie Foster and Richard Gere. The story is of a confederate soldier returning to his wife and home at the end of the the Civil War.  If you have seen this movie, do you recall the hanging scene?  The hero’s ride to the gallows (supposedly in Richmond) was actually shot right here in Lexington.

In preparation for the scene, the city’s main streets were quickly covered with layers and layers of dirt and building facades were dramatically changed to reflect another era.  Long-skirted women moved around town, busy with their daily lives, and the streets were alive with the comings and goings of horse drawn wagons and carriages.  It was magic. For a moment as I stood on the sidelines, I actually felt I had really traveled back in time.

Store Sign Saved from the Movie Sommersby
Main Street Lexington, Virginia

Sign from the Movie, Sommersby

But 1993 was not the first time the streets of Lexington were transformed.   Am I treading where so many others have gone before or is this a different street entirely?

LOWERING MAIN STREET BY EIGHT TO TEN FEET!

Even before the American Civil War, downtown Lexington, Virginia was a city of steep hills with crude unpaved roads.   Goods and people were transported through town by horse drawn wagons.  Can you imagine the transportation problems encountered during wet weather when Virginia red clay roads became sinkable quagmires?

Lexington was known to bottleneck at the hilltop intersection of Main and Washington Street, because in inclement weather the clay road became almost impassable.  Goods were hauled in by large covered wagons which would stall when they sank into the mud up to the horses’ knees and sometimes to the axles.  In 1852 a project to lower the town’s hill by eight to ten feet was finally completed.  That project left the currently standing Alexander-Withrow House on Main Street with an extra floor (once a full basement, but now suspended as a third story), requiring the owners to reorient their entrance.  There were other such changes to entryways around town that can still be seen today.

Alexander-Withrow House
Was 2 Stories – Now 3

An Artists’ Cooperative in the Once Full Basement
of the Alexander-Withrow House

Below is a photograph I took of the Stonewall Jackson House.  It was the pre-Civil War home of Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson and was built in 1802.  If you join a docent-guided tour, you will come close to experiencing how life was before the war in an ordinary house in an ordinary small southern town.

Stonewall Jackson House
Front Entry No Longer at Street Level

From 1907 to 1954 the “Jackson House” was utilized as the area’s only hospital (the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital).  In 1954 the house was converted to a museum, now open to the public.  In my time there as a docent I met many visitors who were born or were treated in the house when it was a hospital.

But, back to streets – do we even notice the uneven elevations of front doors in a city?  Why do I have to climb to get into one building and step down to enter another?  How did they lower the main streets by ten feet without modern machinery?  I have asked around, and although some people claim to have heard the story about lowering the streets in Lexington, they aren’t quite sure how or why and haven’t really noticed the cattywampus foundation levels.

Here’s a Front Door That Used to Be at Street Level

Entrance was Once at Street Level
Virginia Born & Bred Gift Store

I am drenched in images of downtown Lexington in the days of wagon travel and unpaved roads.  Surely city streets are as much a part of history as the wood stoves used for cooking, the rope beds, and the horse-hair-stuffed furniture found in restored homes and museums.  But every time I go downtown, I am struck by the unusual variations in entry way access.  Perhaps our roads and streets should be considered the infrastructure of the past and noted on city plaques to be remembered as they once were and for what they eventually became.

As I drive into downtown Lexington,  I am reminded that I am once again on a Time Traveler’s Road to a colorful past.

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