Backyard Adventures: Finding Reasons Not to Leave
Folks who live along the mid-Atlantic seaboard know this is one of the few places on earth that didn't get the memo - the one that stipulates rain should turn to snow when the temperature falls below 32 degrees. Bitter cold, gray skies, and depressingly infrequent snowfall makes it a hard place to get outside during the too-long period between the warm, sunny days of September and the first buds of April.
David and Terrell Juth found that the right back yard can make all the difference between letting the season get the best of you, and getting the best of a season.
I visit a small fraction of the places I’d like to each year. Balancing everyday life with the frequent urge to escape is a challenge, and four years ago I tilted things towards my ideal - I moved.
I was spending weekends rushing out of the DC area metropolis on a motorcycle, bee-lining to the Blue Ridge and spending hours winding around the hills of the Shenandoah and the Virginia Piedmont. I found a place on the western slope of the Blue Ridge for sale and my offer was accepted. I restructured some things and relocated to peace, the woods and a lot more wind.
I still get frustrated at the travel I can’t squeeze in each year, but my new hometown gives me distractions, seventy miles west of our nation’s capital, and far from some friends who ask, “But why?”
Even in the heart of winter, our backyard is a wonderland. Behind our yard, on three hundred acres of wooded ravines, several hundred rugged feet above the Shenandoah River, we do things. Last weekend, my wife and I decided the rattlesnakes and copperheads were buried deep for the season and the growth had browned out enough. It was a cold, gray beginning of the New Year and time for a quick bushwhack. We descended.
Down a new logging trail, we scooted over the water bars and boulders and hopped around ditches and downed tree trunks. The trail ended in a steep ravine and our choices were two: go back up or crawl downward in a seasonal streambed. To make the river was the objective, and my packed fly rod the excuse. The thought of fishing in January drove me on. That’s what we usually do when it’s warm, often from our kayaks. My wife thought I was nuts.
Descending the outbound stretch was the easy part, and we were sweating. I stopped to pick up the skull and antlers of a whitetail deer and placed it on rocky mound. Its retrieval would be an excuse for a return trip.
The streambed widened out onto the narrow flood plain of the storied Shenandoah. We hiked upriver to find some deeper water and a clear path to cast my line and scared up a Great Blue Heron. It croaked its annoyance as it labored up and away. On a shoal jutting into the river I assembled my fly rod. A black woolly bugger seemed like the thing to drag along the bottom, prospecting for a hungry smallmouth bass. I tied it on, flicked it back and felt weeks of rust shake off. Casting is always a joy and I was smiling. The fish were laughing. I had no chance. Still, a skunked fishing trip beats most other things.
Hiking back to the house was a leg-burner. But with the leaves gone, the views over the valley were great. Sometimes we see bald eagles soaring, and winter nights the “hoo-hoo HOOOO” of Great Horned Owls wakes us up. Coyotes sometimes yip and howl, and when the IRS collects our dues, the Whippoorwills return and spend the next six months ruining our sleep. Two days earlier, the Appalachian Trail, three miles in the opposite direction from the river, was the target of our backyard adventure. The next pleasant day we’ll be cycling on these hilly roads and when the summer arrives, buying local produce from the farms. We’ll head back down the hill with kayaks in the pickup truck, makeshift anchors and fly rods on board, quick after work relief as the sun sets or an overnight float on a weekend. Maybe we’ll travel somewhere nice, too. But I’m not too bothered anymore when we can’t.