Wordless Wednesday: Gardens at Mt. Vernon

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Touring the gardens at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon on Sunday
with Capital Photo History Tours


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Enjoying the ride

Tall balloon

The quiet surprised me the most.

The first time we took a hot air balloon ride (over Napa Valley, back in our dating days of 2012), we were in a large basket with at least 10 other adults. It was crowded, everyone was chatting — and Spencer I wound up in different compartments on our ride.

(Side note: I was somewhat convinced Spence was going to propose on that fateful ride, but that moment would come six months later. Also, if he had wanted to pop the question in that balloon, it might have been mighty awkward. We would barely have been able to reach each other and hug.)

Back on our honeymoon last November, Spence and I booked a second ride over Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Having had so much fun the last go ’round, we were hoping for another memorable experience. Alas — cold and wind kept us grounded that trip, meaning we had to reschedule . . . for nine months later.

We certainly could have gotten back out to Woodstock, Va., before last weekend, but it’s a long trip — and I knew we’d be in the area for an annual ham radio event Spencer loves on Sunday. The stars finally aligned for us to get airborne once more.

Climbing into the basket (I have stumpy legs — it’s a process), I felt a rush of nerves as our balloon was untethered and the ground crew below us began to fall away. When a hot air balloon is released, everything happens really quickly; one moment you’re on the grass, the next you’re airborne and looking down at the world you thought you knew.

Everything looks different from above.


Blowing up balloons

Mountain view

Church sunset

Farmland


I thought I’d be scared, but somehow . . . I wasn’t. On paper, this looks like exactly the sort of experience that would push me into a fetal-position panic attack (extreme heights, lack of protection/parachute, risk of pilot error and, um, horrible fall to imminent death), but I didn’t even hesitate to ungracefully get in.

Not even after signing my life away in a series of legal documents.

Unlike our large ride in California, only five of us — including the pilot — shared this basket. Without the occasional bursts of fire from the burner keeping us afloat, it was silent . . . or close to silent, anyway. Even from high above we heard cars on the highway, cicadas in trees, dogs barking below on working farms. It was peaceful . . . almost holy.

No one said much. We were smashed with strangers, for one, but more than that? It just didn’t seem like the time. I was too busy gazing at the mountains — ones we were almost even with, it felt — and taking in the low clouds cresting the darkening mountain peaks.

Though only in flight for about a half hour, our view from above was totally different from our sunrise trip in Napa — but just as exciting.


Hills and house

Shadowy hills

Red house

Balloon landing


And this time? I totally wasn’t analyzing Spencer’s every movement, waiting to spot the glint of a diamond. That was a beautiful thing.

We’re married now, I thought. This was an experience we were scheduled to have had in the early days after our wedding, but I suddenly felt grateful it hadn’t worked out.

We needed this break. From the house, from our worries, from work. Though it hasn’t been so very long since our Yosemite trip, the summer has been brutally busy — and this balloon ride, though brief, was almost medicinal.

I didn’t even panic as we sank toward the ground, our basket just clearing the treetops as our pilot prepared us for landing.

For once, I hadn’t worried about the ending.

I just enjoyed the ride.


Hands


Where Washington was born

Popes Creek


Sometimes I like my weekends with a dash of history — and this was one of them.

As soon as I got wind that we’d see temperatures climbing past the 60-degree mark on Saturday, I began pestering Spencer to make plans. I wanted to go somewhere different! New! Exciting! Somewhere I could take pictures! I mean, aside from my Twosday shoots, I’ve barely held my camera since Christmas.

I turned to the trusty Internet, of course, and found the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Colonial Beach, Va. It’s a skip across the bridge for us, so we shed our thick outer layers to cruise across the Potomac River for a look.

Run by the National Park Service, George Washington was born on this property in 1732 — exactly 282 years before our visit. That’s right, folks: we somehow timed our trip with George’s birthday, which was February 22! (Thanks, Jess, for pointing that out!) Color me downright impressed, right?

I mean . . . I totally planned it that way.


Monument 1


We knew we were in for a relaxing visit as we pulled into the parking lot with only a handful of other vehicles in sight. No crowds. After chatting with a friendly park ranger, we watched a short video about Washington’s life here along Popes Creek — he lived on the plantation until age 3 — and then set out to do some exploring on our own.


Bench

Couple


There’s nothing like seating yourself on a bench to feel warm sun on your face after the winter thaw. My icy heart opened at the sight of blue water and bluer sky, peering at the buds on trees to see if anything was beginning to open. Nothing yet, but all in good time.

The estate was quiet, tranquil, with only one other family walking around. We had the place to ourselves, a fact pointed out by the kindly park ranger — and I was impressed by their “this place is yours, too” attitude. They were very friendly, extremely welcoming. It felt good.

Though the original home where Washington was born burnt down in a Christmas Day fire back in 1779, the house’s foundation is now marked by oyster shells near the memorial house constructed in a similar style in 1931. We didn’t go inside, preferring to linger among the trees and herb garden, but it boasts a kitchen house and some furnishings authentic to the time.


Placard

Memorial House

Herb garden

Sun dial


The site’s major attraction is its expansive views along Popes Creek, which empties into the Potomac. Our park ranger told us the plan is to keep the plantation looking much the way it would have back in the 1700s, living farm and all. There were, in fact, many animals on the property . . . including a hog that was so scared of us, he squealed and hid until we’d left the path near his pen.

I felt kind of bad about that.

The cattle and horses couldn’t have cared less. It was lunchtime.


Horse

Sheep through fence

Cattle

Farm


After we’d finished disturbing the local wildlife, we motored on to do some antique shopping and have lunch in downtown Colonial Beach, itself a beautiful waterfront town. We talked about presidents and history and life and everything in between, and it was pretty great.

Man, I love a good random day trip. You never know what you’ll stumble upon — or whose birthday you’ll inadvertently celebrate. Happy 282nd, George!

Heck yeah, America!