Yesterday was my friend Toom Forrester's 78th birthday party (his actual birthday is December 23). Every year on the Saturday before his birthday, Tom invites a bunch of folks to his place at Mt. Pleasant Farm in Strasburg, VA, for a birthday bash, and this year was no exception. Tom's daughter Joan does the cooking, which means wonderful food, including fried oysters (yuck) and spiced steamed shrimp, and plenty of it. It's an interesting group that shows up at Tom's--his stock working friends, dressed in normal farm attire; his work friends, who certainly don't look like farmers; and his family and neighbors. All of them are nice people, and it's neat that they all come together to celebrate with one opinionated crusty old stockman and shearer. I wouldn't miss it for the world.
But it is a nearly five hour trip up there, and at times yesterday that trip was a bit harrowing. As I noted in an earlier entry, it's beginning to feel like a rain forest (or the PNW) around here, and Saturday was yet another cloudy, foggy, drizzly day. In some ways, there isn't a better time to be whiling away the time on the highway--at least I didn't have to feel sorry for myself that I was missing good dog working or chore weather, but when I got to Afton Mountain and couldn't see the yellow caution light for the turn from 250 onto the exit for 64 W until I was right on top of it, it was a bit out of my comfort zone to say the least. I had to turn onto the exit hoping that cars coming from the other direction had their lights on (some crazies didn't) and then merge onto 64 without being able to really see what was coming down the highway behind me. Thank goodness I don't have to make that trip often, because apparently fog is pretty standard fare on that part of the Blue Ridge.
I didn't want to brave all that on the return trip late at night when I was tired, so I stayed in a hotel in Winchester. It rained overnight and the van was covered in ice when I started loading back up this morning. I nearly busted my butt stepping on the icy running board to put some stuff in one of the dog crates. But of course up in that area the roads were well salted/sanded so there weren't any problems on 81 for the trip back south. I stopped back in Strasburg and had breakfast with Tom before finally getting on the road for real around 9 a.m.
Long trips are when I really enjoy things like books of tape. In fact, one book I listened to and absolutely adored on the way home from Sturgis, SD, in 2005 was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. The CD version had something like 27 CDs, which took me all the way across the country and then some. It helped a great deal that the story was wonderful, engaging, and extremely entertaining. Here's a quote from Wikipedia describing the novel: "The book is set in an alternate 19th-century Britain, during the Napoleonic Wars. The story is based on the premise of magic returning to England after hundreds of years of desuetude, and the tumultuous relationship between two magicians of the time. It incorporates historical events and people into its fictional alternate reality." So if you ever have a chance to read or listen to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I highly recommend it. If I decide to make the trip to the cattle finals in Nebraska in May, I may just listen to it again.
But back to my trip this weekend. There are parts of southern Virginia where you just can't get a good NPR station, which is my radio of choice. But last year I discovered that from somewhere south of Lynchburg, maybe around Tightsqueeze (yes, that's an actual place) to somewhere up in Amherst County I can get a all-bluegrass public radio station. I am a huge bluegrass fan, and my only complaint is that I can get the station for such a short span of the drive.
Coming home today, I really wanted to hear some Christmas music. I'm not really one for all the trappings of the holidays, but I was in the mood to entertain myself by singing along to some holiday favorites. Only I couldn't tune in a single station that was playing anything remotely related to Christmas music. (What's up with that? Everywhere else it's been all Christmas, all the time, since sometime right after Halloween.) I had already decided not to pick up the cell phone and harrass my friends, so that left digging through my CD collection for some sing-along type music.
So now it's true confession time. The CD I chose to listen to and sing along with was from a lifetime collection of John Denver. Yes, you read that right--I said John Denver. The first album (back in the dark ages when 8-track tapes and vinyl records still existed) I ever bought for myself was a John Denver album. I can't remember if it was "Back Home Again" or an earlier one, but John Denver was definitely the first artist whose music I ever wanted to own. I admit that it was an odd choice for a person of my age at the time (early-to-mid 70s or thereabouts), and I seriously doubt that any of my friends were listening to him (FYI, I got plenty of Elton John from my oldest sister, so I wasn't completely out of the mainstream), but I loved him then and I love him (his music, that is) to this day. So I spent the last couple of hours of my drive singing along with my old best friend John, and although the music wasn't exactly seasonal, it still touched a chord that resonated with all the things that are dear to me, and isn't that in some ways what this season is about?
Okay, so now that I've admitted to that, I am going to go celebrate the longest night of the year by watching yet another Sex and the City DVD (I'm closing in on the last episodes) and probably stay up way later than I should, given the packed week ahead that I'm facing. I'm looking forward to the holidays as a chance to get some dog working in, along with some much needed chores (cleaning stalls, cleaning the chicken house--you know, fun stuff like that). And maybe I can even work off some of the gastronomic excesses I've indulged in way too much lately.