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Bull Run

April 4, 2012 by filed under Columns, Just Like Nothing (Else) on Earth No Comments

Private air strips, horse farms, rows of town-homes, run-down (or fallen down) shacks, foreboding ‘troops’ of evergreens, quarries, road construction: all of these strewn helter-skelter upon the landscape, sometimes adjacent to one another, creating a world gone mad. An apt scene for a yet-to-be-made David Lynch movie. This was my dream. This was my nightmare.

Oh, it all started so innocently, way back then. See, I had thought about this place for almost 15 years, ever since (or maybe even before) I’d moved to Loudoun County; I’d been curiously drawn to that southeastern tip and all it had to offer – lying so close to the Historic Manassas National Battlefield – you know, the Battle of Bull Run – even us Northerners’d heard of that. It must be a pretty special place- somehow enshrined for my visiting pleasure. I’d pictured a serene little stream, carefully en-shouldered by its pristine, manicured banks, the whole vision made complete by perhaps a wayside rest adjacent to the (it simply had to be) carefully tended, historic bridge spanning the ‘hallowed ground.’

But, in reality – ahhhhhh, not so much. What I found, in the semi-shrouded darkness of a frozen pre-dawn morning, was two-lane traffic barreling down on me from both directions, signs indicating not only private property, but promises of defense by firearm if I so much as stepped out of my vehicle at one of the adjacent lots.

My instincts told me to ‘can it’ and get the heck out of Dodge, but I spied a level patch of roadside grass a few yards up the way – with just enough turn-off space to safely miss the speeding trucks and cars. My parking accommodations featured what appeared to be a drainage ditch (maybe it was actually designed to house conduit for high-tech communications cables?) running parallel to the road – ending in a sort of delta of eroded soil sporadically filled with some very unfriendly-looking boulders – looking oddly out of place among the sandy earth and the good, old, reddish, Virginia clay. This roughly two-by-two foot trench abruptly ended a half-dozen yards or so to my left, having come down the hill toward the stream – only to kind of peter out into a washed-out morass of uninviting mud – now frozen hard as the accompanying rocks. An image worthy of one of HP Lovecraft’s stories. Even the boulders were playing tricks.

It was still early enough for a half-moon to look down on all this, as well as the familiar sight of a string of telephone poles and wires, also running parallel to the roadway – headed for the creek of my dreams. I couldn’t imagine what the morning commuters must have thought of my presence here- some insomniac nut with a camera – in the middle of this!

“Go home and enjoy your day off, for Pete’s sake!”

The thing is: I was enjoying my day off. That is, I would have been, had I found the actual Tip o’ the County to be anything like that of my fantasy of the place. As it was, I felt just a little bit cheated – having driven 20 miles in early-morning rush-hour traffic along Evergreen Mills and Gum Spring Roads. I was even sidetracked by a wrong turn- ending up along the God-neglected (if not forsaken) Ticonderoga Road, with its spray-painted ‘signery’ and man-made mountain of muck- all this presented for my viewing pleasure, of course. It was not to be a ‘day at the beach,’ so to speak.

I got the impression, on my trip down to this site, that some of the land owners had won their property through some nameless act of violence- or perhaps in a card game. If ever the word ‘ramshackle’ would apply to the overall (and specific) landscape features, it’d be here. The wilderness appeared to have not easily given up its sovereignty over the land: pine, cedar and other unidentified evergreens crowded close to the corridors of the roadways, and earth was piled high in places of earlier skirmishes with bulldozer, dump truck and caterpillar.

But, these man-made behemoths were nowhere to be seen. Like the dinosaurs which had come before, these monsters had also retreated, but left their effects upon the land. All grist for the mill of my visionary experience.

So, here was I, standing at the roadside at 7 am, in 20 degree temperatures, with a camera, looking for appropriate images for a nice, cuddly, enjoy-your-tea-and-cookies kind of story; what I actually witnessed, however, is that sometimes- just every so often in our lives – the Big Tour Guide in the sky plays us a carefully crafted, snidely sarcastic, very practical joke. He knew that I’d dreamed of this place for over a decade; He knew that I already had images in my mind which would be suitable for such a reassuring, warm-hearted, good-for-the-soul kind of story.

Well, I found lemons in the ‘Loudoun County Places’ aisle at my grocery store, so I made some literary lemonade. Hope you were thirsty.

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