This isn’t wintry at all, but it is serene and lovely—well, it does suit the whole purpose of my sharing a photo with you on Mondays: a way to escape the most-dreaded day of the week!
During my most recent journey to see my doctor (he’s a couple of states away, but considering the man saved my life, he’s well worth the drive), I journeyed, as always, along old US and state routes. Doing this often takes a bit longer, but it’s much more interesting, pulchritudinous, peaceful (well…other than some of the questionably-maintained roads my GPS takes me on), and obviously provides fine fodder for my mind, eye and camera.
This particular trip took me through places I’d never seen before, last autumn’s unusual intensity in colour making it an exceptionally marvellous drive. That said, I found myself driving for quite some time through places with no restaurants or diners—it was farmland all around, so there wasn’t even a spot to pull over and stretch my legs on those curving roads, much less enjoy the modest but tasty lunch I’d brought with me. I must have gone about 70 miles, at least, without seeing such a place. Road tripping has taught me, though, that eventually such a place will turn up, even in the remote and scantly-populated mountain foothills of southeastern Ohio and West Virginia.
Just that happened last fall—steering my coupe around yet another sharp hillside curve, and there in the distance appeared this pretty country church resting on the crest of another hill (which was, of course, a few hills away yet—those familiar with that part of the country know what I mean!). As always, the road had yielded an ideal resting place for those travelling along it. Pulling into the steep drive with no small amount of relief, being able to park the car in front of the church and planting my feet onto the ground for the first time since stopping for a coffee about two and a half hours before proved to be a real joy!
Like most old country churches, this one is flanked by a churchyard, ideal for wandering about while I stretched my stiffened muscles. The church’s pastor wasn’t there; no one was, and during the entire thirty minutes or so I rested, not a single car drove by on the road below. Had this happened, no doubt the driver, seeing a stranger in a strange car at the church, would have driven up to make sure I was all right; this has happened to me more than once in this underrated part of America and had in fact happened already on the trip when I pulled over to photograph an abandoned homestead. These are fine people of the sort we see on The Andy Griffith Show, the sort pundits say no longer exist. Well, having lived among them for several wonderful years, I say to the pundits: Get out of the Beltway bubble!
At any rate: Having strolled the numbness out of my limbs and back, I aimed for some shade on this delightfully warm day and pulled the car around to the back of the church, discovering a back road into the small parking lot. This afforded me a view of the road before me, the hills beyond, and a stream below. It was all so pretty—a plain word, but the right one for this spot! A rare flock of (actual) ladybugs seemed to think my red car was some sort of mothership, because the little critters happily began swarming about me during lunch—and as someone who considers open windows allowing for fresh air in cars and homes to be one of the finer small joys in life, a few ladybugs, or a few hundred, weren’t about to stop me from leaving the car windows open in such a charming spot.
This was one of the most delightful lunches, really, I think I’ve ever had in my life. No traffic noise interrupted me; only the singing of the birds in the wood behind the church and the buzz of my newly-made ladybug friends filled my ears. The air was lightly laced with the distinct fragrance of autumn—that sweetish smell of turning leaves mixed with the rich scent of earth still warm with the sun. We are all so busy, under so much pressure to know and do it all these days, that silence is more golden than ever; the opportunities to be truly still and quiet are precious and rare. Perhaps that is what made this unscheduled but necessary stop for lunch so satisfying it was borderline heavenly (no joke intended despite or because of my being on the grounds of a church!).
I’m glad I glanced backwards at the church again before leaving—I saw the very scene of the church on the hill that I simply had to photograph, which opens this post. Again, it was a simple beauty, one of the things I at least think of when I think of small-town and rural America: the pretty country church, surrounded by trees, its cross-topped steeple rising toward the sun. No doubt to some it is all very banal and Norman Rockwell, and therefore saccharine, cheap, and stupid. But to me—an amateur historian almost continually wondering about the people who have gone before us and built such places, a woman who loves small towns and out-of-the-way-places and holds very dear the very simple, everyday things that steady us and make life so rich, as well as a Christian and someone who has, let us be honest, stared death in the eye twice at very close quarters in the past five years—it was a lovely little place and welcoming sight in every sense of the word.
Next time you’re planning to drive around in the middle of nowhere as I’m often exhorting you to do, pack a lunch or snack. Then wait. Wait for a solitary country church like this one, or a park, or a just-big-enough spot to pull your car over beside a wood or stream, and take advantage of it. Roll down the windows, flip the radio off, and enjoy the restorative beauty and calm as you eat. We live in a grand and beautiful country—because of humble, often derided places just like this.
Happy Monday, friend.