Shenandoah

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Prologue: Thornhill Trail

“Best to stay on the marked trails, miss–” the ranger looked at her ID again — “Thornhill.” He handed her ID back to her, started to give her a map, then stopped.

“And remember, it’s a federal offense to remove any artifacts from a national park, manmade or otherwise.”

She plucked the map from his hand and took off, a little too fast; her Corolla skidded as she rounded the corner and turned south on the drive.

She was still miffed when she reached the parking lot for the Thornhill Trail.

Once on the trail, she relaxed, telling herself that no one was going to follow her. Hikers looked for old homesteads and cemeteries in the park all the time.

At the bottom of the hollow, she saw an overgrown path veering off to the left. She checked her map, took a swig from her Camelback, and started bushwacking.

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Questions from a Winter Hike on a Sunday (revised and reposted)

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Jenni poses right before we start the march back down

I.

My babycar moans as we ascend Afton Mountain
My hiking partner Jenni,
Who should be named Penny because of her hair,
Sits beside me
I can see her thoughts roaming around in her head

The Appalachian Mountains are old men, shrunken in faded coats and dusty pants
But we are too close now to see them
The streets are empty; everyone else is in a church with walls
Past Waynesboro, I count the roads that lean toward the mountains
Solid lines on the map become spotted and then fade to nothing
Like veins under the skin
How many of these roads used to climb up and over the mountains
Before the reclusive farms succumbed to the government’s desire to “recapture” nature?
How many nonconforming pilgrims were supplanted by steal signs that say
“No Public Access”?
These hardy Virginians craved freedom, not cash
Right before the trailhead I see
An abandoned farmhouse, boarded and brown and lonely
Who lived there once?

We park and pull on our boots
Jenni is methodical, as usual, but she knows
I hate to wait so she’s ready soon
I feel winter’s icy fingers sliding down my back so I zip up
We head up a fire road; Jenni has promised an easy trek this morning

Hello old friends, brown, tall, sturdy and stern!
Most greet us with their silence, but I can hear them
I scout for widow makers
As their squeaky warnings call from overhead

A yellow blaze painted on a tree
Warns us that horses also travel this road
I step wide of the road apples; some are still round and black
Others lie flat, the color of blond hair
Ashes to ashes; hay to hay
Why have I never noticed that before today?

The Madison runs next to us, taking melted snow from the peaks
Down to hamlets like Grottoes and Stanley
On the valley floor
As we rise, the stream disappears under mangled leaves

Poor man’s silver crunches under my Keens
I study the remnants of Pangaea at my feet
Is someone following us?
No, it’s only the water gurgling in the bladder on my back

This is a fire road?
Up, up, five miles up
I can see crewcuts at the top
Jenni could get farther ahead, but she waits for me because she knows
I have to stop often to catch my breath
I have not been to the Y in weeks and it shows
Are we there yet? How many miles to go?
I pretend to stop just to enjoy the view
The undressed trees let us spy
On Stanley and Grottoes
My legs feel like lead stakes driven into the ground
But I will not let Jenni down
Not today

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Madison Run bringing fresh water to Grottoes

II.

At the top
We lounge on wet hay scattered over humus
Skyline Drive meanders beside us
My peanut butter and honey sandwich smells sticky
But I enjoy the sweet and crunchy taste mixed together
We laze and gaze at the parking lot as it disgorges
Pairs of pilgrims seeking refuge
Just like us

The sun has scooted the clouds away
Like a teacher sending her kindergarten class off to take an afternoon nap
Its yellow rays sting my eyes
Why didn’t I bring a hat?

I need to pee but there’s no room to squat
One side of the road shears straight up
Wearing a messy cloak of rocks and leaves and sticks
The other side tumbles straight down
Taking nature’s detritus with it

Every hike follows the same straight curve
At first I exclaim
I love being in the woods
When the trail starts to get steep
I think to myself
I’m too old to climb hills anymore; I’m selling all my equipment on Craigslist as soon as I get home
At the top I proclaim
That wasn’t so bad; isn’t it beautiful up here?
As we march back down I wonder
Where’s the damn car?
Back at the trailhead I ask
When can we do this again?
Is tomorrow too soon?

© 2015 Renata Manzo