As I write these words I’m sequestered away in Cabin 3 at Chippokes State Park, just across the James River from my home in Williamsburg, Virginia. The grand purpose of this getaway is solitude, and sufficient peace and quiet to generate many pages of writing for this blog and other purposes. I have in my possession one acoustic guitar, two cameras, four black ink pens and three legal pads.

Through the front door of cabin 3

Through the front door of cabin 3

The cabin has four rooms … there is a well-equipped kitchenette, a bathroom, a bedroom and a living room. The floors are wooden … pine, it appears … of a very aged and rough edged sort. They look to be original, dating to the 1930s, when the building was constructed as a tenant farmhouse. The front door stands open, and I’m looking at a gray spring morning through the latticed screen door. A green field stands directly in front of the house and a tree line less than a quarter mile away blocks the horizon. The bees have buzzed the front porch in droves for the past two days but on this morning they are silent. Strong storms are in today’s weather forecast and perhaps they’ve taken the initiative and sequestered a little themselves.

Storm moving in ... trees swaying in the strong wind.

Storm moving in ... trees swaying in the strong wind.

I suppose it’s only natural to sit quietly in archaic but idyllic surroundings like these and try to imagine what an average day was like for someone who may have lived in this cabin, or one like it, when it was new. At the risk of stating the egregiously obvious, it emphasizes, first and foremost, the centrality of family. Large screen TVs, internet, social networking and the usual-named distractions would not even have been considered as distant possibilities. Radio existed in its infancy, but the odds are that this technology would have been well outside the financial reach of anyone who would have called this cabin home. There may have been a library in the nearest town, but that wouldn’t necessarily have been accessible either. So what was there to stimulate the heart and brain in those pre-electric days besides the hard work that served as the foundation of a rural existence? It could only have been interaction with family, friends and neighbors … and in the grand scheme that lifestyle seems much more substantive than that of the present day. Looking out at the green fields, watching the tall trees sway in the rising breeze and considering family it seems reasonable to ask … does a person really need more than this? In the imagination it all seems too perfect, and perhaps it is.

My father, who passed away not so long ago at the age of 94, often reminisced about the good old days. His commentary was simple, straightforward and from the heart … “There was nothing good about the good old days.” He remembered long hours in the cotton fields, cold winters with a coal stove for heat and, most miserably, knocking on the doors of strangers begging for food in the darkest days of the depression.

So, with my father’s remembrances in mind, I’ll allow reality to intrude just this once, and acknowledge …. that for every lovely spring morning in a place like this there might have been an icy February midnight visit to the outhouse, a dry well in the August heat or a failed crop under a silver harvest moon. So maybe it’s sensible to make the best of what we have … and be thankful for whatever peace and solitude we can find without encumbering it with too much sentimentality.

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