Traveling to the Washington D.C. area and the northwestern part of Virginia becomes a trip into history. The eye and mind not only view the scenery, but also ghosts of the country’s past.
Whorls of fog, like mists of memory, wind over paths swathed through forests of ever vigilant green. Trees choke off the view of the horizon as sleek horses graze on ground christened by a nation’s two fights: one a battle for independence, one a battle within. Everywhere the eye wanders, glimpses of history, memories of the past mingle with scenes of the present.
Battle fields forever scarred with the scattered litter of the dead are surrounded with masses of hardwoods fertilized with the blood of men who wore the Union blue or the Confederate gray. Cannons, forever guarding ghosts of those who fought and died, left wheel ruts unfilled by the passing of time. In hollow mockery of troops long gone, towering trees stand attention around a painting of a grand house which burned leaving but scraps of a foundation and graves and monuments, lasting reminders of the price of a war which turned brother against brother and friend into enemy.
In Fredricksberg, colonial buildings march side by side in their restored grandeur, quaint, narrow, and deep with pocks caused by shelling in revolutionary or civil war time. Stark, plain yet with silent dignity, a battle-scarred church, built of brick and mortar, stands separated from rushing traffic by a line of swaying trees. Aged pine floors creak echoes of the past in the building where heroic medicine had been found, while young girls, older ones too, shudder at the tales of treatment of long ago. A tavern and inn sits in memory where the rich entered by the front door, and the common folk by the back. A deck of cards lies on a table, the ace of spades missing to avoid more of the King’s tax, the start of “not playing with a full deck.” White and proud stands the home of the first president’s mother, a mother’s home where a son came to ask her blessing and where a boy ghost lurks.
Monticello brings many to visit its splendor and its view. Gentle mountains softened by graduated shades of green touch the low, lazy haze curling about the rounded peaks. Deep valleys spread below, filled with close ranks of pines, oaks, and elms divided by lush meadows or fields of fragrant grasses and hay. On a hill-top sits the ancient, in New World time, house with multiple chimneys pointing to the bright blue sky where wisps of
friendly clouds play hide-and-seek. Around the mansion lie carpets of velvet grass shaded by weeping willows and towering oaks while flowers peek through hedges. Vistas of wooded hills and valleys hide old houses in armies of trees with roofs and chimneys briefly spotted behind the sentries. Trails of history meander through today’s sunlight, bringing back memories of yesterdays gone by. A stone monument marks the grave now empty while immortality lives in brick and wood for all to see, but not touch.
A flood of traffic rushes into the nation’s capital, greeted by a towering white spear and a columned reminder of those who led through the two historic wars most grim. The spires of a red-brick American castle reach toward the drizzling sky on one side of a mall of grass and paths. Mobs of citizens from here and there play tourist, staring in awe or simply gawking at the mixture of history now surrounded by crass commercialism. The long reach of grass is framed by a domed capitol blurred by mist, buildings old and new housing memories and dreams, the towering column reaching upward unsoftened by any influence. Around and through rages a river of people flowing, ebbing, creating rapids that cannot be navigated. Apparently healthy men accost walkers, begging for money for food; all look amazingly well-fed. Here lies history drowning in today as a nation’s mansion hides behind bars and barricades, unapproachable.
Standing tall and proud at the top of a hill like an elderly lady fallen on hard times, Chatham, a mansion from colonial times used in the Civil War as a Union headquarters to subdue Fredricksberg, brings feelings of dread and of anticipation. The mansion gathers her tattered gown around her with dignity, staring haughtily across the river, overlooking the shadows of destruction left in her lap. One is overwhelmed with the need to escape from the oppressive darkness by fleeing around the circle of her skirt. Like hiding behind his mother in safety, he finds her garden holds peace and contentment, full of flowering, blooming life.
Memories of the past, real and imagined, spin and mix with views of the present creating a new, more intimate portrait of a slice of history.
Vivian Gilbert Zabel taught English, composition, and creative writing for twenty-five years, honing her skills as she studied and taught. She is an author on http://www.Writing.Com/, a site for Writers, and her portfolio is http://www.Writing.Com/authors/vzabel Her books, Hidden Lies and Other Storied and Walking the Earth, can be found through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com.