“Why are you here?” I’m caught off guard by this innocent question.
It’s coming from a small eight year old girl who has randomly wandered up to me at the Natural Bridge State Park for absolutely no apparent reason other than to ask this question.
“Me?…I’m taking a tour of the park… Em… What are you doing here?” I ask innocently with little better to say.
“I’m here with my mommy” and with that the little girl then ran off to rejoin her mother.
It was only after she’d left that thought to myself ‘I really hope that wasn’t like God or the spirit of the universe attempting to communicate with me and say out loud what I’m often thinking inside my own head’.
I dismiss the thought, but for some reason the idea continues to amuse me as I walk the rest of the trail at Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia. It was there at the end of the walking trail, by the waterfall that I met a nice Amish family. After exchanging stories I tell them offhandedly to feel free to check out my blog. I highly doubt they’ll be reading my blog, but cross my fingers.
The Natural Bridge State Park is a beautiful state park in the western portion of Virginia. It made my list of things to see because of it’s connection to Thomas Jefferson, one of my favorite founding fathers.
Thomas Jefferson originally purchased the 157 acres of land which included the Natural Bridge from King George III of England back in 1774 for a mere 20 shilings in 1774. He called it “the most Sublime of nature’s works” I did the math on an independent website. It claims that 20 shillings in 1774 would translate loosely to $151.74 today but I don’t think that’s right. I wonder if King George gave him change in $2 dollar bills though?
Having camped out for the night before while on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I needed to head into town for gas as well a few basic survival supplies.
While there I stopped by a local Burger King for a large coffee as it was one of the few places in the area that openly advertised free WiFi. If you ever wonder ‘why do so many places advertise free WiFi?’, I’m the reason, that’s why.
Getting my coffee I did make conversation with woman who was grading papers as the table next to me. Turns out she was a creative writing teacher for the local university. On her sharing this fun fact, I immediately imagine myself failing her class or possibly getting a solid C+, but only because I tried so hard. I’m comfortable with this, as I’ve grown comfortable with a lot of other things about myself on this trip.
Since she lives in the area I ask her about the Natural Bridge and if there’s anything else in the area worth seeing. She thinks for a moment, ‘Honestly I’ve only been up there once on a field trip as a kid. I mean really, if you’ve seen a photo of the place you’ve seen the thing. I think you’d be better off just touring the Parkway and enjoying the views’.
Thanks Creative Writing Professor from Lexington. My expectations for the Natural Bridge have now been properly set. I imagine this will be much like Delaware, and is fast becoming ‘Olde Swede Church’ part two.
While at Monticello, it was amusing though, that Jefferson had illustrations of many of the natural wonders of the US around his home. But the two that stood out to me were one of Niagara Falls, and the other of Natural Bridge. I was already able to compare in my mind the images I remembered of the Falls, to those which these artists had illustrated. I was looking forward to comparing the actual Natural Bridge with the illustration that was hanging in Jefferson’s home.
That’s A Lot of Steps
To get to the Natural Bridge to do have to climb down to the valley basin that runs underneath the Natural Bridge itself. And don’t forget that for every step you take down, you have to take one back up at the end of the day.
The path is lined with a little stream waterfall that feeds into the larger stream below that runs under the arch that is the Natural Bridge. Having spoken with the Creative Writing Teacher in Lexington, I’m planning on getting to the bottom, taking a few photos of this tourist trap, and then getting on with my trip to see the rest of the stunning vista of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I figure long as I do this the day won’t be totally lost driving out here.
I don’t know what type of childhood that woman had, or what type of recollection she had of her trip to the Natural Bridge. But it was starkly different than my own. With one look at the Natural Bridge, and walking underneath it, I can see why Jefferson was so impressed by it, and I knew immediately that I’d have to spend a lot more time here than originally allocated.
I went on a weekday when the traffic was low. I can tell that they’ve built the place to be able to manage the capacity for multiple school tour groups at once. And perhaps that’s what the Professor remembered, the shoulder to shoulder pushing and shoving, the noise and hollering.
But on the day I went, it was a mostly peaceful day. A handful of other tourist walked by as I sat quietly on a bench underneath the arch and meditated for a while.
The surprise of the day was that I went on the same day as a group of about 40 to 50 Amish farmers. I chatted with a group of them up while looking at the waterfall that marks the end of the park’s hiking trail. They had been commissioned to work on a project in the Virginia area, and had gotten done a day early. So instead of returning immediately they were ‘enjoying a day off’.
One of their group though was wearing a bright reflecting yellow shirt and was clearly as they jokingly say ‘not like the others’. It turns out he was their driver and the group was from Lancaster Pennsylvania. I don’t know what the commute time would be, but I imagine it would still take a horse and buggy a hot minute to get all the way down to western Virginia, even if you did somehow find a way to use the modern interstate system.
Native American Village
The only other thing I’ll mention is that the park does also offer a nice ‘authentic’ Native American village display slash interactive museum with live actors portraying time period Native Americans and English settlers. I’m a single 33 year old guy and have seen enough of these types of displays in my life. I decided to avoid this area like the plague that the English settlers brought with them to the New World, and opted instead to continue on the walking trail.
It was at this point that I was confronted by my little eight year old friend who innocently asked…
“Why are you here?”
I still like to play around with that simple question in my head. I don’t fully have an answer yet. But I feel like I’m at least heading in the right direction.
“To tour the park of course… And why are you here?”