On the way there, I thought about blood. Blood and how I really should have refreshed my Civil War memory bank before embarking on a long weekend of Civil War battlefield immersion. Blood though, was the thing I remembered about Antietam. It’s what stuck out in my mind, the tiny piece of information I picked up some time in high school and managed to hold onto until now. I couldn’t remember the exact date, couldn’t remember which generals led the Union or Confederate troops, wasn’t even 100 percent sure which year the battle took place, but Antietam, my memory told me, was bloody.
I’m so good at reading books in the winter. Then, spring turns into summer and it gets too hot to sit outside and read in the evenings, social obligations pop up, my work hours lengthen and flex and books that should take a few days to devour take longer and longer, full weeks, even. So, I’ve been in a reading rut. I’ve read some lovely things, especially lately, but this second reading report includes a lot of books I didn’t love or even like, a few I slogged through just so I could mark them as finished and at least one I loved until the end when nothing was settled and I threw the book across the room in a fit of disappointed rage.
This week, y’all. It has not been kind. Here’s a few things that have made this miserable week survivable:
Earlier this year, a brewery opened less than a mile from my house and I was instantly enamored. It’s my new favorite place and I’m there almost every weekend, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends, but always with a book. Their beer is funky and wild, and their small batch offerings are ever-changing.
Upon receiving my cousin’s wedding invitation, I turned into a cartoon villain. Fingers and brows tented, I smirked. “Excellent,” I said. With that invitation, I had reason to go to Maine, the only state east of the Mississippi River I’d never set foot in and home to Acadia National Park, an almost 50,000-acre wonderland of rugged and rocky Atlantic coastline, woodlands, lakes and ponds. Excellent, indeed.
I had no choice but to move my windshield wiper selector switch to rampage level. The rain was coming down in king-sized sheets and as much as I hate the crazed swish of wiper blades moving at top speed, I was driving on unfamiliar back roads and needed all the help I could get. I was going camping and as my phone pinged with increasingly dramatic weather alerts, I cursed, felt the whisper of anxiety catch in my chest and started laughing. It was going to rain for as long as it was going to rain and no amount of angsty nail-biting was going to change that.
There’s a lot I find appealing about lighthouses. I like that they exist to guide us through troubled waters, the way they serve as bright beacons of assurance in the midst of a mess. I like their history, the stories of harrowing rescues and narrow escapes from catastrophe, stories of vanished lighthouse-keepers or vivid tales of bravery and independent existences. I like how they all have their own identities, their own stories. They’re all different, all built for some specific sea obstacle in varying sizes, shapes and shades.
I felt my shoulders loosen on the drive down. When I got out of the car at the tiny house I’d rented for the weekend, I tilted my head back, looked up at the trees and exhaled, long and slow.
“We should go to Kentucky,” she said. “For the bourbon.” And that was it, that was all the convincing I needed. A few months later we were on our way, heading west on I-64 toward Louisville, a full schedule of distillery tours, bourbon tastings and dinner reservations ahead of us.
“It’s worth it,” I said when I voluntarily heaved myself out of bed at 4:45 a.m. on a Saturday. I’d spent a week deliberating, talking myself in and out of hiking Old Rag and then, finally, in a fit of decisiveness, I stopped making excuses and decided to just fucking do it.
Old Rag is one of the most popular hikes in Virginia. It’s 9ish miles, depending on how you hike it, there’s a 1.5 mile rock scramble I’d been repeatedly warned about and it’s listed as hard or very strenuous, depending on your reference. I was, to be completely honest, a little afraid of Old Rag. The National Park Service says it’s the most dangerous hike in Shenandoah National Park and that was enough to give me pause, enough for me to question whether hiking it by myself was the right choice.
Every year I line up a big stack of really incredible, much-anticipated books to read while winter slumps into spring. Then, I go on a book-reading bender. I stay up past my bedtime, I walk around the house clutching an open book, reading it as I put dishes into the dishwasher, sass the cat or just walk from one part of the house to another. I carry a book with me everywhere, reading for two minutes before my yoga class, reading while my computer restarts, reading, reading, reading.