Bring Your Camera

by

“Come with me to deliver this load of mulch,” Bruce said last night after supper.

I never know what our trips will bring. He doesn’t usually ask me along; so I know when he does invite me, there’s something he wants me to see.

“Bring your camera,” he added as I walked toward the front door.

The dump truck is an International road tractor. You need a ladder to climb up into the thing, but once there, you survey the world on your side from a high vantage point.  Bruce started the engine and pulled out of the driveway.  We bumped along Rt. 250 toward the foot of Afton Mountain. At Rockfish Gap Country Store, we took a left onto Old Turnpike Road. It’s a gravel road I’ve never traveled. On our right was an old factory with abandoned cinderblock buildings, peeling tin roofed structures, loading docks with bay doors rusted shut, old equipment smothered under weeds and vines, and off in the distance stood a tall, brick smoke stack.

Bruce stopped the truck next to the Realtor’s For Sale sign. “I wonder what this used to be,” he said.

“I don’t know, but it sure is a mess,” I answered.

He’s been looking for a little piece of land to move his mulch business to. He needs a place where a tractor trailer can get off the main road easily, turn around, and dump the load.

“I’d love to have it if the price was right,” he said.

“Oooh no,” I said. “There’s too much to clean up here and you don’t know what that factory made. It may be one of those situations where the EPA has to get involved, asbestos clean up, lead based paint, underground oil and gas tanks. Can you imagine what a mess that would be? How much money you’d have pour into it? And that would be after you bought the property.  You can just put this idea right out of your head,”  I stated with crossed arms.  My tone must have sounded firm enough, because he pulled back out onto the road mumbling something about “just a thought.”

The road was narrow and the truck is big and wide. I was glad not to have met any cars coming. They would have had to back up, or pull over if they’d met us.  The Blue Ridge mountains rose to our right. We were so close to the foot of the range that we could see individual trees where the slope graduated upward. Spring hay in the pastureland between us and the mountain waved under the breeze. A fence stretched along the roadside with rails arranged like clasped gray fingers. The sun had dipped below the mountain and the warm spring air had begun to cool.

I lifted my camera when I saw three deer standing in the field adjacent to the truck, but the side mirror obstructed my shot and I put the camera back in my lap.  “If you wanted me to take pictures,” I said, “we should have come back later in the car.”

“Keep your britches on,” Bruce said. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

We traveled for another two or three miles before making a sharp left and climbing a steep driveway. The road surface was littered with large loose gravel and good sized pieces of crystal quartz. I could hear them hit the bank as the truck rolled over them and they shot out from under the tires. The driveway was rutted from rain and we bounced from side to side in the truck seat. I hoped this realignment of my brain was worth it.

At the crest of the hill, spread out before us, was the acreage of our destination, a flat, terrace of spring green dotted with hot pink and white azalea bushes under weeping willow trees. The view of the mountains was crisp and clean. My intake of breath was audible. Bruce looked over at me and smiled. He pulled up beside an old weathered gray barn with a rusted tin roof. It leaned back against a tree, tired from years of holding farm equipment and bales of hay.

The farm house was circa 1920, a non-descript two story brown dwelling with square white pillars holding up the porch roof. I was not impressed with it.  What caught my eye was the small rock house to its right. It was quaint and old, probably dating back before the Civil War. The mortar around the rock was rough placed and the craftsman had taken something like a stick and traced a line in the mortar around each stone.  We have many rock walls, pillars and buildings in Albemarle County, but I had never seen one made like this. The roofline had been changed at one time to add height to the cottage, and the structure had a later addition, crafted by a different rock mason. The lines were missing. The two windows facing us were stained glass. The door was a wide paneled mahogany with a white porcelain knob.    “It’s beautiful,” I said.

“Thought you’d like it,” Bruce said as he tipped the dump body and unloaded the mulch.

The owners of the property had been spreading the last load of mulch Bruce had brought and came over to the truck to hand him a check. Bruce is not shy.  “She’d like to see the rock cottage,” Bruce said motioning to me with his thumb.

“Sure, come on in,” the woman said. “I’d love to show it to you.  As much work as I did to the place, I like to brag about it.”

And it was lovely, with its original hardwood floors, exposed beam ceilings, stone fireplace and walnut mantle. She had sanded the wood to its original burnished finish and was in the process of taking the layers of paint off the inside rock surface of one wall. A huge high four poster bed sat in a corner of the front room near the fireplace.  I had my camera in my hand as I walked through the cottage admiring the renovations that brought the original look back to the building. I didn’t take any photographs though.

We thanked the owners for the tour and climbed back into the truck. “I could stand there and feel myself transported back in time,” I said to Bruce.

“Why didn’t you take any pictures?” He asked.

“I felt funny taking pictures of the inside of someone’s house with them standing right there,” I said. “Like maybe they’d think I was casing the joint.”

Bruce laughed. “I think you look pretty trustworthy,” he said. “Besides, they have my name, phone number and address. You wouldn’t get very far before you were caught.”

“Oh well,” I said. “I guess I missed out. I’ll just have to keep the pictures I have in my head.”

We left the way we came. As we turned at the bottom of the hill, I pointed and called out, “Wait! Stop! Look at this.”

“Oh yeah, I saw it the last trip,” Bruce said. “I thought you had seen it.”

“No, I missed it. Pull over,” I said. “It’s so sweet. I want to get out and take some pictures.”

He pulled over in front of another stone cottage and let me slide out. He drove the truck down a ways from the cottage and waited for me.

The building looked to be constructed by the latter mason who had added onto the house we’d just come from up on the hill. This rock was smooth on the surface with neat mortared edges. The small entryway was framed by a pillared arch. Two round-top windows on either side of the front door reflected the yard’s white dogwood trees in their dark surface. A rock chimney rose from a roof shingled in weathered gray cedar shakes. A neat stack of firewood sat near the front door. Its small split logs ready to warm the little house.

To the right side of the cottage, a retaining wall made of the same rock rose behind the building with a set of stairs climbing along its side to access an upper level door that lead to a room that had been dug out of the hillside above.  The door mirrored the same rounded arch as the porch and windows.

Bordering the tiny front yard, a rail fence stood next to an old fashioned climbing red rose, its fragrance perfumed the evening air as no hybrid rose could.

I stood staring at the cottage for a long time after I took my photographs. I imagined its interior inhabited by elves or fairies. I smelled the aroma of meat stew simmering over an open flame in the fireplace. I tasted buttery cornbread cooked in an iron skillet. A grandmother rocked in her chair, reading to a child from a storybook written long ago.

“You alright?” Bruce called from the truck.

I put the camera into my pocket and walked down the hill to the dump truck. “I want that little house,” I said.

When we got back to the old factory, Bruce pulled to the side of the road again and stopped. “You want to take some pictures?” he asked.

I looked at him and frowned. “No,” I said. “I thought we decided against this.”

“We?” he asked.

“I’d rather have that cute little rock house back there,” I said smiling, my arms crossed over my chest again.

Bruce crossed his own arms and smiled back at me. “There’s no ‘For Sale’ sign there,” he said.

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16 Responses to “Bring Your Camera”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    Love it!!! The rock house is a beaut!

  2. train-whistle Says:

    Bruce says if I gather the rocks he’ll build me one.

  3. Southern Sea Muse Says:

    Gorgeous! Reminds me of the intriguing finds we’d see along the Parkway during my days at Hollins near Roanoke…Thank you for sharing this charming little castle!

    • train-whistle Says:

      Thank you. I’ve lived in this area my whole life and still find things and places I’ve never seen. Taking back roads is like a treasure hunt. My oldest attended Ferrum College and we drove by Hollins frequently.

  4. allthingsboys Says:

    Beautiful! I think we live close. Do you belong to Writer House by chance? You can reach me at arnelgonce@gmail.com

  5. Jim Cantwell Says:

    Great post, Train.
    I used to go out urban exploring, I loved it.
    I wasn’t in it to find stuff to bring home with me I was in it to see the buildings themselves, the intricate craftsmanship that has been lost in our prefab and plastic buildings of today I would come in like a ghost leaving no signs I was ever there and would leave with only some pictures.
    ps if it was private property I would get owners permission 🙂

  6. OldMack Says:

    Lovely story, wonderful ride. Very revealing.

  7. timkeen40 Says:

    From country soul to country soul, this is awesome.

    Tim

  8. Curly Says:

    Lovely story, Train. Thanks for the immersion in that country. Transporting description.

    I miss the rich architecture found in the East. The 300 year old homes still lived in. Very few buildings over a 100 years old surviving in the West.

    • train-whistle Says:

      Thanks for stopping by Curly. I was beginning to worry about you. Hadn’t seen you in awhile. As always, I appreciate your reading and your feedback. You got a good eye and a good ear! Hope you and Doris are well.

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