Hot Lanes & Direct Democracy

Above is the interchage at 495 and 66 – Richmond or Baltimore.  That building in the middle is the Dunn Loring Metro Station, so you get to see several parts of the transit puzzle.

They are building “hot lanes” on I-495 near my house.  Hot lanes are special lanes where people pay a premium to drive.  The price is based on the traffic conditions.  When there is a lot of traffic, the price is higher.  This means that people choose to trade time for money and travel time is more predictable. 

We need to address traffic congestion and building more or wider roads won’t work.   Charging for use based on demand makes so much sense.   Currently we allocate space on the road by making people wait in line.  It is the same way the Soviet Union distributed bread with the same result.     

I am interested in these kinds of innovative traffic solutions, so I went down to the Virginia Dept of Transportation (VDOT) information session at Luther Jackson Middle School not far from my house.  There were around 200 people at the meeting.   The most boisterous among them (us) expressed outrage at the hot lanes.  Nobody wants any new roads in his neighborhood and people complained that hot lanes were just ways to let the rich avoid traffic.   

It is a challenge of direct democracy.   We experienced the same sort of thing in New Hampshire.   Our community wanted to put in a sewer system, but some of the old guys figured out (correctly) that they would not live long enough to justify the initial investment, so old Mr. Parker or old Mrs. Winthrop got up and complained.   Nobody wanted to cross them, so nothing happened.    Some of my neighbors at the VDOT meeting wanted to stop this project.  Fortunately, the VDOT people are made of sterner stuff, or maybe they don’t care as much re public attitudes.    Hot Lanes WILL be built in N. Virginia.  There are already hot lanes on I-394 in Minneapolis, I-25 in Denver, SR-91 in Orange County,  I-15 in San Diego & I-10 in Houston, Texas, but Virginia’s  is evidently going to be the biggest private-public partnership for hot lanes in the world.  Read more about Virginia hot lanes at this link.

Actually, I am not sure what the real attitude of my fellow Virginians is re hot lanes.  The loudest people complained loudly and used the pronoun “we” very liberally.  After the meeting, I talked to some people who seemed less opposed.   Nobody likes a new road in their yard, but many people are reasonable and understand that this particular project is good. 

It reminds me of the old joke.  The Lone Ranger & Tonto are fighting a group of Indians and losing.  The Lone Ranger says, “It looks like we are surrounded, Tonto.”  Tonto replies, “What is this ‘we’ Kemosabi?”

Chrissy attended a similar meeting at the same time I was doing the hot lanes.  Hers was re new buildings near the metro.  We (CJ and I) favor density near the metro.   It is good for the environment and good for our community, but current residents are often against it.  They want to shut the door behind themselves. 

Our  views on development generally make Chrissy and me as popular as skunks at a garden party, at least among the activists who just assume the local residents will toe the anti-development line.   But I think we are doing the right thing.    Greater density near the metro and hot lanes are solutions that address the problems of traffic and congestion.  Developing where we are means saving farms and forests farther away and helps use all that expensive infrastructure.   The alternative, just opposing change, solves no problems, although it might make our lives temporarily easier.  But it is sort of like the Mr. Parker or Mrs. Winthrop attitude.

Is This Heaven?

I got an email from my colleague in Iraq telling me that they are experiencing “the mother of all sandstorms.”  Since we are still working out of tents, it is doubly bad.   I go back to Iraq tomorrow.  I expect that my can will be covered in dust and that I will have to shovel off my bed before I can take a nap.   I don’t look forward to returning to those gritty 110+ degree days, but you can get used to anything, I guess. 

That goes for the sweet as well as the bitter.  I spent my penultimate morning in Virginia walking/running around my neighborhood.   I probably covered around ten miles.  What a pleasant place.   But we have gotten used to it and don’t really appreciate what we have.   If you listened to all the complaining, you would think our country was a horrible place.

I advocate the mental experiment of imagining you have lost everything.  Now imagine you got it back.  How happy are you?   I have not lost it all but when I am in Iraq I really appreciate what we have in America.   America has delivered on the promise to protect the natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.   Sometime we are just too fat and happy to recognize that we are fat and happy.

Below is part of one of my running trail

I think America is a great place.  Let the dogs of cynicism howl.  (Actually the word cynicism comes from the Greek word for dog.   Cynics saw themselves are the guard dogs.)   Some people would just call me naïve, but I have seen a lot of the world and my opinion is not based on lack of experience.    In fact, I think it is the experience with different things that helps me see the wonder  and beatuy in the “ordinary” things.

Being an American gives you options and choices.   You get to pursue happiness. You don’t always catch it, but there are plenty of chances.  I understand that there are also plenty of challenges, but overcoming challenges is the fun part of life.  You cannot be happy w/o challenges.  Besides on this earth is perfect.  We have not achieved and never will achieve heaven on earth. 

With all that in mind, I would paraphrase the exchange with Shoeless Joe Jackson on “Field of Dreams”.  When he asked, “Is this heaven?”  I think the response would be, “No.  This is just the United States of America.”  

Back to Iraq tomorrow I go.  High Ho.

The U.S. Marine Museum at Quantico

Above is the atrium from below. 

After getting to know & admire the Marines in Iraq, I certainly had to take advantage of our new Marine Museum in the Washington area.  It is at Quantico and they just finished it last year.    Please click on the link for real details.   I will supply only my personal impressions.

Below is the atrium from above.

Before I went to Iraq,  I knew some individual Marines, mostly U.S. Embassy guards and military attaches, but I had not seen them in their own environment and I have to admit that most of what I thought came from the media, where You have the heroic “Sands of Iwo Jima” image mixed with less favorable  left wing impressions .   It has become a little hard for me to accurately recall how I felt before I went to live with Marines in Iraq.  When I think back, I do remember that when they told me that it was a Marine COMBAT regiment and that they would issue me protective gear, I was a little apprehensive, both about being embedded with Marines and being issued protective gear.  If they give you protective gear, it might be because it is dangerous enough to need it.   I guess I was expecting to be in that “Sands of Iwo Jima” environment, or at least the one I saw on television news.  Both were kind of scary.  Fortunately, it was a lot more peaceful than that and the Marines were different too.

 In the real life Marines, I found innovative problem solvers.  They take pride in never really having enough resources and improvising to get the job done.  But they are not merely men of action.  Although some don’t like to admit it, many are true intellectuals.   They are widely read and they try to adapt historical experience and theoretic knowledge to their practical problems.   Their jobs give them a unique ability to test theory and the fact that lives are on the line makes them take this very seriously.  There is an old saying that an intellectual is someone who will accept anything except responsibility.   This is where Marines differ from the academic intellectuals who sometimes criticize them.

You can see that I have come to admire Marines, as does almost anybody who has real and sustained contact with them.   They still have a practical belief in honor, virtue and honesty.    Theirs is a tough life.   I don’t think it is for everyone and the Marines certainly agree.   I was fortunate to get to know Marines close up and I wanted to take the boys down there to share some of that too.  Visiting the Museum is not much of an introduction, but it is something.   Maybe the Marines could be an option for them. 

The Museum has very clean architectural lines.      It has a sweep like that of the Iwo Jima memorial.   The exhibits are based on Marine history and actual Marines.   Each of the characters in the dioramas in modeled on an actual Marine including facial features and body proportions.   It is an interesting detail.   BTW – we went with the free docent tour.  I suggest everybody do that.   Otherwise, you might not find out or pay attention to details like the one above.  

I got a slightly different impression of WWII from being in Iraq and visiting the museum helped confirm that.   In the last years of the war, the Japanese strategy was to try to kill as many Americans as possible.  They knew they couldn’t win against the U.S., but they figured that if they killed enough Americans, they could achieve an negotiated peace.   The Marines paid the biggest price, as the Japanese just fought to the death on each little piece of ultimately indefensible land.   We did not give up, but we might have.   People living in the past made decisions as we do today.  They didn’t know they were living in the past and they did not know the outcomes, because those outcomes had yet to be decided.  There is no such things as fate.

The docent talked about the famous picture of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi.   People see that as the mark of victory.  Actually many days of fighting followed the flag raising and three of the men in the picture were subsequently killed.      There is good book and movie about what happened to the surviving men involved called “Flags of Our Fathers.”

In the36 days of fighting there were 25,851 US casualties; 6825 were killed.   And Iwo Jima is a really small place, about the size of Al Asad and just about as featureless.  Or put another way, it is only about 1/4 the size of Milwaukee (only the city, not the whole county).  We have lots of heros in our current generation too, but fortunately we have not faced anything like that in Iraq.   The “greatest generation” earned the title.  

Dreaming of Iraq

I often wake up at night and don’t know where I am.   I think I am back in Iraq and even when I am in Iraq I often think I am someplace else.   I think this comes more from the constant moving around than from Iraq specifically, but my dreams of Iraq remind me that I will soon be going back to Anbar.

Modern travel makes for a strange phenomenon.   You can be in the yellow desert one day and back on the green grass of home the next.   And then back in the desert again the day after that.  In America now, the world of Iraq means nothing.  It is like a dream, maybe a nightmare, but it is unreal.   Right now, sitting in Virginia, it feels like I never left home.   I know that in a few days when I get back to Iraq, it will seem like I have always been there.   The two worlds do not mix, even at the edges.   That is probably a good thing.

Americans are not paying much attention to Iraq any more.   I watch the news every day and there is not much coverage.  What news they do feature is is formulaic.    People seem to have made up their minds re Iraq and every new piece of news is trimmed to fit the preconceived perception.   I am afraid that some people are willing to throw away our success for the short term pleasure of getting out.   Candidates are arguing who can get out quicker.   It is silly and pernicious but popular.  The media has frozen our image of Iraq in 2006 and this is not good.

People don’t ask me much about Iraq.  They either don’t care or think they already know it all and I understand that they don’t want to hear my anectdotes.  I am not sure which ones I would tell anyway.  Some of the best stories are those I cannot share, at least not yet.   Beyond that, it is hard to communicate unless you share some basic background & assumptions.   People seem to think Iraq is a constant struggle to stay alive.   They don’t believe me when I tell them that most Iraqis I encounter are friendly and open and I generally do not feel threatened.  The danger is only sort of background noise; the real challenge is just the unrelenting nasty surroundings and climate.  The heat and the dust is beyond most people’s experience, so there is not much use in trying to explain that either.  Riding in helicopters is another hard thing to explain.   I can explain what it is like to ride, but I cannot explain what it is like when that ride becomes merely an unpleasant routine and explaining how it feels to be sitting in a small space on that helicopter as it vibrates in the hot sun is beyond words. 

I watched “Lost” yesterday.   They had a street scene that was supposed to be Iraq.   That is the perception people have.   Chrissy asked me if it was like that.   It’s not.  But I could not really explain how it was different.

Below – the lizard blends with his surroundings

I am not looking forward to going back.  My perceptions have changed.  In September I was afraid of the danger.  I am still aware that risk remains, but now my main focus is on the plain discomfort.  I know what that will be like.   On the other hand, I am looking forward to getting back to my colleagues and the important work we are doing.   Back in September I had no idea we would be doing so much and such a variety of things.   I regret that I will not see most of the projects achieve their full results.  I will not see most of the seeds we planted grow.   On the other hand, my curiosity is not so powerful as to make me want to stay beyond September.   My successor can pick up where I left off.  If I do my job right, it will be easy to transition.  Nobody is indispensible.  I am sure the new guy will bring new skills and talents to the job.   My job will be done.  My year in Iraq will be over.   I will never to back and my dreams of Iraq will fade into the yellow haze.     I just hope it will have been worth it.  Actually, the best thing would be if it is so successful that people say it would have happened anyway.

2008 Tree Farmer of the Year

As I mentioned in earlier posts, one of the things I get to do as VFA Tree Farm communications director is to interview the outstanding tree farmer of the year.   I learn a lot from these guys and I like to share a part of it with others through the write ups.  I met this year’s winner at his farm near Hardy VA a couple days ago.  This is my draft article for the “Virginia Forests” magazine.

Tom and Sallie Newbill are bucking the trend and doing what so many small forest owners dream of doing.   While fragmentation is a big challenge of today’s Virginian forests as farm and timber lands are divided into smaller parcels, some almost too small for proper management, the Newbills have been bringing land together into a bigger well-managed unit.   They started to assemble the pieces that became Montmorenci Tree Farms in 1967 and over the next decades built their inventory of land to include 1190 acres in Franklin County, Virginia and Halifax County NC.  Their home place unites three adjoining farms in Franklin County, VA plus two others are nearby.    The North Carolina place comes through Sallie’s family.   That is also where the name Montmorenci originates.   In 1772, Sallie’s mother’s family received a land grant in North Carolina from the King of England, in this case George III, and they called their estate Montmorenci.   Sallie and Tom revived the name for their farms.

Tom Newbill was not always in the forestry business.  After graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in engineering, he took a job with Westvaco and later worked for IBM and as a principal in a computer services company in Atlanta, Georgia, where the family lived between 1966 and 1996.  Sallie taught school and later spent ten years as a State Senator in the Georgia state legislature.  But Tom felt the pull of the forests of home.  He grew up in Franklin County around forestry operations.  His uncle ran the local saw mill and Tom had a long and natural connection with forestry so he always appreciated the stable value of land and timber. 

When the Newbills had opportunities to invest for their future, timberland seemed a natural choice and the woods of home a natural location.   Tom was returning to his deep roots in Franklin County.   His mother was a long time school teacher in the region and it seemed like half the people of the county had been her pupils.  The Newbills bought their first forest land in 1968 and eventually brought together what had been five separate farms. Both Sallie and Tom inherited land from their parents, and later bought out their siblings.  Each farm had its own story and its own family cemetery, where some of the biggest trees still grow.  Tom and Sallie are very respectful of the cemeteries.   Family members still occasionally visit, but as the years go by the visits are becoming less frequent.

Below – controlled burning is an essential tool of forestry and wildlife management.  Virginia pine forests are fire dependent.  Native Americans burned forests every couple of years.  Small controlled fires stimulate growth and help avoid the large disasterous forest fires that result from too much fire supression.

The Newbills use some of the best forestry practices on their acreage, including planting the latest generation of trees (Tom even has a few third generation loblolly pines on his land), controlled burning, proper thinning, and use of modern chemical treatment;  but he does not take the credit for understanding and employing all these techniques.    Tom says that Jim Ebbert, who recently retired from the Virginia Department of Forestry, was for most practical purposes his land manager.   Tom joked that he wondered how Jim could accomplish the other parts of his job while doing so much for Montmorenci Tree Farms.   Another big help was Westvaco’s Rob Bell, who ran the local Cooperative Farms Management (CFM) program.   Among other things, Rob helped with details of timber sales, something that the DOF does not do.  Today Tom gets professional advice from both MeadWestvaco and Travis Rivers at the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Travis nominated Tom Newbill as this year’s outstanding tree farmer and says that working with someone like Tom is great for everybody involved.  The Commonwealth of Virginia has a strong interest in helping responsible tree farmers like Tom and Sallie improve their land and produce timber while protecting the soils and waters of the Old Dominion.  Partnerships like this make it all possible.   In addition to timber production, about a quarter of Montmorenci Tree Farm’s land is devoted to stream management zones, wildlife plots, and cropland rented to a local dairy farmer.  Tom actively manages the wildlife plots and turkey, deer and quail abound on the land.   Water and wildlife resources are further enhanced by a five acre lake he built on the home tract.  The lake supports bluegill and largemouth bass.  Ducks and geese use the waters.   Tom says that one particular pair of geese had been returning to his lake for six years to raise their families of goslings.  In 2006, six goslings grew to maturity.

Below – Tom’s lake.   I hope to make a similar one on my land.

The advantages of managing as much acreage as the Newbills’ own is the diversity it allows. Over the years, timber has been harvested from all Montmorenci tracts, mostly clear cuts, and currently the oldest plantation was established in 1978.   The youngest is from 2000.  This gives Tom a variety of harvest and management options, as one or more of the eight unique stands, plus SMZ or wildlife plots is always ready for some kind of treatment.   Tom also gets a first hand, up close experience of the difference between growing pines in the mountains (Franklin County) as opposed to the tidewater (Halifax County, NC).  

Tom’s observation is that loblolly pines in the mountains are about five years behind those of the tidewater, which is a significant difference.   Franklin County lies on the edge of loblolly country.  In fact, Tom’s farm is outside the natural range of the tree.   One advantage of growing loblolly pines in the mountains is that there are very few “volunteer pines”.   Tom has not had to do any pre-commercial thinning and when properly treated there is little competition from hardwoods or weeds.  The southern pine beetle is also somewhat less of a problem in this cooler and higher environment.   In the tidewater, well within the natural loblolly range, volunteer pines fill in much more profusely, as do weeds.  On the other hand, properly managed pines grow significantly faster.    Beyond that, the flatter topography makes thinning and other treatment operations much easier.   Another more general difference between tree farming on the tidewater and in the mountains is species composition.  The mountains provide good natural regeneration of poplar and there is a good local market for it.

Tom has been a member of the Virginia Forestry Association since 1974. Whether it is in the mountains or the tidewater, Tom Newbill and his family are doing an outstanding job as tree farmers.  They are well and truly achieving what tree farmers strive to achieve.  They are producing timber while at the same time protecting water and wildlife resources and providing places for recreation.   The Virginia Tree Farm Committee congratulates the Newbill family on a job well done and a job they continue to do.

Arthur Treacher’s, A&W and Other Endangered Gastronomical Delights

The only free standing Arthur Treacher’s I know about is near my house.   All the others have gone the way of the dodo, except a few remnant populations in food courts along the New Jersey Turnpike.   I like the original fish and chips and the offerings of Long John Silver or Red Lobster just do not measure up.  Someday, maybe soon, this one will also be gone.  On that day I shall mourn.  BTW – Notice the pay phone, another endangered species.

A similar fate has befallen A&W stands.  You can still get the root beer at the grocery store, but they are mostly gone as free standing stores with the honest  draft style root beer.  The only one I know about is on HWY 29 on the way out of Charlottesville.   When I was a kid, my cousin Lani used to take me to swim at Racine beech.  We would stop off on the way back at the A&W on Lake Drive.   I think that is some kind of drive in bank these days.   Near Holmen there used to be one across from the Skogan’s IGA.  I could walk to that one from Chrissy’s parents’ house.   It still features root beer and still even has the drive in, but it is no longer A&W.

Of course, all sorts of new chains have come to take their places.   At the Taco Bell near my house, you really cannot order in English and expect your order to be correct.   I guess that is why the numbered menus are so useful.   You can just hold up as many fingers as the item you want to order.  American high school kids used to work at these places, but now you find nothing but recent immigrants.   The other day I went to Taco Bell and was amused to find some Asian immigrants in the back speaking in heavily accented Spanish.   It must be challenging to be the immigrant within the immigrant community.

Duncan Donuts is doing all right, having weathered the low carbs craze of a few years back.   I always preferred Duncan Donuts to the Krispy-Kreme sugar-dough balls.   Krispy-Kreme sailed ahead from its southern bastions until it was wrecked on the low-carbs rocks, taking its customers and sharholders on a roller coaster ride.  Duncan Donuts abides.  Up in Boston, there is a Duncan Donuts on every corner.  There are not quite so many around here.  They do make the best coffee. I don’t like Starbucks as much.   I can never figure out what all the various coffee types are called and which ones I like. 

Speaking of coffee, there is an interesting relationship.   Back when I was a kid, gas cost around quarter.  Everybody looks back with great fondness to those prices, but everybody made a lot less money too, so it was about the same number of hours/minutes worked to fill up.   But coffee used to be a nickel.   Today gas costs $3.39, but if you go to Starbucks or someplace like that, coffee costs about the same as gas, so gas is a much better deal than coffee.Away from Iraq, as you see, my thoughts become more prosaic.  

The great privilege of freedom, BTW, is the freedom to have prosaic thoughts.   When everybody thinks serious thoughts most of the time, you know the country is in trouble.

Two Cans of Coke Zero & a Salami Sandwich

We went out to Old Rag in the Shenandoah today.  The weather was beautiful.  Old Rag is the best hike in Virginia.  In the roughly eight miles, you get lots of variety, including very interesting rock scrambles and excellent views.   I don’t go on the weekends, since it gets too crowded.  On weekdays it is just right.

Below – This rock has been hanging there since the last ice age, or longer, but I am always afraid it will let loose just as I am squeezing below.

Alex & Espen are in good condition these days.   I used to have to drag them behind me; now I am the one being pulled along.  They were making fun of me.  With each jump they asked me if I was worried about breaking a hip.   I have to admit that I am not as nimble as I used to be and I am more likely to shimmy down and less likely to leap.   You re better off, BTW, wearing softer bottom shoes.  Stiff bottomed hiking boots protect you from the rocks, but it is good to have shoes that allow a little toe dexterity. 

Below – ditto this rock

Old Rag is one of my “home places”.   This is my 24th year of coming here.  I first took the boys when Espen was only seven years old.  They still remember that time, or at least remember the story of that time.  It was a very foggy day and the low visibility gave the whole place a surreal, end of the world type look.   Somebody brought a dog names Spike.   We couldn’t see them, but we heard the group behind us.  Now it is against the rules to bring dogs, with good reason.  Dogs do not do well on the rocks and they might knock somebody off.  In this case, it was Spike himself who had the problem.   We heard barking and people calling to Spike.   Then we heard somebody say, “Spike no.”   After that, we heard Spike no more.   What happened I don’t know, but I don’t think it was good.

Below – You can imagine the problems a dog might have climbing those rocks ahead of Espen.  They are steeper than they appear in the picture.

My friend Doron Bard and I once hiked up here with his dog called Tuckahoe.   I had to literally throw Tuckahoe up some of the rocks; Doron caught him and he did not suffer Spike’s fate, but we learned that dogs and sheer rocks don’t mix.  Their little paws slip and canines just cannot climb as well as hominids.

Below – This used to be labeled “Fat man passage” but the PC crowd scrubbed it off.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures and do the hike.  From Sperryville, go south on 522 to SR 601 and follow the signs.   Nearby is another great hike in White Oak Canyon. 

Below – How great thou art.  Every time I am up in the hills, I feel newly inspired.  The words of the old hymn come to mind: O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made; I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art. Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees. When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Fits well, doesn’t it.

I am enjoying my trip home and I have to admit the thought of returning to Iraq is not a pleasant one.  But, what can you do?   I often make this mental experiment.  Imagine you have lost everything and then you got it back.  How lucky are you?  I am lucky now and will be again. 

Below – For the good (non-Iraq) times.

Below – Not all is well.  Over the last 20 years almost all the hemlocks have died out, victims of the hemlock whooly agelgid, introduced from Asia in 1924.    Invasive species are as much of a threat to our forests and ecosystems as global warming.

Hemlocks used to line this stream.  It was dark and beautiful and the shade cooled the water.  There is no easy replacement for the niche formerly occupied by the hemlock in Eastern N. America.

BTW – Espen & Alex wanted to drink the water.  I think the water is clean, but drinking it is not a good idea.  We each had two cans of Coke Zero & a salami sandwich.   What other rations can you need for a hike like this? 

Shenandoah and Appomattox

Below is Tom Newbill, this year’s tree farmer of the year, next to his biggest oak tree.  It stands in one of the five family graveyards on his land.  In the old days, people buried their relatives on the old farmstead. Tom says that some people still visit the graves, but less frequently as time goes on.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

The most poignant is a grave of a nine year old girl called Goldie, who died just before Christmas in 1914.  Her grave is alone, near where the farmhouse stood, but away from other family members.   I am sure there is a story, but nobody will ever know.

This year’s tree farmer of the year lives in Hardy, near Roanoke, a little more than a four hour drive from Vienna.   Since I had to get there at 9am, I set out early in the morning.   I took 66 to 81 and made good time and was almost to Lexington by the time the sun came up.   It is tough driving on 81.   81 is the truck route that serves the East Coast and it is uncomfortable to be the little guy among the giant trucks.

The Shenandoah Valley is beautiful at dawn or at any other time.   Looking at it from 81 is not the best way to see it, however.   My thoughts often return to Iraq, where I must soon return, and the effects of war.  This beautiful valley was the scene of terrible destruction, much more intense than in Iraq.   Phil Sheridan went through the Valley in 1864 and destroyed everything so that the South could not use it as a supply area.  He famously said, “If a crow wants to fly down the Shenandoah, he must carry his provisions with him”.    And he did this after the war had ranged through the place for four years.   The Shenandoah was a battleground because of its proximity to Washington, its natural bounty and the mixed loyalties of the valley residents.   Anyway, by the end of the war there was not much left.

It grew back.

I will write up and post the article re the tree farmer of the year tomorrow or the next day.   Suffice to say, this guy has done well.  He has more than 1000 acres and he got it the old fashioned way.  Well, he inherited the family farm, but then he saved his money and bought some other acreage.   It is his retirement account and his land is very well managed.

Since it was more or less on the way, I stopped at Appomattox.   I missed the big event by a couple of days (and of course 143 years.) Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia in Wilmer McLean’s parlor on April 9, 1865.  Our Civil War was unique in world history.   All that fighting and killing just ended.  Robert E. Lee was a real man of honor.  He sent his men home to become good citizens of the United States.   Civil wars don’t usually end like that.   In France, they would cut off heads.   The Russians machine gunned the opposition and the Chinese just starved millions to death.   In the U.S. Lee just went home and so did his men.  Of course, Grant’s terms were generous.   A few weeks later Joe Johnston surrendered his army to William T.  Sherman and the unpleasantness was largely over.  Johnston and Sherman became friends.   In fact, Johnston died of pneumonia contracted at Sherman’s funeral when he refused out of respect to wear a hat or take shelter from the rain.   April 1865 was also the month Lincoln was shot.   With the possible exception of July 1776, it was the most momentous month in American history. 

Of course most people remember the story of Wilmer McLean.  In 1861 he lived near Manassas, on the banks of a little stream called Bull Run.  During the first battle there, with the lead flying through his back yard and a Union shell landing literally in the soup pot in his kitchen, he decided to move to a quieter place, one where the war would not intrude.   He figured Appomattox was the spot.  Talk about luck.

Vienna Virginia … Again with the Running

Along my habitual running trail is a neighborhood along Glyndon Street.  The little brick houses there (as above)  are disappearing. People who want to live here but dislike the current housing options have been tearing them down to build bigger and more luxurious homes. These nice homes are very different from those they displace. The people who live in them are different too. In driveways next to old houses, you find Chevy pickups holding the tools of McCain supporters. In the multicar garages of the new homes are Prius with Obama bumper stickers.

It goes deeper than that.   Whole Foods comes to displace Safeway.  Restaurant menus change from down home to ethnic fusion.  There are fewer kids playing on the streets and Virginia accent becomes less and less common in this part of Virginia.   Native Virginians have long said that you probably have to go south of the Rappahannock to get to Virginia.  That is becoming more uniformly true.  The area is gentrifying.  Lawyers and government workers are replacing the small business employees and owners.

I have mixed feelings about those things.   I am a carpetbagger myself.   I think shopping at Whole Foods is a waste of money, but my tastes run toward the gentrification.  Those houses are too big for me, but I like to look at them in the neighborhood.   (It is always better to have the cheapest house in a rich neighborhood.  You get to look at your neighbors’ houses and they get to look at yours.)  On the other hand, I have come to like many of the aspects of the neighborhood I had.   I learned to like Old Virginia.  I also don’t like the “style” of some of my new neighbors, who insist on wearing designer running suits and those tight bike pants.    

I guess on balance the change is good, but my ledger does not balance the same debits and credits as most of my neighbors.  For example, I like the density near the Metro. I think they should build high rises for residential and office space and lots of retail.  That is the only way to get “transit oriented development.”  I want my Metro area to look like Clarendon.  

Local citizens’ groups try to fight density.  Ironically, it is often the newest people leading the charge.  They moved here to escape such things and now it is following them and they want to lock the door.  I think that position is hypocritical.  We can’t expect to have a Metro stop with a low rise neighborhood around it.  All that means is more people drive more cars more often.   A Metro stop is too important an asset to be left sitting lonely.  We either build density here where commuters can use the Metro or push sprawl out onto the farms and fields in Loudon or even Harpers Ferry, from which people will commute hundreds of miles a week in their cars.  For me the choice is obvious. 

Above is part of an older Virginia suburb too.  The development is named for Stonewall Jackson and all the streets are named for his subordinate commanders or his famous campaigns.  I doubt anybody would choose those names and themes today. 

Strange the things you think about when you are running.  As I mentioned in the previous posts, running gives you a thinking opportunity.  I didn’t say it was always profound thought.

Green, Green Grass of Home

Washington is nice in springtime.  This is general Sherman near 13th St. 

I am home on R&R and Virginia and Washington are green and beautiful.   The sky is blue.  Flowers are blooming.  April is my second favorite month around here, after October.

Washington is a nice city.  It is walkable and full of parks.  I have gotten to know a lot of the city at ground level, especially the Capitol Mall.  I have seen a few changes.  Most are good.  The WWII& Korean War Memorials were good additions.  The American Indian Museum has really nice grounds.   I especially like the pond.  I made a note re the the American Indian Museum a couple years ago, if you want to see pictures.

The city around the Mall and to the East has gotten a lot better, especially the Capitol Hill area.  The bad part of town used to start at 14th Street.  Now you can go almost to the Anacostia and still be in a place that isn’t too scary.

I would not mind living around here after I retire.  The nice things re Washington is all the free “intellectual services”.  Of course, you have all the museums around the Smithsonian and the area is rich in Colonial & Civil War history not far away.   But you also have the think tanks with daily lectures and other events.  Many of them give free lunches, so they feed both body and mind.  I have fairly eclectic tastes, yet I notice some of the same people attending lectures wherever I go.   I am sure some of these guys come for the free lunch.   You could live off the fat of the land if you owned a good suit and didn’t mind sitting through lectures on various subjects.  The best breakfasts, BTW, are at AEI.  Heritage provides Subway sandwiches and very good chocolate chip cookies.

Many of the lectures are also available online, but I find I pay a lot more attention if I can see the person right there.   It is a great luxury of Washington.   Boston was like that too, of course, but not every place has that kind of intellectual infrastructure.

At had some meetings at HST and SA 44 today.  I went in early with Chrissy and walked from Federal Triangle Metro to SA 44.  On the way is the American Indian Museum.  As I walked around there, I recalled my decision to go to Iraq.

I had almost forgotten.   I talked to Chrissy about it and then talked to Jeremy.  Then I decided to go and told others.   Telling others is a good way to confirm a decision.  It makes chickening out harder.  A couple days later, I felt like chickening out.   Who doesn’t have doubts?  Now my decision to go to Iraq seems natural or even inevitable, but was not. I walked around that pond at the Indian Museum, heard the water running and the red wing blackbird singing.  Of course I knew I should go and did, but I remember thinking, “What the hell have I gone and done?” 

At the halfway point, I can say that I am really happy that I made that decision.  I am grateful for the opportunity.  It is easy to overlook what a great opportunity it is being a PRT leader.  Not many people get to do something like this and even fewer get this kind of adventure when they are past 50 years old.   I cannot say that I look forward to going back to Iraq.  The hot weather is coming and the dust never goes away, but it is a good experience.   I love working with my teammates and the Marines there.  I think my team is making a difference.  I am making a difference.  That is important to me.