Some days you should simply listen to your gut – even when you think it is speaking a foreign language.
For the past few years, a friend and I have been trying to visit a writer’s retreat in southern Virginia. The website displayed lovely pictures of an 1856 renovated farmhouse with a spectacular river view.
The website blurb sealed the deal for me: Spacious porches and large private rooms provide peaceful views of wooded river bluffs and pastures. After a day of writing enjoy sitting on the porches, sipping wine as you watch deer browse among the fruit trees. This was accompanied by a variety of glowing recommendations from an assortment of writers.
I was hooked and could not wait to plunk down my money and arrange for a week’s visit to Nirvana. This trip was really going to happen. I planned, packed and dreamed for a month. My friend flew in from Chicago and we started our southward trek. Winding the 200 miles through the Virginia mountains was fun – at first. The directions then got a bit dicey.
Take right turn on Route 12 and go 2.7 miles to the fork in the road. Take left, then 0.7 miles and then immediate right onto unpaved road – signpost is down but it is the first right. Be careful to pay attention to the side of the road – most of it washed away during the last microburst. Take 4th right onto dirt and gravel driveway. There is parking for two small cars. (I guessed my SUV might be difficult.)
We should have known the moment we tried to get to the front door that patience was not only a virtue, but a prerequisite for our stay. The driveway was in back of the house and we had to wind our way around loose landscaping timbers, maneuver broken concrete steps, side-step through a mangled wire-fenced gate and overgrown bushes in front of the porch. It had rained that morning so the added refreshing splash of acid rain hitting our arms and legs, as we brushed through the overgrown foliage – but, it was sort of refreshing.
After our successful arrival on the porch there was a sheet of paper taped to the front door. It appeared hurriedly written with a ballpoint that skipped frequently on the page. It heralded our hostess was not there, but would see us later. Three other guests had already arrived and to please make ourselves at home.
Meg and I had opted for the third floor rooms with private porch so we might enjoy the evenings sipping wine and taking in the views. I had not previously considered stairs to be a problem, however, this was built in 1856 and the riser on the steps was one and a half times the height of current stair steps and the width of the step was half of what it is today. Needless to say, we had a hell of a time getting to the third floor. We had to position our feet sideways, one step at a time, trying to maneuver the stairs while grasping onto the 1856-appropriate ‘thigh-high’ banister. This was a problem.
We got to our rooms, dropped the items in our hands and those hanging around our necks, including a decent digital camera, bottles of water and an open bag of popcorn. The moment we got our breath, we determined we would leave the suitcases in the car and go down once a day to retrieve clean clothes and brush our teeth in the driveway. There was no way we were backpacking suitcases and toiletries up the stairs.
We agreed to a return trip to the car to get our groceries and stock of wine. The hostess had advised the closest store was 20+ miles away so we should bring our own supplies to use in the communal kitchen. More and more this was beginning to feel like a Twilight Zone episode vs the relaxing, creative and inspiring mother earth womb as it had been described.
We unloaded a trip’s worth of food into the kitchen fridge and cabinets and thought we would be best served by simply going to bed. Back up the Stairs of Inquisition and off to our relaxing wombs. I glanced over at the windows – original to the 1856 home – and realized they were painted shut and taped down to prevent critters from entering through the cracks. This feeble attempt by the homeowner was immediately apparent.
I held my breath when I realized there was “movement” on the windows. Lots of movement. Lots of stinkbugs. These stunning insects are hard to kill and should you actually succeed in denying them life with the heel of your shoe, they stink like a Bronx garbage dump during an August heat wave. When I turned on the overhead lamp the bugs were immediately attracted to the light and yearned for an up close and personal visit. Somehow they were getting through the tape on the windows.
As I bolted toward Meg’s room she appeared at my door screeching she had several of these insects on her bedspread. Our eyes both shot toward the multicolored quilt on my bed. We pulled off the covers and found several ‘visitors’ enjoying a leisurely stroll across my pillowcase. We ran for her room and pulled apart her bed – same scenario. After a half hour of unbridled bug smashing, the place smelled like a sewer, but it was relatively bug free. As Meg turned I spotted a survivor on her shirt. It was not a pretty five minutes of terror as she screamed and I swatted her back with my shoe.
We went for the wine and upon entering the kitchen we met three 20 somethings who were there for ‘meditation benefits.’ God only knows how stressful it must be when you‘re in your mid-twenties. Since this was a writer’s retreat we assumed we’d connect with…ummm… writers.
Our hostess then entered the kitchen and introduced herself. We asked for bug spray, fly swatters and any small arms that she might have available. Her response was that we were being silly and should ‘toughen up.’ I explained, in my best Bronx vernacular, exactly how I felt about her bug acceptance policy. Being on critter watch was not remotely relaxing, peaceful or creative and steps had to be taken to resolve the problem. She went to the third floor, removed the visible vermin she found (placing them in her jean pockets so she could return them to the great outdoors!) and changed our sheets. She insisted stinkbugs appeared for a couple of days and would likely leave in 24 hours. How nice, she actually must have spoken with them.
We opted to spend the balance of the night and make our decision in the morning. We were hoping for the best scenario, but we spent the night on ‘bug patrol’ and barely got an hour of sleep. About four in the morning, I stepped out onto the second floor porch and walked straight through a maze of spider webs which were clinging to my face, hair, ears and chest. This was a bad sign and unfortunately, was quite a loud event. Meg said it “was a Tarentino sort of scream” and I didn’t even notice it was coming from my mouth. Most of the valley below was ripped from a lovely sleep.
Meg and I packed our items – after vigorously shaking them out and slapping them against the walls – and went toward the kitchen and our hostess asking for a refund. The twenty somethings had finished their morning meditations and were sipping Tree Bark Tea. They said did not have stinkbugs in their rooms, but were seeing a lot of big spiders that made them uncomfortable.
This was not a positive in my book and reinforced our decision to leave as quickly as possible. The hostess would only rebate ½ of our cost. We took the checks, ignored coffee and hoped to find a Waffle House somewhere down the road
Nirvana had again escaped our mortal grasp. It would remain a vision quest. A place of creativity, inspiration and cosmic interaction attained by so very few. A quest we would discuss, meditate upon, visualize and dream about with mixed joy and angst. But it would remain a dream. We realized any future attempt would likely result in physical death and not necessarily our own!
…just my thoughts