The low mountain was shrouded in a dripping, wet, cloud when we arrived. The air was very cold. It was late afternoon by the time we made it up to the house, so the sky was darkening. All of this added to the extremely romantic aspect of Thomas Jefferson’s labor of love that is Monticello.
The views of the Shenandoah Valley from the top of the hill are supposed to be some of the most iconic in Virginia. I was sorry that we weren’t going to see the views, but what we did see did not disappoint. And in the end, it wasn’t what I saw, but the overall feeling and visceral experience that made it so memorable.
The leaves were damp from the drizzling cloud and muffled our footsteps as we walked along the paths surrounding the house. It was very quiet there. The few people around us spoke softly.There’s a lot to be said for traveling in the off season.
The interior of the house was rather small. Monticello always looks, to me, quite large and grand in photos. It is grand, but surprisingly compact. Cozy, would be a good word. The tour was interesting factually and visually. Thomas Jefferson was a man of many passions (scientific, spiritual, and physical) and a man who warrants more recognition than I am giving him in this brief blog post. He needs his own website – oh, wait. He already HAS ONE.
It was the grounds that moved me the most. Maybe it was the descended cloud, maybe it was the cold air and the silence, but there was definitely something else in the air that day along the pathways and moving in the trees.
There is a path at Monticello called MULBERRY ROW, named for the trees that line its margins. The path, pictured below, was the row along which the slaves quarters were located. It was a beautiful, yet heavy spot, and I felt that before I even knew what it was. I snapped a quick picture on my iPhone that pretty much captures the whole feeling of that day. I enlarged this picture into a hard copy and I swear there are ghostly elements in it. The mist congregates primarily down the corridor created by the trees. I’m sure this phenomenon has to do more with botany than ghosts, but still, it was strange.
Strangely enough, this ghostly picture (one of my favorites from the whole trip) is also a sweet reminder of that cold, cold day, and the smell of wet wool, red noses, and lots of hand holding.
We walked the long way back to the parking lot, foregoing the touristy bus that will take you up and down the mountain. We were completely alone in the woods and there was not a sound to be heard except our footsteps shuffling the leaves. We stopped for a minute and there was total silence. It would have been really creepy if I had been alone. We wondered at the rare silence; no planes, no cars, no lone dog barking in the distance.
The last stop down the hill was Thomas Jefferson’s tomb surrounded by a tall iron fence. The ground around the monument was covered in coins, primarily nickels. Apparently the thing to do was make a wish, and toss your nickel through the bars of the fence. Which we did. I’m always up for making a wish, so I think I tossed a whole handful of change to old Thomas J. I like the idea that Jefferson’s grave marker had become a wishing well. I hope mine becomes one too.
Snap-happy photographer that I am, it is interesting for me to note that I took only a couple of pictures at Monticello. It was place and an experience that demanded to be remembered in a more personal way, not on film.
We turned the car heater on full blast and made our way to The Clifton Inn for the night, our next super-magical Virginia destination.