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“Wishing Tree” at Vereen Memorial Gardens

A while back, my girlfriend was feeling a touch of cabin fever. Being a country girl from the mountains of Southwest Virginia, she really needed to get out into nature  – if only for a day. And because she also fully understands cabin fever because of her penchant for horror movies, I thought it wise to get out of Dodge with her.

Call it self-preservation if you must.

I need to remember that getting away from my office could actually be a good thing. Because I am usually involved in various projects involving writing or music, I tend to stay “on the grind,” as they say. This is in addition to my “day job” at Tinder Box Myrtle Beach, where Brenda also works.

I’ll admit that it was tough to break away, but once committed…

On the way to a gig with my brother, I remember driving past the entrance to Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve off International Drive near SC Hwy 90. I read somewhere that the preserve sat on more than 9000 acres and was home to a good many Carolina bays…

According to the American Rivers website, Carolina bays are “a type of elliptical or oval freshwater depressional wetland(s) that fill with rainwater and may be periodically dry. They are most commonly found in North and South Carolina, but can also be found from Florida to New Jersey. Carolina bays vary in size from a few hundred feet in length to nearly 5 miles long.”

This preserve is home to the Venus flytrap, black bears, bald eagles and more – but after driving down the pitted dirt road for about a mile with our Kia Soul bouncing around, we opted to bail. Recent controlled burns also took place, so the area didn’t seem like something to explore at the moment.

Wait a minute. What the hell are you supposed to do if confronted by a black bear? I mean, I saw “Faces of Death” in the 80s, under duress…

It surfaced that Brenda was really thinking about Vereen Memorial Gardens anyway, so off we went to Little River.

The South Carolina Trails website describes the location like this:

“Vereen Memorial Gardens has been a bit of a “Hidden Jewel” for 30 years. The park features numerous hiking trails and wooden boardwalks that extend across several beautiful salt marshes and small islands, with a nice gazebo that overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway.”

After eating the grocery store lunch we brought with us, we set about exploring. Vereen Memorial Gardens really is a hidden gem – and I especially loved the “Make a Wish” area where you can hang oyster shells on tree limbs along with your wishes…

That and the fact that Brenda got her wish to be in nature – and we both enjoyed the experience.

Wade Ward - Folkways

Early last month, I made a pilgrimage to Southwest Virginia with my girlfriend, Brenda.

I lived in Galax for a few years – right off the fabled Blue Ridge Parkway, offering unparalleled vistas of the region, looking out into North Carolina with the iconic Pilot Mountain off in the distance.

Galax is renowned for its annual Old Fiddlers’ Convention – the largest and oldest event if its kind, with the 83rd installment coming up in August and drawing folks from the world over.

As of the 2010 census, Galax boasted just over seven thousand residents.

Brenda was born in Sparta, NC [the home of Dr. Grabow pipes], but grew up in Independence – just down US 58 [aka the “four lane”] from Galax. The same census reported 947 residents for the town. The local newspaper there is called – as if there was any other choice – The Declaration.

We made a decent circuit around the area, including whistle stops in Atkins and Wytheville, visiting Brenda’s family. Seeing them together makes me happy.

After an awesome lunch at a Mennonite shop and bakery/deli called The Dutch Pantry in Rural Retreat, I rode with Brenda’s brother Troy and her niece Brittney to Independence for a visit with a lady Brenda and Troy consider their second mom – Dorothy Ward Heffinger.

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Dorothy was gracious and kind – and treated me like family off the bat. It was great to be a fly on the wall for the reminiscing. Her husband, Charlie, was off fishing – and while that was sort of a bummer for Brenda and Troy – everyone enjoyed themselves.

Somehow the subject of music came up, and Dorothy said something about her grandfather’s clawhammer banjo being in the Smithsonian.

Wait. What?

I was sitting in the very home where the celebrated musicologist Alan Lomax recorded “Uncle” Wade Ward, an old-time music pioneer, as he sang and strummed his Gibson RB-11.

Ward is often cited along with Kyle Creed as an example of the Galax-style clawhammer banjo playing.

I often talk about growing up in Hollywood and my many brushes with celebrities – but Brenda, in true hide-and-watch fashion, had an ace up her sleeve with this.

Well played, Brenda. Well played.

Wade Ward with Alan Lomax

Wade Ward, Alan Lomax