Fucking alpacas.

En route to Charlottesville, I made two stops on Monday.

First up was Abingdon, VA, because Esquire magazine said it was hella quaint and I love quaint. For about 30 minutes, but I love it.

Abingdon is pinch-its-cheeks adorable. I stopped at the Barter Theatre while I walked up and down Main Street (gah!) and overheard their Mary Poppins rehearsals after buying a postcard. I wish I could bottle the wackadoo enthusiasm requisite of being a small-town theater outfit, partly to enjoy it again and again, partly to contain it safely away from civilians. G'bless, Barter Theatre.

Main Street really delivered on the quaint factor.

I also ran into the proprietors of Dreamland Alpacas, who were in town for Abingdon's summer festival. When you're walking down a small-town street, turn a corner, and run into a tent shading a small alpaca pen, you feel like the universe is on your side. Until you learn that alpacas don't like being touched on the head, or being photographed, or being near you in general. So I'm of two minds about alpacas, which is to say they are gloriously soft, but also dickheads who need to get over themselves.

Prima donnas. Fuck 'em.

Next up: Rural Retreat, VA, where my country kin (this is truly the only way to describe them, in the best possible way) reside.

Harry Joe and Alana run a 760+ acre farm here. It's a casual operation: some horses here, some cattle there, with a smattering of creatures sprinkled about the property (two roosters in the barn, two bantams in a small adjacent pen, a dog and cat who are best friends and nuzzle in the shade, and hummingbirds swarming the feeders in a steady frenzy).

You can barely make out Baby, the Jack Russell Terrier, heading into the barn.

What makes their farm remarkable is the near-complete happenstance with which it's run. Alana and I were walking by the pasture and she swept her arm towards an overgrown pumpkin and squash patch along the fence. She said, in her delightful drawl, "See this? I had some gourds out here to decorate in the fall. When they got rotten, I tossed 'em over the fence. Well, the horses came and pooped on 'em and now I've got this garden, too."

We ate lunch (thick-cut ham; fresh tomatoes, beans, and potatoes from the garden; homemade applesauce from the apple trees out back), then strolled around outside. Their garden is smallish but riotous and falling all over itself, the product of decades-old expertise and dumb luck.

I asked Harry Joe what kind of apples he was growing, and he said he didn't know: he bought the tree when he was drunk 40 years ago, and has grafted several branches onto it since. The apples are crisp, tart, and delicious. They throw manure on their garden and end up with hibiscus the size of your head. Fennel crops up amid the begonias along the house. Tomatoes and lilies rocket up from the ground and vie for airspace. And I'm certain we found orchids growing on a post by the barn.

The size of your head, I tell you!

We sat on the porch swing and rocking chairs after feeding the roosters and watching (I, crestfallen) as their precious terrier Baby shook a baby rat to death. From the comfort of the shade, they pointed out the hollow in the ash tree where their cat Puff had her babies. We talked about gardening and watched a dozen or so hummingbirds buzz. [Sidenote: if hummingbirds were any larger, they would be absolutely terrifying. They're like beautiful bees on coke. Crazy little motherfuckers -- but beautiful.]

I stayed until the cows literally came home. They asked where I was going next, and I gave them the general rundown of my itinerary -- the scant parts I'd solidified for the next few days, anyhow. When I asked them if they had any trips planned, Harry Joe asked why he'd bother leaving: the farm is heaven on earth.

I can't argue with that.

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© 2018 Rachel Trignano