Friday, May 30, 2014

An Unexpected Amenity

A guest left this message in one of our cabins this week. It's now one of our new favorite notes!
We're glad they survived their stay!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Turtle Watch

I wish my camera did a better job
at catching our turtles!
Watching turtles can be slow business—and I have a bunch to watch.

Because we’ve not yet done spring maintenance on our fountain, we’ve not yet turned it on. The base sits out in the middle of our pond poking above the surface like a perfectly round little island. All it's missing is a lone coconut tree and it could be something right out of a cartoon.

We have four or five turtles that make their home in our pond. Normally, the plume of water from the fountain keeps them off the base. But this spring, that little round island has served as a turtle resort!

By mid-morning, the first one has pulled himself out of the water and up onto the fountain to bask in the sun. Two or three more join him within the hour. There, they spend their day lounging in the sun.

From the bank of the pond, I can't get close enough to them to identify them exactly, especially because they look little black rocks stacked on the round black island. Chris tells me they are eastern painted turtles. If so, they’re painted like little black rocks. ;-)

We have a couple snapping turtles around. too. Chris picked one up out of the yard other day. It was about the size of my fist. Holding it gingerly between thumb and forefinger at the outermost edges of its shell, Chris carried it back to the pond.

When the sun finally dips to the tree line in the evening, the turtles on our fountain slide back underwater, usually all of them within a minute or two of each other. It's like one of them suddenly says in a quiet voice, “Man, this was a tough day of work. Time to pack it in, boys.”

This is the moment I watch for. One minute they are there; the next they are gone.

Watching for that moment can be a long process. Turtles seem to embody patience as they sit still for hours and hours at a time. You just can't out-stare them. You can't out-wait them. You have to just hope to catch them at the right moment.

In the grand scheme of things, this hardly counts as excitement, but I have come to look forward to my turtle watch each evening. It's just one more of the small, familiar comforts that make Stevenson Ridge feel like home.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Fredericksburg Luminaria

I had the opportunity last night to visit the annual Luminaria event at Fredericksburg National Cemetery. This was the 19th year the National Park Service has held the event, but it was the first year I was able to go. I'm so glad I did. I can’t begin to tell you how beautiful it was.

During the day, hundreds of Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts place flags at each of the graves. They then place white paper bags on either side of the gravestones. The bags are weighted with sand to hold them in place, and a tealight sits at the bottom of each one.

This is no small undertaking. There are 15,436 graves in the cemetery. Only 16.5% of the soldiers are identified, though. They’re all Union soldiers because National Cemeteries were reserved for members of the United States Armed Forces; Confederate dead were buried in private cemeteries throughout the South. In the Fredericksburg area, there are two: one in downtown Fredericksburg and one just down the road from us here at Stevenson Ridge near the village of Spotsylvania Court House.

At around 7:00 p.m., the Scouts go down the rows and light up the candles, and at 8:00, gates officially open for the program. The Park Service has guides available at six tour stops along the way who share stories about some of the soldiers buried in the cemetery. Chris served as one of those historians last night. “It’s such an honor to do this,” he told me as he was getting ready. “Those guys gave the ultimate sacrifice for us.” (Read more about his experience at Emerging Civil War.)

I parked near the battlefield visitor center and walked up the luminary-lined sidewalk to the cemetery gate. There, a park ranger greeted me. I walked up the main driveway, with terraces of lights curving off to my left. Then I crested the ridge at the top and had my breath taken away: Thousands of lights, like a field of fireflies, hugged the contours of the ground. Row upon row upon row. It was one of those rare “wow” moments in life.

As we commemorate Memorial Day weekend, it’s important to remember why we have the holiday. Family picnics are nice, and an extra day off is always welcome, but this is what it’s all about.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The 150th Anniversary of the Fight at the Bloody Angle

Sunrise at the Mule Shoe
on the 150th anniversary of the battle

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the best-known engagement of the battle of Spotsylvania Court House: the fight at the Mule Shoe Salient. For 22 straight hours, soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the pouring rain. Most of the fight centered around a spot in the earthworks that became known as the Bloody Angle.

Chris does some volunteer work with the park, and he was out there today for a tour at dawn that traced the Union attack in real time, 150 years later. He’ll also be at the Spotsylvania battlefield exhibit shelter today from 10-2. Later this afternoon, he’s taking some of SR guest’s on a private guided tour. (It’s a busy tour week for him, with another tomorrow, and then a whole tour bus on Wednesday and Thursday.)

If you’d like to schedule a private tour, we do offer a guide service. Contact us at You can also read more about the battle at Emerging Civil War.

In the meantime, if you have the chance to visit the battlefield on your own on this 150th anniversary, the Park Service is offering a special opportunity: Until 4 a.m., a historian will be on “silent sentinel” duty at the Bloody Angle in commemoration of the fight. It’s a rare opportunity to be on the battlefield at night. We’ll be taking advantage of it ourselves this evening. Chris says that, despite the terrible fighting that once took place there, it’s one of the most peaceful places to go for a walk.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

In Memory of General Stevenson

One hundred and fifty years ago today, on May 10, 1864, Brig. Gen. Thomas Greeley Stevenson was killed during the battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Stevenson Ridge takes its name from Gen. Stevenson, who was killed near the property.

"Of all losses of gallant men, whom Massachusetts has been called upon to mourn in this war, no one has caused a greater or more general sorrow than that of General Thomas G. Stevenson," said The Boston Post. "No one will be more universally missed than he."

To learn more about Gen. Stevenson's story, check out the piece Chris wrote today for Emerging Civil War.