It is said that Mount Vernon is one of the country’s most beautiful estates, but after a short walk around the grounds of this incredible property, I can’t help but think that this observation is a gross understatement. That is, of course, provided you can allow your eyes and imagination to see beyond the massive amounts of tourists (not to mention high schoolers loudly taunting the animals on the property) that descend on the place like locus the moment the weather warms up a bit. You just have to blank that out and let yourself be transported to the period when our First President and his family roamed the grounds of this quiet haven along the mighty Potomac River. If you do that, then you’ll get a better picture of what life must have been like in such a beautiful place.
I had been to Mount Vernon briefly before, but during my first visit I didn’t have the opportunity to walk around the extensive grounds of the estate. The Mansion itself was impossible to visit at this time, as the line for those waiting to enter was about a quarter mile long. No worries, though, because the grounds themselves deserve a visit in their own right. In the quiet solitude of those expansive grounds, I could understand why this place held such fascination for the great General. In fact, after having reluctantly agreed to serve a second term as President (and adamantly refusing to serve a third), he couldn’t wait to get back to his property. I can see why. Places like this, and the lifestyle they surely afforded the First President, must have been the direct opposite of what President Washington had to endure in the city. Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and with the exception of some well-deserved maintenance and the imposing Museum/Education Center, the place looks pretty much the same as it did when the Washington family lived there. George Washington, the master surveyor, certainly knew how to pick a place. Then again, no one could ever doubt the great man’s many talents.
I’m always amazed at how much I have yet to see in this world. Sure, I move around a lot and seem to suffer from some incurable travel compulsion, but no matter how much I experience through travel, there always seems to be much more out there to see and photograph. What’s more, even the places I’ve visited so many times in the past seem to have a surprising way of revealing something new all the time. Case in point: the historic Christ Church in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I have walked these grounds with my camera, but I hate to admit that until a few days ago, I had never gone inside the Church itself. This was not because of a lack of curiosity, mind you. In fact, the more I walked by, the more I kept telling myself that I had to try to sneak in with my camera someday. Little did I know that when services are not being conducted, everyone is more than welcomed to come in and take as many photographs as your memory cards can hold.
But what makes a visit to Christ Church even more rewarding is the incredible historical information provided to visitors by local volunteers. Walk in when there are no other visitors around and you may catch one of these volunteer quietly sitting in President George Washington’s family box pew waiting to enlighten you about the history of this magnificent building. And yes, just like the local historian, you too will be able to spend some time inside the Church’s two most famous pews: the one used by President’s Washington’s family and the one used by Robert E. Lee’s family many years later. And just in case you begin to wonder about your exact geographical location, the local guide will be nice enough to remind you that your feet are now well planted in “the south.” I guess it is always important not to miss any of those significant historical details. After about twenty minutes, myself and the visitors from Siberia wrapped up our visit. Not sure where they went, but my compass unmistakably showed I was headed to “the north.” And that was OK with me.