Monday, April 2, 2018

Of Swings and Sunflowers

You only need to know one.

Back in 2002 when the New York Times wrote a travel piece about visiting Irvington, the writer joked that most readers wouldn't even know where the Northern Neck is. Back then, Irvington had a modest population of 496 and while that number has since grown to 673, it only takes one to extend an invitation.

Oblivious to the other 672 with no interest in me visiting, I drove down Saturday morning to see if it was still as seductive as that NYT writer had found it back in the days of yore. I still get a little frisson every time I cross the powder blue Norris bridge, what with the never-ending repairs and the necessity of being stopped on the bridge top to allow opposing traffic to pass. It's just not normal to be stopped so high above the water with the wind whipping by.

I'm going to be so bold as to say that my Irvington foray put to shame what the writer had laid out (but then I've got no use for myriad shopping options or the fishing trips she'd included), with only one overlap, but it was a significant one: the Tides Inn.

It was there we had dinner at a table overlooking picaresque Carter's Creek, assisted by a server named Clovis who proudly said he's worked there for 23 years as of June 15 this year. You don't often hear about that kind of long-term commitment to a job anymore, nor often see a salad sampler on the menu - marinated golden beets/goat cheese, balsamic mixed greens and, my fave, roasted shitakes on a bed of seaweed for the grazing win - both of which were worthy of raising glasses of Laurent-Perrier La Cuvee Brut to.

Meanwhile, scallops, grilled rockfish and a chocolate bombe accompanied by Ruby Red port ensured that I left with a favorable impression of the venerable inn, despite its eminence grise vibe.

Instead of the Times' suggestions for fishing and shopping, we did a farm tour with the owner at Dug In Farm (the second career of a former D.C. lobbyist, who was having an open house), fascinating for how how casually she referenced all the mistakes she'd made in trying to farm: buying land with bad soil, raising chickens with a pair of coyotes living nearby, starting an orchard with pricey blueberry bushes.

Yet despite the steep learning curve, it was clear she loved working the land as she proudly showed off a 2018 calendar and pointed to the chores listed on certain days all throughout the growing season. "You don't think or make decisions during growing season, you just do what's listed," she explained of her vegetable and flower operation that focuses on sunflowers.

I'm enough of a nerd to have been satisfied with the tour, not to mention a stroll back to the bee hives, past the abandoned pastel chicken coops and through the high house, a greenhouse-like structure she got from the government that allows her to extend her growing season on both ends. But there was more.

Sitting on the gravel next to the farm market was a Byrd's Seafood food truck selling Windmill Point oysters that had been pulled out of the water at 8 a.m. that day. Scoring a half dozen along with some cherry mignonette , I slurped them down perched on the tailgate of my host's truck, surely as Northern Neck a moment as any had by that NYT reporter.

We spotted the farmer herself, relishing a fried oyster taco and explaining it had been all she was thinking about throughout the tour. A woman after my own heart, always with her mind on the next meal.

Sunday dawned cloudy and warm (and the NYT's suggestion of sailing was out of the question), ideal for a walk through town on a Christian high holiday (yes, I had a hat covering my heathen head), with the bells of the nearby Episcopal church ringing out loud and clear. It brought to mind a woman in Irvington I once interviewed who told me that the Sunday church bells here reminded her of her New England childhood.

In a related story, I couldn't help but notice a "Church View Port-a-Potty" sitting in a gravel lot behind a storefront, surely an indication that this town oozes quaint, even when addressing bodily functions.

Walking through the about-to-open Dog and Oyster Vineyard meant meeting some very sweet vineyard hound dogs (and one beagle) lounging in the vines, hearing vintage soul music blasting from the tasting porch and spotting the firepit sending tendrils of smoke into the spring air. The pourer called out a greeting from the porch.

Virginia Tourism couldn't have staged a more winning or inviting scene.

Lunch was served up on the deck overlooking Carter's Creek, which I came to realize is a prime turning around point for boaters nosing around the creek. And, as is standard Northern Neck protocol, all boaters wave to people on docks and decks like old friends. They're just that friendly.

I got an architectural walking tour, amazed at the variety of styles that made up such a small town. Unlike my parents' hamlet a short drive away, all the houses in Irvington aren't early 20th century meaning there was mid-century modern housing stock I couldn't have anticipated, but could definitely appreciate.

In the name of culture in a town without so much as a theater, I agreed to watch "The Adjustment Bureau," despite an unstated fear I'd signed on for another mindless Hollywood thriller with the ubiquitous Matt Damon (is he being chased in every movie?).

Conclusion: What do I know? Instead, I was completely sucked in by a provocative Phillip K. Dick story dissecting free will, destiny, fate and soul mates.

As post-film discussions go, it doesn't get much meatier or impassioned than that. Add in that glorious blue moon that took over the sky both nights, leaving a moonlit trail on the water and I'd have to say that Irvington put on a full charm offensive for me.

"It's every bit as bucolic as Maryland's Eastern Shore," that New York Times writer raved in 2002.

Maybe. But I'd add that its allure increases considerably when just the right Irvington denizen does the inviting. No adjustments necessary.

No comments:

Post a Comment