I saw my chance at freedom, and I took it.
The previous day I had met with my orthopedic surgeon seven weeks after my knee replacement surgery. His last comment to me succinctly and professionally summed up his analysis of my recovery. “I’ll see you next September,” he said with a broad grin.
I had driven myself the 35 miles south to the doctor’s appointment. Previously, my lovely wife had served as my chauffeur.
I still had a few physical therapy sessions to complete, and the doctor wanted me to return to the gym for some specialized exercises to strengthen my legs. Other than that, I had no restrictions, and I intended to make the most of it.
After an hour session with the physical therapists the next day, I decided to head to Shenandoah National Park. I had seen some beautiful photos of fall foliage in the park, and I wanted to experience it myself.
Such an excursion would get me out and about so I could shoot some photographs of my own. My limited mobility had kept me close to home. On this beautiful, bright day, I felt free.
So after lunch, I headed to the park. My initial intentions were to do double-duty. A friend had a short film previewing in Charlottesville not far from the national park’s southern boundary. I figured I could do the Skyline Drive, take a few photos, and make the mid-afternoon screening.
I drove half an hour to the park entrance, where I joined a long line of vehicles. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to enjoy this gorgeous day.
At one of my stops at an overlook on the famous scenic Skyline Drive, reality hit. Altogether, the physical therapy, the driving, the numerous frequent stops had taken their toll. I was exhausted.
I altered my plans. I wouldn’t make it to Charlottesville. Driving to the park’s southern entrance was also out.
I continued driving, stopping, and photographing the incredible scenery. The old, folded mountains, dotted with nature’s emerging color-scape, and the clarity of the day had emotionally thrilled me despite my tiredness.
At one turnout, I found complete contentment despite my fatigue. I had observed several monarch butterflies floating on the day’s easy breeze. They looked for any sign of sweet nourishment on their long journey south. A lone monarch flitted around in front of me until it rested on a single fading flower.
The view across the storied Shenandoah Valley was pristine. The atmosphere was so clear that I could easily see from my spot on the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Allegheny Mountains 40 miles to the west. Their summit ridge separates Virginia from West Virginia.
In between lay the iconic valley itself. I spotted Mole Hill, a local landmark. Mole Hill is a long-extinct volcanic dome now capped with a deciduous forest that still showed mostly hunter green.
Earth toned farm fields fanned out from Mole Hill. The afternoon sun highlighted bright white houses and bank barns of Old Order Mennonite farms. From so far away, they appeared as miniatures. With that satisfying scene etched in my mind, it was time to head home.
By realistically reevaluating my situation, I was able to take my time, expend my energy to the max, and enjoy the colorful landscapes. I had passed my first test of independence.
Of course, I exacted a price for exercising my freedom. Fatigue and the day’s pleasantries helped me sleep well that night.