Gathering in Unity, Celebrating Diversity

Story by Amy Mathews Amos

Photographs by Jennifer Lee

In the weeks leading up to The Gathering, organizer René Locklear White called it “an experiment in humanity” and a “multi-cultural thanksgiving.” Her experiment included a gourd craft festival sponsored by the Virginia Lovers Gourd Society, a military color guard headed by the Native American Women Warriors, and a Harvest Dance with native dancers in regalia.  But at its core, The Gathering was about bringing people together – native and non-native – to celebrate “humanhood” as Locklear White’s co-organizer and husband Chris (Comeswithclouds) White put it.  “This is a little off the rails,” said Chris before the event.  “We don’t know what will come out of it.  It’s like planting a seed.”

On October 30 through November 1, that seed blossomed at the Clarke County, Va. fairgrounds.

Locklear White grew up in a Lumbee tribal community in North Carolina and recently retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force.  Now, as a member of her regional Council of Elders, she and her fellow leaders felt a calling to hold a traditional Harvest Dance (a Pow Wow-like event) in her current community of Clarke County as a way to bring people together. “There is a saying in the Indian community that we are all related,” she said. “Not just related through genes as humans, but through the elements of the earth.”

Judging by the diverse, multi-cultural crowd in the grandstand on The Gathering’s second day, many non-Indians agree.  Master of Ceremony Dennis Zotigh, a native storyteller and cultural advisor to the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, took the opportunity to educate that crowd about Native American culture.  He answered questions from the audience — such as how many Americans self-identify as Indians (about 5.2 million in the 2010 census, or 1.7 percent of the U.S. population); and how Native Americans traditionally used gourds (as utensils, decorations, toys, water containers and more).  But he also asked the sea of white, brown and black faces around him a few questions of his own:  namely, where had they come from?  Not surprisingly, most visitors hailed from Virginia. Some had traveled from out of state.  Yet a handful came from overseas – including some from England, Brazil, Germany and Lithuania — drawn to The Gathering as part of their American travels to experience a real Native American Pow Wow.

And experience it they did.  Zotigh and his co-host, American Indian civil rights leader Dennis Banks, engaged the crowd throughout the day.  They encouraged everyone to participate, particularly in the “intertribal” dances, when the grandstand cleared as people streamed onto the field to join hands and dance together. When the military color guard led by the Native American Women Warriors organization paid special tribute to military veterans, Zotigh called for “all warriors – native or not” to enter the arena and be honored as defenders of freedom.  Although American Indians fought the U.S. military repeatedly over the centuries to defend their land from European settlers, Indians are very patriotic today according to Zotigh.  He called Indian veterans “defenders of our lands, our life, and our families.”

Throughout the day, four different drum circles took turns accompanying the dancers:  the Yellow Child Singers; Storm Boyz of Virginia; Thunderbird Métis Nation Drum, Singers and Dancers; and the Zotigh Singers of Albuquerque, N.M.  Native dancers in regalia from New York, North Carolina, Minnesota and elsewhere danced to the drum beats in multiple dance categories, including grass dance, men’s traditional, women’s traditional, jingle dress, and fancy shawl.  Zotigh emphasized how different tribes have different traditions, but come together to dance to the beat of the same drum at Pow Wows.

One of those dancers was Clifford Dumarce, a grass dancer in magnificent white regalia decorated with blue and orange beading and topped with a crown of red and brown feathers.  Dumarce grew up in the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota, but now lives in North Carolina after 13 years in the Marine Corps.  His Indian name is Walks into Battle (translated as zuya wicasta in his native language) and he was at The Gathering with his wife and two young daughters.  “We’ve been at a Pow Wow somewhere in the country every weekend since April,” said Dumarce.  One of his daughters was participating in the jingle dress dance and the other in the fancy shawl dance.  He came to The Gathering to “see a new place, see new people.”

Dancer A’lise Myers-Hall, a retired Air Force veteran and Shawnee and Lenape woman, viewed The Gathering as an opportunity to educate others about American Indian culture.  “We need to disavow what people see on television. We’re not John Wayne Indians,” she said.  She stressed the diversity among Native Americans and noted that “Pow Wows are one thing that brings us together.”  Myers-Hall epitomized that diversity herself, growing up in an immigrant community of Germans, Dutch, French, and Italians in eastern Pennsylvania.  Her grandfather was Jewish and to many, Myers-Hall would appear African American.  Her Indian name is Two Leaves Dancing, because she was born in November and as a tiny baby was mesmerized by the falling leaves.

Meanwhile, at the Gourd Festival in a nearby pavilion, Peruvian carver Percy Medina joined other artists to display his intricate designs of birds, fish and village life on elaborately decorated gourds.  Medina’s gourd art is on permanent display at the Infinity of Nations exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian.

And out at the food court, Lithuanian travelers Jurgita and Mende Timinskas waited in line for Three Sisters Stew, made with corn, beans and squash.  The Timinskas are spending several weeks traveling around the U.S. but were drawn to The Gathering because they enjoy Native American Pow Wows – they’ve been to several already in Germany and the Czech Republic.

Everyone at The Gathering  – Peruvian or Lithuanian, native or non-native, veteran or not — could come together in the “round dance.”  Zotigh and Banks encouraged the crowd to form a large circle in the arena and hold hands.  Then, led by head male dancer Tatanka Gibson  the circle collectively stepped to its left, moving continuously clockwise until it circled within itself like a spiral, forming new coils as Gibson kept the line flowing, allowing participants to view the smiling faces winding past them as they moved towards the center.  When it could close upon itself no further, Gibson masterfully turned the twisting spiral of humanity in the opposite direction, leading his inner layer outward and bringing the 125 person-long chain behind him, everyone swirling in a new direction, connected to one another physically and visually.

Banks – known for his iconic quote “it’s a good day to die,” during the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee, S.D. as he fought for Native American rights  — pronounced the sunny autumn celebration at The Gathering “a good day to live.”

On this day, at least, the experiment we call humanity was a success.

A Season of Lights

By Jess Clawson

For many people, looking at Christmas lights is an essential part of the holiday season. The tradition has roots in American cultural history and in the local community. Victoria Kidd, a local business owner and Rotarian (and Observer contributor), goes all out in the holiday spirit.

“I knew when I was really little that one day, when I had a house and a yard of my own, that I would use the holiday season to convey to my family, friends, and neighbors that I cared about them by taking time to create a holiday display,” Kidd says. She grew up in a household that did not celebrate Christmas for religious reasons, but every year her mother drove her past a house in her town that had a large light display. “That house had a sign out front that said the light display was a gift to the owner’s friends, family, community, and neighbors. And that was the only gift I received, since we had no holiday traditions. It stayed with me. It became a little representation of community and the need to connect with it.”

The history of light displays is firmly rooted in community development. The first community light display was a deliberate effort by progressive reformers in 1912 New York City to promote cohesiveness in an urban setting. The philanthropists who funded the tree lighting felt the city needed a sense of small-town community interactions among people of different social classes and backgrounds, and a means for advancing Protestant religious homogeneity among the city dwellers. While that festival turned into a secular event and did not meet community-forming goals, it drew a great deal of attention and started the tradition of outdoor illumination that spread across the country over the next several years leading up to a darker period in American history.

The Great Depression fostered an impulse to provide comfort for people during Christmas. According to Brian Murray in “Christmas Lights and Community Building in America,” people tended to use all-blue light displays during the Depression to reflect the “somber mood of a nation in trouble.” Essentially, the displays were a means of noting solidarity, community, and comfort in a period of uncertainty.

Kidd also uses her light display to provide comfort. “As a very active person in this community, and a Rotarian, everything I do also has a charitable component. I use my light display to raise money for causes that are important to me,” she explains. Every year, she holds an event at her home on December 1 to bring the community together to appreciate the lights and to hold a donation drive. This year, she collected toys for local families in need as well as funds in support of the area’s Coats for Kids program, operated by members of the Rotary Club of Winchester. The lights in her yard—and in those throughout the region—are simply the latest installment in the history of this interesting decorating tradition.

Historically, lack of access to electricity and homeownership limited communities’ abilities to have light displays. In 1935, however, the Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to rural areas and spread the comfort of Christmas lights to more isolated areas.

Then, after World War II, more people were able to purchase homes thanks to the Federal Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, the Veterans Administration, and the Federal Housing Administration. The booming economy also meant middle class people had more disposable income. This coupled with the Cold War era promotion of suburbanization (to avoid desegregation in urban areas) and conformity (to avoid accusations of communism) meant people were more likely to participate in community-wide events that they felt proved their belonging, like the community-sponsored Christmas decoration competitions of the 1950s. Chambers of commerce encouraged citywide participation so the entire communities would be lit. Citizens were incentivized to engage in these events to get to know their neighbors, confirm their place in the neighborhood, and demonstrate their adherence to the capitalist values of the Cold War.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized the importance of light displays in his remarks at the national community Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 1957: “The custom we now observe brings us together for a few minutes this one night…you and I, here, are not alone in a world indifferent and cold. We are part of a numerous company—united in the brotherhood of Christmas.”

The rise in the Christmas display fad continued well into the 1990s, and according to Murray, typified “the non-functional excess of post-war light design.” Light displays still tend to be secular and to emphasize common identity. “The modern American Christmas light tradition is perhaps the most visible way our culture has dealt with an increasingly technological and impersonal world,” Murray says.

The light display in Kidd’s hometown in the 1980s fit squarely into the trend. It was elaborate and carefully considered. “He told a story with how he organized his display,” she recalls. “It was a really special thing that I got to do every year. It was something that I looked forward to, and something that made me feel that one day I could make my own decisions about how I celebrated the holidays. And I could, like this individual in my hometown, use my light display to bring a little cheer to other people.”

Kidd’s collection has been under development for years. She began with lights, as they are accessible and inexpensive. “And then a family member in Ohio gave me my first blow mold,” she says. Blow molds are plastic figures that can be lit from within by incandescent bulbs. Kidd’s first blow mold is her centerpiece, a Santa in his sleigh with reindeer. The relative who gifted her the blow mold gave her two reindeer, which sent her on a search for more to complete the collection. This led her to the realization that communities have formed around blow molds and lighting displays. “There is a group of people connected through Facebook groups, Meet Up groups, webpages, whatever, through the country that collect blow molds and create innovative holiday displays to share with their communities,” she says. “And many of them actually do use their lighting displays, as I do, for charity work.”

Blow molds originated in the mid-1940s. The most famous blow mold is the iconic pink flamingo, designed by Don Featherstone at Union Products. The pink flamingo hit the shelves in 1957 and became a must-have item for suburban housewives everywhere.

He expanded his work into Christmas when Union Products recognized that the market for blow molds was hot amongst suburbanites who wanted to mark their homes with distinction in a way that still suited the Cold War-era conformity. Many people started extensive blow mold collections as the selection became more diverse.

The historical element of the blow molds themselves appeals to Kidd. Because the molds are re-used almost indefinitely, it is possible to have “a Santa in my yard that was made from a mold in the early 1970s, and I can buy that same Santa, made from that same mold, but produced last year.” People who know blow molds can, Kidd says, “go into a thrift store and see one, and know exactly when it was produced based on the style and the paint.”

Kidd appreciates Featherstone’s work, particularly because he signed his molds, so collectors can be sure they have Featherstone originals—choice items in the blow mold world. Kidd has three or four Featherstone pieces. From a design standpoint, she likes Poloron, which has a 50s or 60s style, because they have pieces in all different sizes. She also admires Beco, which have “a very art deco style, versus the campy, tacky Christmas style,” she explains. Finally, she likes Union and Empire, which are accessible to most people because they are affordable and recognizable to collectors.

Blow mold collectors seek their prizes in a variety of places, like thrift stores, yard sales, and flea markets. Kidd has an extensive collection. She keeps 11 blow molds inside her home, and 53 are displayed outside in the Christmas season. Her annual light display requires a great deal of effort. “It takes two people working for about four to six evenings, depending on the complexity of the set-up,” she says.

The collecting community includes a diversity of approaches to light displays. One of Kidd’s online acquaintances took his child’s playhouse and transformed it into a cathedral in his front yard. People repaint their blow molds to repurpose them for different holidays or paint their snowmen’s scarves in their college football colors.

“Some people, particularly when they have too many blow molds, just throw them out in the yard,” Kidd says. “It’s just a huge display of lights.” But Kidd is inspired by her hometown light display hero and wants people who come to see her light display to find a narrative as they look from place to place in her yard. On one side of her house, visitors can see the reindeer stable. In front of the porch is a playhouse with Santa and a reindeer on the roof. “There’s a little collective of snowmen that are all hanging out together and being friends,” she says. “There’s a story wherever you look, and it’s up to the person viewing the display to figure out what the story is, and create their narrative.”

Kidd endeavors to overcome any impersonal element of culture through her light display. “It makes me happy to know that, with just a little bit of action and a little bit of electricity, I get to watch kids cruise by the house, and press their little noses up against the window, and watch their parents take pictures of it,” she says. “And all the while in the background, I know that I have raised money and collected toys for good causes. Their enjoyment is a real gift to me, and I can’t imagine my holiday season without it.”

Wildlife Veterinary Care

Dr. Burwell is back to treating those in need

By Victoria L. Kidd

 Clarke County and the surrounding areas are beautiful in their natural simplicity. The region is home to an abundance of wildlife, many of which owe their lives and wellbeing to Dr. Belinda Lee Burwell, a well-known expert in wildlife care who lives right here in the county.

Burwell, a graduate of Duke University in North Carolina and subsequently of Tufts New England School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts, is best known locally as the founder of the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center (BRWC) in Boyce, but she has turned her attention to a new endeavor called Wildlife Veterinary Care (WVC). This new charitable corporation was formed to serve a similar purpose as the BRWC. She explains, “I formed WVC for the same reason I founded the BRWC 15 years ago: to provide specialized veterinary care for sick and injured wildlife.”

The WVC’s 501c3 status as a charitable organization was recently granted, but Burwell’s reputation in the community garnered significant support even before contributions became tax deductible. For Burwell, building the new enterprise is essentially like starting over, meaning these contributions are critical to operations and to the lives of the animals she treats.

No longer working out of the BRWC’s space, Burwell is serving patients out of her farm site and from the offices of Roseville Veterinary Clinic ( It’s changed the layout of her workweek from what she was used to previously, but it’s a structure with which she is familiar. “My days now are very similar to how they were when I started treating wildlife at my farm 15 years ago,” she says. “Dr. Tom Leahy of the Roseville Veterinary Clinic continues to generously let me use his vet clinics for radiographs and surgery. In addition to caring for the animals, my days are currently busy building new cages and acquiring the supplies I need to care for the sick and injured.”

Much of the needed supplies and equipment has been provided to her, but there is much still needed. Donors have provided kennels and supplementary supplies, while other contributors have made donations through a dedicated PayPal account included on the operation’s Facebook page. Burwell relays that the costs associated with this venture are understandably high, but the community has already demonstrated its support of the endeavor with early financial and in-kind donations.

That support is a validation for Burwell, both in terms of the community’s belief that wildlife care is important and in terms of the public’s understanding of her role as the most widely known wildlife ambassador in this region. Burwell’s separation from the BRWC—an event that came as a shock to many in the region—was not enough, it would seem, to slow her desire to serve the wildlife she so deeply cares about. Her focus has been renewed with her commitment to the WVC.

“My focus is on providing much needed veterinary care for injured and sick wildlife in this area. That has always been my focus. I intend to provide that care to rescued wildlife, to support wildlife rehabilitators and organizations with sick and injured wildlife, to educate the public through my webpage and Facebook page, and in the future, to train others to do the same.”

The fledgling operation has already provided that care to numerous animals, and many locals have reached out to Burwell directly for help (even before she had fully formed the vision behind her new endeavor). “As soon as the Facebook page went up, two people who had found injured owls contacted me through the page and were able to get the owls to me quickly so they could be helped,” she explains. “Today, I helped Frederick County Animal Control with a crow that had become tangled in kite string and then caught in a tree. I’ve been dealing with an outbreak of canine distemper on a farm where two sick raccoons and two sick skunks have been found. One of the sick skunks is improving while still undergoing treatment.”

These animals would have likely not survived or would have been left with long-term disabilities without Burwell’s actions. She asserts that it’s always been about the animals, and she is excited about the new organization.

“While it is hard to believe that I am no longer affiliated with the BRWC, an organization I founded on my farm 15 years ago, I am looking forward to providing care to wildlife through my new charity, WVC,” she says. “Providing care for wildlife and educating others about wildlife has been my life’s work, and it will continue to be my life’s work. I hope people will continue to support my efforts at Wildlife Veterinary Care.”

Burwell perceives her biggest challenge to be getting the word out about her new operations. For now, those who want to support these efforts or those who need to speak to someone about an animal in distress can reach out by phone or email at 540-664-9494 or To follow what is going on with the initiative, “like” them on Facebook at

Light Up Your Life at The Black Penny

By Claire Stuart

Looking for a special 1930s table lamp for the bedroom? Or a replacement globe for your “Gone With the Wind” lamp that the cat knocked over? And speaking of lamps, how about that weather vane from Great Grandpa’s barn that’s been stored in your attic forever. Wouldn’t it look great as a lamp in your country kitchen?

Solutions for all of your antique lighting needs will probably be found at The Black Penny Custom Lighting and Antiques in Millwood, Virginia. It’s an antique shop with a bit of everything, but lighting is their specialty. They sell, repair, restore and repurpose antique lamps of every description as well as carrying replacement parts and accessories.

Bill and Virginia Elliott, sharp and active at 90 and 88 respectively, have been operating The Black Penny since they “retired” some 40+ years ago. The shop will celebrate its 40th anniversary in April 2016. Their daughter and son worked for them for years, and now their grandson helps them part time.

The shop is located in what was a 1830s milk barn, and milk was delivered from there into Millwood proper by horse and wagon. The Elliotts live next door, a commute of about a minute’s walk. Bill explained that their house was once a summer home for two sisters from Pittsburgh in the 1930s-40s who used a small room in the front of the barn as a gift shop in the summer months. They called it The Black Penny, and the Elliotts liked the name and kept it.

Virginia’s mother, Lola Jenkins Weis, was born in Millwood and moved to Baltimore when she married. Virginia and Bill met in Baltimore and were married there 64 years ago.

The Weises returned to Millwood in the 1960s and, said Virginia, “My mom hoped one of her children would come back to Millwood.” Virginia was the one who did.

The Elliotts moved to Millwood when Bill retired. The old milk barn was on the property they purchased in 1969, and it had been abandoned since the sisters left. Bill and Virginia started restoring it about two years before opening their shop. They pointed out where a tractor shed and corn crib had once been. Steps to a lower level were carved out of the natural rock ledge that underlies the property.

Additional rooms were added to hold more stock as well as workshops for electrical, welding and machine work. Woodworking is done in a separate building. The Black Penny also works with other machine shops, including a foundry that does brass, bronze and other non-ferrous metal casting that cannot be done in- house.

The Elliotts liked antiques, and they began business as an antique shop with furniture restoration, but demand for lighting work increased.

“The shop evolved over 40 years,” said Bill, “to antiques, lighting and accessories, heavy on restoration.”

In addition to lamps and chandeliers, you can find everything from furniture to glassware. Bill pointed out a huge solid cherry desk and noted that he especially likes American wooden furniture. Metal polishing is another service offered, as evidenced by a nearly blindingly-shiny brass samovar and a pair of gleaming brass andirons.

“We do a lot of fireplace work,” said Bill.

The Black Penny is most well-known for lighting repair and restoration. Some of their work involves converting oil, gas and candle-burning lamps to electricity. A pair of candle-burning brass carriage lanterns topped with eagles was in the process of restoration and metamorphosis into electric lights.

They are also adept at making objects of all sorts into lamps. Two antique brass fire extinguishers, polished to mirror finish, had become lamps, as had a champagne bottle and a newel post from the bottom of a staircase. A gigantic wooden wagon wheel was becoming a chandelier to be hung from metal rods in a very high ceiling.

One of their most impressive pieces is an 1890s crystal chandelier that they converted from gas to electricity. It has 12 arms and somewhere between two and three hundred crystals. Bill noted that the gas lighting period was very short because gas was not readily available. He said that some farms in the area did have equipment for generating methane gas from farm manure.

One whole room is devoted to glass lamp globes in all sizes and shapes, some hand-painted. Another room is devoted to lamp shades. This is Virginia’s domain, and if she doesn’t have a globe or shade for your lamp, she will find one for you somewhere. A glass cabinet holds lamp-topping finials made of everything from metal to crystal, mineral stones and ceramic.

The Black Penny’s customers come from all over, including electricians and decorators. Bill recalls meeting someone at the Statue of Liberty, who greeted him by saying, “You’re from the Black Penny, aren’t you?”

The Black Penny is located at 1131 Bishop Meade Road, Millwood. Their formal hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 4:00 PM, but they will arrange to open at other times if you give them a phone call at 540-837-2150 .

They do not have a web site, but you can visit their Facebook page: Black Penny-Custom Lighting and Antiques.

Right at Home at Boyd’s Nest Restaurant

By Jess Clawson

When you walk into a restaurant and the chef asks what kind of day you’re having before she decides what she’d like to make for you or remembers how you take your coffee after just a couple of visits, you know you’re in a place purpose-built to make sure people feel like family.

Kim Ragland, owner of the Boyd’s Nest Family Restaurant in Berryville, is committed to ensuring that anyone who enters her restaurant has a meal they will love and feel like they are in her home kitchen. From the décor to the menu to her commitment to getting to know her community, Ragland works to make sure everyone is happy in her space. “I love that for many of our customers we are their home away from home,” she says.

The foundations of the Boyd’s Nest are deeply rooted in Ragland’s familial traditions. Her mother’s maiden name is Boyd, and her grandmother named their summer home in Marquette, MI, the Boyd’s Nest. “You could say it was always the most like home,” Ragland recalls, “and where I learned to cook.” Her grandmother would put a large pot of oatmeal on the stove every morning, inspiring the Nana’s Oatmeal dish on her breakfast menu.

Her decision to use the name for her restaurant was made easier when she realized that Clarke County High School’s mascot is the Eagles. She also carries a Seattle-based coffee called Boyd’s. The coincidence confirmed her impulse to name the restaurant after her childhood escape.

Ragland designed the menu to be inclusive: “I envisioned having a dining room with all kinds of different people in it and everyone could find something to eat that they could afford.” Furthermore, because she prepares almost all food from scratch, she knows exactly what goes into the food. It is important to Ragland that “people with food allergies feel safe at the Boyd’s Nest because we actually know what is in [the food] because we put it there.”

She has regular customers from as far away as Ashburn who appreciate that they can get a quality meal that suits any dietary restrictions they may have. Ragland’s commitment to inclusivity includes not restricting the kids’ menu to children. “We have several seniors who can’t eat a big meal and a kid’s portion is just the right size.”

Further, all of their ingredients are locally sourced whenever possible. The restaurant has a good relationship with Audley Farms, who supplies their beef. She and her husband have their own garden that supplies a lot of vegetables for their restaurant.

The Boyd’s Nest is not Ragland’s first foray into self-employment. She has worked for herself in the commercial food industry for most of her adult life, including developing flavor profiles for Costco in partnership with Monterey Pasta, which is carried at the Boyd’s Nest. She worked as a consultant for Sheraton Hotels for 16 years, which gave her experience in hospitality that serves her well in the restaurant.

Ragland also owns a catering business operating under the Boyd’s Nest name. She has strong relationships in Loudon County and does several annual events there, as well as catering in Clarke County. She cautions people not to be fooled by the size of her restaurant, which seats 30—the restaurant is not too small to handle any catering need. In fact, the building is large enough to accommodate all of her catering equipment. “We fed about 2000 people in two days at The Gathering,” she points out. “I have catered backyard weddings for 50 and formal plated events for 200.” She has a complete portable gas kitchen complete with fryer, oven, stove, burners, and holding hot and cold boxes. “You would be amazed where we have catered and who we have catered for,” she says.

She did not know anyone in Berryville when they opened the restaurant, but over the past three and a half years they have settled into stride and built a community of friends through her restaurant. “We have laughed and cried together,” Ragland says of her regulars. “We have buried loved ones together and celebrated births. We have been a part of weddings, milestone birthdays, anniversaries, and funerals.” Overall, “Berryville has made me feel welcome and a part of the family.” Ragland has certainly returned the favor.

Ultimate Recycling: Cool Spring Natural Cemetery

By Claire Stuart

Consciousness is growing about all aspects of green living, be it recycling, using renewable energy or simply eating locally grown food. Taking this to its logical conclusion, it is no surprise that more people are interested in green burial.

It wasn’t that long ago that all burials were “green” and “dust to dust” was the natural way to depart this life. This gave way to today’s common custom of the embalmed deceased laid to rest in virtually indestructible metal coffins encased in concrete burial vaults, ostensibly preserving them forever.

Although people are giving more thought to more natural and environmentally friendly methods of burial, there are still few cemeteries where “green burial” is permitted. Only one is located within a reasonable distance in the entire four-state area: Cool Spring Natural Cemetery, maintained and managed by the Cistercian Monks of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia.

The monks take seriously their stewardship of the earth and the environment and the sacredness of all life. The cemetery is an expression of their simple way of life, returning the human body to the earth with the utmost respect.

Father Joseph explains that in a green burial, there is no embalming. No vaults, metal caskets, or caskets with handles or other parts made of metal are allowed. Caskets are made of natural biodegradable materials, and even shrouds may be used.

Father Joseph noted that, “Enders and Shirley, [the local funeral home in Berryville] is very cooperative. They handle shrouds and inexpensive caskets. And they receive bodies that come in from distances to be buried here.”

The cemetery has been operating since 2012. Father Joseph admits to being skeptical about it himself, at first, because of the fact that embalmed bodies are not allowed. However, he has been gratified to see that the cemetery has been well received. Information about it has mostly been disseminated by word-of-mouth from people who have spent time in the monastery’s retreat house or who have picked up a brochure in the gift shop or chapel.

The 44-acre cemetery offers three burial areas, one in a meadow with views of the mountains and the Shenandoah River, one in the woodlands, and another adjacent to the chapel. They allow for traditional burials of the body as well as the burial of the deceased’s ashes.

He went on to explain that the cemetery is just that. All other arrangements for burials are handled by the funeral homes of one’s choice.

“We open and close the graves,” he said, “but the funeral home arranges for the apparatus to lower the casket. And we don’t sell coffins.”

He reported that a whole industry is being built up around caskets made specifically for green burials.  “Our own order in Iowa makes beautiful but less expensive caskets,” he said.

The only grave markers permitted are engraved local river stones. No vases, crosses, plastic flowers or other decorations are permitted, but people are allowed to place cut flowers on graves. Low-growing flowering ground covers may be planted around stones.

If someone wishes to plant a memorial tree on a loved one’s grave, they may plant it only in the woodland area. However, the trees would be the responsibility of the people who plant them, since the monks are not able to maintain them. The monks maintain gravesites with regular mowing, but the rest of the meadow area is simply brush-hogged a few times a year, in keeping with any other farm meadow.

The Bishop and the local parish do not contribute anything to the upkeep of the monastery, so the monks must find ways to support themselves. They do their own cooking, cleaning, and gardening. They generate what income they can with their gift shop, bakery, retreat house and cemetery. Father Joseph observes that even the monastic life can be stressful if the financial situation is insecure, and the cemetery helps support the monastic community.

Although the grounds of Cool Spring Natural Cemetery have been blessed as a Catholic cemetery, anyone of any faith, or even no faith, may be buried there.

“You can use the chapel,” said Father Joseph, “and have any type of service you want, but monks do not participate or officiate.”

Father Joseph says that this is in keeping with the basic openness of Christ. “Our guest house is also open to people of faith or no faith,” he affirmed. “We open our lives to others.”

For people concerned with the increasing encroachment of subdivisions into the unspoiled countryside, Father Joseph reports that the adjoining properties will continue to stay peaceful and natural.

“Immediately adjacent is the Cool Spring Battlefield Easement, so people are comforted to know that some township will not spring up next to the cemetery. It will retain its rural character.”

He added that the monastery’s popular fruitcake will once again be available, now in smaller 1 1/2  pound loaves as well as in the familiar 2 1/4  pound size.

Holy Cross Abbey and Cool Spring Natural Cemetery are located at 901 Cool Spring Lane, off Route 7 outside of Berryville, on Route 603 (Castleman’s Run) just west of the Shenandoah River bridge.

Visit their web site for further information.

Chilly Hollow Christmas Trees and More

By Kelly Kunkel

Just a mile or so from the sound of bustling traffic, down a rural road on Route 7 sits a little parcel of Christmas tree heaven. As Chilly Hollow Road hits a steep downhill section, you can see your first glimpse of the neat rows of trees.

Chilly Hollow Christmas Tree Farm is owned and operated by Alex and Susan Blackburn. Alex settled in Clarke County in 1985 after his employer Virginia Tech transferred him from Wytheville. He was assigned to the National Soil Survey program in Loudoun County. Alex graduated from Virginia Tech in 1975 with a degree in soil science. That degree would become the foundation for his vast knowledge of soils with the natural progression to grow something … trees!

Alex’s family moved from Arlington, Va., to his mother’s family farm in Vermont after he left for college. Although Alex never lived in Vermont, he spent considerable time visiting and working there. His father hailed from North Carolina. Growing up, family vacations were “work vacations.” He spent summers working in the tobacco fields of North Carolina and putting up hay and making maple syrup in Vermont.

Alex bought his land on Chilly Hollow Road and cleared the fields by hand and with a chain saw. He built a garage apartment and lived there for six years before he built his house. He operated a cow/calf operation until 2000 when a forester friend suggested growing Christmas trees.

His first planting was 4,500 trees, a mixture of Norway spruce, Lincoln fir, blue spruce, scotch pine, and white pine. Every year Alex plants 600–1500 more seedlings due to loss from drought and deer. Alex is looking forward to replacing many more due to happy families taking home their Christmas trees every year.


The Sweeter Side of Life

For people with a little sweet tooth, Alex makes homemade raspberry jelly, raspberry syrup, and now Clarke County’s own maple syrup. The family farm in Vermont is where he acquired his fondness for raspberries. He started his own berry patch in 1995 and was later given plants by Sigrid Pollari, who lived on the mountain in Clarke County. Those plants are now his primary berry plants.

Maple syrup runs in Alex’s veins. He grew up helping his dad and uncles make syrup every year in the family sugar house in Vermont. Alex has milled lumber from his property to build his own sugar house. A sugar house, also known as a sugar shack or sap house, is a small cabin structure used to boil down the sap from the maple trees into maple syrup.

In recent years Alex would go to Vermont each Spring to work with a friend making syrup. This is where he learned the intricate details of making maple syrup. In Vermont, with sugar maple trees it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Here in Clarke County, using red maple trees, it takes 90 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Alex bought a small boiler/evaporator from a manufacturer in Maine and turned his efforts into producing Clarke County maple syrup. Tapping the trees for sap starts much later in the cold climate of Vermont. Here in Virginia Alex starts tapping trees sometimes as early as January.

Alex’s vast knowledge of soils has led to another endeavor as owner of Blackburn Consulting Services, LLC. He has made a name for himself preparing soil evaluations for the vineyard and winery industry.

Chilly Hollow Christmas trees range from 4 to 9 feet tall. Choose and cut your own tree or have the farm cut one for you. Stop and relax with a cup of hot cider, eggnog, hot chocolate and some of Susan’s fresh baked goods. Raspberry jelly, raspberry syrup, and maple syrup are also available for sale.

Chilly Hollow Christmas Tree Farm is located at 1642 Chilly Hollow Road, Berryville, VA. Phone: 540-539-1307

Thanksgiving thru Christmas hours: Monday thru Thursday 11am to 2pm, Friday & Sunday 11am to 5pm, and Saturdays 9am to 5pm.Open by appointment September to Thanksgiving.

Learn more at www. or on Facebook.

Holiday Recipes From Clarke Kitchens To Yours

Baby Stuffed Winter Squash

From Oak Hart Farm


6 small Winter Squash (Acorn, Buttercup, or Butternut) (Oak Hart Farm)

3 Tablespoons Apple Cider

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons Wildwood Hickory Syrup (Falling Bark Farm)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small onion, chopped

1 medium apple peeled and diced

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped (Oak Hart Farm)

1/4 cup pecans coarsely chopped


Cut each squash in half lengthwise and scoop out and discard the seeds. Arrange the halves in a large baking dish, fleshside up. Add ½” of water to bottom of the pan to maintain squash moisture.

Mix together apple cider, olive oil, and hickory syrup in a small bowl.  Brush the flesh side of the squash halves with some of the syrup mixture, and sprinkle each half with salt and pepper.  Roast at 400 degrees until the squash is forktender, approximately 45 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Using the fork poke the inside of the squash several times, and brush generously with more of the syrup mixture.

Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan over mediumhigh heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add the diced apple and cook for about 3 more minutes.  Add the quinoa, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 cups water and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the quinoa is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and stir in the cranberries, remaining syrup mixture, half of the parsley and half of the pecans.

Stuff the squash halves with the quinoa and sprinkle with the remaining parsley and pecans. Serve warm and enjoy!


Warm Cheddar & Apple Dip

From Love at First Bite


2 Lb Cream Cheese (softened)

1 Lb Bacon

5 Large Apples (small dice)

2 Medium Sweet Onions

2 Cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese

1 Cup Shredded Carrots

2 TB Garlic

1 t Salt

1 t Black Pepper

1/3 Cup Sherry

Crackers or Baguette Slices

In a Medium Soup Pot: Cut Bacon into a small dice and cook until crispy. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Leave a small amount of Bacon fat in pan and add Onions, Garlic and Carrots. Saute vegetables.

Add softened Cream Cheese, Bacon (save ½ cup for topping) and Sherry to pan and mix together. Add Salt & Pepper. Heat until warm and creamy.

Put in Baking Dish and top with remaining Bacon. Can be served immediately or kept warm in the oven. Recipe freezes well.

Serves 16.

Clarke County Harriers Run a Unique Race

By Tracy Smith

On a Friday night when the Clarke County Eagles have a home game, Wilbur M. Feltner stadium fills with students, parents, and friends of the football team. Among the crowd is a small group of fans that knows that when the sun comes up the next day, they will be headed for their own competition. These are the student athletes who make up the Clarke County cross-country team.

They will be on the bus at 7am for an invitational cross-country meet. The bus arrives well before the start of the first race. The tent goes up; the tarp goes down. Unless there is thunder and lightning, the race goes on.

The runners walk the course, then warm-up and stretch. As the start time approaches, the running shoes get replaced with spikes, layers of clothing are shed and the mental preparation begins. The clock winds down and the teams take their places at the starting line. Runners and spectators are focused and listening for the sound that tells them to run. “Pop” goes the starting gun and they’re off —a blur of sights and sounds; legs pounding and loud cheers from the crowd.

Cross-country running is defined as open air running over natural terrain. For the next 3.2 miles these Clarke County Eagles will follow a course that may include grass and earth, hills and flat ground, as well as mud and gravel.

Cross-country is both physically demanding and mentally challenging. It is both an individual and team sport. Runners are judged on individual times and teams are awarded points based on the runner’s placement. Every bit of effort contributes to the team’s success.

At last, the final leg of the race. Fans flock to the finish line that brings runners to the end. As the runners come closer, the crowd goes wild. The competition is close and so tangible. The muscles flex, the sweat drips and grit that comes from deep inside erupts as a runner sprints toward the finish line. At this point, the Eagles are flying!

Under the guidance of Coach Jeff Webster, thirty-six students train six days a week beginning in August. Their season runs for 10 weeks with seven meets and three invitational races. Most years a runner or two from Clarke County will reach the state competition.

This year is different.

Yes, these cross-country Eagles are soaring. They have medals and trophies to prove they are enjoying a winning season.

More importantly, though, this team is running with a mission in mind and pink socks on their feet. The current group of student athletes ran in October to raise awareness for breast cancer.

The idea came from senior, Ian Dors, and his family. “We know lots of people who are affected by breast cancer, so we like to show our support when we can,” says Pam, Ian’s mother. Ian and his teammates also replaced their usual white headbands with pink ones.

“This is a terrific group of kids,” says Coach Webster. “Most people wouldn’t expect to see the runners sporting pink; but this October, that is one more thing that makes this year’s team unique.”

Cross-country is one of the few sports that is equally enjoyed by young women and men, and is open to anyone who wants to run. A student may join the team regardless of prior experience. And, with determination and hard work, runners improve.

Before you close the paper thinking cross-country is all sweat and strain, there’s another side to running with the Eagles that makes it worth the effort.

“This is my first year on the team,” says senior Mark Ulbrich. “It was hard work, but it was also fun. Coach Webster is the best coach I have ever had in any sport.”

The cross-country team meets for dinner before Saturday meets. This year they came together at the first Bluegrass concert to sell raffle tickets and help with concessions.

“I started running last year because I was new to Clarke County High School and I wanted to meet people,” explains sophomore Catherine Lewis. “We spend so much time together it’s hard not to make friends.”

The cross country team has completed its regular season. The post-season competition includes a conference tournament, a regional championship, and, hopefully, a state competition.

If you see a group of students running though Berryville next fall, you can be sure you’ve witnessed Eagles in flight!