Yesterday, I "hitched-hiked," with a college Sculpture class, to Historic Belmead, a sprawling 1,000+ acre former plantation and school with a beautiful and surprising history (info here and here.) Without expectations and with an open mind, we drove out to Powhatan country, southwest of Richmond, off Rt. 522. Over winding roads, around plenty of blind turns and amidst a cloud-dotted, sunshiny sky. Past plenty of picket fences, red barns on golden fields, and a few spotted cows. Upon arrival, I was dazzled by the serene sacredness of the land encompassing Belmead, and the earnest reverence the few sisters who dwelled there had for the land and its natural and historic preservation. We were greeted by one sister who exclaimed, "We are the knowing impulse of the blazing forth of the Universe. Humans are the Earth's consciousness of itself."
We toured the land and buildings together, traversing between sites in a old white pick-up, the nun at the wheel, and us "kids" piled 12 deep in the back bed. "Here is the barn, and here is the dam, and here is the old bridge, since collapsed, which was the only connection at one point between the boys and girls schools. " (I bet many a romance began and ended here.)
I took photos and ran off to explore. I pocketed beautiful, dried bits. We explored an abandoned three-story school (St. Emma's) and its chapel, still awe-inspiring and beautiful, despite its dilapidated appearance, moldy wallpaper and peeling paint. Though it was sunny, the warm front from the day before had given way to a refreshingly Winter cold-front, and the wind howled all day, and even though the wind-chill went straight to our bones, there was not a single word of complaint among the group when we were asked to volunteer our younger brawn to help the sisters forage rocks and slate for a backyard patio. And for over an hour, my group toiled in an old orchard ravine extraditing 4 foot pieces of slate from under soil and roots. Our tools were our hands, 2 steel rebar poles and loose chunks of slate (for scraping off sod).