A place called Oak Hill

The Thinker by Rodin

My memories of November are typically memories of darkness and dreariness. Here in Virginia it means minimal daylight, with the sun approaching the horizon around 4:30 in the afternoon. It’s generally not cold enough to snow, but the weather patterns usually blow in moist air, which fills the skies with dark cumulonimbus clouds. Rain, when it falls, comes softly, often as a mist, and rarely with the intensity of summer-driven thunderstorms. The ground is awash with decaying leaves made slippery and soggy from the rain and drizzle.

This year is the exception. 2011 is the November of my dreams. We’ve had some days of dreariness, to be sure, but more typically days of brilliant blue skies, gentle breezes, low humidity and delightfully cool but not cold temperatures. The air starts out crisp in the morning; often a sheen of frost will be found on the tops of the cars. Then it turns into a day of sunny autumn splendor with temperatures sometimes making it into the sixties. The trees have only recently passed their peaks colors. The air feels unnaturally pure. It is hard not to roll down the car windows and let it fill your nostrils, consume you lungs and let it give your cheeks a rosy autumn hue. Instead of being a downer, this November is an upper. It is invigorating and is encouraging me out of my cloisters and into the neighborhood.

Oak Hill, Virginia

I have been on many walks around the neighborhood this month and all of them have been welcome. Aside from reveling in a natural form of exercise there is also the peaceful and content feeling that comes from traversing well trod paths and streets, and to do so largely absent the mosquitoes of spring and the oppressive heat, humidity and shrieking cicadas of summer.

I live in Oak Hill, Virginia, which is an unincorporated place that got an official name when a post office with its name was built in the late 1990s. If your zip code is 20171, you live in Oak Hill. Many of its residents have no idea they live in Oak Hill. If pressed they will substitute Herndon as their location, although we live outside its town limits. Oak Hill is a bedroom community, with some apartments, a few condominiums and townhouses, but mostly single family houses, virtually all of which are part of some homeowners’ association. Fifty years ago the area was largely farms. Community life such as it was could be found around small nearby hamlets like Floris and Hattontown. There were considerable numbers of African Americans living in Oak Hill then, and the younger ones trekked to Floris to attend the colored school there. (The schools were not desegregated until 1964.) We didn’t mean to, but we upwardly mobile overwhelmingly white middle class people pushed them out, thoughtfully aided by well moneyed developers who made them offers they could not refuse. Their houses came down. Dense townhouse and McMansion communities went up in their place. The cows left for greener pastures and houses were plopped down on top of them. Oak Hill was made safe for an upwardly mobile middle class. No white flight here. It would more accurately be called black flight, but this is never newsworthy when that happens.

Horsepen Run
Horsepen Run

Most of the nature that was here was pushed out with development, but not all of it. Some of it can still be found along Horsepen Run, which flows next to my community. The path is not long, but it is bucolic, particularly when there are enough recent rains to make the run actually run. You can easily spot the nearby houses through the trees, but it is comforting to know that civilization is so close by. The trees rustle in the wind, but less so when there are fewer leaves to rustle. Occasionally you will spot a deer peeking through the foliage, and sometimes they will appear boldly on the path.

Oak Hill may contain what’s left of Norman Rockwell’s America. With the largess of the federal government nearby, and plenty of beltway bandits as well along the nearby Dulles corridor, us residents generally don’t have to worry about unemployment. There are doubtless foreclosed homes in the community somewhere, but I cannot find any. Thanksgiving finds many of the homes planted with an American flag on the porch. Some of the more creative homeowners have creative autumn decorations on their houses or trees. A few spent Thanksgiving hanging Christmas lights and sticking plastic candy canes into their lawns. My two and a half mile constitutional this afternoon found my community seemingly untouched by the economic downturn. One of the few signs is spotting an extra homeless man on the sidewalks next to the local CVS. On Black Friday, residents not in the malls were outside enjoying the weather. Friendly dogs bounded around the front lawns. Leaves were raked and stuffed into bags. A few kids played hopscotch on their driveway.

There is no place like home, I guess, but to us harried professionals home often seems more a place to sleep before trudging back to the office. Home and neighborhoods often get overlooked because they are seen so often. Thank goodness then for beautiful November days, a long four-day weekend, and the opportunities for long walks through the neighborhood. In reality, it would have been harder to pick a more perfect neighborhood. It feels like the comfy glove that it is. It is mostly an illusion, a result of the confluence of capital and the energy of homeowners. Yet it all its surreal-ness it remains the beloved place we call home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.