Justin and I went to Fredericksburg, Virginia on a beautiful fall day a couple of weeks ago.
I fell in love.
I loved our brunch. I loved the rapid-fire delivery of our tour guide as he led us around George Washington’s boyhood home. I loved the china punch bowl that Mary Ball Washington, the future president’s mother, painstakingly glued back together. I loved the Rappahannock River flowing nearby, the bustling downtown with the 1940s frozen custard stand, and most of all the used bookstore rambling over three stories of creaky floors.
Fredericksburg is a great town, and I think you should go. But this isn’t about Fredericksburg, exactly–it’s about the smaller towns near us all. I’ve lived in the DC area for many years, and I never was never quite interested enough to go to Fredericksburg, with its little university on a little river. I live in the big town by the big river, with a score of big universities. Why wander off, when I have so much here? But off we went, and I was reminded of why we travel, why we bother to look up from our busyness and look around. Fredericksburg is marvelous–as is any place, if we train our attention long enough to see it.
I’ve just finished reading Jenny Odell’s excellent How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, in which she reminds us why looking up from our many digital distractions is a deeply wise and urgently needed correction to “a productive life.” She tells about the one surviving old-growth redwood tree in her region of California, and the birds she never really noticed as she grew up there. But now she knows the story of the tree, she knows the names and cycles of her neighborhood birds, she spends a lot of time in local parks, and she makes a compelling case for how much this matters.
So yes, please do come to Fredericksburg. With a spirit of curiosity and a slow enough pace to notice the details, Fredericksburg–or the town down the road from you–is going to make for a grand day out.
Especially if it has an independent bookstore. #RiverbyBooks
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