Stay With Me: The Settings – Shenandoah National Park and Gettysburg

In each of the six months leading up to the release of Stay With Me on October 1, I’ll be blogging about an aspect of the book. Today’s post is dedicated to settings. The bulk of the novel takes place in and around the Gettysburg and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania areas with several forays to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Shenandoah National Park

When Chris invites Rebecca to visit the park with him, he tells her, “It’s my favorite place in the world, and I want to take you there.”

When they arrive at the park, Rebecca takes in the natural beauty. “Two white-tailed deer, a doe and a fawn, ambled from the campsite on her right toward the road. A pair of robins chased each other across the grass, calling to one another. Peaceful. She loved the park immediately.”

My husband and I have had plenty of adventures at Shenandoah National Park, and it’s one of my favorite places to visit. We camp in a tent and typically choose walk-in sites that require a short trek from the parking area but are nestled in the woods rather than alongside the road.

Walk-in Site at Big Meadows Campground, Shenandoah National Park

Our tent and hammock at our wooded campsite.

We’ve hiked to summits and waterfalls as well as log cabins and family cemeteries. We’ve had run-ins with black bears, deer, and the cutest skunk we’ve ever seen. Our older kids have earned their Junior Ranger badges and come to love the park as well. Our memorable visits include wandering in circles through a heavy mist with a group of Boy Scouts, observing family chaos around a campfire, and spotting deer in the meadow with their fawns (which sound remarkably like Bob Dylan).

Summit view

One of the many summit views.


Meadow at Shenandoah National Park.

Forest in Shenandoah National Park

Lush, wooded beauty in the forest.

Our most memorable encounter involved a raccoon.

The family camping in the site adjoining ours had a son our age, and as fellow Pittsburgh natives, we hit it off. A couple nights into the trip, we discovered that our new friend enjoyed smoking pot around the campfire after everyone had gone to sleep. Apparently, he’d doze off with bag of peanuts lying on the ground beside his camp chair. It was no surprise that the nuts attracted wildlife. In this case, a raccoon.

Raccoon in tree

Aggressive Canned-Pulled-Pork Bandit

Our new friends headed for home, but the raccoon, emboldened by the easy acquisition of snack food, hung around. While we took an evening walk with our then-three-year-old, the raccoon discovered our discarded (wretched-tasting) pulled-pork in a can. We’d hung our trash from a tree limb but not yet taken it to the dumpster as we do at the end of the night.

A wild scene ensued with me (pregnant at the time) huddling in the tent with our son while my husband tried to drive off our unwelcome guest. This was, perhaps, the most persistent intruder we’d ever encountered. I still laugh when I recall my husband trying to fend off the animal by yelling and pelting it with a small propane canister.

Shenandoah National Park

Gettysburg National Military Park

Rebecca reflects on Chris’s familiarity with the Gettysburg battlefield.: “[Chris’s] knowledge of its topography and history impressed Rebecca. No matter how many times she’d been there, she’d get all balled up not knowing which way to the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, or anything else. The narrow, one-way lanes always made her feel like a rat in a maze. Chris knew every entrance and exit,where the major monuments were located, which roads went which directions, and where you could find a quiet spot away from all the tourists. That’s where he took her.”

Battlefield at sunset.

Battlefield at sunset.

Our family has visited Gettysburg National Military Park even more often than Shenandoah National Park. We typically sleep in a tent at a campground that borders the battlefield.

We’ve had several unusual experiences in Gettysburg over the years. The most memorable involved our trek across a narrow trail near the Pennsylvania Monument. We both smelled the distinct aroma of corncob pike smoke. We searched for the source in every direction, but we were the only people around. Off in the distance, several people milled around the monument. None appeared to be smoking. Spooky, huh?

Pennsylvania Monument

Pennsylvania Monument

Chris and Rebecca’s experience at the battlefield is decidedly normal, as opposed to paranormal, but its magic is not lost on them. There’s a hard-to-describe feeling that suffuses the military park. I don’t know what to call it other than a palpable sense of the region’s bloody history.

Gettysburg National Military Park

(All pictures courtesy of Michael Astfalk.)

Have you visited Shenandoah National Park or Gettysburg National Military Park? What were your impressions?

Hit me with your best wildlife encounter while camping. Any crazy raccoons?

You’re invited to my Easter Blog Party: Bonnets, Baskets, & Bunnies.

Visit now (April 5 through April 12) and take part in the Easter joy. Share your blog post of your family surrounded by Easter flowers on the church altar, cute kiddies in their Easter outfits, what the Easter Bunny used to fill your baskets, or bunnies – of the chocolate or live variety. Don’t have a blog? That’s okay. Let’s hear about your Easter in only ten words.

Bonnets, Baskets & Bunnies