Parnassus, our sliver of daydreams, our gateway to Elysium, our muse, our five-acre plot of (no longer quite) raw forest land in the middle of nowhere, West Virginia, has been central to our plans for Camp Gemstone and our life in general. For you, friends, a primer and an introduction. For us, a place to get our ideas down.
Where is Parnassus? What is Parnassus?
A bit west of Berkeley Springs and just northeast of bustling downtown Paw Paw, in the eastern West Virginia panhandle lies Parnassus, soon to be a place of wonder, nature, and community. For now, though, it is this:
Turns out, “wet-weather streams” means something different than what we thought. When we purchased Parnassus, those blue lines that meet on the left side of the image above and make the “point” of our property (the red shaded area) were dry and cracked. A wet weather stream, we thought, meant that when it rains, water flows through there for a few hours, like a sidewalk gutter.
For about the first half of each year, we are treated to streams that wax and wane from a babbling brook to a roaring river, complete with several waterfalls.
When we first camped on Parnassus, we noticed a little shrub growing all over the hill. Acres of the stuff. No big deal, but since we needed to start making some paths to connect our French kitchen (the fire pit) to our chauffeur’s stand (the parking circle), we began pulling the plant up, only to soon discover with great lamentation that it was all interconnected underground.
Onward we must go! We got our leather gloves, our cutting tools, and tore hundreds of these small but stubborn plants from the ground, covering the area around the path with their corpses as a warning to other weeds.
Several months later, it is Fourth of July weekend of 2017, and we are walking around Parnassus for the first time in the grandeur of summer. Amethyst, of course, is noticing every little thing. He notices under the leaves of the underground-running shrub is a peppercorn-sized, blackish berry.
“Don’t eat it,” says Ruby, immediately seeing what was on Amethyst’s mind.
“I just…” Amethyst pops it in his mouth anyway. “…These are blueberries.”
The camera zooms out. Ruby and Amethyst are standing in a giant mass of blueberry plants. Not hundred, but thousands.
Yes, there will be blueberry jam.
Anyway, enough gushing about the beauty and splendor of the land. Remind us some time, and we’ll tell you the stories of the discovery of pecans, of concord grapes, of (miles of) blackberries.
To get our construction chops, we built a pergola (the blue polygon on the map) right below the “parking area” (light gray under the big blue pin) on the private road that leads into the property (thick yellow line). There were a few missteps, but we think it turned out just great:
Next, the green polygon is the raised garden, in which we have just planted our first crops, sweet potatoes:
As you can see, the garden has quite a bit of space. The goal is for next year to have it provide fresh vegetables for us all summer and into the fall.
We have built the platform and the walls of our one-room outdoor shower and composting toilet, or “the bath house”. The platform went up easily and quickly after our experience with the pergola, giving us more confidence for the house. It isn’t on the map yet.
Finally, we’ve cleared a big campsite area at the very eastern point. That is where we host friends and, for now, where we stay. There’s enough space for at least twenty tents.
That’s what we have now. What’s the dream? It is many parts, both physical (Tiny houses! Art in the woods!) and not (Build a community space?!).
First, we will build the Solarium, taking advantage of the view that we feature oh so often and that maybe you are tired of seeing (but how could you be?):
You may know that Ruby has her undergraduate degree in architecture. As a result, we can share with you our very good idea of what the Solarium will look like:
On a slope and raised above the hill, the house will be on a square platform, where one quarter is a deck, and the house is an “L” shape. The front part of the L’s three walls will be constructed entirely of salvaged windows. We imagine a bright and sunny space, with plants and light – hence, the Solarium. A large curtain will separate the window room from the rest of the house, as we will hardly be even trying to insulate that glass room.
A wood-burning stove will provide heat to the rest of the house. The corner square of the L will be a kitchen, and the remaining room will have a small dining table and four chairs. There will probably be some bookshelves. Above the kitchen area will be a lofted bedroom, accessible by ladder. Nothing more, nothing less, just right.
Up the hill, a small water tower will go up during or after the Solarium’s construction, piped from the streams. Yes, we’re hippies, but we don’t have to be dirty.
Next? The Library – another, as-yet-to-be-designed, tiny house. The focus, as perhaps evidenced by the name, will be books old and beautiful. The chairs will be leather, the area rug will be plush, the fireplace will be roaring.
There are dreams for a third tiny house in the distant future – its dream-name is the Provence House. This will be a place for Ruby to dedicate to the craft of cooking, with a big old farm table as the focal point, an herb garden in the window boxes, and a large open-air space for an outdoor kitchen and al-fresco dining.
And art! We have many artist friends who we hope will help us create surprises that we can hide around Parnassus, like fairy doors, sculptures, crystals, and anything else that will help to transform the land into something even more magical. An ornate lantern mounted on a tree in the middle of the woods? A piano hidden behind a big oak? Why not? We want coming to Parnassus to be like entering a sacred space. Which brings us to…
Being out on the land has made us acutely aware of the need for connection and community. Because of the isolation, obviously, right? Actually, no – the internal challenge of changing the structure of our lives has made us realize even more the importance of not just friends, but connection and support. The goal has always been to have people on Parnassus, whether through renting out the tiny houses when we are traveling, or holding camping parties, we always knew we’d enjoy being hosts.
The clarity and stillness that nature has shown us, though, makes us want to do more, to bring more than a campfire and a few birds into people’s lives.
We have the space and the perfect setting for a meditation weekend, a wilderness class, a yoga retreat. We have dear friends in Baltimore who have converted their warehouse apartment into what is now both their home as well as a community gathering place. Can we make Parnassus something similar in the forest?
We think we can, with your help. This part of the story is just beginning, and we need to hear your ideas and to borrow you, your old tools, and your experience. Building our dreams in the forest has been a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work. We need our community to help us build a community.
Will you come out to Parnassus?
If you will: firstname.lastname@example.org