Archive for December, 2020


The last hike

Posted on Dec 14 2020 | By

Six years ago a good friend died while hiking his beloved mountains

On December 31, 2014, George Wotton set out on a hike on a cold and cloudy New Year’s Eve morning. I, Andreas Keller, and Ken Hawker accompanied him.

The hike was an ad hoc jaunt arranged just a few days prior. The thermometer was locked at 17 degrees when our quartet began its walk-up Buck Hollow Trail in the Shenandoah National Park. Mary’s Rock and return was the itinerary, an eight-mile loop all of us had done before.

One of the last members to sign up for the hike was George. He had recently returned from a ski trip where he accompanied his grandkids and a local Boy Scout troop for three days of down hilling. We were glad when he joined our excursion.

At age 69, it was to be his last walk in the mountains.

Each December 31 since his passing, fellow hikers have commemorated George’s life by returning to the trail where he breathed his last. It’s a testament to his love of people and his desire to hike with folks with his passion for the out-of-doors.

But George’s life ran much deeper than just a walk in the woods. With hiking poles in hand, a day pack on his back, and eyes focused on the trail, his hiking style was emblematic of his life view. Grab hold and move out. Smiling all the way.

In the year he died, he had hiked Old Rag Mountain 24 times, a demanding eight-miler and the most popular hike in the Mid-Atlantic region. He logged many additional miles on other trails all well.

An enduring memory of those who knew George was his eveready smile. It was not an insincere grin. It began in his eyes and broadened deeply into his signature smile. “Good to see you.” “Beautiful day for a hike.” “Let’s get started!”

He took an interest in everyone he talked to. Life was not about him. It was about you. It was his inborn view and contagious. When George was on a hike, you were going to have fun. He often moved forward and backward along the trail carrying on conversations with the other hikers.

And, he had a ubiquitous bag of small Snickers bars at the ready to share with anyone needing a quick energy boost.

What belied his interest in others was what he had accomplished in life. Not until the eulogy delivered by his son, Tom Wotton, did most of his friends become aware of his career accomplishments. He never spoke of them on the trail.

George was a retired U.S. Army Major. He served his country in the U.S. Air Force for four years, earned his bachelor’s degree from Lake Superior State University, and then served another 18 years in the U.S. Army as an electronics engineer.

His son, Tom Wotton, recalls, “One testament to my father’s humble character is he never put his awards or promotions on display. After he passed, I was helping my mother sort through his office. I remember one letter he originally was presented, but we could not find it. It turned out he had placed a photo of his grandson over top of the commendation.”

It was a congratulatory letter on official White House stationery signed by President Ronald Reagan.

George retired as a major in 1990, after serving in locations worldwide. He was awarded the Legion of Merit, a prestigious military honor bestowed upon only a few by the United States Armed Forces. It was given for his exceptional meritorious job performance.

After retiring from the Army, he worked as a master electrician in the family business, Home Sweet Home Improvements, located in Opal.

George loved skiing, hiking, and backpacking. He was a great mentor and supporter of the Boy Scouts assisting with many different troops over the years. His memory as a devoted husband to his wife Diane, and a dedicated father and grandfather to his sons Tom and Ken, their wives, and four children lives strong today.

The last hike
As the four mountain-loving men began their ascent to Mary’s Rock, George was pleased with his new winter hiking mittens; gear that was weather appropriate for the frigid morning.

I remember hanging back as the hike began, last in the four-man line but always within earshot of the trail chatter. As always, George was ebullient and energized as he climbed the steepest sections to our first stop, Skyline Drive.

We took a break at the Meadow Spring parking lot. As soon as George’s pack was off his back, he was offering Snickers bars to all.

Given the cold, our break was short, and we moved rapidly across Skyline Drive to ascend a steep section of the Meadow Spring Trail. Within 200 yards, our pace slowed noticeably as we shifted to low gear.

At this point, I was hiking directly behind George and carrying on a conversation with him. The trail took a sharp turn right and ascended very steeply. George grew quiet. Not unusual given how physically demanding the trail was.

Then, in a blink, he turned around and gazed directly at me, clutched his chest, moaned softly, and slowly slumped to the side of the trail. I froze and was momentarily speechless. I yelled to Andreas for help. Ken Hawker, a strong hiker, had moved out of ear reach and would return later when we failed to catch up with him.

Quickly we positioned George to the center of the trail. Andreas began CPR, and I grabbed a small spray bottle of nitroglycerin to treat angina pain. I had never used it before and carried it as a precaution, given the age of many of the club members. I sprayed the inside George’s mouth.

I rushed back to Skyline Drive and flagged down a motorist asking him to immediately go to the Thornton Gap entrance and send medical help.

Within 15 minutes, three rangers were tending to George. Twenty minutes after that, some 10 first responders were on site. The lead ranger was using a defibrillator on George in numerous attempts to restore a heartbeat.

When it appeared George was no longer with us, the ranger quietly explained to me he was following protocol under a UVA doctor’s cell phone direction and would end the procedure when completed.

Later, another ranger drove us back down the mountain to our vehicles. George’s body was taken to Luray since he had died on the jurisdictional side of Page County. Our somber task took us back in silence to George’s home to break the crippling news to his family.

It was a profound experience for the three of us to have a good friend taken from us without warning in the middle of a joyful event. A razor-sharp memory that will not dull with time.

On December 31, a group will again assemble and hike to Mary’s Rock.

George will be with us in spirit. Smiling and chatting as always.


Published in a December 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Main Street’s sound of music

Posted on Dec 13 2020 | By

Newly opened Modal Music Studio embraces the musician in all of us

First, the numbers. Fifty combined years of playing music. Fifteen instruments in their playable repertoire. Countless hours devoted to teaching hundreds of students’ musical instruments and voice.

Welcome to Modal Music Studio and the two enthusiastic guys seeking to channel the world into a calmer, saner place by tapping into the deepest instincts of music. They created the company in June of this year but until recently were forced to teach digitally due to Covoid-19.

On November 9, their studio at 90 Main Street opened after they unexpectedly found suitable quarters. Their mutual goal is sharing musical skills with whoever harbors an urge to play an instrument or sing.

While only a small percentage of folks will succeed in making a living through music, the joy of eliciting beauty from an instrument is reward enough.

The two musicians pulling it all together are Chris Bauer,27, and Dan Mudge, 36. It’s often cited that the music instinct and ability to play an instrument or sing springs from one’s DNA. In the case of these two teachers and performers, it holds.

Chris Bauer was originally a Baltimorean. At the age of four, he started playing the violin, switched to guitar in the seventh grade, and chased piano, drums, and voice as a young teen. “By the time I was in high school, I knew music was what I was going to do with my life.”

His high school years were devoted to practicing, playing with friends and in bands, and recording. He graduated from the Shenandoah Conservancy Arts Academy in Winchester, scoring a degree in music composition. He then taught music lessons, performed and wrote music for three years.

Dan Mudge hailed from a musical family and grew up with the love of music reverberating around his home. “By the time I was 11, I decided music was going to be my career. It’s like I didn’t have a choice. Music clicked, and that’s what I went with.”

In 2017, the men were employed as instructors at another studio. In addition to teaching, they created the Loathsome Wind comedy band centered on music in the Weird Al Yankovic genre.

Affirmation of the band’s success occurred this year when it won the Fauquier Times Readers’ Choice award for Best Band in Fauquier County.

Because of the pandemic, live performances have been largely eliminated, a situation that has affected bands nationwide. Next year, they hope to see a resurgence of gigs. In the interim, the band practices to keep its skills honed.

Making it happen
The biggest tip both instructors have for students is to practice every day. If a student is committed, success will follow. “Yes, it’s fun, but it’s also a commitment. You can’t skate by practicing just a couple times a week,” said Bauer.

The guitar is the most popular instrument studied. Rock music is centered on the guitar, and the resulting popularity comes as no surprise.

The goal of the instructors is consistency. They recommend one 30-minute lesson every week on the same day and at the same time. Hour-long classes are available but typically are for more advanced students.

Newbies are given homework assignments and return for the next lesson demonstrating either success or the need for more focus on the previous class. Bauer thinks some people are born with natural talent springing from their family lineage.

But everyone can build on whatever strengths they possess, even if it’s minimal.

Bauer cites as an example one student, “Who started with almost negative musical ability. He really struggled, but he had a passion for it. I taught him for five years. By the time he graduated from high school, he was performing in a band.

“Natural talent will start you at a higher learning point, but it’s all about your determination to practice. Even talented people who don’t practice will not get better.”

Currently, the business is doing well, with each of the men having a good number of students. Because of the new Main Street location, they are attracting even more business.

In addition to music lessons, the company also functions as a semiprofessional recording studio. Students who want to cut a record can do so at a far less cost than a professional studio. “We can make a YouTube video for students who want to share their talent with family and friends,” said Mudge.

Other formats include cutting an EP album which consists of just three to five songs. It is then typically released digitally online.

Students are charged $140 a month for four half-hour lessons. The studio is opened Monday through Thursday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday by appointment, and closed on Sunday.

“We are here to enrich people’s lives through music. Everyone enjoys music, either as a hobby or professionally,” said Bauer.

Mudge underscores, “Many people put off learning an instrument they’ve always wanted to learn. But it’s never too late. If you have the desire, we’ll get you to where you want to go.”

To explore the full range of services offered by Modal Music Studio, drop by


Published in a November 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

New year-round farmer’s market steeped in history

Chris Pearmund is known for his stable of wineries and vineyards, but at heart, he’s a farmer. He doesn’t wield a pitchfork or sling bales of hay, his domain springs from the earth by converting vines into wine.

If that doesn’t sound like a conventional farmer, ask him about the weather and growing grapes. That is if you have time to listen to his response. Read: It’s not easy.

Thanks to his active imagination, he now has a store that further reflects his farming bona fides and those of more than a score of other local tillers of the land and artisans. The establishment embodies “down-home”.

On November 8, the Pearmund Farm Store unwrapped its horn of plenty. It began selling various goods such as hams, beef jerky, eggs, peanut butter, honey, jellies, jams, pecans, coffee, candles, soap, cider, kombucha, hot sauces, local art, and more. Twenty-five vendors (and growing) keep the store stocked. Wine from the three Pearmund wineries is also for sale.

Many of the products spring from Fauquier County’s artesian cornucopia, but they might hail from anywhere in the Old Dominion if it’s a quality product.

“We are trying to feature as many local products as possible,” said Megan Hayes, store manager. “There’s a lot of items we carry from Fauquier but also the surrounding counties.”

Indoor and outdoor seating is provided, including a patio and front porch. Since the winery is a grape toss away, conventional wine tastings are not offered. However, guests can order wine by the bottle for enjoyment on-site or off.

During the summer and fall months, fresh fruits and vegetables will be available, adding to what is already a market with depth. “We’ve reached out to local farmers so the store can become a market for their products,” said Pearmund. “During the winter, it will provide a venue for them to sell non-perishable items.”

The five-bedroom, 4,000 square foot farmhouse sits on a low rise just before turning right into Pearmund Cellars winery. In keeping with Virginia’s legendary past, it comes with its own historic story.

The home sits on property that was birthed as a land grant in 1743 to a Colonel Harrison, who served in the Revolutionary War. He built a cabin on the site, and today the 277-year-old dwelling is the base of the farmhouse.

The home had been leased for years, but recently the tenant moved on, offering an opportunity for Pearmund further to accessorize his 30-acre estate with another guest attraction. Fifteen acres of Chardonnay grapevines grow nearby.

Upstairs five rooms can be rented for private parties, ranging in size from two to 12 people. The fee is a $100 gift card that can be used in the store or at the winery, essentially making the rooms rental free.

“A couple can reserve a room shared with others. Or, it can be reserved exclusively for a small private party. We can provide food, and for three hours, you would have a parlor-like setting for family and friends.”

With Covid-19 constricting the urge for public gatherings, reserving a room for a small private event allows folks to entertain in a public setting while feeling safe.

“It’s like going to visit grandma’s house in the country. You can bring your food or we can provide it,” said Pearmund.

Another innovative offering is carry out gourmet meals prepared by Warrenton’s Café Torino. Dinners from two to eight can be purchased at the store Thursday through Sunday, starting at $35. It includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert.

The dinners are fully prepared and need only be oven bound to create a dining out event at home. Buy a bottle of wine, and an in-home repast is yours. Working folks take note.

With a fireplace outside and in a country setting, the farm store is a safe, COVID-19 respectful indoor and outdoor getaway that is family-friendly. Parking is available just outside.

“When Covid-19 hit, and everybody was retracting, I went out and planted a 112 Crepe Myrtles on my property because I remembered Audrey Hepburn once saying, ‘To plant a garden is to believe in the future’.

“The farm store is a seed for the future success of agriculture in the Piedmont. It’s our way of saying, ‘Come out and support our local farmers and vendors,’” said Pearmund.

The store is located at 6188 Georgetown Run Road, Broad Run, and is opened seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information on the Pearmund Farm Store, drop by  


Published in a November 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES