If we ever actually turned Washington into a free state -- by fiat, preferably, with no holds barred -- I would draw the lines to include Annapolis, the western part of the Eastern Shore (you can keep Rehoboth and Ocean City), all of Loudoun and Fauquier counties and most of the Polish bars in Baltimore.
But my special secret -- the dollop of cream on this geo-political trifle -- is West Virginia. It's one of the best things about living in Washington.
Washington's part of West Virginia is about two hours northwest by Interstate 70 or U.S. 50 plus 522. I don't know about the rest of West Virginia because, frankly, I haven't been there. But I know that the chunk of mountains, upland meadows and history-minded towns that stretches from Harpers Ferry to Charlestown to Berkeley Springs to tiny Paw Paw is West Virginia's piece of paradise -- the kind of place where offices and half the stores still close on Wednesday afternoons.
Just spend a weekend in the woods there. They have, in a word, everything including not too many people. By West Virginia standards, of course, they think they have a lot of tourists; but they haven't been to Middleburg on a Sunday afternoon.
On the other hand, they have enough visitors to have developed good recreation facilities. The area around Berkeley Springs, where I spent a very long weekend in a large rented cabin, is a good example.
Berkeley Springs is unofficially called Bath; it's the place you go for a Roman bath (a hot soaking in a 750-gallon tiled tank) and Swedish massage, which is painfully close to Rolfing. Mineral waters at an invariable temperature of 74.3 degree F. gush out of the mountainside at an equally steady rate of 2,000 gallons per minute (they are heated to 85 degrees for the baths). George Washington was the first notable visitor to "Ye fam'd Warm Springs," as he called them in his surveyor's journal. The work-weary city folks to whom he entrusted care of the Republic have been coming ever since for the baths and the rubs.
For immediate and convenient accommodations, there is The Country Inn directly adjacent to the state park that houses the mineral baths.
But the countryside around the town is dotted with other vacation facilities. Coolfont, a lovely resort nestled around several small lakes and ponds in Cold Run Valley between Routes 9 and 522, has three dozen rental accommodations, from cabins with outdoor plumbing to mountainside show houses with wraparound glass walls looking onto the valley below. A hotel-style lodge has 24 rooms, each equipped with an open firestove. There are also 100 campsites arrayed on Warm Springs Ridge just above a lake beach and riding stables.
There are also numerous private cabins and A-frames in the area, which are rented out more months than they are occupied by the actual owners. My cabin, Chapelwood, was a purely arbitrary find in the classified ads. It was surrounded by woods on a slope ten miles south of Berkeley Springs, had a swing on the front porch and a deck facing the mountainside and the afternoon sun in the rear.
The pine-paneled interior contained three bedrooms, two baths, and a very large common room that served as living, dining and kitchen area. The upstairs landing overlooked a stone-hearth fireplace, a cathedral ceiling and a picture window facing the woods. The adjacent slope is thickly covered with hardwoods whose only drawback, according to local inhabitants, is a persistent population of rattlesnakes and copperheads, both lethal.
The wintertime rent on Chapelwood was $120 for the weekend; $250 per week during the summer. I paid $175 for a Tuesday-to-Tuesday rental.
Chapelwood was spacious enough that I could spend a week alone with books, typewriter and radio without contracting a serious case of cabin fever. Yet one of its special attractions is that, if you have friends or children along, it lies only one mile from the recreational variety of Cacapon State Park.
Extremely well run by the West Virginia park rangers, Cacapon has tennis, fishing, beach bathing on a lake, horseback riding, numerous walking trails and a new hillside golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones. It also has 29 cabins ranging from deluxe to rustic, and a 50-room main lodge. Both are booked on weekends and all through the summer, about ten months ahead. The lodge restaurant would appear to be one of the best in the area, judging by the number of local cars pulling into the parking lot at lunchtime.
When I moved to Washington a few years ago, I knew there was the Chesapeake, I knew they rode horses somewhere in Virginia and I knew the Skyline Drive could not be too far away. Nobody told me about West Virginia. It's like North Georgia with more parks, or a piece of the Arkansas Ozarks relocated just up the Interstate. In fireplace weather, it's the best thing we've got.