FRONT ROYAL, VA. -- Depressed by recent bad news -- including the apparent loss of my socks, shorts and suspenders in the stock market -- I took a drive out to the Shenandoah last week, where clear air and autumn leaves have a way of putting things back into perspective.
Here, along Skyline Drive, you can stand on the edge of dozens of overlooks and gaps -- some more than 3,000 feet high -- and have no urge to jump, if only because you wouldn't want to spoil the scenery.
Had this place been open during the market crash of '29, I daresay lives might have been saved.
The calming effect of the brilliant fall foliage and the vast panoramic view is spellbinding. Even motorists, some of whom spent hours on the road to get here, show no sign of stress or strain once they begin rolling and strolling through these magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains.
Even children seem to behave better.
What happens to the psyche when one communes with nature is nothing short of radical therapy.
For instance, during my visit to the park, I could no longer look down on the lowly squirrel that spends the fall season collecting nuts.
I, for one, will spend the winter season eating worthless stocks, and you don't need Ewell Gibbons to tell you which tastes better.
Experiencing so much of nature's unspoiled beauty takes the mind back to simpler times when you didn't need to make a killing on the stock market to find happiness in life.
The nature trails conjure up images of the early pioneers who ate fresh berries, hunted wild game, drank clean water and breathed clean air -- all for free.
Indian hunters were the first settlers in the Shenandoah Valley and they thrived on the land for centuries before new settlers arrived in 1716 and also began to reap the benefits of nature's bounty.
Of course it wasn't easy. The weather could be harsh and isolation posed as many problems as benefits.
But there is no doubt that an appreciation of their environment served the settlers well.
A brochure passed out by the National Park Service at the entrance to the Shenandoah notes that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in dedicating the park in 1936, initiated a novel experiment in returning the area to its original natural beauty.
Recreational facilities were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and in 1939 Skyline Drive was completed (it rides as smooth as if it were built yesterday, a tribute to its care and maintenance by the National Park Service).
With oak and hickory trees in abundance, the mountainsides look as if they had been decorated with holiday lights, so brilliant are the colors of fall.
Although the peak season is just about over, the park is a place of beauty the year round. In a few weeks, winter comes to the Shenandoah.
Most facilities will be closed, but Skyline Drive will remain open.
With clear days and a lack of leaves, winter will be the ideal time to get a wide-ranging view of the countryside.
A visitor could easily want to stay here forever, make a permanent escape from the hustle and bustle of city life with a campsite in say, the mountain peak of Matthew's Arm or in Calf Mountain overlook with a 300-degree view at 2,485 feet.
You can roam out here, hang out with the deer, chipmunk, raccoon, turkey and 200 species of birds.
Sure, there is a snake or two, but nowhere near the number you are likely to find during any daily urban encounter.
There are 500 miles of trails, numerous picnic grounds and campsites.
Some people say the park has bears but none has been sighted near Skyline Drive lately.
Rumor has it that they have migrated to Wall Street for the winter.