Perhaps the ideal place to take a vacation during a pandemic is a town whose population is 636. While it made me slightly uneasy that the nearest convenience store–Big John’s, also a gas station and place to play Virginia lottery machines–was a 10-minute drive away, spending a week far removed from the densely populated county where we live was a relief.

Water View, Virginia is located in Middlesex County, where approximately 11,000 people enjoy the luxury of 211 square miles. Compare that with Arlington County, where approximately 237,000 people are packed into 26 square miles. The day after we arrived at our Airbnb rental, Zoe and I drove to Walmart to pick up grocery items we had forgotten to bring. The trip to Walmart–the nearest grocery store–took 30 minutes. Where I live in Arlington there are more than a dozen grocery stores within five miles, not to mention drugstores and 7-11s. I will note, however, that every single person in that Walmart was wearing a mask.

What we did see on our trip instead of throngs of people were lots of cornfields. And corn. And fields with other crops that I can’t identify because I am a city girl. And small white clapboard churches. And big, beautiful houses juxtaposed with trailer homes and abandoned school buses and the splintered husks of houses and stores that have seen better days.

The house where we were fortunate to stay for a week overlooked the Rappahannock River. The house is at the end of a long paved road with dirt roads branching off in different directions. Dogs wandered around the neighborhood. One friendly beagle, who locals told us was named Mabel although her tags just identified her owner, visited us nearly every day. Randy nicknamed her the Mayor of Middlesex. Mabel came up onto the front porch and we brought her water. She tried to come in the house but we nudged her back outside. Zeke and his cousin were excited whenever she came around and went running outside to pet her and run around with her until she decided to wander off somewhere.

On the morning when Zoe woke me up at 5 to walk down to the dock to watch the sun rise, which I am still amazed she did given her proclivity for sleeping in, we heard several roosters crowing to announce the dawn and several dogs–perhaps Mabel included–barking and howling in response. Watching the sun rise over the river was glorious. And when we turned around to go back to the house, a double rainbow was visible even though we hadn’t seen a drop of rain. At night, we could see more stars than seemed possible when you’re used to living in light pollution. Simply looking out at the expanse of grass, the trees, the water, and the sky every day was such an unexpected balm.

The kids spent most of their time happily splashing in the pool. They invented names for their original dives and slid down the waterslide. The boys made up elaborate games in and out of the pool involving Harry Potter and dragons and superpowers. They read comic books that I bought for them on that trip to Walmart, and drew pictures and ate snacks. My brother-in-law cooked delicious dinners every night and spent hours picking crabs he had bought from a fisherman just down the road from our house so we could eat them fresh. We relished the opportunity to play with my baby nephew, finding new ways to make him smile and laugh and watching him explore the world and discover new skills every day. We played games after the little kids were in bed, at least whoever among us hadn’t fallen asleep while putting the little kids to bed. We made tie-dye shirts and bandanas, which was messy and fun. My brother-in-law took the boys fishing and they were unexpectedly patient and they each caught a fish! We dealt with bug bites and a bee sting and some sunscreen that melted into our eyes but we were ok. We ate popsicles and drank wine. It was good to be away from here.