Indeed, I challenge you to stand on the lawn in front of Monticello and look in any direction--say across toward Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of Jefferson's great friend, James Monroe-- and not think this Jeffersonian vision of life makes great good sense. Or I'd wager that if you spent the day working in your own garden, it would all make great good sense, as well. Our health -- mental, physical, moral -- is surely invigorated by contact with the earth.1785 Aug. 23. "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independant (sic), the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands." (TJ to John Jay)
Yesterday, however, I couldn't get to where I was going -- Blenheim Road -- by my usual route. I got to the end of the long, low stone wall that edges Morven, the 7,379-acre estate passed circuitously from Thomas Jefferson through John Kluge to the University of Virginia Foundation, and I was asked to detour. Something about drainage problems on the Patricia Kluge estate and vineyard (pictured above) had caused the Virginia Department of Transportation to close the road between Grand Cru Drive and Blenheim Road for the month of April.
Turn left, the detour sign said, and so I did. And crossed the backside of Monticello Mountain on roads I'd never driven before.
Gone were the manicured fields, the miles of white fences and stone walls, the eighteenth and nineteenth-century houses set well back from the road. Small houses lined this road; some, ill-maintained; none, of much architectural interest. The ground around them looked as though it would have all it could do to support any grass, let alone lush grass.
Yet surely this road is just as historical as the one I'd just left. Surely it was being settled at the same time Thomas Jefferson was accruing his thousands of acres a short detour away. Could this have been where the laborers who actually cultivated Jefferson's inspirational view lived, perhaps including his own slaves once they'd been freed?
The backside of Monticello Mountain, where Thomas Jefferson didn't live, is not very pretty. There's not much of a view. As far as I know, no one who settled it carefully recorded his or her thoughts in journals and letters for the enlightenment of future generations.And I suspect that the farming that went on there was less about philosophy and more about survival.