Lake Tillery, NC; Photo by Jack Barnwell

“Lake Tillery” sounds like someplace in Narnia.

It occurs to me that I might need to reread The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Or the brilliant Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman. Fillory – I’m remembering now – is the name of the magical land visited by the young people in Grossman’s novels.

The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea…. Hogwarts was never like this,” writes George R.R. Martin.

Back to Lake Tillery. It’s in North Carolina, and my friends Jack and Beth Barnwell have retreated there (from Raleigh) in the Time of Corona. Today, Jack stops in to share some photography and his impressions.

Hi Jack! I like to think of you at your lake house, in such a beautiful setting, being careful. 

Please set the scene for us. What is Lake Tillery like – the geography, the community? 

Lake Tillery is the southernmost of four lakes on the Yadkin/Pee Dee River in central North Carolina. Duke Energy generates hydroelectric power from the dam located about four or five miles downriver from our house. The lake is about 14 miles long north to south; it has about 118 miles of shoreline; and the depth finder on my pontoon boat tells me that close to the dam the depth is about 65 feet. We like that Tillery has much less development on its shores than Lake Norman (the most popular lake for Charlotte residents); that means we have a great deal of wildlife here, especially water birds: ducks, cormorants, loons, ospreys, and great blue herons – these last are the iconic birds of Lake Tillery and the ones that love to perch on our pier.

Tillery forms the boundary between Montgomery and Stanly Counties both of which are rural. The population density of both is far, far less than Wake County (Raleigh). The closest town of any size to us is Albemarle (population about 16,000). If one is looking for haute culture, Lake Tillery is not the place to come. If, on the other hand, you want to hear the primeval croak of great blue herons when they are disturbed at night, Tillery is wonderful.

I know you’ve always enjoyed Lake Tillery as an escape. Does it feel like an escape now? Or something different.

In this crazy pandemic time, it seems more and more like home. And Raleigh seems far away.

Home is where your dogs are (Carly & Pippin)

What is your daily life like? How is Life in the Time of Corona different from Life in the Time of Retirement?

Daily life here differs from Raleigh in that I have many more chores to do. Our lake house was built in 1971 so maintenance is a constant. It seems that something is breaking and needs repairing almost daily, certainly weekly. Some of those repairs I can do; others must wait until I get a professional over (I have very limited skills as a plumber and almost none as an electrician).

As far as retirement goes, there is not much difference. I retired from the North Carolina Department of Justice in 2011. I kept my law license active for a while in order to do some pro bono work, but I have now gone to inactive status with the state bar.

My routine here is much as it was in Raleigh: read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and, of course, Bacon on the Bookshelf. Walk the dogs. Read. I just finished James Shapiro, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599.

And, when the spirit moves me, write in the journal I have been keeping since 2011. I have liked to write since I was a teenager. Writing was essential and enjoyable, when, as a history professor, I put my research into print. I turned to law in 1986 -89, a little before you, too, went to Carolina Law School. Writing briefs and other legal documents continued my fascination with putting words on paper.

What’s the hardest thing for you about Life in the Time of Corona?

Not being able to interact with my friends in person.

What have you enjoyed?

The beauty of the natural world.

What worries you most?

The millions of American who are unemployed and facing daunting economic hardships that Beth and I and you and Gus are not. What worries me the most about Covid-19 is its utter unpredictability regarding its fatal consequences in some and it asymptomatic effects in others.

It’s possibly not natural to spend so much time with your spouse. Speaking for myself of course. How do you find time to be alone – and apart?

That is a work in progress for us.

What are you reading/watching/listening to?

Reading: history and Shakespeare. Watching: Alvin Ailey ‘s modern dance and Rumpole of the Bailey. Listening to: WDAV (Davidson’s classical music radio station).

How are your daughter and son-in-law in New York doing? When do you think you’ll see them again? Or is that just too hard to think about.

It is hard. New York was the epicenter of infections; of course, we worry about them. Leigh is practicing law from home, and her husband, Will, a teacher, is connecting with his students via Zoom or some other technology. They live in an apartment on the upper West Side. Needless to say, most apartments in Manhattan are small, so working from their apartment is a challenge. But they are smart, and they are managing.

When do you think you’ll feel comfortable going to a restaurant again?

I don’t know. But I know I miss it. I need to go to Raleigh next week. I won’t be able to eat in at any of the restaurants there that we both like.

What’s the greatest virtue in the Time of Corona? 

Kindness being shown to those in need.

The greatest vice?

My impatience, a lifelong failure.

The greatest aggravation?

My impatience.

Favorite beverage?

Gin and tonic.

Guilty pleasure?

Old movies on prime video.

Favorite time of day?

Sunset over the lake.

Best basketball team in the Time of Corona and ALWAYS?

Jennifer, you know we both bleed Carolina Blue. We love the noble North Carolina Tarheels.

Best advice for staying sane?

Get outdoors as much as possible

Agreed!! That is my advice exactly!! Thank you for all, Jack. xoxo

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All photos courtesy of Jack Barnwell.

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