Editorial: Straight ahead

Compared to the more civilized and manicured venues of Fauquier and Loudoun counties, horseback riding in Rappahannock County, and especially foxhunting, is a wild and woolly affair, like a frontier hunt. When eulogizing Arthur W. “Nick” Arundel at last Friday’s funeral service at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville, John Warner — retired senator, fellow Marine, longtime friend and former co-owner of the Rappahannock News — poignantly shared this illustrative story:

Joining Rappahannock resident and host Jim Bill Fletcher for some rough-and-ready riding, Arundel and Warner were suddenly confronted by a particularly difficult jump. It was a “blind fence.” What was on the other side was unknown. But turning back or detouring was out of the question.

Instead, Arundel laughed and suggested to Warner that they take their mounts over the fence simultaneously, side by side. “We can click our spurs together as we take the jump,” Arundel called out.

“Straight ahead!” It was a signature saying for Arundel — accustomed to making things happen and working the world to his will — as if leading a charge.

Warner was only one of several speakers to pay tribute at the funeral services. Hundreds packed, and spilled out from, the church. The sheer number of people whose lives Nick Arundel indelibly touched gave testimony to a larger truth that he instinctively realized: We may all be distinct individuals but we are not separate entities. We are all connected, our lives interwoven, humans and animals alike.

The photo in The Washington Post obituary of him as a young man, cradling two baby gorillas after rescuing them, speaks volumes: a “straight-ahead” man of action who nonetheless acknowledged the primacy of — and his humble place in — the natural world.

The Smithsonian Conservation Research Center, just across the Blue Ridge near Chester Gap, was but one concrete, local and not widely known beneficiary of Arundel’s generous appreciation of the natural world, especially wildlife.

But future human generations are Arundel’s biggest beneficiaries. That’s what stewardship of this land we call home is all about. Not only was Nick Arundel an early and leading proponent of conservation easements but also he saw his duty as this newspaper’s longtime owner and publisher (1977-2009) to preserve the land that is uniquely Rappahannock, its natural beauty and the good life that it allows.

We are honored to try to follow in his enormous footsteps. Straight ahead!

Walter Nicklin