About admin

Dan Smith is an award-winning journalist in Roanoke, Va., and a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. He is an author, photographer, essayist, father and grandfather. Co-founder of Valley Business FRONT magazine and founder of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.

Spring Is Closing In, but Not Here Yet

They’re not quite there, but the flowers are coming soon.

The clear, bright, blue sky and the chill of a March afternoon were the highlights on a mid-day hike today that told me we’re still a big away from the spring awakening that three weeks ago we all expected to be nearly finished by now.

The woods are open and unencumbered by new leaves, flowers and warm-bloodedlife. I half expected to see a bear on the crest of the hill overlooking Carvins Cove, but it didn’t happen. I’m delighted because at this time of year, just-out-of-hibernation bears are cranky and ready for a long-winter’s poop.

The cove from above: Blue on blue.

Still, there’s plenty to see, to photograph and to enjoy and we’re not even getting to the spirituality of it all. Here’s some of what it looked like today.

Lichen can be just about any color, including Tennessee orange.

It also comes in gray and white.

Pampa pee pee: Fact of life, old men pee.

Another bathroom joke: Poop on a stick.

My old pal, Bill’s house is camouflaged, but can almost be seen in the spring.

Dead leaves. What can I say?

This dead tree glowed.

Easy enough, I guess.

Elizabeth Catte: Defending Appalachia

Elizabeth Catte*

I have just made my discovery for March: Elizabeth Catte, a history teacher at Middle Tennessee State University, whose specialty is defending our region of the world from the right and left and anybody who thinks we’re “hillbillies.”

Hers is a persistent and elegant defense, exemplified by her article today in Salon (here) that takes on “liberal elites,” who want to wrap all of us in Appalachia as ignorant hayseeds who mindlessly voted for Donald Trump and his house of horrors view of government.

She writes for some of the more popular outlets in the country, but her blog is a consistent pull (here). She seems to understand our culture, our people, our reasons for doing what we do. She understands that we don’t have wildly differing goals, opinions and views from the rest of America and that our culture here is neither backward, nor out of tune with the rest of America.

Her defense reminds me of that of Sharyn McCrumb, the Roanoke-based novelist with a huge national reputation, who consistently and eloquently defends us against those who so carelessly trash us and our culture.

Ms. Catte notes that we have liberal pockets, that we have thoughtful people, that we are as educated as people anywhere else, that we do, indeed, have an Appalachian culture (which in my view is disappearing), but it’s Irish/Scottish-American, not some inbred alien-influenced weirdness (unless you get into the snake-handling Christians). I would bet my first-born male child that Ms. Catte can pronounce Appalachia, as well.

Knoxville native Ms. Catte, who wrote the forthcoming What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, and earned her PhD from MTSU in 2015, wrote eloquently about the Women’s Marches all over Appalachia (10,000 in Asheville, 25,000 in Pittsburgh, 1,000 in Blacksburg, 3,500 in Roanoke) shortly after Trump’s inauguration here. Seek out some of her writing and read it carefully.

She understands us because she’s one of us. That’s rare.

(* Yes, she had me at the red hair.)

(Elizabeth Catte photo from http://www.allthepeople.net/elizabeth-catte)

Gratitude: Spotting My Garden for 2017

That’s me today at about 2:15, tilling.

First World problems are niggling little dealies, but they still have to be solved. My “problem” today is where to place my garden this spring. And for that I am grateful.

Grateful to own a house with a big back hard; grateful to have tools to dig and till and plant; grateful to know people who start healthy, geographically appropriate plants that I can buy; grateful to have some basic knowledge of how things grow; grateful to be healthy enough  and strong enough to make it all work.

(Photo: gardeningandfarming.com)

A Walk on the First Day of Spring

Margie’s been working so much lately that we’ve had little opportunity to get out in nature and wander around. We got a chance today–on a lovely first day of spring–and went to the Greenway for a walk. I took along my new selfie stick and got a few pix.

I’m digging the selfie stick, so much so, in fact that I bought one for my grandgirl and my friend, Susan, and they seem as taken with it as I am.

I didn’t use the selfie stick, but here’s a shot of Margie coming out of the bathroom. I like bathroom shots.

DJUNA! She’s Off and Running

Djuna Osborne in Del. Sam Rasoul’s iPhone.

Djuna Osborne

Rookie Democratic political candidate Djuna Osborne received a vigorous sendoff from a room full of people at noon today, a gathering that included no news media (except for me). TV, radio and the local daily and local weeklies obviously had other fish to fry that did not include one of the season’s hottest trends: the coalescing of the Democratic Party.

Djuno Osborne exemplifies that resistance to the Trump Administration, having already been a primary organizer of two recent jaw-dropping (and media attracting) events: the Women’s March, which drew about 3,500 people and the faux Town Hall meeting for an absent–except for a cardboard cutout–Bob Goodlatte.

Alicia Nash, Anne Piedmont celebrate.

Djuna (pronounced Juna) is a woman with quite a compelling story of courage, grit and determination. She works on the front-lines–often the violent front lines–of social services and has been a victim of domestic violence. “I have been beaten and brutally terrorized by a domestic partner and a year later was run over by a truck,” she said from the podium. She later said it is “something I don’t talk about much.”

Thomas Ryder, Sam Rasoul

She said that when she “healed, I was better than before.” She says she’s up for a fight with three-term representative Chris Head, an enthusiastic Trump supporter who stresses NRA values (which include allowing the mentally ill and those who are on the “no-fly” list to own guns) and hard-core anti-abortion supporter.

Djuno is “going to ask you for every dollar you have and all the time you can spend” helping the campaign.

Sam Rasoul introduces Djuna Osborne.

Full house awaits the announcement.

Djuna Osborne delivers.

Djuna with Sen. John Edwards.

Djuna talks to a supporter.

Djuna with Democrats Steve McGraw, Edwards and Rasoul.

Daisy’s and My Anniversary

Me ‘n’ Daisy in the driveway.

You can pronounce this weird all you want, but today is Daisy’s and my second anniversary. Yes, Daisy is my VW bug and I adore her. I first saw her in March of 2015, sitting on a car lot off Peters Creek Road in Roanoke, mostly covered with snow. I fell in love instantly and bought Daisy before the day was out.

It has been a lovely pairing. Daisy reflects how I feel about myself, about life, about so very much. She’s bright, colorful, fun, spunky and ready to drive the interstates or the back roads (I spend a lot of time on the back roads where my truck used to take me; I still have my truck, which hauls my kayaks and it’s been a great vehicle).

So, happy anniversary little Daisy. You’re my favorite.

Djuna Osborne to Announce for Virginia House Monday

Djuna Osborne (right front) co-moderating the Goodlatte cardboard town hall meeting.

Donald Trump’s influence in the nation’s electoral process is picking up steam, and not necessarily in the way he would hope. Monday, Djuna Osborne of Roanoke who helped organize the recent Women’s March and the cardboard cutout Rep. Bob Goodlatte Town Hall meeting, will announce she’s running for the 17th District (Roanoke) House seat in the Virginia General Assembly. She’ll make the announcement at noon at the Greenridge Recreation Center.

Djuna Osborne

Osborne takes on hardcore Trump supporter Chris Head, who has served as an anti-abortion, pro-NRA Republican since 2011. He and his wife own Home Instead Senior Care.

The 17th District is heavily gerrymandered and is almost all white. Osborne, however, is not intimidated. In a conversation a little while ago as she was driving home from a Virginia Democratic candidates’ meeting in Richmond, she said she sees a coalescing of voters to oppose Trump. “We’re not looking at gender,” she said. “We want people to get out and vote.”

Some people voted for Trump “to avoid voting for Hillary [Clinton] and there are a lot of people in the gray area.” She said she believes she can get those votes. “This is the Year of the Woman,” she said. “Women are in the forefront. There are a lot of angry, fired up people.”

The Virginia House is 66-34 in favor of the Republican Party, even though statewide votes have broken to Democrats with more than 50 percent of the total vote in recent elections. Gerrymandering accounts for the heavy Republican advantage and the courts are now taking a look at those districts across the nation. Many are being declared illegal.

Osborne, who is married and has two children, is a 41-year-old licensed clinical social worker and contract clinician. She works with the Bradley Free Clinic as a volunteer. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Carolina (English).

She is, she said, “motivated by the new administration. At the Women’s March a lot of my friends said I should consider running for office.” She sees a “groundswell of people stepping up and out” and believes that “diehard supporter” Head is vulnerable.

She got the name “Djuna,” by the way, from her father (an architect and amateur philosopher), after writer and artist Djuna Barnes.

The heavily-gerrymandered (and almost all-white) 17th House District.


A Good Look at a Journalistic Throwback

Harwood in years past.

Laurence Hammack’s profile of Doug Harwood (here) in today’s Roanoke daily paper is worth your time. It is a flattering piece about journalist who is firmly grounded in 1947–from both a technological and philosophical view.

I’ve known Doug slightly for a lot of years and never really liked him personally, but I always respected his courage, his commitment and his absolute insistence on doing things his way. He and I are teammates in the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame, he inducted in 2012, I in 2010. We once shared a girlfriend briefly, each to the other’s horror, I suspect.

Doug has steadfastly refused to keep up with technology–even when it helps journalistically–and his monthly tabloid (the Rockbridge Advocate) is available only in print for $3 a copy, or less if you subscribe, as many in Rockbridge County do.

Rockbridge/Lexington/Buena Vista is an odd duck of a semi-rural community. At one time, it had three newspapers and the word was that half the people there had written a book and the other half had never read one. There are, of course, three colleges in the area (VMI, W&L, where Harwood graduated, and Southern Virginia) and both literacy and community involvement are high.

I think Laurence gets a little caught up in the Legend of Doug in the story, which is understandable at a time when journalism, as it is now practiced, is under heavy attack from every angle, even–especially–from the president. I don’t think journalists need to gush over the way things were in the old days any more than we need to be ashamed for doing the best job we can under difficult circumstances. The state of journalism today is not really the fault of journalists. It is about making money and corporate ownership.

I would like to have heard from the former publisher he worked for (the Rockbridge Weekly’s Kitty Sachs, a smart, courageous and honorable woman) and from Matt Paxton of the Lexington News-Gazette, his primary competition. (Story: When Rockbridge County went to 911 emergency calls, it required rural people to name the lanes where they live. Kitty lived on a creek that often flooded. She named her road Lottawater Lane.)

Nit-picking aside, this is a good piece by a solid, sometimes distinguished reporter writing about an independent old-school guy he obviously admires. There’s a lot to be said for that.

(Photo: Rockbridge Advocate.)


Gratitude: Friendships, Old and New

Mel, Susan and me at Cups.

My new(ish) friend, Susan, and I sat down at Cups coffee shop in Grandin Village Friday evening with my old friend Melanie Almeder and I was filled to the brim with gratitude and have been since.

Mel and I met nearly 20 years ago and there was an immediate connection, one both of us knew would be lasting. Mel is Irish as Sean O’Casey (and a better writer) and is wickedly funny, with an impish smile that is simply irresistible. She’s had a difficult last five years, during which I have seen her little, but that absence seems to be repairing itself as her body repairs (and replaces in some instances).

Mel teaches English at Roanoke College and has been the Virginia teacher of the year. That means she’s good at it. She’s also a poet (On Dream Street), who is finishing her second book of poetry and beginning to think in terms of a novel, something I’ve been pushing on her for years. She’s a natural storyteller.

Susan, of course, is my adventure friend and has been for a little more than two years. We do a lot together when Margie isn’t here or is simply too worn out, and she and Mel are a alike in many ways that count to me. When Mel left Friday, Susan gave me the highest complement: “I like your friends. All of them.” She is especially drawn to Mel for the same reasons I am. You can’t really say anything to me that pleases me more.