An Easter in the Mountain Sun

Susan finds peace with a yoga pose overlooking a lovely valley from the Parkway.

This new trillium was simply lovely.

As has become our custom over the past three years or so, my friend Susan and I spent yesterday’s religious holiday celebrating the spiritual side of our lives by spending time outside in the sun and on a mountain.

This time, we drove up to the Peaks of Otter in Bedford County and sought out Fallingwater Cascades and its lovely, long, loud waterfall and accompanying steep hike. It was just about perfect for the hike of hike we needed on this day, one that is brisk, challenging (over a two-mile course) and full of the new life of spring, spectacular in its light green foliage and its occasional new flowers.

Here is some of what we saw on the way to the Peaks (Fallingwater is about a mile past the Peaks of Otter Lodge) and on our life-affirming hike.

This creek was tricky because the rocks were mostly wet and the fall to the right was dangerous.

We sat on a rock at the base of the falls to eat a little lunch, my boots taking a little cooling water (which was quite tasty).

The views along the Parkway yesterday were simply spectacular because of the clarity of the air.

The first half of the hike is a steep downhill. The second half of the loop trail is a steep uphill, which is backwards for hikers.

Susan crosses the creek, stepping lightly.

Views like this are 30 minutes from my front door. You want spiritual? We got spiritual.

Susan pauses to enjoy the beauty of this wondrous place.

The colors of spring are apparent all around this falling water.

The waterfall is just behind me here.

This shot by Susan might be my favorite of the 300 we shot yesterday.

This is Susan’s “watercolor” of the falls (actually a photo).

Susan found this image of a cross etched into a rock. Rock of Ages …

This sluggish young fellow–a water moccasin, I think–ignored us completely.

The light covering of leaves let us see through to the mountains beyond.

Another (Bradford Pear) Bites the Dust

The Bradford is an instant from coming down here as Bruce saws and his buddy pulls with the truck.

The nasty wind we endured last night took half of what was left of my fully-grown Bradford pear tree at the back of my yard. Today, I called in a guy named Bruce Rainbow–who looks like a Civil War veteran and works like a Louisiana convict–to clean it up. That meant cutting up everything on the ground, then cutting down the rest of the tree and getting rid of all of it.

Burce and his pal did the whole deal in a few hours and charged $400. I bargained with him and got him to go up to $500 (because I thought he deserved it). A steal at the price.

The Bradford pear was a popular tree for urban landscaping in the 1970s because it simply eats pollution, is pretty, well shaped and grows fast. There was a little problem with it, however. It is so brittle that it falls apart on the mere forecast of bad weather. Find a whole, mature Bradford pear and you’ve found a rare species.

These are photos of the duo getting the last piece of the tree to topple, using their pickup truck and a chain, along with the chainsaw. Nearly crushed my Staymen apple tree, but didn’t quite damage it. Thankfully.

The tree crashes to the ground here.

Awards for Two Exemplary Journalists

Dwayne Yancey: His mind is not as cluttered as his office.

I’m working on a story about journalists bailing out of the profession, often to go into public relations, and a little while ago, I noted a story in the local daily about some of its journalists winning state awards last night.

The two most decorated are Dwayne Yancey, who won the Virginia Press Association’s highest award for the second straight year,  and Laurence Hammack, reporters from the old school who, I don’t expect, will never be among those seeking greener pastures. They are dedicated to this profession and they’re damn good at what they do. I say that hopefully, rather than knowingly. Journalism has tended to eject its best in recent years.

Laurence Hammack

Dwayne has the highest profile of the two for a number of reasons, foremost being his position as the editorial page editor, the voice of the paper. His is the most conservative overall that I’ve seen at The Times since I moved here in 1971 and Harold Sugg was in Dwayne’s spot. Sugg was a 5-foot-6 square little man who wore white suits, bow ties and spoke precisely, when he spoke at all (especially to young journalists). He liked to pontificate in a thick Southern drawl once he got started.

Dwayne is disheveled, singular, attentive, removed and he seems completely non-partisan. He writes good plays, very good plays that are produced all over the world. I’ve seen him cosey up to former far right Congressman Bob Goodlatte on a personal basis, but my guess is he doesn’t share many of Goodlatte’s political beliefs, which are extreme. Dwayne is not extreme and his conservatism plays better in this region than my liberalism. He is a heck of a researcher and asks the questions others don’t even know about. He figures things out and explains them in words we can all understand. He–like his colleague Dan Casey–almost always sides with the underdog.

Hammack is like Yancey in that you can’t tell where he stands. He has covered–in some depth–the ungodly Mountain Valley Pipeline without ever (at least in my experience) stepping into judgement. He gives facts, lets others give opinions–often based on those facts.

Although I am not, never have been and won’t be the equal of these journalism specimens, I feel good that I know them, know their work and share their profession–even if at a much lower level.

Are We Past the Point of Touching Without Permission?

This is my good friend Anne Adams, editor publisher of the Recorder in Highland County. My hand is on Anne’s shoulder (and I’m sure I had just hugged her). Is there a problem here?

The accusation of inappropriate kissing five years ago by middle-aged Nevada Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Lucy Flores could well sink any chance Joe Biden has of running competitively for president. I, like so many Americans, respect Joe Biden, but can’t see him–especially at his advance age–winning the presidency or serving if he did.

He’s a flawed man, like most of us, but I’ve always thought of him as truly decent. Ms. Flores’ accusation, made in an article, basically says Biden kissed the back of her head and put his hands on her shoulders during a rally. A Nevada Democratic official said Ms. Flores and Biden were not alone for even a second at the rally. Biden says he doesn’t recall anything like that happening.

Who do we believe? Who is most credible? Why would Ms. Flores lie? Why would Biden kiss the back of her head? Is touching people on the shoulder and a light kiss in a moment of excitement verboten? Should Biden have asked before touching/kissing? Should Ms. Flores made him aware of her offense immediately and reported him to higher authorities without delay?

When my daughter was 10 or 11, about 40 years ago, I coached her youth soccer team (as an assistant, not as the boss coach). We had a little girl on the team who was completely devoid of any athletic gift, but she was a sweet kid, full of joy who loved being part of the team. During a game near the end of the season, a little boy kicked a ball toward her and instead of simply looking at and smiling, as she most often did, she kicked the bejesus out of it and another of our players converted that kick into a goal. I never saw anybody as happy as that little girl and when she ran off the field, she ran straight toward me, squealing and jumping into my open arms.

After the game, the girl’s mother rushed over to me and put her face within inches of my nose, tightened her lips and said, with a threat that was not as veiled as it was indignant, “You keep your filthy, pedophile hands off my little girl!” I turned, collected my kid and drove home, hurt, angry and ready to strike back. Instead, I called the head coach and told him about the incident and said, “I won’t be back. My wife will bring my daughter to practice and games.”

That has stuck with me all these four decades and has helped form my behavior toward others. I’m naturally a toucher who enjoys hugging and being hugged by men, women and children. But the simple act of touching another human being makes me hesitate, think, wonder where it will lead. I most often simply ask, “Do you mind if I touch you.” Most don’t. Some do.

I find it sad. I’m not a rapist or a sexual harasser, but it would be easy to convince others that I am if I lay my hand on a shoulder without permission.

What are we to make of the Flores/Biden incident? I am at a loss.

‘Full-Throated Star Power’ at MMT

Every so often Mill Mountain Theatre is presented the opportunity to reassert itself as one of America’s premier professional regional theaters. That opportunity showed up last night with “Mama Mia,” ABBA’s wildly popular costume musical with songs known by nearly everybody.

A full house gave a rousing minutes-long, clapping, singing ovation as the company finished the evening in full disco mode, lights and costumes spectacularly flashing, warmth and excitement flowing from the company through the audience.

This is a production (running through April 14 with sellout promises every night) that was head-turning from its full-throated star power through the sound engineers. The costuming alone said “expensive” and the direction of Ginger Poole and Travis Kendrick has to be among their best work.

Seth Davis’ music sets the tone with the vibrant and memorable ABBA score and Keith Schneider’s costumes nearly steal the show, especially in the spectacular finish and the finish after the finish.

It is obvious that Mill Mountain’s professionals knew what they wanted for a cast, bringing in professionals like Amy Baldwin, Hayley Palmer (who is so reminiscent of Lady Gaga and who steals nearly every scene she’s in), Timothy Booth, Billie Aken-Tyers (superb as comic relief) and Lisa Graye to lead the charge and a full company of singers and dancers to back them up. This is not a local company, which I tend to like a lot, but it gives us all a lesson in professional theater, especially with select numbers like “Dancing Queen,” “Slipping Through My Fingers,” “The Winner Takes It All” and “Take a Chance on Me.”

Before last night, I always pointed to MMT’s production of “Blackbirds of Broadway” some years ago as being as good as it gets in musical theater for a community this size. There’s a new standard now.

Get your tickets here.

Jeanne Larsen’s Writing Continues To Astonish

Jeanne Larsen

When I learned that Hollins University English professor Jeanne Larsen had yet another new book on the market, I jumped on it and made sure a review copy showed up in my mail. Jeanne is a great teacher–ask her students–and a writer who uses language with an almost operatic voice.

She is often irreverent, never irrelevant. Her work is technically faultless, and there is a depth to her work that often stops her readers in mid-sentence so they can get their breath back.

Language is her art, giving her the means to express a rare wisdom and intelligence.

Now, I’ll make a difficult admission. Her new 76-page volume of poetry, What Penelope Chooses, is so far out of my field of vision that I simply can’t review it. I can tell you that it is Jeanne’s view of The Odyssey because the cover notes say that. I haven’t read The Odyssey and am not a classicist (or a poet).

But I can read the pages and feel Jeanne’s exploration into Penelope’s story, adding a woman’s vision to this most masculine of tales. Jeanne calls What Penelope Chooses an “intertextual gabfest.” The book is good enough to have won the Cider Press Review Book Award before it was even published.

Jeanne’s acknowledgements–more of a bibliography–are telling, as well. There’s a heck of a lot of reading that went into this tiny volume, a sort of boiled wool version of Greek mythology.

Jeanne has written two books of poetry, two collections of Chinese poetry translation and four novels. In the future, I’ll stick to the novels. You’re more than likely smarter than I, so read the poetry. It’ll enrich you.

The Views are Quite Smart on This Trail

Susan looks inside the old cabin on the Smart View trail.

The smartest view actually is a little further along.

It’s slowly moving toward hiking season and my friend Susan and I drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to experience Smart View, a sweet, un-challenging loop trail near Floyd with a payoff of a view of the mountains leading into the piedmont.

Susan is from Martinsville originally and she was especially intrigued of the view toward the two large bodies of water outside her hometown and the skyline, which looked straight toward–if not into–North Carolina.

The hike is dotted with cabins, picnic tables, a few steep grades and the winter starkness that March brings. At one point, we were walking a fairly flat path when Susan stopped and said, “Listen! That doesn’t sound good.” We looked slightly ahead and saw a tree, split by the wind, making noises like it wanted to fall. I charged ahead. Susan was a smidge more deliberate. The tree didn’t fall.

This view towards Martinsville and North Carolina is the best one on this trail.

A sign that this used to be a farm.

Me, as part of the smart view.

Susan on the trail.

Big trees grew up on the former farm land.

This makeshift bridge …

… made Susan a little nervous, but it was stable.

That’s me comfortably on the bridge.

Some of the trail is pretty steep, but not overwhelming.

This pristine old cabin has the chinking removed, so it’s easy to see inside.

This dad got a little sun with his son.

This home-schooled little girl and her younger brother were on a family/school field trip.

Of all the smart views, I think this was Susan’s fave.

This homemade bridge is rock solid, as you might imagine.

The split tree at the left was making creaking noises, giving Susan pause.

St. Maddie’s Day Parade in Roanoke (and Beyond)

The sound of the bagpipe breaks my ears, but the look is great.

Maddie and her pal Connor at the Memphis St. Maddie’s Day Parade today.

At the Roanoke Valley St. Maddie’s Day Parade yesterday, the only thing missing was my grandgirl, for whom all the celebration is intended. Every year, near her birthday on the Actual St. Maddie’s Day (it has been occasionally referred to as St. Patrick’s Day), March 17, there is a parade in Roanoke and at other environs in honor of Maddie’s birthday.

It’s Maddie’s 14th birthday this year. Maddie celebrated today in Memphis, where she lives, with a St. Maddie’s Parade downtown there.

I am happy to say that for the first time in my memory, I did not see a Confederate flag among all the paramilitary marchers. Yaaaaaaay!

I just love Irish dancers.

There was plenty of action in Roanoke, though, with leprechauns, pirates, vikings and all manner of green things. Herewith a look at some of it.

More Irish dancing.

Parades are for clowns … and their sidekicks in sidecars.

Disorganized Democrats being themselves.

Dog and family.

Adam Garland walking tall.

Beth Deel ready to fly.

Tall ladies in the crowd.

As we all know, I dig red hair.

Irish Star Warriors.

I don’t think this was meant to be a Gay Pride float, but it worked out that way.

Guy swears the hair’s natural.

The Irish flag is so heavy, it takes a gang to carry it.

My old buddy Robin Reed, Channel 7 news anchor, mugs for the camera.

More red hair attracts my camera.


Miss Roanoke Valley teen (left) and Miss RV older.

Little Miss Roanoke Valleys of all sorts practicing The Wave.

Vikings come in all sorts, including this beauty.

A more fearsome Viking.

He’s with the Vikings, but is he a Viking or a king’s guard soldier?

My old buddy Jeff, King of the Vikings.

Vikings get smoke breaks, too.

The last Viking (for today).


Sweet little Miss Mushroom, 2019.

Come blow your horn, brother.

Or, you can blow your bagpipe.

It’s St. Maddie’s, boys and girls, play on!

How Is the College Scandal Different from Athletic Scholarships?

OK, Division I college football/basketball fans, I need your opinion. Tell me, please how the college admissions scandal playing out right now–50 rich people have been charged with paying to get their kids into upper-crust schools–is different from hiring a 300-pound, non-reading tackle to attend college at, say, the University of Alabama.

A lot of these over-sized kids are only interested in gaining professional sports contracts–few do–and are often placed in remedial classes when they are in class at all. A large number are simply not in college to learn or to get a degree. They are great for college revenues and good sports teams help increase applications. Paying them with scholarships (and other goodies that aren’t legal) is standard and accepted.

The people involved in the scheme that the FBI busted want their kids–who most often don’t meet the admission requirements–to attend the Ivy League or Stanford or other good schools, the same way George Bush and Donald Trump did. Bush and Trump were hardly Rhoads Scholars, but their dads had money and stature and they not only got in, but also graduated.

The latest scandal involves payments of a heck of a lot of money to coaches and administrators in order to get these rich kids into college, some ostensibly to be on sports teams for which they are not qualified … at all. Sounds a hell of a lot like Southeast Conference football or ACC basketball to me: give something of significant value to the university and you get to go to school there.