To the Boats, My Boys! It’s Spring!

I like this shot a lot and it is natural, no fiddling with PhotoShop.

This is me shortly before I pushed off the island and went straight into the cove, head first.

OK, I get it. It’s May 21 and I’ve just unpacked my kayaks from a looooooong winter’s nap. But, boy, did I pick a day to paddle the cove! Warm, breezy, busy, bright with wondrous clouds and I even got to turn over my boat and take a good soak–first time that’s happened in years.

Paddler hugs the bank on the far side of the cove.

I packed a full-sized Nikon–for the first time–and was bright enough to have stored it in a drybag, which I don’t generally do with my point-and-shoot cameras (and I’ve lost two that way). When I went over, it simply floated back to me. Wish I could say the same for my paddle, which I had to swim out away from the island to retrieve.

But what’s a day without an adventure? Wet pants, rocky shoes and a big smile tell the story.

So do these photos (I didn’t get any shots of me falling over. Wish I could have). But I did get some pretty good photos of other stuff. The picture at the top is one of my all-time faves.

These Canada geese objected to my presence. They always do, but they didn’t attack.

Sometimes the most beauty is in the simplest things.

I never get tired of taking this picture.

This young woman has discovered the key to successful work (that’s a laptop she’s working on).

The beauty beyond my toes. (That’s my drybag, which saved my Nikon.)

I won’t say I wasn’t warned.

25 Years Sober: A Time to Celebrate

This evening at about 7:10 in the basement of a church in the Raleigh Court neighborhood of Roanoke–where it started in earnest–I will be given a bronze medallion emblazoned with XXV, signifying 25 years of sobriety.

My prize and me.

I’ll be at the first AA meeting I’ve attended in a while and I’ll be picking up the symbol I never expected to see in my hand. I’ll likely drill a hole in the top of the delta on the face of the medallion and hang it from the mirror of Daisy, my yellow VW Bug. That way, I can daily see both the reminder of who I am and that it doesn’t have to kill me.

These 25 years have been an accounting, I suspect, for the 23 that preceded them when I knew I was an alcoholic and tried oh-so-hard to be something else. I collected a fist full of white chips, signifying my commitment to a sober life, but I could not make it to that one-year chip in all that time.

Finally, one day I wanted to be sober more than I wanted to drink. It was that simple. I began to understand what the lovely people in AA had been trying to tell me for all those years and I went to a lot of meetings (about 180) in the first three months following what I hope was my final commitment. My sponsor at the time told me, “There’s a reason behind the 90 meetings in 90 days suggestion. You will likely be confronted with everything you need to know to get sober in those meetings. It won’t take immediately, but it will be in the back of your mind for reference.” So I doubled up, often taking my lunch hour for a meeting, then catching another at night.

I was working with Jim Lindsey at the Blue Ridge Business Journal at the time and when I told him what I needed to do, he didn’t hesitate before saying, “Do whatever you need to do. We’re behind you 100 percent.” And he meant it and delivered it.

Getting sober, in my experience, is a team effort. I thought for a long time that I could do it by myself and for a dozen reasons other than that I needed to do it for me. Once I figured that out, the path was cleared.

Being sober is more than I ever–in my wildest imaginings–thought it would or could be. My life has been full and complete and my initial fear that I would be both bored and boring proved to be simply silly. What in the hell is interesting or entertaining about a drunk? What does a drunk accomplish; whom does he help; what mark does he leave when he finally leaves this mortal coil?

Twenty-five years later, I know the answer to those questions and quite a few more.

A Pleasant Sunday for a (Civil) War in Buchanan

The cavalry charge was not full speed, but it was fun.

Re-enactors Beau Robbins and Lynn Price.

Margie and I drove up to Buchanan early this afternoon after I accidentally bumped into an internet page that told us there would be a reenactment of the tiny Civil War Battle of Buchanan. I’m anti-gun and anti-war, but these faux battles can be a lot of fun and the people who take part in them are careful to be historically accurate. They spend a lot of time and love on their interpretations.

We ran into some interesting characters during our two hours or so at the battle, including Gregory Newsom an African-American artist and writer from New York who  was spreading his gospel of Stonewall Jackson (who defied Virginia law to teach black kids to read in Lexington) and Nathan Bedford Forest, founder of the KKK, who left it when the group turned truly ugly.

Gregory Newsome defends Southern Generals.

There was also the re-enacting couple of Beau Robbins, a professional re-enactor (didn’t know there was such a duck) and his partner Dr. Lynn Price, a University of Virginia history professor, in period dress.

I was truly surprised that the crowd was tiny, maybe 150 people, mostly relatives and friends of the re-enactors. This was the third day of the re-enactment, but it was the day of the battle, something I would have thought a highlight.

There were no food vendors at the site and the only stuff for sale was the suttlers’ gear for the re-enactors. Margie and I went over to the Burger King/convenience store where I had two of the best hot dogs I’ve eaten in a long time. Great chili. And a truly enjoyable day (especially since it gave me the opportunity to be a war photographer, which I’ve always wanted to do).

Soldiers camped for two days.

Mr. Anti-Gun with his new cannon.

Not everything was historically accurate.

Soldiers awaiting battle.

Young soldier slips on his boots.

Recruiting poster urges men to “Jine the Artillry.”

Rebs lined up to fight.

The calm before the battle.

Some soldiers were quite young.

Rebel line faces the Yankees.

The boys in blue fire a volley.

Probably not a lot of women in the Confederate cavalry, but there is one here.

Northern artillery makes a lot of noise and smoke.

The crowd was surprisingly sparse.

This sweet-faced kid carried the Confederate battle flat.

Union officer rides hard and shoots high.

Southerners bunch up their defense.

Johnny Reb rescues his buddy.

North and South going hard at it.

The North won and the dogwood bloomed.

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.