A (Quiet) Celebration To Remember

That’s my 3o-pounds-plus less of me pose for my b’day.

Some birthdays are difficult (those ending in “0,” for example) and some are simply glorious. Mine, yesterday, was the latter, in spite of the limitations placed on celebrating by COVID and its enabler in the White House. Isolation is generally not a good fit for celebration.

It was a day that brimmed with internet good wishes, cell phone congratulations and even an evening visit from my good and great friend, Susan, who bore gifts and blamed me for their excess. I tend to over-give and she said she was “just being Dan Smith” for a bit. I was touched and honored, especially with the glorious summer tomato the size of a small canteloupe.

My Margie opened my day as I looked at a sweet greeting through bleary eyes as the sun came up and from there, it was a constant thread from people I know well and those I don’t. I got messages from two sisters, Becky and Judy, and my brother, Sandy, as well as my son’s entire family (his wife, Kara, is making me a couple of facemasks). My daughter was typically elusive, focusing on her own stuff.

It was a day of exceeding goals: my weight dropped below my birthday goal of 200 pounds (to 199.6) and my Facebook Birthday Fundraiser for the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose goal was $500, is sitting today at $720.

The Roanoker published a lovely little story I wrote about Venus Williams visiting Dina Inbriani’s Mountain Shepherd Adventure GEMS1 group of young teen girls (here) and my piece on Roanoke writer Dwayne Yancey appeared in FRONT magazine.

Oh, and I got the lawn mowed, despite the Texas-like temperatures.

Good day. Really good day.



A Difficult, but Beautiful Hike to the Falls

North Creek flows down the mountain, often spectacularly.
This is Susan’s panoramic shot of me at a “shower.”
Susan and me at Apple Orchard Falls.

My hiking compadre, Susan, and I challenged Apple Orchard Falls yesterday, a day when the humidity was so high, the walk felt like wading. The temperature was no New England fall, either.

This was a test of our endurance and for me, it came a week before my 74th birthday, so I was not as confident as a bullet-proof kid.

Susan’s watercolor interpretation of the falls.

But, because the hike is one of the best in these mountains–where great hikes are the norm–we stayed focused on nature’s beauty, rather than her challenges and we soared up to the falls. This is probably a high-moderate hike (4 miles, 800 feet of elevation) on a cool day, but yesterday, I’d say it ventured into “difficult” range. The last 400 yards of the hike is more of a climb/scramble over large rocks before emerging into the open with the high, gorgeous waterfall–the one I consider the prettiest–all things considered–that I’ve seen in Western Virginia.

The odd aspect of this hike for me is that I thought I had walked it before, but as my steps mounted up, I saw nothing that was familiar to me and finally determined that I’d never climbed Apple Orchard Falls.

That’s me dipping my shirt into the cool water of North Creek.

So, I took full advantage, climbing into the rocks beneath the falls and getting a wondrous soaking, a kind of initiation. On the way up, both Susan and I took advantage of the mini-falls–about four of them–to cool off. I even took off my shirt and soaked it in the cold water, then slid it back on at one point.

This is a good hike, especially if you’re either younger than me or in better shape than me, but I loved every step. Susan said she did, too. Here are some photos from the walk.

That’s me under the falls. It was wet up there.
The bridges along the way are well constructed.
We had linen napkins for our picnic lunch.
That’s me creeping up toward the falls.
Spiderweb in the light
These colorful mushrooms were all over the place along the trail.
Here I’m soaking my shirt in cold water, so I could cool off.
Susan celebrates the falls.


My Mistake: Dad Did Well, but …

That’s Dad on the bottom. That is not Dad on the top, as I thought it was.

For a number of years, I have been telling anybody who was interested that my dad is a member of the Virginia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame. Today, I discovered–through a good friend’s research–that is not true.

Dad had quite an accomplished four years at Tech, but he was not a varsity football player.

Seems there was a guy named George Smith who was a star player at Tech while Dad was there and Outland Award Winner George Smith looked a whole lot like my dad from the photos I’ve seen. Both were large (dad was 6-feet tall, 185 pounds), blond, square-faced, square-jawed and handsome dudes. I guess I could have done the same research my friend Susan did, but I suspect I wanted to believe what I believed and felt threatened to look into it. So “journalism” of me.

In any case, there is nothing less to be proud of about Dad’s time at Tech. He was an excellent student in business administration, a leader in the corps (Tech was all-military at the time), a busy intermural athlete (and a baseball and football freshman team player), sports editor of the student newspaper, a popular student and an accomplished young man from Johnson City, where he was the first in his family to graduate college.

Dad actually wanted to go to the University of Tennessee, but his father, George Washington Smith, who had a second-grade education but was a wildly successful building contractor, had a friend with a son at Tech and told Dad, “It’s VPI or nowhere, son.” So VPI it was.


A Business Card To Live By

I wish I had a better date than “about 20 or so years ago,” but I don’t. Below is a business card John Montgomery had made up for me when he founded the Roanoke Valley Sports Journal as something of a subsidiary for the Blue Ridge Business Journal, which I edited at the time.

I had been a sports writer for a good while at the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Roanoke Times (and the World-News before they merged), so I guess John figured I was a fit. The SJ lasted a several years and gave John–sales manager for the Business Journal–the outlet he had truly wanted since he was on the staff of the Cavalier Daily as a student at the University of Virginia. John renamed the SJ Play By Play after the Business Journal was sold. It was not part of the deal with The Times.

That’s John Montgomery (left) and me (having a mic put on) with host Paul Lancaster on Blue Ridge Nightline, talking, I would guess, about Sports Journal.

I enjoyed working with the SJ, but it was more a hobby than anything else. People seemed to enjoy reading its positive coverage of the small sports world in the Roanoke Valley and many of the stories were by and about the way things used to be, about local sports heroes who loved to reminisce about their glory days.

John was the perfect publisher for the SJ because his personality fit the business plan precisely.

We eventually sold the Business Journal to The Roanoke Times (which shut it down), and John went off on his own with the Sports Journal for a good while before it finally closed.

You will note that my business card pictured here is for Dan Smith, Liberal Media Stereotype. John designed it. And he did have a good laugh.


A Media Moment at Stiles Falls

This is the sheer joy Susan felt under Stiles Falls.
Red undies didn’t make the water any warmer.

As we were unloading our hiking gear from the cars yesterday at Camp Alta Mons near Shawsville, my pal Susan said, “I’m going in.”

This is Susan’s watercolor photo of the creek.

That meant she was going to swim under Stiles Falls when we reached the top of our hike. “Me, too,” I said quickly, taking mental note that I’d have to get into the water in my undies, which were red.

And we did.

Susan called this barefoot mother “Adventure Mom.” I’d never seen a barefoot hiker in the Virginia mountains before.

For people our age–me 74 at the end of this month, she … well … not in her 30s any longer–that was a big deal, a big commitment. But hell and high water would not keep us from it … and they didn’t.

Here are photos of us, the falls, the hike, and the sheer joy of it all.

We capped the hike with a little lunch. Actually, with a lot of lunch.

Colorful food is good food.
Susan in the creek. We didn’t bother staying on the rocks on the way back.
No, she didn’t fall off the rock.
Fun? Yeh. I’d say.
The old man humping the hill.
This is me easing into the cold water.
I like this shot by Susan a lot.


My Best Trees Come Tumblin’ Down

This is the temporarily treeless new look at the Smith mansion.

The boys from Brown Hound Tree Service in Roanoke showed up at 9 a.m. today and by 10, there was little sign left of my two prized Japanese weeping cherry trees, which defined my house since I’ve lived here.

The trees were dying and it felt like shooting a horse with a broken leg. I loved those trees, but we were all suffering with their slow death.

The tree guys cut and mulched the two trees in less than 20 minutes and only the trunks are left on the ground. They’ll be picked up later and milled for use by artists, I understand. The stumps were ground to below-ground level and this fall, I’ll put new trees in, probably Japanese Maples.


A New Sculpture from Polly Branch

Polly poses with her raccoon at Vic Thomas Park’s sculpture garden.

I ran into my old buddy Polly Branch today as she was putting up her new sculpture near the Roanoke River bridge at the sculpture garden in Vic Thomas Park. That’s Rigsby the Raccoon.

It is a raccoon stepping across river rocks (which were made by John Tanner of English and Everything Gardens from concrete), and it is sponsored by the Clean Valley Council. This is one the kids will stop for and, my guess, talk to. It is truly cool, coming from one of Roanoke’s coolest people and composed of recycled tires.

Polly is an artist from a family of superb artists, an environmentalist, a peace activist (note her “Plowshare Peace Center T-shirt), and a supporter of all the right causes. Sitting with her raccoon, she’s right fetching, I will say.


Yes, We Have Had Smart Presidents

John Q. Adams, arguably the first (ex-)president to be photographed (1843 when he was 76). William Henry Harrison was photographed in 1841, but that photo was lost.

While the United States has had some notably ignorant presidents–Donald Trump, who paid a boy to take his SAT test, and George W. Bush, who couldn’t be bothered to go to class after getting into college on his father’s name–it has also had some bright people in the nation’s highest office.

Intelligence has not always translated into being a great president (see: Jimmy Carter), but Trump and Bush have set such a low bar that it is probably good to take a look at some presidents who were accomplished intellectually.

Historian Colin Riegels put together the following list (in no particular order), which is a good starting point. I will take issue with the inclusion of Woodrow Wilson, a well-educated man, but an avowed and ridiculously harsh racist, showing that even exceptionally accomplished academicians can be stupid.

  1. John Quincy Adams (Harvard grad and most common pick for the highest Presidential IQ of all time – some estimated as high as an improbable 175. Fluent in seven languages and studied in several countries.)
  2. Thomas Jefferson (mostly famous for his library, which was a sure sign of intelligence back in the day when books cost a fortune. He was an expert on many subjects, including economics, architecture, food and wine, agriculture, paleontology, astronomy, music, and writing.)
  3. James Madison (A Princeton student who was generally thought to be mega bright.)
  4. John F. Kennedy (Harvard grad, only President to win a Pulitzer Prize.)
  5. Bill Clinton (Rhodes Scholar who attended Oxford after Georgetown and then went on to study law at Yale.)
  6. Jimmy Carter (was literally a rocket scientist.)
  7. Woodrow Wilson (studied at Princeton, the University of Virginia, and Johns Hopkins – only US President so far to hold a PhD – so technically I guess people called him Dr President…)
  8. Teddy Roosevelt (known as more of an outdoorsman, the other Roosevelt was plenty bright too – attending Harvard and Columbia Law.)
  9. Barack Obama (the obverse of Teddy Roosevelt, he studied at Columbia and Harvard Law, graduating magna cum laude and being editor of the law review.)

Fenwick Mines: A Nice Hiking Find

The Fenwick Mines waterfall is multi-level and great for a cold shower.

My buddy Annie Woodford took a bunch of kids up to Fenwick Mines near New Castle over the weekend and, fortunately for me, wrote about it on Facebook and included some fine photos.

This is the entry, giving you a map you don’t need.
There are bridges and flat pathways, making an easy hike.

That was enough to get me interested and today, I went looking for the little trail and its multi-level waterfall that looks like a perfect place to take a shower.

This is one of the picnic areas.

This is not one of the great hikes in Western Virginia, but it is a family-friendly spot where you can hike a couple of miles through woods and a swamp-like area (bugs at no extra cost) for a good hour, more if you want to swim. The water is cool, but today a little on the brown side because of heavy overnight rain.

This is the swampy pond, which is pretty extensive and features bullfrogs croaking.

Fenwick Mines is about six miles outside New Castle and is pretty easy to find, especially since it’s part of the Jefferson National Forest and signs are prominent.

This is my new buddy, Bella, who liked my camera and took some good shots.
This is a rest area on the trail.

The trail is cinder, flat, lined with timber. It has plenty of seats and overlooks along the way and it even has two fancy bathrooms (neither of which was open because of COVID).

It’s a worthwhile spot for a hike or picnic and the total distance from my house was 33 miles.


Hiking Remains Inviting at Alta Mons

Stiles Falls, named for a Confederate soldier.

Camp Alta Mons in Montgomery is one of the region’s easy, beautiful hikes that welcomes families. It is a church-owned residential camp in the summer (my grandgirl has gone there for several years), but it is closed for camp this year for obvious reasons.

The church, however, in its generosity has kept the hiking trails open for the public, a generous effort that I appreciate.

I hiked up to Stiles Falls (named for a former Confederate soldier who was killed showing off to friends, falling off the falls) yesterday and it was just as lovely as always and considerably easier than I remembered.