Roaring Run in Black and White and Color

This is where Roaring Run gets its name.

The 1840s-era furnace.

Yesterday was a Plan B day because of the wintry precipitation mess, but today was dang-near perfect for the originally planned hike. So, today, it was off to Botetourt County and Roaring Run Furnace with its always-lovely waterfall.

It didn’t disappoint, as you can see in these photos.

I’ve been to Roaring Run many times, but saw this bridge for the first time today.

The bridge creates its own artwork.

Tiny native rainbow trout haunt the waters and tempt fishermen.

I went up the mountain to get to the falls, instead of taking the usual trail.

The blues and browns of the winter woods.

The winter colors can be bright as neon.

The falls in black and white are striking.

The little stream has its own whitewater rapids after heavy rain.

I’m Giving Up My Pro Bowling Career

Come back here, ball!

Getting prettied up.

This is to officially announce that I have decided not to ditch my 50-plus year career as a writer to join the professional bowling tour. I made the decision earlier today and it is firm. No more bowling for this old boy.

My friend Susan and I had scheduled a mid-winter hike today, hoping Feb. 17 would feel more like April 17. It didn’t. General nastiness prevailed, so we went with Plan B, which we didn’t have immediately at hand. Susan suggested bowling. “Bowling!?!” I said. “Who goes bowling.” She suggested bowlers probably were not my demographic and if we went, I probably would have to avoid talking politics.

So we went to Lee-Hi Lanes in Salem, a 2-star rated complex near Salem Valley 8 Cinema, which has been in place since well before I moved to Roanoke in 1971. It looks about that age, but is perfectly acceptable for what we had in mind: bowling.

Susan and I as fashionistas.

I will admit that my game did not come up to my expectations. It did not even come up to Susan’s game. She pounded on me three straight games, in none of which did I break 100, quite an accomplishment in itself, I’d say.

At one point, I was rolling so many gutter balls (as she rolled strikes) that I pulled out the kiddie cart–the little thingy that helps 5-year-olds avoid the gutter. I rolled a gutter ball. Another one.

Susan was a good sport, winning with considerable grace and excuses for my performance. She seemed relieved when I told her of my decision to remain an amateur. So am I.

Susan has style …

… and panache …

… in her bowling form.

A gutter ball led to this, which led to a gutter ball.

This is … like, a dance. A bowling dance.

Man vs. bowling pin: the stare.

Susan and me: We’re happy to remain amateurs.

One-Issue Voters Control the GOP

It is not a secret that single-issue voters give the Republican Party much of its political power, even though those voters almost always represent a significant minority of American voters in general.

The three most common issues of this type are abortion, gun control and immigration, two of which are based in almost debilitating fear and ignorance, the other in a definition.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans believe abortion should be fully legal (it is), while 37 percent oppose most–if not all–abortions, according to the Pew Research Center. Those opposing abortion generally believe that a fetus is a child and should have the same rights as a person living outside the womb, and that the issue has little to do with a woman’s right to control her own body. By party, 88 percent of Democrats favor legal abortion, 27 percent of Republicans do so, hence the single GOP voting issue. According to Gallup, 17 percent of Americans will not consider voting for a pro-abortion candidate.

According to NPR, more than 60 percent of Republicans believe the number of immigrants to America should be decreased, while about 25 percent of Democrats feel the same way.

The National Rifle Association is small, loud, rich and unbending on “gun rights.” A Supreme Court decision a few years ago expanding those “rights” made the NRA richer and louder, if not any larger. The organization has 5 million members, $54 million in campaign contributions in 2016. That sum is not especially large when you consider some of the billionaires who contribute much larger sums in order to have their way, but the 5 million members tend to be one-issue voters–on the conservative/GOP side.

According to Pew Research, more than 6 in 10 gun owners are Republicans by registration or inclination, but 77 percent of NRA members favor the GOP (20 percent Democrats). Among gun owners who don’t belong to the NRA, 39 percent are Democrats. Republican NRA members tend to be very conservativeaccording to Pew. That often translates to single-issue votes.

Pro-gun “people who feel most strongly about it are a minority, even among Republicans,” according to a story in Salon today. “But they care about it so much that they wield far greater political power than their modest numbers would naturally merit.”

A survey by Morning Consult and Politico found that 88 percent of Americans favor a background check, 84 percent favor background checks on private gun sales and 76 percent support a waiting period after a firearms purchase and creation of a national database of gun sales.

In June of last year, Pew found that 41 percent “of Americans either own a gun or live with someone who does” and that “self-identified Republicans also support many proposed restrictions.” That works out to 77 percent favoring background checks for gun sales at shows or for private transactions  … and 85 percent supported not allowing people whose names appear on the federal no fly list to own guns.” Pew found that 56 percent of Republicans “supported the creation of a national gun sales database, and 54 percent supported a federal ban on assault weapons.”

What we get from all this is that American “democracy” isn’t that at all. It is about being loud, passionate and getting to the polls with your one issue.

(Graphic: YouTube.)

Football Stadiums Keep Getting Emptier

Games played Tuesday night–like this one at the University of Miami-Ohio–play in near empty stadiums.

I find it interesting–if not surprising–that college football continues to sink under its own weight, and the weight of new technology, which renders attendance at games redundant.

According to CBS News (here), “Major-college football experienced its largest per-game attendance drop in 34 years and second-largest ever, according to recently released NCAA figures.

“Attendance among the 129 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams in 2017 was down an average of 1,409 fans per game from 2016. That marked the largest drop since 1983 when average attendance declined 1,527 fans per game from 1982.”

That’s a lot of butts in the seats, but it doesn’t necessarily mean fewer people are seeing games (though in many cases, that is so). People–especially college kids–are watching games (when they choose to) on their phones and laptops. They are watching 10 minutes here or there or just catching highlights. Many aren’t bothering to show up at the stadiums, even though their tickets are already paid.

Attendence at the 114 schools in the Football Bowl Division (major schools) averaged 42,203, the lowest in 10 years, the fourth straight year of decline, a record (since 1948 when the stats were first kept). Wright Walters, an executive with the bowl association says one of the major problems is developing technology: “The public is ahead of us every day in what they can get from technology. We have not been able to keep up.”

TV sports programmer Bill Lutzen is quoted as saying, “This issue is with lack of involvement of the college students. They no longer view attending sporting events as part of the university experience.”

CBS says that 1,693,661 fewer fans attended games in 2017 compared to 2016 when all divisions are counted. “Bowl game attendance also declined for the seventh straight year to an average of 40,506 in the 40 games. That marks a 23 percent drop-off in average bowl attendance since 2010.”

Look at some of those bowl games on TV and you can hear sounds echoing off empty seats. Some of the far too many games are played in stadiums that are relatively small (30,000 seats, for example) and games played in big stadiums often don’t half fill.

I keep trying to swear off football, something I’ve been promising myself for  the last 10 years or so. Maybe some day …




A Look at How Writers Write (and Why)

Darrell Laurant (right) teaching at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.

My old friend Darrell Laurant, a writer constantly in search of ways to help other writers, has a new project . Darrell, the metro columnist for the Lynchburg News-Advance for 25 years and author of some notable (if little noticed) books, is the founder of the Writers Bridge and Snowflakes in a Blizzard, both of which help (or helped) writers improve their craft and get jobs writing for varying levels of money.

His newest is a culmination of experience working with those writers. Let him tell you about it:

“A while back, I sent out a mass e-mail about a project I’m working on called ‘Writing in a Crowd: Authorship in the Age of Amazon.’ The idea is to use some of the 350-plus writers who have been featured on Snowflakes in a Blizzard ( as a sort of informal focus group. Starting out with the templates I received, I’m hoping to initiate a freewheeling conversation about the craft and business of writing, with all its rewards and frustrations.

“I see this an an extension of the Snowflakes project itself, and will be glad to mention each quoted author’s Snowflakes book, as well as listing all of them at the back of this book. This will probably be an e-book. I’ve gotten some great comments so far, and I’m really excited about this.”

Darrell is gathering quotes and stories from writers about how they go about their work, what it entails, what their routines involved. In short: How do you write? If you’re interested in taking part, email Darrell, who lives in New York these days (his hometown) here.

A Rose and a Baby Ruth for Margie

I was driving home from exercise class about noon today, noodling on what I might do for Margie’s Valentine’s Day celebration. I had already settled on cooking her a steak and baked potato, but I needed a little more, even though I had a little candy/cookie giftie hovering around the edges.

I was listening to the oldies radio station out of Lynchburg when the 1950s song “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” (George Hamilton IV) came on, as if in answer to my question and that settled it. The fact is that the song is about a kid apologizing to his girlfriend, but I simply appropriated it for Valentine’s Day.

I stopped in Kroger, picked up a rose and went looking for the candy bar Babe Ruth refused to endorse (he said he didn’t want to be responsible for kids’ rotten teeth, but then he endorsed cigarettes). Thought finding the candy would be the easy part. It wasn’t

I couldn’t find a single Baby Ruth bar. Until i finally found one of those Halloween mini-candy bags–which isn’t the same thing–and I settled for it. It was late and my choices were slim. I had no idea if Margie would remember the song (she didn’t) or get the symbolism (she did). It all worked out pretty well. I got to see that magic smile.

Paint Bank: A Delightful Discovery

Margie and me at the General Store/Swinging Bridge Restaurant earlier today.

They mean it!

On a gray, gloomy, chilly, rainy February 10, Margie and I found the sun out in Craig County. Forty miles out into Craig County to be exact, at the tiny town of Paint Bank.

Paint Bank was named by the Cherokees for the colorful clay they used for pots that comes from its hills and it only has 76 people, according to  a Google search. It rests on the other side of Potts Mountain, 17 miles northwest of New Castle, the county seat. And it is lovely. (Here’s a history of Paint Bank.)

Margie and I drove over this morning in order to scout around and eat lunch at the promising Swinging Bridge Restaurant, hard beside Potts Creek, and take a close look at the Depot B&B, which was equally appealing from its internet presence.

The outhouse is inhouse.

The Swinging Bridge was all it promised and more. It is filled with country kitsch, but avoids the kind of tackiness usually associated with that. There are heads and full bodies of a number of the wild things you can find in rural Craig County throughout the year, so if your taste doesn’t run to dead animals, you might want to pass this one by. I didn’t mind. I found it fun and wished by two grandkids had been there.

The front of the restaurant building is the old general store, dating from the 1920s, I’d guess, and on the mezzanine is a little Christmas store. I don’t normally note the bathrooms of the buildings I visit, but this one was special, a mixture of the modern and the 19th Century.

Chicken salad (on fried roll) with sweet potato fries. Oh, yum!

The food? Ah, the food. It is creative, fresh, tasty and fattening as hell, but I just loved my unique chicken salad sandwich (and, of course, Margie sailed through her chicken sandwich with dill mayo). My sandwich was served on a deep fried sub roll (don’t criticize until you try it) and had strips of bacon and cranberry sauce (YUM!) as a base. I put sweet potato fries on the side (and they came with a scrumptious sour cream/sweet dip that I had to try, but avoid because of my delicate condition).

The Depot is an alluring B&B with a private “tent” across the creek and in an especially private area. The “tent” (which it actually is) is the size of a cabin and looks wildly comfy. It is surrounded by wilderness, including the creek.

Let me recommend that you run up for the lunch or dinner and stay for the bed (and breakfast).

Full view of the General Store/Swinging Bridge Restaurant.

The Depot B&B is inviting even on a gray day.

The Swinging Bridge bathroom: 19th century grace.

Margie with the extensive menu.

Pampa with his buffalo buddy (you can get buffalo burgers).

Margie liked the buffalo, too.

Awaiting lunch and looking around at the kitch.

Margie and me on the swinging bridge … not running.

This caboose is one of the B&B’s rooms. Margie likes it.

A creek runs through it.

This bridge doesn’t swing, but it’s gorgeous.

Running water sends me to the bathroom.

The “tent” is in the background and is private.

Yes, it’s a tent, not a house or cabin.

This would be a great place for late-night smooching.

Love this portrait of Margie. Looks as pretty as she is.

On the way home, back over Potts Mountain, we stopped to take in the Arctic.

Iceman Pampa at the frozen falls.

Winter Hike: Wet, Crisp, Clear, Invigorating

My new-ish Nikes didn’t much like the mud.

There was plenty of color if you looked closely.

February 9 isn’t generally considered to be the heart of hiking season, but today was just fine, thank you. It was clear, crisp and, quite simply, gorgeous in that winter way. And it wasn’t all that gray when you looked closely.

I haven’t been out for a couple of weeks and thought I might feel that today, but I breezed along, enjoying every step on a trail that was mostly soaked, when it wasn’t crunchy with leftover ice.

Here are some photos from the run up Tinker Mountain.

Two different varieties of moss and decaying vegetation make a lovely bouquet.

This ice was thin and small, but slippery.

Rock formation on the way up the mountain.

The view through the trees is splendid in February.

A small creek in the background had thawed and was flowing briskly.

A Bakery for the Flour(less) Child In You

Kathy Hodges checks me and my half-a-loaf out.

I ran in to the attractive little neighborhood bakery Corbin’s Confections at Library Square in downtown Salem a little while ago while waiting to interview a guy for a story I’m writing and found a pleasant surprise.

Corbin’s is for people who like breads and pastries, but don’t do wheat or nuts or a bunch of other modern no-nos. The goodies are all baked on-site and they’re good. You should try one of the bagels made by Kathy Hodges and her daughter Shana Brown. I bought half a loaf of wheat-free, multi-grain bread just to try it (and because it was just about the only thing in the store I could afford at $4. A full loaf is $8).

People who want specialty goods are generally willing to pay premium prices and Corbin’s has those. It also has quality goods. You might want to try it. You can get a loan on your house.

The Case for Roanoke

My pal Dwayne Yancey just posted an invitation on Facebook to sell Roanoke to an outsider and the responses were generally predictable (great scenery, weather, etc.) and I took the opportunity to respond, as well. I’ve lived here since taking a job as a reporter at the daily newspaper in 1971 (which is longer than most natives have lived here, I’d bet).

Here’s my response: “I ditched my hometown of Asheville for Roanoke in 1971 and have never regretted it. Roanoke is a superior place to raise children, to be an immigrant, to be brown or black, to be an entrepreneur, to be young or old (I’ve been both here), to be active and curious, to want good health care, to be ambitious, to seek additional education (regardless of your age or status), to have a good idea, to want to fall in love, to appreciate the arts and to be directly involved in them. It is a good place to begin a family and equally good to retire. It is a region that wants, needs and rewards volunteers and innovators. I don’t like the notation that ‘Roanoke is not … but …’ because Roanoke is.

“Are there problems? Yep. City government is not the nation’s (or even Western Virginia’s) best because it is extremely passive, but the city manager is competent, even when city council isn’t. The Trump population is not overwhelming and the liberal pockets are strong. Women have become acutely political, a good thing. The past two years, the Women’s March has been eye-opening. You can exercise inside at excellent facilities seven days a week or simply hike or bike the extensive greenway system any time you wish. I can have my kayak on Carvins Cove or in the Roanoke River in 15 minutes or be on a mountain hiking trail in a quarter hour. If you like trains, this is a railroad town–which now has passenger service.

Paddling the Roanoke River.

“The airport is beautiful and serviceable for a locality this size (my brother, who travels about 200 days a year says it’s one of the best in the world). Roanoke is a UPS hub and has a good highway system if you want to put a plant here.

“Live music is superb (absolutely top notch talent) and the the Valley produces a jaw-dropping number of nationally known writers. The writers conference I started 11 years ago is one of the best in this region. People who were not born here are welcome here–with open arms.

“The weather is moderate (though some would argue that in mid-January or mid-July), the swimming and skiing superb, the resorts close, B&Bs plentiful, meeting facilities excellent and the welcome warm for all of you. Come see us.”

Dwayne interestingly noted, “Our congressman grew up in Massachusetts. His predecessor was from Chicago by way of New York. Point being, you don’t have to go back many generations to take part in things here, or make a difference. Our mayor grew up in Danville. Our vice mayor grew up in Baltimore. I could go on and on.

“One of our state legislators is the only Muslim member of the Virginia General Assembly. Roanoke certainly isn’t perfect but we seem to be a lot more open to outsiders than other Southern cities. (I should note that the Muslim legislator in question grew up here; although his family immigrated here.) When he ran for office, I don’t recall his faith being an issue at all. He succeeded an African-American legislator, who represented a white-majority district.”

I’d call that “welcoming” even though with our 25-year congressman, it would have been much better had he settled in South Alabama, since that’s his voting pattern.