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.

The Creative End of Modern Photography

This is a relatively ordinary view that I turned into a watercolor, giving it a more immediate impact. I think it’s my favorite that I shot over the weekend. Click the photo for a larger, more comprehensive view of the detail.

Photography has always been the red-headed step child of the art world, rarely getting the respect I believe it deserves from the early days of blurry, grainy images on metal plates to the modern slimmed, elongated, PhotoShopped models in advertising.

Susan’s impression of a distant covered bridge with fall coming on.

Photography, these days, is, of course, mostly practiced on smart phones these days, the camera taking a distant back seat because, basically, it is a one-function instrument in a world that demands its devices be all encompassing. Fact is, though, that smart phone pictures can be quite impressive, depending on who’s shooting them.

That’s always been the case with cameras and photographers. The best photographers get the best shots, regardless of their equipment. Micheal Jordan didn’t perform like a champion because of his shoes, but because he was the best basketball player of his day. My old friend Suzan Bright learned in college at Pratt Institute in New York to build her own camera and to shoot with it. She was a photographer, not an iPhone pretender.

Susan’s shot toward the lake.

I have always had a decent eye, but until PhotoShop was rarely technically proficient. With photo editing programs, I can get images of what I see, not just what the camera sees. Ansel Adams did that in the dark room. He would climb a mountain with that bulky camera, huge wooden tripod and one plate to shoot. That’s one shot. But he knew what he was doing and what he could do in the darkroom.

This past weekend my friend Susan, who shoots a small Canon point-and-shoot and I, with my Lumix (a Leica product; I have the Leica, too) wandered around a misty, chilly, damp Mountain Lake surrounding forest to take our Sunday images. The forest around the resort looks like the deep green, moss encrusted, rhododendron filled fantasy of a children’s book and it was our job to play the tricky light and come home with something to work with.

Susan does all her work in her camera and I shoot what’s there and play with it later on my computer. Here is some of what we came up with and you can judge it as you like. We enjoy the exercise, the use of our senses, being out in this incredible beauty, and the opportunity to put on paper or canvas what we see with eyes that have been conditioned to look at what’s not always obvious.

I enhanced the color of the roof here to make the photo snap.

This was a murky overlook view of a beautiful valley, made more appealing by emphasizing the traits of the mountains.

No, the red is not this rich live as it is in Susan’s picture of the covered bridge, but which would you prefer to look at?

This is Susan’s shot of a couple on an overlook bridge. I made it black and white. She liked it. Me, too.

I shot this of Susan with her camera, using the “panorama” mode.

This is some of Susan’s magic forest, enhanced to look more Halloween-spooky.

Susan’s looking at a tunnel through the rocks here and you get the idea of the density of the forest with this.

This is Susan’s view of me as John Muir, which I am not, but, hey, it’s a photograph.

This is my enhanced view of the high water creek and the covered bridge.

AMAC: The Anti-AARP Is Your Enemy

I’ve been getting mailings from a group called the Association of Mature American Citizens, which is a rabidly pro-Trump, anti-Social Security/Medicare group that wants to take you down if you’re anywhere near my age.

It calls itself “conservative,” but it is just about as conservative as Trump, who is hardly that (he isn’t anything philosophically). It would align itself with people like Paul Ryan, who wants to eliminate “entitlements” (which are not that), money many of us depend upon, that we paid into our retirement accounts and that Ronald Reagan tried to spend for general fund commitments. He didn’t want to raise taxes, so he stole Social Security, nearly bankrupting it.

Now, AMAC wants to organize the Trumpsters to trample old people in their retirement years. It is obviously led by people who hate democrats more than they love America. Truth be told, the AARP is a conservative organization and always has been, but this group of nut jobs in Washington at this moment simply want to destroy and old people are an easy target. Let’s see what we can do about sending them to hell, where they belong.

Broken or Not, It Hurts!

The purple one is the toe in question.

Toes are handy, but testy little devils. They tend to run into things and when they do, they, like hurt! I mean birthing a baby hurt (from what I’m told).

Margie has a habit of running into things and since I’ve known her, she’s banged her toes at least three times, letting out this godawful primal scream each time. All three times, she said the toe was broken.

Yesterday, I hit my “index” toe on the right foot on the bathtub as I was climbing in and I hopped around for about five minutes, moaning and cussing. For the first time I understood Margie’s pain and there was nobody here to sympathize (a “poor baby” would have helped).

The toe was, I concluded, broken. What else could it be. An hour after the crash, it was purple and I couldn’t move it. Broken. Yep. Absolutely.

This morning, it’s still purple and I still can’t move it, but I walk OK. I decided that my two exercise classes this morning would have to be foregone, but I’m looking at possibly taking a walk of a few miles later, just to see how the toe does.

As if the broken toe wasn’t enough, my main computer–the one with all my work on it–died yesterday and I had to run out and buy another one. Computers are like cars. You don’t just go on the lot and buy one. The dealer has to do stuff to it, so I won’t have it until, maybe, tomorrow. There’s another pain, caused by another break.

Today’s gotta be better.

‘West Side Story’ at MMT Powerful

The cast has 29 members and the crew helps fill a room at Mill Mountain Theatre.

The star of “West Side Story” is and always has been Jerome Robbins’ ground-breaking choreography, which combines modern dance, ballet, street fighting, love, hate, exuberance, and the kind of intensity rarely found in theatrical dance numbers.

Robbins’ vision is being carried out through the capable interpretation of Nick Kepley and Ginger Poole at Mill Mountain Theatre for the next couple of weeks and if you can get a ticket, get your butt in a seat. Fast. This one’s worth the time and effort. (Ticket info at 540-342-5740 or millmountain.org/tickets.)

“WSS” has always been about the dance, but it’s much more than that: a 600-year-old social commentary that (unfortunately) still has legs, a love story worthy of the greatest writer of all time, a comment on irrational hatred and violence, a venue for beautiful music by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein (played by a talented 11-piece orchestra, mostly composed of MMT veterans).

The MMT production emphasizes all those characteristics alternately with a cast of 29 (including five locals: Patrick Kennerly, Jeffrey McGullion, Anna Holland, Chloe Cannon and Chris Shepard) that features some notable professional talent, mostly from the Northeast.

The production revolves around the powerful singing and acting of Julia Paladino as Maria, a young woman with a light, but powerful soprano who carries the emotion of the moment–whether newfound love or great loss–in every note. Ms. Paladino has played Maria before on a regional stage and it shows. She is complemented by Kenneth Quinney Francoeur’s Tony, a solid singer whose voice fits with Ms. Paladino’s as a matched set.

The lighting and set are standard MMT professional and though nothing is out of the ordinary here, it probably shouldn’t be. Simple, classic, effective.

This is a big production of an American classic and the boys and girls at Mill Mountain Theatre bring it off as a season-highlight.

(Note: Wear a jacket or sweater. The theater last night was so chilly that it distracted from the play. I asked that the AC be given a break, but didn’t notice any difference.)


Buffalo Mountain: A New, Spectacular Hike

Susan takes a photo of the view from one of the big rocks on top.

I’m shooting a reflection in a rock pool.

Susan lifted this rock, so I could walk under it.

My friend Susan and I took our cameras up Buffalo Mountain in Floyd County yesterday and not only got some pretty good photos, but also experienced a new hike (for us) that is reminiscent of North Mountain, McAfee’s Knob, Dragon’s Tooth (without the difficulty) and several other big payoff hikes in this region.

My doc, Jeri Lentz, suggested Buffalo Mountain, one of her favorite trails and when I looked it up, the trail looked perfect: two miles up an incline and a simply dazzling view (almost 360 degrees) at the top. There are no creeks or water falls on the trail, but the view stands alone and in about three weeks or so, my guess is that the color of the foliage will be spectacular. The mountain is nearly 4,000 feet up, but the train grade is slight most of the way and rarely steep. Even on top, when walking the rocks, it isn’t difficult to climb here and there.

Susan and I ran into quite a few pleasant people, but were fascinated with a group of geology students and their professors from the University of Cincinnati. One of them was a young Vietnamese student (one who already had a degree in petroleum engineering in Vietnam) who was studying here with the goal of a master’s degree. She barely speaks English and our admiration for her courage was significant.

Included here are our impressions of the hike.

This is a family that was just ahead of us on the trail.

I’m at the right here, crashing the geology class.

This was our welcome to the area.

The parking lot is roomy, but not huge (that’s my white truck).

We found a bunch of fascinating–and big–spider webs to shoot.

I shot some webs, too.

This is a pretty shot from Susan.

Another spider web, making art is it grows.

The pause that refreshes.

Some creative soul carved out this chair with a chain saw.

Susan, who teaches chair yoga, shows how it’s done in a natural setting.

That’s Rock Man standing on top of the world.

Here’s Rock Man climbing down.

There was lots of vegetation, little of it prettier than this.

It took about 10 minutes for me to finally get a shot of this colorful boy.

This maple sapling says–screams–“fall!”

Heavy overcast and mist gave an impression–alternately–of romance and foreboding.

This is the geology class on its field trip, which I suggested is preferable to an English major’s field trip: the library.

Back in the days when I climbed Dragon’s Tooth, I often took photos that looked like this …

… or this.

Fleet Feet Is Spelled S*E*R*V*I*C*E

Fleet Feet crew: they made a believer out of me.

I don’t normally go around raving about a retail store where I’ve just bought a pair of shoe laces, but I will make an exception for Fleet Feet on U.S. 220 South in Roanoke (in front of Lowe’s).

Margie wanted to go there today to get her some new tennis shoes for work (she’s a geriatric nurse and shoes get worn out fast). Fleet Feet had a good rating online, so she asked if I would take her.

I discovered immediately–even though I was not shopping for anything–just what service is when one of the young sales professionals (and she damn well was a professional in the best sense of the word) came over and gave me a short course in socks (I was standing near the socks). She knew I wasn’t shopping, but she gave her time as if I were buying a whole wall of shoes. She finished without pressuring and left me to browse. Very pleasant chat, I thought.

Then I found a set of shoe laces–the kind that doesn’t tie, but you simply secure by sliding a plastic do-hickey–and nearly flipped. I love those babies and had not found them commercially before.

A small, bright sales person (whose name I did not get; sorry) came over and gave me the ins and outs of the laces and offered to put them on my shoes (not an easy feat for my shoeless feet) after I said I wanted them. She was the very definition of customer service and while I was in the process of getting my new laces, a young woman who used to coach my grandgirl in swimming at Hunting Hills, Kylie Patrick, came over and joined the conversation, remembering Madeline well. It was all simply delightful.

Fleet Feet’s shoes are expensive (so are its shoe laces), but the service, the fit, the comfort and the overall experience were simply marvelous for both Margie and me. I mentioned to Margie on our way out that the training of these young people is exceptional and for that, I will give credit to the owners, Blaine and Robin Lewis.

Need some shoes or accessories? Support these lovely people. You’ll truly enjoy your experience.

(Let me mention that I am recommending Fleet Feet because I believe it is an exceptional store, not because anybody is paying anybody. No money has passed hands and payment has not been discussed, nor will it be. I just genuinely like these guys.)

No More Bugs from VW and I’m Sad

Daisy and me in the snow, March, 2013.

It was about five years ago that I first saw Daisy, sitting there under a dirty March snow, peeping out with that pretty yellow face. I was immediately smitten, driving into the car lot on Peter’s Creek Road in Roanoke, brushing off some more of the snow and getting a good look at her. There was no way I was leaving without her.

And I didn’t. I paid probably $2,000 more than the book said she was worth, but I didn’t care. I didn’t even need to drive her. A friend told me I was stupid, first to buy a Volkswagen bug, second not to have it inspected and then not to even drive her. But love knows no boundaries.

Since Daisy first entered my life, I’ve had a whole new vision of the importance of a “statement car.” Daisy says–no, yells–“I’m free and I’m happy! Come laugh with me.” I hear almost weekly, “I had no idea you drove a bug, let alone a yellow one.” And then the person says she sees me differently in this (yellow) light. So do I.

I climb into Daisy’s surprisingly roomy interior (this is a different car than it was in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s), look at the little pot of daisies on the dash and the small wooden VW cutout hanging from the mirror that my favorite ex-wife made me and I almost always smile. It sets a tone for the day.

Now, for the second time, Volkswagen has announced that it will stop producing the car that was originally inspired by Hitler in the 1930s (Volkswagen means “people’s car”). This is an icon, one that has meant a hippie revolution, freedom for poor students and poor young workers, affordability for young parents, a fun ride. It used to sound like a sewing machine and the engine could be overhauled in a few hours using a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. The engine was in the back, over the drive wheels, so it would go in the show when snow plows wouldn’t. It wasn’t comfortable. It got crazy gas mileage (at a time in the U.S. when gas cost 19 cents a gallon and mileage didn’t matter much).

I don’t imagine VW’s decision will affect me and Daisy (she has nearly 200,000 miles on her and still looks nearly new), but I do suspect that when somebody else driving a yellow VW approaches me, the wave I always get will be a smidge more enthusiastic. I hope so. I love that little car.



Jenniffer: The Image of Her Mother

I have often said that my first wife, Eva, was perhaps the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Amend that. The most beautiful human I’ve ever seen. Her daughter–and my daughter–Jenniffer, is her equal, I am certain, with absolutely no credit to me.

Jennie looks like Eva with the perfect skin, the Germanic features (Eva is from the Black Forest) and many things that–in my eyes–create beauty in woman. She’s 51 now and the beauty has not only failed to face, but may be as good as ever.

(Let me emphasize that my Margie is gorgeous and this has nothing to do with that.)

The photo above was taken yesterday in North Georgia and my friend (and Jennie’s) Jeri Layne of Vinton did a little work on it.

Jennie’s mom, Eva, and me. I was 20, she 19.

Close to Being Smashed, But Oh, That Story!

I just told this story to my friend Arnette Crocker and thought I’d share it with you, in light of the hurricane that is about to clobber us (according to all the weather I can find):

I grew up in “Hurricane Alley” in South Carolina and once, when I was about 10, I was trying to get home in the midst of Hurricane Connie from a baseball game. I probably weighed 80-90 pounds.

As I reached my back yard (we bordered the baseball field at my school), the wind was so strong that I had to lean into it, almost at a 45 degree angle to the ground, pushing my little legs as hard as I could.

My mother showed up at the back screen door, yelling and I couldn’t hear a word. She was freaking out and then I heard a loud “crack!” and knew the end was near. I was walking past a huge chinaberry tree and it was coming down on me, the wind actually working both for me and against me simultaneously.

I was making a tiny amount of progress and the tree was falling slowly against the wind. Suddenly, I felt something on my back and arms, pumped harder and fell flat on my face. The tree kept coming and was all around me. Mom was working her way toward me, the wind at her back, screaming. I was OK. The tree’s big limbs didn’t hit me–by a few feet.

Mom was out of her mind and I was lying there calmly, knowing that when I got back to school in the next few days, I’d have a hell of a story to tell.