My pal Susan and I hiked Falling Water trail, a bit north of the Peaks of Otter and a steep descent with a steeper ascension. It was tiring and beautiful.
We have now surpassed 250,000 deaths from the Covid-19 virus and for a little perspective, consider the following.
- America lost 620,000 soldiers from the North and South (combined) during the Civil War.
- We lost 405,399 military personnel during World War II.
- World War I was an ironic amalgam: 116,516 total American military dead, 45,000 of them from the Spanish Flu.
- Korea: 36,516.
- Vietnam: 58,209.
- American Revolution: 25,000.
- Mexican War: 13,283
- Spanish-American: 2,446
- Gulf War: 294.
- Iraq/Afghanistan: 6,626).
Bottom Creek Gorge is one of the popular hikes in Western Virginia, primarily because the payoff is a 1,000-foot tall waterfall that in times of heavy rain becomes a majestic view. We have had that heavy rain recently and when Meghann Garmany (Margie’s daughter), her partner Rachel Pitkin and I tackled the hike yesterday–in a high wind–it was something of an adventure.
The wind was so strong and the trees so baren of leaves that the swaying boughs had their own distinct soundtrack, including a loud “CRACK!” when one of the old trees came down as we watched. A couple of small limbs fell in my path, barely missing me, and Meg kept saying, “Watch out!” as the wink cranked at about 25 mph high in the trees.
Still, the hike was all but uneventful until we got to the falls and saw its magnificence. I had never seen it so full in the dozen or so hikes I’ve taken at Bottom Creek over the years and I was glad it saved its best for Meg and Rach.
The longest election day of my lifetime (Tuesday-Saturday) finally ended around noon today when CNN called the election for Joe Biden, although it had been obvious he would win since Wednesday.
Still, there was plenty of reason to celebrate–even for those who lost–since fall was in full loveliness today with the sun creating an almost neon effect through the trees on the Blue Ridge Parkway. My pal Susan and I took advantage of the double invitation to celebration by driving up to Niagra Dam and hiking down to the Roanoke River and along its rocky banks for a good while.
It was fun. It was lovely. It was such a huge–HUGE–relief. We no longer have to wake up daily with what that man has done to us on our minds. We can go back to living our lives and believing our country will survive intact.
We’re entering the second post-election-day day and we still don’t have a president for the next cycle. It’s promising for Joe Biden, but Trump could still win strictly on voting totals in some hair-thin close states. We could later today or it could take a week or two.
I think the possibility of a Biden win (Las Vegas bettors have it at 85 percent) has helped alleviate a lot of stress among half of our population and increase that same stress among the other half. Not much, I fear, will change with Biden’s election. Should Trump retain the presidency, a lot will change and none of it will be for the better.
Already the Republican Party has re-structured government to suit its far right-wing and has completely eliminated any Republican voice of reason by out-shouting those voices. There are a lot of honest and good Republicans who have no place to go these days (think Lincoln Project). Their own party doesn’t want them and they don’t want to be Democrats, though I suspect many would be welcome.
I think I am most disappointed by the many Latinos and African-American men who voted for Trump, a totally unexpected turn of events from my perspective. I have no idea what these voters expect from Trump or Mitch McConnell, but let me make them a promise: you won’t get it.
Today could have been a mournful disaster. It is not. It offers hope and for many of us, that is an emotion that has almost become foreign.
While we’re all concentrating heavily on the election today, it might be worthwhile to take a few moments and remember that tomorrow is the 35th anniversary of the flood of 1985. In Wasena Park, there is a remembrance: blue ribbons on trees marking the high-water mark of the flood — and it was pretty dang high.
Since I voted in September, I thought I’d take a tour of some of Roanoke’s polling places this morning to see how it was going. And it was going!
I discovered that between 6 and 7 a.m. almost all of the precincts had lines out the door and down the block. A worker at Highland Park told me that it had 45 percent of its total voters voting by 7 a.m. and by noon, it was at 60 percent. “It’s been steady all morning since the early push,” he said. He expected a similar mob after work.
Most of the others were similar. There was a very real business-like attitude and I didn’t see any threatening people at the polls.
From what I understand, nearly 100 million voted prior to today and a total vote of 160 million (an American record) is expected. The voting percentage of the population, from what I’m hearing, will be the greatest since women got the vote in 1920.
Carvins Cove is a lovely spot any time of the year, but yesterday in mid-fall, it was unsurpassed in its color and calming beauty.
My friend Susan and I pulled the kayaks from under their tarp for one final run on the cove before cold sets in and we got exactly what we needed: church a day early.
Here is what it looked like. (The first below is Susan’s; the next 19 are mine; the final 10 are Susan’s.)
I was intensely interviewing Dolly Parton on the phone for a story when Chris Gladden, who sat directly facing me in the features department of The Roanoke Times, slipped a photo under my nose. It was a shot of a gorgeous nude actress (Jean Seaburg, as I recall) and I couldn’t contain myself. I laughed out loud.
Dolly wanted to know what was going on. “I’d better not say,” I said. “Oh, come on,” said Dolly. “I love a good joke.” I told her and she broke up.
Chris and I had a blast in that department for about 2 1/2 years in the late 1970s. We thought of ourselves as the stars of a department that had some heavyweights, including Mary Beth Armistead, Joe Kennedy, Jeff DeBell, and the like. We both covered the arts and did a lot–a whole lot–of feature writing. In fact, we wrote so much that we began a weekly competition for by-lines that didn’t sit well with our editor, Sandra Kelly.
During one stretch when we were both averaging more than 20 by-lines a week (and I was designing the TV section on one day of my schedule, giving me just four writing days), we went into Saturday’s paper tied at 24. I had one up my sleeve. One of my assignments weekly was to write a weekend column with no by-line about what was happening in the region. It was called The Tipoff. I began each paragraph of my story for this particular Saturday with a letter of my by-line and Sandra didn’t notice until Saturday morning when the paper came out and I had won the contest for that week.
When we arrived at work Monday, Chris met me at the office door with, “You know that won’t count. You cheated!” I grinned and Sandra bellowed, “IN MY OFFICE!” She raised hell at us, grinning like school boys who had put a frog in her desk, as everybody outside laughed.
It was that kind of department: fun, creative, busy, resourceful and productive as hell.
I have a lot to remember today as I think about Chris, who just died at 71 this week. I haven’t seen him in years, but we’ve kept up through the grapevine. We shared our (recovering) alcoholism, love for books, movies, theater and music. Chris was a good guitar player with the Grevious Angels in the 1970s and was always close to his outlaw band buddies. They played a lot of clubs, raised a lot of hell, drank a lot of booze, smoked a lot of mary jane.
But it was the colleague who inspired and challenged me that I remember. There was one story in particular that we did together, reviewing every restaurant in downtown Roanoke at lunch. There were more than 35, but by the time we talked Sandra into letting us write the reviews, we’d eaten at almost all of them.
The story was a running conversation between us, as much critiquing each other as we did the restaurants. I tended to like the shops that fed us well (The Four Parrots and its legendary cook, Sweet Pea, who adored us and stuffed us) and Chris wanted the hoity-toity food (Alexander’s). The story was a load of fun for us and for everybody who read it.
There is a lot more to Chris than my stories, of course, but mine are the ones I know best. I remember a funny guy who could have a very serious side on occasion. He was a talent in every area he chose as his own and his voice was unique: Southern redneck/intellectual. He was never at a loss for words–in that Salem drawl–and he was not stingy with praise for what he thought was good writing.
My alcoholism led me to be fired from The Times (after 10 years at the paper) and I think what I missed most in leaving was the fun Chris and I created for each other and for everybody else.
It was a real professional highlight.
Chris had challenges after leaving The Times, though he did open a successful book shop, Christopher Gladden Bookseller. His son, Sean (named for the John Wayne character in “The Quite Man”) died at 38 in 2018 and I know that weighed on him.
Chris was at The Times for 18 years. We started the same way, as copy boys who couldn’t type, and worked our way into full-time jobs as journalists among our heroes, neither of us achieving a college education first (though he had more time in class than did I).
I think we were both in love with the profession and never allowed the standard journalism bane–suspicion of everything and everybody–interfere with our good time. It was a great period for us both.
Today, more than any other time recently, it hit me just how dangerous it is to be out among people.
I walked in Wasena Park during the lunch hour and it was simply flooded with people–three of whom wore masks and one of those was me. The people were engaged in various activities: biking, walking, playing softball, children on playground equipment, fishing, photographing, and even a packed-house Narcotics Anonymous meeting at one of the shelters.
Nowhere was it really safe because people were not only maskless, but they were also as close and familiar as they would have been a summer ago when nobody had ever heard of COVID-19.
The activities and fall color made for some good photographs. But it does nothing to encourage us to be careful as the third wave of the virus rises across the nation.