Voter Suppression and the Democrats’ Win

One more little election thought and I’ll shut up:

The Democratic victory yesterday–especially in Virginia–was accomplished in spite of serious gerrymandering and voter suppression. We can’t immediately do anything about the illogical (and probably illegal) voting districts, but the General Assembly can do something about voter suppression.

Consider this: The Dems had a little more than a third of the delegates in the General Assembly going into this election. They came out with 49 for sure and maybe even a slight majority, if contested races (about four, maybe five, of them) go their way. It looks right now like a deadlocked body: 50-50.

Consider how those four or five races would have turned out if Republicans had not suppressed the votes of hundreds, maybe thousands of Democrats. Consider how many other races that had a one or two percent victory margin for the GOP candidate would have gone to the opposition.

If you think voter suppression doesn’t matter much, it does. Donald Trump won the key Midwest votes that won the White House by about 1,700 votes. That would easily be accounted for with voter suppression.

And Now, Dems Must Re-Learn To Govern

We’re going to be (over)analyzing this off-off-season election for a while because it’s the only one we have at the moment, but I think the result is simply explained: there are more people opposed to Donald Trump than there are people who support him.

But we knew that, so why the drama? Because those people–not all of them Democrats–don’t always vote. They think logic and good sense will win the day, even though they’ve been shown over and over that logic and good sense have little to do with why/how people vote.

I don’t believe the lesson is a lasting one, either. Complacency takes hold in political belief more quickly than just about anywhere else, in my experience. Every time somebody wins an election by a solid majority, we try to believe that the winner’s philosophy will hold sway forever from that point. Remember Richard Nixon’s “permanent majority”? How about Newt Gingrich’s? Or the Democrats’ majorities everywhere in the 1960s, when they gerrymandered the hell out of everything they could grasp? They were all fleeting because the ruling party at the moment believed itself invulnerable, much as Donald Trump does now, and ruled by excess.

I’m wondering today what U.S. House Republicans Bob Goodlatte (6th District) and Morgan Griffith (9th District), who represent us, are thinking. Their party took a drubbing, but they are both in safe seats, threatened only by the far, far, far right. But they could lose their standing, their committee chairmanships should the Dems take back the House in 2018. How should they react?

If Virginia’s house either goes to the Dems on recounts or gives them substantially more authority, will they resist gerrymandering to their own favor?

Finally, I’m wondering how these new Democrats will actually govern. Republicans have never quite caught on to the fact that the party with the most representatives has to govern. For them, it’s always been about winning elections, investigating Democrats, taring and feathering the opposition and bitching because nothing is conservative enough and taxes are too high. That doesn’t work well.


A Hike at Carvins Cove from the Back Side

The woods were glorious today.

Bikers are greeted with this out of the parking lot.

I have been hiking and boating at Carvins Cove compound for a number of years, but had never ventured over to the back side (west, I think) until today. A friend suggested I might give it a try and sent me a map, which didn’t make a lot of sense then or today.

Still, I drove out to Bennett Springs, offloaded my carcass at the parking lot about six miles from Va. 311 and took the first trail I saw, not knowing what to expect, but seeing a bunch of cars with bike racks on them in the parking lot.

Yesterday, Margie and I drove out that way on the way home from the Homeplace, but didn’t venture onto the trail (Margie doesn’t much like to hike). I noted at the time, the extreme depth of color on the oaks and maples and thought I might come back today if I could get my work done. I did and I did.

There are plenty of trail choices.

The trail I took is moderate, going up the side of a mountain for as far as I hiked. It had several spurs off the main trail. There were no vistas, no water and  nothing to take my attention off the color and the woods. It is not an exciting hike and my guess is it is much better for mountain bikers.

But the color today made it worth the effort. The longer we go with fall, in fact, the more I’m convinced this may be the prettiest fall in years, beginning with a look that was distinctly otherwise.

Some trees stood out more than others.

A lot of leaves were more than a single color.

A yellow glow illuminated a lot of the trail.

Treetops blend colors.

Yes, poison ivy will bite you, even in the fall when it is pretty.

This is my favorite tree of the fall so far.

A tiny creek near the parking lot is illuminated by a maple.


A Drive Through Peak Leaf Season

Fog shrouds the hills surrounding this farm, with cattle in the field.

Margie’s not much of a hiker and today was definitely a day to get outside, so I suggested we go for a photo field trip out to the Catawba Valley and she jumped all over it. Especially when I threw in lunch at the Homeplace, a “Sunday lunch at grandma’s” restaurant in a 100-year-old farmhouse.

The colors are deep and magnificent.

We got more than we bargained for in every respect–except for the exercise I crave. I even saw a red squirrel running up through the forest at one point. Don’t recall the last time I saw one of those chubby critters.

The last time I ate at the Homeplace, i came away vowing, “Never again!” The food was about 25 degrees south of pedestrian, the atmosphere loud and hurried and the wait interminable. The price was high for what was served. Today’s was a completely different experience, even though the food was essentially the same. It tasted better, the service was marvelous, the wait short and the cost a bargain (at $15 each, all you can eat).

Margie and me loading up on the home-style meal.

The  Homeplace sits in a picturesque spot in the Catawba Valley, surrounded by mountains and housing a pond just outside the window. Out front are large oaks and a gazebo. The porch is populated with people in rockers. Today, at the unexpectedly late peak of leaf season, it was simply lovely.

As we drove back, we took the side road up to Catawba Hospital, a government-run health care facility that takes care of those with mental/emotional problems and the poor. The grounds, especially enshrouded in fog and color, were eerily beautiful, with a kind of dread Victorian feel to it. We drove out through the valley, stopping to take photos of the fog-covered farms, fields and colorful mountains.

Reds and yellows dominate.

As we neared Salem on the way back, Margie spotted “Carvins Cove Road” and I had to do a quick bat turn and drive up that road until it ended. Simply a beautiful drive. It included a stop at the  entrance of the Carvins Cove compound, one veined and vesseled with hiking/biking trails. That made an imprint on my brain for future use. I was talking to a friend recently about all the trails I haven’t hiked around the Cove and this, I suspect, is the beginning of the next phase in that conversation. Can’t wait to walk it.

In all, even without my hike, this was a successful run out into peak season. Suggest you follow suit.

View from the porch at the Homeplace.

The fog heightened the color.

The colors are so intense they look like a comic book.

Margie and me in front of the Homeplace.

The large natural paintbrush creates a magical canvas.

What would an impressionist do with this view?

A Conversation of Faith and Sexual Orientation

My pal Linda Webb and a bunch of her compadres are getting together Nov. 8-12 in Roanoke for “Heart to Heart: Conversations on Loving Our LGBTQ Neighbors and
Strengthening Our Faith.” The featured speaker is author Susan Cottrell and the principal event is the free Heart to Heart Conference on Saturday, Nov. 11, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church in Roanoke. Lunch is $10. Register online

It is a conversation that is long overdue and one that may be hard for resistors to accept, until it isn’t. I think that most of us have found that sexual orientation is an issue that affects most American families and acceptance of those who are different from the majority is becoming increasingly the norm. But there are holdouts, primarily having to do with religious fundamentalism and simple hard-headedness.

Linda says the intent of Heart to Heart is “to create meaningful conversations of dialogue, support and encouragement for our LGBTQ family, friends and neighbors and all who are curious about or wrestling with issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and reconciling all of this within the
exploration and celebration of faith.”

All the info you need is here. Events are free and open to the public unless otherwise
noted. Susan Cottrell, is the prominent voice for faith parents of LGBTQI children, and was recently featured on ABC’s 20/20, Nightline and Good Morning America. She is an
international speaker, author and spiritual director. Through her nonprofit organization,,

Fall at Hollins: A Splash of Color

Margie always adds a splash of class to every scene.

This tree is simply spectacular, the deepest color I’ve seen this fall in the mountains.

The Hollins campus is always pretty, but in the fall there is something special.

These photos of Margie and the elms on campus give you an idea what we saw after our friend Mary Ellen Apgar’s wedding this evening.

There’s that pretty smile, enjoying the fall/full cover.

And here we are inside, a little out of focus, enjoying the reception.


The Magic Wedding Dress Makes Its Magic

You may kiss the groom!

Last week in this space, I wrote about my friend Mary Ellen Apgar and her magic wedding dress (here) and today at Hollins, she got to wear it for real.

This was one of the funniest, most relaxed weddings I’v e been to and I think it reflected the maturity and the evolution of a relationship that fits nicely on both the bride and the groom.

I loved that each of them fully included Josh’s teenaged kids and brought in the young child that is theirs. As Mary Ellen said so succinctly, “We did things backwards.” But my guess is that those “things” will work just fine.

We are gathered together today …

I promise to love …

Oh, are we ever going to have fun?

‘Beautiful Creatures’ Is Just That: Art At Its Finest

Bill Elliott appreciates the conversion from human body to work of landscape art.

“The Beautiful Creatures,” a dazzling new art show at the Alexander Heath Gallery on 5th Street (just off Campbell Ave.) in downtown Roanoke, began at 6 p.m. this evening and as I left a few minutes ago, the crowd was big, enthusiastic and growing.

The show continues until 10 tonight, but it also runs through Nov. 20. It’s worth your time. I promise.

Where do the people end and the art begin?

Eric Fitzpatrick, Roanoke’s most celebrated painter and Mike Wilson, a new photographer with a fine portfolio (and a new studio, Bohemian Robot) have combined their talents to produce some astonishing artwork, some of it carried out on the bodies of nude models. That paint is then transferred to a more solid medium where it becomes what it becomes finally: a head-turning work that combines Mike’s and Eric’s sensitivities.

Mike is the computer/techno guru and Eric the old fashioned artist who sketches out the concept in charcoal before the two combine to paint the nude women in latex (Mike) and then acrylic (Eric). The paint is then peeled off and mounted elsewhere for the final work.

Those several paintings are the stars of this show, but a good bit of Eric’s recent and more familiar work decorates the walls, as well. My favorite is of the evangelical preacher “preying” on his flock with his shadow showing up … well … devilishly.

This project has taken 18 months to conceive, develop and finish and you can see all of it in about 10 minutes. But it’s an intense 10 minutes.

The new concept flanks the more traditional Eric Fitzpatrick landscape.

Eric (left) and Mike (right) chat with musician J.D. Sutphin.

This, in a single picture, is the new process.

Eric explains the work (which he’s very good at).

Where the Hell are the Trick Or Treat Urchins?

Come and get it kiddies! The Woopie Cushion is waiting for you, candy in hand.

So, five years ago when I moved into my house, I was covered in little kids wanting candy at Halloween. I estimated there were close to 300 of them and I was giving slices of bread at the end.

That has reduced annually and last year, there were about eight. This year, one family with three kids. ONE! Is it my breath? I have candy (left over from last year) and plenty of attitude.


Liz Long Ascends to the Editor’s Chair at Roanoker

Liz and me at the 2017 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.

I’ve known for a while that Liz Long was getting ready to assume the editor’s chair at the Roanoker magazine, so it wasn’t surprising to see the announcement today that she will take over–mostly–from the not-yet-retiring Kurt Rheinheimer with the January/February issue.

Kurt and I are the same age and have the same attitude about retirement. No, thanks.

I’ve worked on and off for the Roanoker (sometimes for free in the early days) since the first issue when I helped out founder Richard Wells in the office and wrote a few pieces here and there, either with no by-line or using a pseudonym. I was working in the sports department of The Roanoke Times at that point and would have been fired had I been exposed. Richard and I had worked at The Times together, joining the team there from our  home town of Asheville, where we both started.

I was on the most infamous cover in the nearly 50-year history of the magazine, posing as a City Market flasher while Santa Claus stuffed porn into his bag. The Times didn’t know about that, either. I had my back to the camera.

Kurt (right) and me (green) co-teaching a writers conference class a few years ago. It was less teaching and more journalism-war-story-telling.

I’ve known all four of the Roanoker’s editors since 1974 and I think I appreciated Kurt Rheinheimer most. He’s an even-handed, competent pro who can also write quite well. I think Liz will fit that mold. I have known her for a few years through her affiliation with the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, which I founded 10 years ago.

I liked the way she worked with me and with other writers so much that I asked her to become the director of the conference beginning with the next one. I stepped back to become her aide de camp. Liz is thoroughly competent, but more than that, she puts forth the effort needed for excellence.

Since I sold my half of the business magazine I co-founded, FRONT, a couple of years ago, I have regularly contributed a lot of fun stories to the Roanoker, usually with Kurt as editor, but lately with Liz handling my copy. Both are the kind of editor I hope I was: thorough, giving good instructions, asking the right questions, keeping me from embarrassing myself.

Liz will do well in this new role and my guess it will expand a good bit beyond the Roanoker.