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.


There’s No Age Limit To Swim at Roaring Run

Pointing Gramps toward the best sliding spot.
Grandpa slides across the top of the sliding rock.
And, he’s on his way! He got a standing ovation.
Climbing back up for another slide.
Watching sliders slide.

Roaring Run has a lovely waterfall at it’s cap point, but on the way to that payoff, there is plenty of entertainment available, especially during the summer.

Much of that was on display yesterday as families (and a large group of pudgy, aging Harley riders) took advantage of nature’s recreational opportunities. Roaring Run, a lovely trout stream when it’s not a swimming hole, has several natural water slides for the beginner, intermediate and advanced (or crazy) sliders. Big slick rocks feature water roaring into a pool at the bottom and kids simply can’t resist. Yesterday, a grandfather couldn’t resist either and I was on hand with my camera to record it. And yes, I’ve slid down the waterslides before.

Here is some of the Roaring Run action.

A beautiful stretch of whitewater.
That’s me with the big sliding rock behind.
It’s extremely difficult to get a bad photo at Roaring Run.
This is your basic Roaring Run Falls photo.
And here’s another, emphasizing the color.
Probably don’t want to kayak this.
This fetching young woman was in a bikini with a backpack at the sliding rock.
You can be a girly-girl and still swim in Roaring Run.

Another Surprise from My Pal Robyn

Robyn Schon at her day job.

I consider myself extremely fortunate for many different reasons, foremost among them that I have friends who are a constant source of delight and surprise.

One of those friends is Robyn Schon, who runs the Roanoke Civic Center and is technically, therefore, a bureaucrat. We don’t generally expect a lot of creativity from that particular segment of our society. Then, along comes Robyn, a former rock singer who in 2017 released her delightful book of her poetry and artwork called Portrait of the Wind.

The other day, Robyn asked if I would read her NEW PLAY, for heaven’s sake. People often ask me to read their new works–some of them pretty good, most not so much–but I am often reluctant to read and give my opinion because I’m no expert. It can be quite consuming to invest in a book or play that isn’t much good. And I tend to be honest in giving my opinions.

I said, “Of course,” without the slightest hesitation because I love surprises, and what is Robyn if not a source of constant surprise?

I was not disappointed. I’m a slow reader, but I finished her screenplay “The Meaning of Tears” (alternately titled “Troubles Can Cause”) in two quick sittings.

The screenplay is based upon a case of murder in rural North Carolina in 1929. I won’t tell you any more than that lest I spoil it for you (when it finally hits the screen, which I believe it will).

My first surprise was the simple structure of the manuscript, which was a brief seminar on how to do it. It was clean, virtually error-free (a couple of misplaced apostrophes), structured for a quick read, and thoroughly professional. That made it easier to read because the construction was uniform.

The story built a bit slowly for its first third and then moved rapidly and nervously for the final two thirds. Robyn masterfully built the tension to a virtual explosion, then slowly moved through an anti-climax that wrapped up loose ends.

There were “Oh, wow!” moments, and her understanding and description of the pre- and post-Stock Market Crash Southern America was precise and enriching.

Robyn obviously did a great deal of research on the core of this story (telling me the story of finding Chicago Tribune and New York Times front-page articles on the central event the day after it happened). I’ve always known her to be a bulldog when she wants to get something done (how else would you run a 10,000-seat civic center?) and that stubborn persistence pays off handsomely in “The Meaning of Tears.”

I discovered later that this screenplay is not her first. She has a backup and a couple of TV situation comedy scripts waiting in the wings.

I hope “The Meaning of Tears” makes the screen soon. It’s a heck of a screenplay. And Robyn is a heck of a writer … in addition to everything else.


Recreating in the Heat of Independence Day

That’s the old man cooling off at Philpott Lake.
Susan is getting ready to dig into our picnic.

I reckon it’s supposed to be hot on the 4th of July weekend, but 101 degrees? That’s a bit much for a mid-Atlantic climate that used to be described as moderate. But it did present an opportunity old men don’t take very often: stripping down to our shorts and diving in the nearest lake (Philpott in this instance), which was a hoot.

My pal Susan and I drove down to the lake between Rocky Mount and Martinsville yesterday for a change of scenery and we got it, a good veggie lunch, a nice paddle, and a swim in water that was nearly as warm as a bath.

The masked bandit serves some melon.

We absorbed our obligatory fireworks Saturday, the actual day when they’re supposed to be fired. It has been World War III at various neighborhoods–including mine–for nearly two months running and maybe now it will end. The fireworks thingy is out of control. On the 4th my house was completely surrounded by different neighbors shooting off expensive fireworks and the loud bangs made it sound like a war zone.

Here’s some of what it looked like.

Fireworks at the street lamp in my neighborhood.
Susan paddling at Philpott.
There are several of these little beach-ettes at Philpott.
Very young skier behind a power boat.
A lot of people settled in for the weekend.
I like this lonely tree out in the lake.
Susan and me in our COVID19 gear.
Susan shot young lovers watching fireworks at the Walnut Avenue Bridge Saturday night.
Susan does not take drugs. Her camera does. This is the Mill Mountain Star flying off into the night.
Here’s the star again, in triplicate.

A Little Po’ Folks Food Treat for the 4th

Here are the bubbling grits with the Kraft cheese packet stirred in.

As most of you know, I grew up muddy-water-poor in a big family where feeding those mouths chirping like baby birds for a piece of the worm was the day’s No. 1 goal.

Here are the grits in a dish, awaiting the ‘fridge today and the frying pan tomorrow.

Mom had to improvise, since we had very little money, especially in the years after Dad died, leaving us nothing but bills and memories of a good man who suffered from alcoholism.

The story here, though, is not so much about Dad’s qualities, as it is about Mom’s resourcefulness reaching a level of creativity that sometimes the mind.

I don’t think Mom invented fried grits as an entree, but she sure as hell handed it down to me gift-wrapped. Today, I created my own 2020s adjustment to the original recipe that that does not improve its qualities as a health food (it doesn’t have any), but certainly gives it yet another iteration as a taste king.

This one, like Mom’s original, is easy. She simply boiled the grits, ladled in some butter, spread them on a cookie sheet and let them dry. Then she fried them in bacon fat, creating a french fry look and a wonderful taste.

I did all of that today, except that I added one ingredient: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese flavoring packet. I had one leftover in the Hubbard, having used the pasta for something else and it occurred to me today that if added to hot grits and blended nicely, it could create Mom’s grits with a new twist.

I haven’t finished yet (I still have to let them dry, slice them about four inches long and half an inch wide, then fry them in bacon fat), but I’m confident enough with the ultimate outcome tomorrow that I’m telling you about it now.

One piece of advice: Don’t over-indulge. This dish is full of carbs and fat and while it will definitely fit the taste box, it isn’t healthy. That, in this case, makes it a reward, not an entre.


A Mixed Bag on Mill Mountain This Morning

This is probably the best view of Roanoke from Mill Mountain. At least Appalachian Power thinks so (note its transmission lines).

Mill Mountain Trail presented some delights this morning, along with its usual rocky road annoyance. This is the trail that leads up to the Roanoke icon, the Mill Mountain Star, and its broad view of Roanoke as if the overlook were an airplane looking for a place to land. It is probably the most photographed spot in the Roanoke Valley.

These are my wineberries. They basically fell into my bag.

The delight this morning was a patch of wineberries, ripe, tasty, and ready for the picking–which I did. I brought home about a pint of them and they are sweet, bright red, and totally delightful.

Let me also mention that I had a good, sweaty, muscle-stretching hike and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it.


Mimosa is my favorite flowering tree and it is prominent on top of Mill Mountain.
The rocky pathway makes Mill Mountain a much less desirable hike than I prefer. Turned ankles are the least of it.
More power line mania, interrupting some real beauty.
The Mill Mountain Star in its blue period.
A young couple looks for landmarks from the Mill Mountain overlook.

Doing Cool Stuff Not So Easy These Days

Here’s the “cargo” couch, built using cast-off materials.

A few days ago, I came across a photo of a couch I built in the 1970s. It was an interesting piece, following the “cargo” design and I put it together with scrap lumber given me by the foreman at a home construction site. The fabric I used came from rejects at a mill.

My boy, Evan, and me as carpenters.

It was heavy, solid and ugly–a perfect sofa for a single guy in a small apartment. I gave it to a friend for his birthday. Ultimately, he sold it.

That led me to think about all the stuff I’ve built over time, and it began to add up. Consider:

I’ve built four decks and two front porches, roofed a house, built (with my son and a neighbor) a nice utility building (photo above).

I used to work on my car doing routine stuff like replacing brake pads, changing oil, tuning up and repairing small malfunctions like torn upholstery, replacing various lights, changing tires, replacing solenoid switches and the many tasks we used to be able to perform ourselves before the engines became so complex that only computer techs could work on them.

I once sewed a parka from scratch for a newspaper story and it turned out well. I discovered that sewing is very much like carpentry in that it requires full concentration and furnishes real satisfaction when finished.

I’ve always had a garden and I have no idea how many trees (mostly fruit trees) I’ve planted over the years, but recent weather patterns have made that much more difficult. You almost have to be an agronomist to grow a damn tomato plant these days. Climate change is real and it’s a bitch.

Truth be told, I don’t really know what the purpose of this little rant-ette is, but here it is.


New Virginia Laws in Effect July 1

In just a few days, you will strongly feel the new direction Virginia is taking with its Democratic Party in charge. Here is some of what you can expect (according to journalist Caleb Stewart):

  • The long-awaited Equal Rights Amendment was passed, giving the necessary 38 votes to become law, but Republicans don’t want it and are suing.
  • Gun Control laws passed include:

Universal background checks

Extreme Risk Protective Order, allowing authorities to temporarily take guns away from people deemed to be dangerous

Reinstates Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law

Requires gun owners to report their lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement within 48 hours or face a civil penalty

Toughens the penalty for leaving a loaded, unsecured firearm
in a reckless manner that endangers a child

Gives local governments more authority to ban guns in public

Bars people with protective orders against them from possessing firearms and requires them to turn over their guns within 24 hours

  • Lee Jackson Day will no longer be a Virginia holiday.
  • Local governments across Virginia will officially have the authority to remove or contextualize Confederate monuments on their town, city, or county property.
  • The ‘Virginia Values Act’ adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the commonwealth’s antidiscrimination law.
  • Virginia is the first state to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ
    youth. The Commonwealth makes it easier to change a person’s name and gender on a birth certificate and requires the Department of Education create and implement policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public schools.
  • The Republican abortion restrictions law has been rolled back,  including a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion can be performed and a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling. The measure also undoes the requirement that abortions be provided by a physician, allowing nurse practitioners to perform them, and does away with strict building code requirements on facilities where abortions are performed.
  • Criminal charges for simple possession of marijuana will be scrapped and replaced with a $25 civil penalty. Medical cannibus was legalized.
  • Insurers will be limited to charging a maximum of $50 a month for insulin in Virginia, giving the commonwealth the fourth lowest cap in the country.
  • Virginians will no longer need to show a photo ID in order to vote by this November. Voters will no longer need to provide an excuse from a pre-approved list to cast an absentee ballot in Virginia.
  • Students living in the U.S. without documentation but who still meet Virginia residency standards, will be eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia colleges and universities.
  • The requirement that drivers licenses be suspended if court fees are not paid will be repealed.