Order or Chaos?

image copyright Fred First

I was unwell at midnight. I was still awake at 3 with chills. I crimped my 6 foot frame onto the 5 foot loveseat by the woodstove and slept rounded like a comma, til almost 6. And now I don’t know if I’m over illness or just ramping up for it. And I need to decide soon: we’ll leave the house for Wytheville before noon, and I’ll be ON, need to be UP, ready, engaged. I feel none of those things just now, even after two cups of coffee.

I told Ann reluctantly that I was not quite well. Her highest priority is having the strength to get up and do what needs to be done for the gathering here on the weekend, and if means treating my like a leper for the remainder of the week, no doubt she can and will do so.

I’ve had episodes before where, in the wee hours I was racked by fever and violent chills, only to wake the next morning with no serious repercussions, and go on. So I’m going on this morning, assuming once again that the army of immune cells and the chemical warfare of self-versus-nonself has tipped in my favor.

It depends on how you hold your eyes when you look at it: diseased or eased ? chaotic or cosmicly ordered? creek ice or a place where stars are born? I chose to hold up the latter in all these dichotomies; we’ll see if things look different by the end of the day.

Creek Under Ice

image copyright Fred First

Nameless Creek comes from darkness underground, beginning in a dozen springs a mile south. In its past, it has raged back and forth between the ridges, swollen and angry, carving our narrow valley from Appalachian stone. Today the little stream purrs along peacefully enough, cold, clear as liquid glass, on its way down mountains. It carries the smell of snow to a sandy beach on the sea. Tonight our little creek will freeze along the edges. In a month, we will hear a river embryo calling faintly from under ice and we will walk on water. (from Slow Road Home)

I’d carried my pocket recorder with me yesterday when I stood admiring the late-morning light on the creek. I would take a sound sample of the babble of the creek under ice, patch that as a fade-in and fade-out either side of a reading of the paragraph above, combined with the image. I really thought I would do it. I have the pieces. But I never quite made it to complete the task, and now I’m off to work again, tomorrow the rotary presentation in Wytheville, Thursday all day at a CE meeting in Roanoke, then the vortex of the weekend gathering to prepare for. And from now til Monday, I’ll kick myself for not getting to done on this. Heck.

But a bit of good news: The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s Virtual Bookstore now stocks and sells Slow Road Home! Here is the press release just posted to their site yesterday. Many thanks to Joe and others who helped make this happen, and I hope the book warrants the virtual shelf space and doesn’t collect virtual dust. So okay now readers, it’s up to you. (And by the way, if you wanted to order more than one copy and pay by credit card, THIS would be the way, as my PayPal button on the book website is set up only for a single purchase.)

Winter at Mabry Mill

image copyright Fred First

“Did you come east on the Parkway to get here?” asked a booktable visitor yesterday at the winery. “There’s ice on Mabry Mill pond” she said, herself a photographer, and, seeing my photo-notecards, she knew I’d want to know such a thing.

So, as smile-weary as I was after four long hours of the last of four such days, when four o’clock came, I cleared the table of my dog-and-pony-show paraphenalia in two trips out to the car, and headed west toward Meadows of Dan and Mabry Mill, a few parkway miles away.

The beauty of a visit to Maybury Mill in December is that there’s nobody there but me. And a few ducks. If you click on the image above it will take you to a larger image on Flickr; this is actually a (poorly done) merging of three different images: a normal exposure, 2 1/2 stops underexposed, and one that is 2 1/2 stops over exposed. This is a rudimentary first attempt at what is called HDR photography. High Dynamic Range is a technique available to digital photographers to take advantage of the computer’s ability to create an image where both the highlights and shadows are optimally exposed. The three images were slightly out of register, even though I used a tripod, so this image is a little blurry, and the difference between the shadows and highlights was probably not significant enough on this image to do justice to the technique. More not-quite examples sure to come on FFF in coming months!

Winery Weekend

image copyright Fred First

I think I heard somewhere that the winery building at Chateau Morrisette was the largest timberframe structure east of the Mississippi. I do know the timbers were dredged from the bottom of Puget Sound after being submerged in cold waters for a hundred years–massively large and long. It would take more camera than I went with or own to do it justice. The upstairs room where the winetastings take place for this year’s Wine Club Open House was still rough when I first saw it back in the summer.

I had stopped by in June with low expectations that the gift shop folk would consent to putting Slow Road Home on their limited shelving for books. They consented and bought 12. Emboldened, I told the store manager I’d be happy to do a reading and signing, should they ever have an event where such was suitable. She brightened at the idea, envisioning this double weekend of crowds upstairs, and took me up to show it to me. Impressive, I thought, and tried to imagine my little book table in such a grand castle of a building. Today will be my fourth and final day, and it has been most interesting and rewarding, and I am most appreciative of the opportunity!

I spoke with so many interesting people. The situation is somewhat like blogging: nobody forces a visitor to stop by the table, examine the book, and know from what they see that we might have something to say to each other. There either is or there is not a connection between the book browser and author. For those who stopped to chat, there were interesting stories.

One poor gal choked up after reading the back cover. “I loved it here. My husband made me leave. I’ve never quit hurting or missing the mountains. They are a part of me, and I see that same connection from what little I’ve seen of your book.”

Another book-buyer said he was convinced that the mountains (of Patrick County along the parkway) was where they belonged. His wife was not convinced. He hollered at me from the cash-register line: “Fred, does your wife like living here?” I told me that, if anything, she was more attached to this place than I was. And he called his wife over to hear our testimonial of how well this lifestyle fits our needs and preferences. “But it’s not for everybody” I told her. You’ll know it if it fits you.

image copyright Fred First

Others stopped to say hello, book readers already, or blog visitors, or appreciative of the radio pieces or newspaper column–people I would never have had opportunity to meet. One lady said “I loved your book, but there was one part, after I read the first paragraph, I couldn’t go any farther. I was already crying.” And of course it was the sad account of putting Buster down.

Another book reader, of all the little mundane details, delighted in the tale of walking with a “spider stick” down our loop through the woods. “We do that too! It was so powerfully connecting with the little rituals of our daily lives in the mountains to find common ground with you on Goose Creek. And when we’re away (so many have weekend places here) we enjoy picking up Slow Road to remind us of how the season is changing back up here in the mountains.”

There were people from Giles County, Pulaski County, Patrick County, and over in the Roanoke area who felt the same connection to place that Ann and I do here in Floyd. Yes, there are unique qualities here, but it is the larger connection and attachment to the southern mountains that we all love and seem to need. One fella, in conversation of “where are you from” told me about a T-shirt he’d seen in another nearby county. I’ll just adapt it to here. It said…

No, I’m not a native of Floyd County, but I got here fast as I could!

It has been gratifying to find out that others have the same sense as we do, that we have arrived at a place we’ve been moving toward all our lives.

Sand in the Gears

Technology. Bah! Humbug. It’s down a few notches on my list of the Wonders of our Age. Sometimes I wonder how things would be without so much of it intruding into our dreams and waking hours. But then, I’ve just been dealing too much lately with computer keyboards and not enough with family and friends. Maybe that is about to come to an end. I’ll be with folks for the bulk of today, much of tomorrow, and away from blogger issues, upgrade decisions and the fine print of digital paperwork. I bet I’ll wake up in a more technophilic state of mind tomorrow.

BlahBlahBlogger
Blogger is unreliable. Several times in the past two weeks, it won’t let me post (like yesterday for instance.) Then after I give up and am away, mysteriously, it posts. Something about an sFTP socket error.

Failing Memory
I probably should upgrade and add another gig of RAM to bring my 3.5 year old desktop up to 2 GB. On such an old machine, does that make sense? And with four 256Mb chips in the four slots, I’d have to replace them all with 512MB chips to get to two gig–more than $200 upgrade. I’ve lived this long with barely enough memory to run Photoshop, Word, Excel and InDesign at the same time–sluggishly. Maybe I should just make do.

Did I say that?
The speech-to-text software (Naturally Speaking) is a mixed blessing. I can’t use it in the mornings when I do a good bit of my writing because Ann is either here talking or here asleep. It has done some strange things on my desktop–like hanging the system during use, deleting entire email messages suddenly, as if I said “the dog ate my lunch” which means “delete this document immediately!” On the laptop, it is helping with the physical therapy paperwork, now that I’ve finally trained it to recognize that I’m saying PARASPINALS and not PAIR OF SPINE EELS. And so on.

BookNotes
Thanks to Fragments friend, reader-editor Bob, for helping me find my way forward into what happens next with the life of Slow Road Home. I’m dipping into the last of the offset-printed books (about 160 left from the first shipment of 1145) and need to move on. Here’s what I’ve decided to do, with advice of those who have a better idea of how these things work than I do: Have the book digitally printed. Call it a second edition rather than merely a revision (it has a full TOC and I made maybe 100 small changes and a dozen corrections). Give it a new ISBN number (I purchased a bundle of 10 and only used the one for SRH 1st ed so far). Get a Library of Congress catalog number for the book (a PCN that is the self–published book version of the LCC#). This process will pass the book back through Books in Print and help it “start over” with the potential of distribution through Ingrams to those places that wouldn’t bother ordering it from my back room here on Goose Creek. So all that is in place, just awaiting a few final details.

Christmas Giftpack from Goose Creek
Thanks to all who have availed themselves of the one-book plus notecard set offer for $25. I packed one up last night, and stopped for a minute to really appreciate how amazing that really was. Last year this month, I told people (and myself) I was finally going to complete the book. I honestly didn’t know if I would or could do it. Then it was done. Then hundreds of them came up our drive on a truck. Then I wondered if I’d still have 900 in the Annex come Christmas. The notecards came only a week ago–at Ann’s insistence, and now I’ve done another thing I said I was going to do “some day” but never really believed myself. And what a wonderful role you readers, friends, editors, writers, bloggers and general characters, online and local, have played in all of this. And that is the most wonderful part–to be able to share these times from this place with you, in words and pixels.

And coming full circle, it certainly wouldn’t have happened this way without the marvelous technologies that we rely on. When they work, they are the most amazing tools. Now, let’s see if the software will hark up a hairball when I try to post this at 6:45 on Saturday morning…

The Front

Tattered clouds scattered east across what had an hour before been a cloudless cold-blue sky. The first arctic air mass of the season was on its way, predicted to arrive by late afternoon. Already the air had taken on a solemn and heavy feel. There was no cheer in the wind.

We are woefully behind on dry firewood for the coming winter. The woodsman has taken more to the pen than the chain saw of late, and words won’t keep him warm in February. So across the county I headed for some easy wood on a friend’s place, after stopping for a while in town for coffee with Dennis.

The old Dakota truck, abandoned since the new (used) Subaru replaced in August, lurched sideways on its shocks when a gust of wind tried to push it into the oncoming lane of traffic. But there was no traffic. Stonewall road was empty and quiet but for one man in one old truck, and someone’s kite in the near distance, tumbling, falling, rising; for an instant it righted itself–stabilized briefly as if it regained a tail of torn fabric that gave it enough drag to balance left, right, front and back, and soar. Then it pitched and crumpled, barely airborne, moving my way. A great blue heron battered by the polar gale wished he had gone south after all, to visit relatives on the Gulf Coast.

After a short round of discussion at the local cafe, I wanted to show my friend a special place. It was the land that had been the love of another friend who never knew this weblog. She died about the time it was born. But that gal loved those woods. She’d be heartsick to see it has been logged–in a kind way, compared to most–but happy, I think, to know that I could still feel her presence there. And more than the firewood I wanted to show Dennis a special plant in this special place: pennyroyal in winter.

I can’t find on the web any suitable pictures of it in winter. It is decidedly not much to look at. But I think next time I run across it, I’ll hope to have my camera, so I can show you first, how to find it. Then, encourage you to smell it. More about that later.

By the time I turned and headed for home, the front loomed like an arching flint-gray wave overhead. The temperature had fallen ten degrees since the heron struggled to find refuge from the storm. The first flakes blew sideways, first a few, then a white blur, then patches of clear sky and nothing. Turning off 221 into the countryside was like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. Here, flakes at first blew like smoke, undulated like a dry-ice-vapor across the road. A mile further down into the hills, it began to stick on the northy patches that never see the sun. I put the truck into 4WD as I turned down into Goose Creek, descending into winter. I carried an armload of wood in with me for the stove.

Let the game begin. Another winter has officially arrived.