So Where’s The Church?

Rock Hill Church Road was once a state-maintained road with a county road number (714 I think) that is now in VDOT limbo status of not abandoned but not maintained. There are three full time residences on a half mile of single lane gravel road.

That said, it is named for a church that presumably once stood somewhere along this short single-lane path–most likely near Roberson Mill Road, the “main” artery of travel for the community near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

And so, as I do the work of re-placing myself after 20 years embedded by head and heart on Goose Creek, I begin anew to get my bearings and find my relationships within this new and not unpleasant but not familiar dot on the surface of the Third Rock.

We are learning when and where to look for wildlife and enjoying the proximity to town that makes this location more convenient for drop-in masked visitors for a porch sit. I suppose these surroundings are as familiar as we should expect at just a little more than two weeks in place.

But now that we’re mostly out of cardboard, I’m looking around wondering what in the world am I? Why is this road a “church” road is there is not somewhere along here the foundation of that building?

I feel certain somebody knows the answer, and when I find out, I’ll let you know (the tension for you must be terrible not knowing!)

Meanwhile, we are keeping our eyes open. I see on the topo maps a “path” that at some point paralleled the existing road and turned west. At just that point today exists a copse of fairly mature trees between pastures north and south, with within those trees lies a large mass of rocks.

In fact there are two masses of rocks–those larger ones in place long enough to be covered in lichens; and a second pile of apparently newer baseball to grapefruit sized rocks much smaller than those typically culled from a tilled pasture. I can’t explain them.

But there does not seem to be a foundation (old steps etc) that would suggest a building ever stood there. At least now we have explored that spot we see every day on our walk down to the mailbox.

And I’m thinking somebody in the community can at least tell us what denomination the church was, so we can research it that way, if they don’t know exactly where it stood. And when we find out, we will be better “placed” in the time continuum of the current WHERE of our lives. And that life-context is part of what I refer to as my “personal ecology” that extends from MY space and place to be grounded on the globe, in the now and then, and in Earth’s life-systems, starting at home.

The Conversation: Feeding your Genius and Putting it to Good Work

So there was this email thread a week or so ago with a friend. I keep coming back to it as a non-trivial exchange that could lead off in all sorts of interesting directions to dig deeper into the prompts within. Pertinent bits extracted below, plus some of the backgrounding for the morbidly curious.


Going back to your Bus Ticket article (ff: see annotations and link below) again today. I think this year is … this year. Sounds like fun. Thanks for instilling Bus Ticket values in me — not that they’ve immediately stuck, what with my high lonesome restless vocational heart.

I’ve always liked * Hamming’s famous double-barrelled question: what are the most important problems in your field, and why aren’t you working on one of them? It’s a great way to shake yourself up. But it may be overfitting a bit. It might be at least as useful to ask yourself: if you could take a year off to work on something that probably wouldn’t be important but would be really interesting, what would it be?” * ff: See links below.

What you’re working on — this is me again — is obviously actually important stuff. If you were just pursuing idle curiosity (I’m not actually convinced that’s a thing), what would you spend a year studying? What if you had to pick something that, sure, is important to the grant web of existence somehow, but you’d have to do some fancy work to explain how?

I think I’ll ask me too.


Re the big question: that is fraught with all sorts of real-world constraints. Being 71 and living in the Outback are just two of them. Another is how likely would it be– my reaching master status in any one domain of thought — to make one butterfly flap its wings harder to ripple across the actual world of ideas and things, principalities and powers? I guess I see myself in a rarified bubble, doing my own study for my own AHA moments. Sometimes I share. Often when I do I hear yawns and farts. Intentional farts. True!

So the most important problem in my world (since I don’t have a field other than our pasture) might include grappling (successfully, not likely) with these Gordion Knots.

How do we balance the scales so that those who understand how the world works (biological and economic and human worlds) and those who also really have the common good as their focus are the people in power?

which is to say: how do we overcome evil with good?

How do we shine light into the dark places—the willful arrogant lustful fearful angry dark places? What light is powerful enough to penetrate such depravity and how to reach those hearts and minds in time. We have so little time. I have even less.

It is human agency at root cause of global harm. A change of heart must precede a change of mind and then of values and actions.

What stories can we tell to make people of good will and evil lean forward and listen?

The power of language. The pen vs the sword. Write as if your life depended on it. And your children’s. And theirs.

Of course my “cultivated interest” has long been to know my place in The Web of Life, and our place as a species, and the so-what.

I would become wise after The Year at Task–at least for some one thing, and I would tell that story by way of every digital, civic and literary pulpit I could. Becoming smart is easier.

So that’s my short answer.

The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius : Paul Graham (annotations, emphasis mine fbf)

If I had to put the recipe for genius into one sentence, that might be it: to have a disinterested obsession with something that matters.

An obsessive interest in a topic is both a proxy for ability and a substitute for determination.

An obsessive interest will even bring you luck, to the extent anything can. Chance, as Pasteur said, favors the prepared mind, and if there’s one thing an obsessed mind is, it’s prepared.

The bus ticket theory is similar to Carlyle’s famous definition of genius as an infinite capacity for taking pains. But there are two differences. The bus ticket theory makes it clear that the source of this infinite capacity for taking pains is not infinite diligence, as Carlyle seems to have meant, but the sort of infinite interest that collectors have. It also adds an important qualification: an infinite capacity for taking pains about something that matters.

It’s not merely that the returns from following a path are hard to predict. They change dramatically over time. 1830 was a really good time to be obsessively interested in natural history. If Darwin had been born in 1709 instead of 1809, we might never have heard of him.

The other solution is to let yourself be interested in lots of different things. You don’t decrease your upside if you switch between equally genuine interests based on which seems to be working so far. But there is a danger here too: if you work on too many different projects, you might not get deeply enough into any of them.

One interesting thing about the bus ticket theory is that it may help explain why different types of people excel at different kinds of work. Interest is much more unevenly distributed than ability. If natural ability is all you need to do great work, and natural ability is evenly distributed, you have to invent elaborate theories to explain the skewed distributions we see among those who actually do great work in various fields. But it may be that much of the skew has a simpler explanation: different people are interested in different things.

If the recipe for genius is simply natural ability plus hard work, all we can do is hope we have a lot of ability, and work as hard as we can. But if interest is a critical ingredient in genius, we may be able, by cultivating interest, to cultivate genius.

Hamming’s Question

[The Hamming Question – LessWrong 2.0] ( more of a summary

Richard Hamming: You and Your Research the original long “speech” by Hamming

Tools for Thought

It’s a niche interest, maybe; geeky, if you will. But I continue to explore ways that the computer keyboard and monitor that most of us have in our homes these days can do a better job of gathering information and meaning, and not just stupefying us with entertainment and distraction.

Also, we presently lack good ways of validation and credibility of the sources we find to support our thinking (we seldom set out to find evidence that falsifies our strongly-held beliefs.)

Add to that the way the present web connects resource to resource, but plays little or no role in weighing of one resource over another for our purposes (ideas, concepts, thought webs, creative design.)

There are tools both extant and under development to address both the credibility and integration of resources towards “cognitive productivity” and “augmented learning.” Our brains are not being used to best effect with the current siloed info-aggregators. If there ever was a time we needed collaborative wisdom, it is now.

So possibly, I will write here about my explorations in memory and thought-enhancement by the tools and techniques at our disposal. One of those might be contained in this video. Another, a evolving outline in a tool for creative thought called ROAM–at this link.

Landscape, Place and Memory

This topic of recent interest holds the potential for a vastly expanded ramble, with a point and even a conclusion perhaps, in another life time. But for now…

Suffice it to say that I have been revisiting the mysteries of memory, and the various historical ways humans have possessed it, or lost it–individually and collectively.

And so, beyond the arcane details of the “Major System” of phonetic numeric memory, the Locus System of memory palaces, the Vaughn Memory Cube, the Peg System and the world of synaptic chemistry of remembering that we are just beginning to understand, I’ve come across other diversions down other rabbit trails.

Briefly, to be further explored…

At some point the Gregg Shorthand characters are apparently derived on the same basis as the major system phonetic-based number system where f and v are homonyms, as are t and d, ch and sh, hard k and hard g. The historic roots of “shorthand” go back to Tiro (who died in 4 BC), Marcus Tullius Cicero’s slave and personal secretary. Many of his scribbles persisted as letters of today’s English alphabet. Greggs came along much later (1880’s).

Gregg’s system puts down the SOUNDS of the speaker, not the English spelling. The Major memory system does the same, and accounts for the method by which memory champions remember telephone books and pi to 300 places.

This matters to me because I so often heard my mother recoiling from her memories of her shorthand teacher in high school. I was so impressed with mom’s ability to jot down phone conversations in that cryptic curlycue writing that I learned a bit myself when I went back to get the PT masters in 1987 and needed to get down as much information as my hands could master.

But what really resonated with me in this revisiting the history of memory is that in pre-literate civilizations, memory was pegged to landscape. Lacking a written language, the memory “locus” system was based on PLACE. And so the rivers and forests, birds and mammals, mountains and deserts were both landmarks and memory marks for the transmission of knowledge from generation to generation.

STONEHENGE: was it erected as a shrine to a civilization’s collective story at the highest level, with each stone being the peg upon which tribal history was hung? There is support for that notion.

Lynne Kelly (science writer) – Wikiwand

This ancient mnemonic technique builds a palace of memory | Aeon Ideas

The Indigenous memory code – All In The Mind – ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Music, Mountains and Big Trees

Back in December, I was offered the opportunity to contribute a “500-700 word article on Southwest Virginia’s outdoors or nature” by the Crooked Road folks. It now appears (on page 23) in the program guide for next week’s Mountains of Music regional celebration.

The topic I chose (because Jane Cundiff and I had been talking about Big Trees in Floyd County) was SWVA’s known and as-yet-unrecorded Big Trees–and the Stadium Woods issue on the Va Tech campus.

You can read my article; see a larger version of the wonderful image of Stadium Woods that Tech allowed us to use for the essay; and view a 6 minute video by Chris Risch (who filmed the To The Last Drop video on Floyd’s water back in 2014.)

And then take a look at the MOMH program guide and decide where you’ll go next week to hear some of the best live-performance music our part of the country has to offer. (See you on June 13 at the Floyd Country Store for the Stanleys and company.)