TLUE580his week we’ve been excavating the Very Back Room.

It is the kind of task that has a beginning, but once breached, it gushes decisions and piles and pools of anguish of seemingly endless volume.

I wrote some thoughts about that, but I will admit, I’m teasing you here. My hope is that at least a few of you will go over to my fledgling website to view the post called Something Borrowed, Something Blue. 

This co-blogging may be one of those efforts that finds its way into a digital version of the VBR. Or not. I have not quite worked out how Fragments and LU&E will play nicely together.

But the thought is that Fragments will draw from local views, and the other blog, from larger, more complex, less warm and fuzzy topics of conversation.

It would help me quite a bit (even if you don’t read anything over there) if you can comment if anything seems broken. If that is the case, please let me know details about your browser, PC or Mac, and the nature of the weirdness.

If I thought a few of you would bookmark the site, that might make me a bit more accountable to add content. I hope to make that happen at least a few times a week.

Going With the Flow

Rock Paper Scissors

Sometimes, not going with the flow has its advantages.

Having a handicapped traveler along for the trip to Missouri was an impediment for those able to walk normal distances and speeds along the U MO campus trail. But my (temporary?) disability—plantar fascitis—gave me the excuse I needed to stop and explore the creek while everyone else walked on, to retrieve me on their pass back that way.

The geology of that area (Columbia) is so different from what I’m used to, and creeks are great places to see a bit of history of more than just the place on its banks where you stand. The various rocks deposited in that one spot where I took refuge spanned hundreds of miles of upstream geography and millions of years. In my next life, I might want to be a geologist.

It had been years since I’d seen flinty rocks, and remembered (stored in some remote dusty room of the brain) that if you strike two flints together, you can see sparks—and you can smell the gunpowdery smell of ignition on the rocks immediately after you clack them together. That one took me back many decades, as smells can so powerfully do.

The stream was lined with large sycamores—trees who prefer their roots wet and grow largest locally along the New River. And now I know another way they are adapted to a  riparian habitat: their roots readily wrap around rocks—loose, like this one, and to those that are the fixed substrate and anchor of bedrock—so that they better hold to earth against the forces of floods and winds.

The bit of stone is all but disappeared in the folds of flowing tree-flesh, and coated with a blush of green algae before it becomes temporarily invisible inside the tree roots. Someday, it will be freed again, perhaps to be swallowed up once more by a sycamore in the lifetime of my grandchildren’s great-grandchildren.

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Red Dogs: Is There Any Other Color?

Hooray for Valleydale!Because it features Skeeters (“a Million dogs sold”) in our former home town of Wytheville, a friend sent along this video below about the “red hotdog corridor” that cuts a swath through southwest Virginia, across the decades, and well into central Alabama where I grew up with the Hooray for Valleydale marching band of pigs singing the praises of their mild-flavored hotdogs.

The Valleydale owner spent a small fortune on his ads (one of the first ads to air when WSLS in Roanoke started in 1952), but those munchkin voices are as clear and fresh to me as if it were yesterday. And I’ll be darned if, even before breakfast, the thought of a couple of pan-blackened dogs on a soft white-bread bun smothered in mustard and chili makes me want to skip the Bran Flakes altogether.

Matter of fact, when I’m away from the Healthy Diet Enforcement Police, I think I’ll snag me a couple of red dogs in Charlottesville. With everything. No, hold the onions; I’m on duty.

By the way, watch the twitter sidebar, where I’m more likely to report from “the field” for a few days than to the blog proper; or follow me at for all the latest.

Aesthetics of Dilapidation

The Graceful Lines of Decay
The Graceful Lines of Decay

I stopped by for a while yesterday afternoon for a picnic north of town, and kept returning my gaze to the lines of a gracefully dilapidated barn on the crest of hill above us.

Finally, I could stand it no longer when the moon appear briefly in a break in the clouds just off the edge of the sloping rusted roof, and ran for my camera. By the time I got back to the vantage point for a few shots, the moon–of course–had disappeared behind low clouds, an image composition in mind only.

I couldn’t help thinking: this one is beyond the efforts of my friend Ron Campbell to preserve in any kind of former glory with his pen and ink. The pity.

The functional metal barns that replace these rapidly disappearing wooden structures will not be worth even a passing glance from a photographer’s eye another generation hence. They will serve the purpose of keeping the rain off the grain, hay and farm equipment, but aesthetically, our future in agricultural architectural aesthetics are not likely to hold up well to the past.

Of Memories and Brown Water

I came down the steps once--I just remembered!
I came down these steps once on my bike--I just remembered!

I’m looking at the VDOT Road Conditions map this morning before dawn, trying to plot a way to work not blocked by water.

Short of the hurricanes of late summers past, we’ve not seen this kind of flooding in our 12 years here–hardly a meteorological record but significant in our short story. Roaring water threated the road in many places coming home from town yesterday in spots where I’ve never encountered flooding before. That was near noon and it’s rained constantly since then, so by now is only much worse as we’ll see when the sun’s up.

I lament how brown the water is–usually mountain spring water and crystal clear–as flood waters carry away so much precious topsoil. I haven’t inspected our garden since Wednesday to see how much topsoil we contributed or if the bean seeds washed away. Much more rain, we’ll have root rot, mildew and such. Maybe I should have planted rice and sugar cane.

Our low-water bridges disappear in high water so I didn’t risk crossing, backed up, turned around and took the long way home yesterday, not even sure even that way I could get the car as far as the house. I would have walked (in my sandals if I’d had to) in the woods above the high water. For Ann at night, that was not going to be an option. I waited up for her as she drove I-81 battling the truck rooster tails, finally arriving around 11.

Killing time to stay awake, I played with Google Maps which boasted improvements in street view. Self-imposed but highly-recommended time-passer: go find your elementary school and walk home.

I was amazed at how much I remembered and at how much I had forgotten but could so easily recall with the visual prompt of the map: the house I was born in on 49th street and 7th avenue south (in Birmingham AL); the neighborhood houses where my friends (now old men and women, alas) had lived. The modest 80 year old houses are still pretty much the same but with cars colors other than the black of my earliest memories out front. More trees here, fewer there. Eyes closed: the smell of zoysia grass, summer rain, chicken frying at dinner time while we played in the tiny front yard.

The image above is the terraced “front lawn” of my grammar school, Minnie Holman, torn down and replaced by a modern brick building. Funny, it doesn’t look so formidable looking up. But looking down for the first time from the top over the handlebars of your bike while the devil of DO and the devil of DON’T debated on your shoulders…

I did. And last night I got the same belly rush coming down the first pitch (heart beating fast) and then the second–the thrill of victory and Jr. Man merit badge of courage and honor gained at the bottom! (Bike down the steps came later, separate merit badge.) Needless to say, such adventures helped me stay awake while Ann was having her own, sleeping still this morning so she can go back and replay the same story after work again tonight–maybe this time without the rooster tails.

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