Traveling Hopefully

So I had this notion a month or so back that my experience as teacher, speaker, field trip leader and engaged citizen would mesh nicely before small groups of folks who come to Floyd County lacking any depth to our natural or human communities here.

Well, you know about plans. Mr Murphy is always ready to give us a ground in The Way Things Are.

If you plan something so well that nothing can go wrong, something will. Before you can do what it is you want to do, you have to do something else first. Everything you want to do takes longer than you think, and costs more than you have. And finally, if you do something so carefully and thoughtfully that nobody could object, somebody will.

So here’s how things are.

First, the unintended has become the only actual boots on the ground from my original intention. I had not even considered being a guide for tour buses.

Floyd has until this summer lacked adequate lodging in town for busloads of out-of-town guests. Hotel Floyd now offers 40 rooms, in addition to other nearby lodging. And the Jacksonville Center is now a bus destination since its parking lot is paved for the first time ever.

So having gained a bit of visibility for my touring intentions, I was contacted by USTours, and as things turn out, this Friday I will have the opportunity to tell the story of Floyd and Carroll County landforms from Saddle Gap to the Blue Ridge Music Center at milepost 213 south of Galax.

We’ll talk about the history of the Blue Ridge Mountains and of the Parkway. There will be things in bloom and the Eastern Deciduous Forest in general to explore through the windows. The Bluemont rock church, Buffalo Mountain, Bob Childress and Olean Puckett will offer interesting characters and features to explore.

Pilot Mountain, Mt Airy and the Andy Griffith era also fair game at about milepost 189–the mountain barely visible at the overlook due to the “sequester” that has choked off funding for parkway maintenance.

Stops at Mabry Mill, Nancy’s Candies, Poor Farmer’s Market (for lunch at the deli there), for music at the Blue Ridge Music Center, and at the Jacksonville Center on the return trip will make for a full day. I’m looking forward to it.

Meanwhile, with regard to the MAIN service I hoped to provide and closest to my heart: the nature walks along the Parkway are off the ticket. I learned at the last possible moment before press releases went out last Thursday that the fees and other expenses ($600 or more the first year) and other restrictions and burdens were more red tape and bureaucratic crap than I cared to wade through.

There may be private forest and ridge that will serve, but it seems a crying shame to me that the fantastic resource of the parkway should be so difficult to use for education for those like me whose returns from any commercial use would be so small. Fishing guides in western National Parks could pay in one day what it would take me a season to bring in.

And so it goes.


GooseCreek Mill DamIf you’re a Fragments Regular (???) you will have seen somewhat fewer images of the mill dam on Goose Creek than you have seen of our barn.

My guess is that, if you are a photog of any length of days, you have your own worn favorites—vistas, buildings, places, details from your life—that recur over and over in your image archives.

Such places that ground us in place, such special features in our local lives are iconic. They ground us and help tell us who and where we are. They are sacred in a way, and have disproportionate meaning—perhaps only to us, but maybe to our community with some larger reach of significance.

Floyd County icons include Buffalo Mountain; the rock churches; Schoolhouse Fabrics; Mabry Mill; downtown and the Country Store.

Our iconic places form part of our identity by which we know the world and are known by it.

I think about our neighbors around the planet whose iconic places have been devastated by hurricane, typhoon, earthquake and flood. Just like that, a centuries-old village and all its special places of the heart are gone, never to return. Heartbreaking.

But perhaps even more so might be the pain of losing iconic places to ignorance, violence, greed and indifference.

I fantasize: a mining company that owns the rights to or has irresistible power over southwest Virginia comes to mine some rare mineral and takes the town, the special place, even Buffalo Mountain down to bedrock.

Welcome to Mountaintop Removal; to rainforest destruction; to sea-rise loss of Arctic coastal villages. The Iconoclasts of today are very very active and powerful (natural and national alike.) And place by place becomes placeless.

The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Mabry’s Then and Now

Ed Mabry's Grave near Meadows of Dan, photo 2004 by Fred First

I can’t remember the trail that led me to it, but browsing across it brought back a number of pleasant memories from 2004. The piece I happened upon in the Blue Ridge Country Magazine online was about the Mabry’s  who operated the mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan Virginia, the couple after which the most visited attraction along  the four hundred miles of Parkway was named.

I contributed a sidebar to this piece, including the color images and some text included with this web archival version. I had a good time hanging out in MOD and happening upon Ben Harris, who, when he warmed up, was a pleasure to chat with and a treasure of information. He died not too long after that summer, I think I heard.

I shot the cemetery and other images for that assignment with Doug Thompson’s Nikon he generously loaned me because my D70 had not arrived on time. I collaborated with Elizabeth Hunter on the piece.

I got to know Elizabeth as a result of my first-ever writer’s workshop at Radford University in the summer of 2003. The workshop leader for the week was mentor and former prof and friend of Elizabeth (my good friend Jack Higgs, prof Emeritus from ETSU), and he encouraged me to attend a “nature writing workshop” Elizabeth was conducting at J C Campbell. Funny how things work out.

And while you’re at Blue Ridge Country, also see Rick VanNoy’s Guest column in the March-April edition that expresses a sentiment quite familiar to Fragments readers and those who have read What We Hold In Our Hands: a Slow Road Reader, and perhaps also to a lesser degree, Slow Road Home. The subject is nature deficit disorder and its antidote.

A Mill By Any Other Name

A stroll in the December archives finds this image [click to enlarge] from early December, 2007. I had been manning a book table at the Chateau Morrisette Winery Wine Club members banquet (what a nice invitation, I met lots of nice folks and sold 50+ books).

Somebody asked if I’d seen the mill pond covered with ice. Soon as I left (in my fancy clothes) I headed a few miles west on the Parkway and came home with the shot you see above–one of my personal favorites of the thousands I’ve seen of the “most photographed place on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Mabry Mill.

By the way, google searches find this and similar images at Fragments from Floyd most often searching for “Mayberry Mill”–a logical misspelling since it’s only maybe 25 air miles from Andy Griffith’s Mt. Pilot (Pilot Mountain near Mt. Airy) and the fictional sleepy village by that name.

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