Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sarabeth Hammond Scholarship Fund

Sarabeth would have been on a panel like this.
I have had several requests from those wishing to contribute to the new Sarabeth Hammond Memorial Scholarship fund, which is being established by the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.

Sarabeth died Wednesday evening in an accident on Bent Mountain when her car went off the mountain. She was found today by Roanoke County and state police officers.

The scholarship has been given for the past eight years to a communications major in the Horizon program at Hollins, the program for non-traditional students who are returning to school. Sarabeth was to have been a member of a panel discussion on blogging in the Jan. 27-28 conference at Hollins, the youngest teacher in the conference's history. She was a superb blogger.

Those wishing to contribute may send checks to the directly to me and with the notation "Sarabeth Hammond Scholarship." The Writers Conference is not able to handle those checks directly, so it will be up to me to make certain the checks go into the scholarship fund. My address is 2508 Edinburgh Drive, Roanoke VA, 24012.

Sarabeth Didn't Make It; My Heart Grieves

Sarabeth was the very essence of a celebration of life; one so unlikely in such a brittle and embattled little body.
We learned from a press conference a few minutes ago of Sarabeth Hammond's death in an automobile accident Wednesday, and it occurs to me that if I don't write this now, I won't be able to write it later.

This 17-year-old had more physical pain, higher mountains to climb and a bigger heart than anybody else I've ever known. Her grandmother, Elise Roberts, introduced her and me a little over a year ago over the months we became real friends, a kind of grandpa/grandgirl that rivals my relationship with my real granddaughter. Like Maddline, she often called me "Pampa."

I am, of course, broken-hearted. I've never lost anybody to death that I cared so much about, admired so thoroughly, whose future I couldn't wait to celebrate.

She loved that kayak and all that went with it.
Sarabeth, who suffered chronic Lyme disease,  was often in the hospital, nearly always being fed meds through a port in her chest. She was sometimes on a walker or in a wheel chair, but she smiled more than just about anybody else I know. She was full to brimming with the kind of physical and intellectual energy that creates artists. She was one of those, too, painting, writing, acting, always imagining.

She was a good enough writer--of a spectacular blog on Lyme disease--that we invited her to take part in a panel discussion at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference January 27-28 at Hollins University. She would have been the youngest teacher at the event in our 10-year-history. She would be teaching middle-aged professional writers about blogging and was she intimidated? I need to show you her smile right now as a response, but the answer is, "hell, no."

Interviewing for the Carilion gig.
During the summer, when she and I went kayaking at one point, she took a photo I liked a lot. I mentioned that to her and the next day she drove to my house and presented me with a painting on canvas based on that photo. It hangs on the wall of my office.

I told my friend Nancy Agee, CEO of Carilion, about Sarabeth in a casual conversation over lunch and Nancy wanted to arrange to have Sarabeth talk to her nurses and physicians about how medical professionals should treat patients. It had not happened yet--the sponsor got really busy--but Sarabeth's ideas and her preparation were superb. The docs would have learned a lot they could use, I am confident.

I haven't cried in a long time, probably since 35 years. I suspect I will find a time and a place to let it out for Sarabeth. She deserves my tears and my love and the preservation of her memory in a splendid place.

Sarabeth's painting of us kayaking.
We will re-name our scholarship at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference in Sarabeth's memory. This scholarship is given to non-traditional students in the Horizon program, concentrating in some form of communications.

It will be a perfect way to honor both Sarabeth and the woman who receives the scholarship in her name. If the recipient can be like Sarabeth even a little bit, she will be a far better human being.

I'm better because I knew her and I will love that kid and her warm memory until I'm gone.

(Those wishing to contribute to the Sarabeth Hammond Memorial Scholarship fund at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference should send checks, with the notation "Sarabeth Hammond Scholarship," to Dan Smith, 2508 Edinburgh Dr., Roanoke VA 24012. Hollins is not able to process the checks, so I will set up a separate account.)

She'll always be the smiling girl in the tree to me.

UPDATE: Sarabeth Car, Body Possibly Found

Officers working where the car went over the bank.

(4:10 P.M.: RADIO IS REPORTING A BODY FOUND NEAR THE CAR MATCHING THAT DRIVEN BY SARABETH HAMMOND on Bent Mountain, outside Roanoke. No word on whether she is alive. Kenny Jarrells with Aware Project posted the photo at the right of the emergency activity on Bent Mountain. )


Just got a report from a friend who was just in Floyd that there is considerable activity at one of the spots where Sarabeth Hammond may have been Wednesday night before disappearing.

The caller at 3:15 p.m., an old friend, said, "I was just in Floyd and there are a lot [her emphasis] of emergency vehicles at the house across the street from the Bent Mountain Bistro."

Another colleague, who used to be a reporter, messaged me, "They have people repelling down the [mountain]. We can't see a vehicle from our vantage point, but can see firemen moving slowly down the rough terrain."

Yet another message went, "My husband went up to check our family property in copper hill since it's nearby and we have game cameras up, etc, and he just called and said the same thing... Lots and lots of people gathered and activity near the house in the big curve as you start down the mountain." 

Police have been searching the area of the bistro for Sarabeth Hammond, who has been missing since Wednesday evening. She was reported at the Bent Mountain Bistro Wednesday after having caller her mother from dropping a friend off in Roanoke, saying she was on the way home to change clothes.

Sarabeth Update: Dec. 31, 9:25 a.m.

Sarabeth hiking this past summer.
Karen Saunders reports today in Find Sarabeth Hammond the following:

"The [Roanoke County] police searched two separate areas with helicopters and on foot yesterday for Sarabeth. She was not located. [Detective Adam Thompson] realizes that everyone wants to help, but is concerned that people on the ground may disturb any potential evidence that may be present.

"[Thompson] now has over 60 leads, which are being followed up on. We will keep you updated as the day progresses. The family appreciates the out-pouring of love."

Last night Thompson said the outpouring from the community has been almost overwhelming, but the leads at that point were going nowhere. He said police officials (county and state) had poured over the Bent Mountain areas of question extensively both from the air and on the ground. He sounded frustrated.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Sarabeth Update: No Search Volunteers Needed Now

UPDATE on Sarabeth Search: 

There are so many volunteers on Bent Mountain, the lead detective told me tonight, that they're "falling all over each other." 

The outpouring from the community has been impressive, but we must all step back a little back and maybe try to coordinate rather than react. I know we all want do DO something, but sometimes its best to let the professionals do their jobs.

The detective said the police have used both helicopters and people on the ground to "search every inch of that area" of Bent Mountain, which has been spotlighted in reports. They have found nothing, but may try again tomorrow.

Community Coming Together To Find Sarabeth

Sarabeth and me Christmas Eve.
The way the Roanoke community has responded in the search for missing Sarabeth Hammond has been heartening at a time when so many of us are disillusioned with the world in general.

When Sarabeth went missing at 6:30 Wednesday, it was only a few hours before the call for help went out and the Roanoke Valley coalesced as a single unit, searching for her in the ways each person knew how to do. Mostly that meant verbal support for the Hammond family. Mom Caroline LaRocca Hammond, who owns and operates Caroline LaRocca Event Design,  is well known in the Valley and has a vast network of personal and business friends who are genuinely that: friends--and not associates.

Sarabeth's last reported contact was via phone with her mom, saying she was on the way home to change clothes, following dropping off her friend.

There has been an outpouring of offers to help, and the news media--save for the local daily paper, which didn't seem to have a reporter available--has been all over the story with up-to-date information.

This small, regional blog set a single-day record for hits and its average for a month is sitting near 70,000 now, also a record. I have seen but one negative comment among hundreds (a guy I immediately sent to the wood shed) and the warmth and grace of the others has made this Christmas season real for me.

People like Kim Leigh Martin, who runs the impressive Missing Pieces Network (with as many as 2.5 million visitors at a time) out of Roanoke and her Facebook page Help Find Sarabeth, have been immediately and impressively responsive.  Websleuths has responded, as have The Aware Foundation, Google News, Find Sarabeth, Kate Steinbacher's Meal Train, and a number of others actively searching and reporting.

I'm one of those who feels like Sarabeth is family and I love that little girl a great deal. She has meant a lot to me in the months I have known her and become part of her family. I think we have taught each other a lot, so this is painful. The pain Caroline is undergoing at the moment, of course, is unimaginable to me.

Let's hang together with this and find this bright, funny, creative, brave young girl and bring her back into the warmth she needs and deserves.

Bringing Sarabeth Home: New Information

Sarabeth Hammond and her family: sister Sophie, mom Caroline, brother Pierce on Christmas Eve.
Here is the latest information from Caroline Hammond on the disappearance of her daughter--and my dear sweet surrogate grandgirl--Sarabeth, who has not been seen since Wednesday evening:

Sarabeth with little Rebecca.
"It's Day 3 and this is becoming more surreal and more chilling than I ever imagined but I'm staying strong with the best support system and team of investigators. 

"As of last night there was some hard evidence that I'd like to report and that could help locate Sarabeth. On Wednesday December 28, starting at 5 p.m., Sarabeth drove from Blue 5 in downtown Roanoke to Brambleton Avenue to drop her friend home,  straight up to Bent Mountain. 

"She was located on Bent Mountain specifically in the area of the fire station and the Bent Mountain Bistro for 18 minutes around 6:30 pm. 

"If anyone has seen her or any activity related to her during these times in these locations, please call 540-562-3265 and refer to case 16-076649. We will be searching diligently in these areas today until Sarabeth is found. Thank you for helping bring her home."

If you're not comfortable talking directly to the police, call me at 540-556-8510 and I'll get the word to them. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Sarabeth's Missing; Please Help Find Her

Sarabeth Rose Hammond, the 17-year-old who so captured my heart with her courage, grit and good humor, is missing and we're all frantic.

She dropped a friend at home on Brambleton Ave. in Roanoke last night at 6:30 and has not been heard from since. The police are involved and social media has been employed to a large extent in the search. If any of you has any idea about this, please let us know as soon as possible.

Sarabeth was in from New York where she has
been staying with her grand parents for a while, visiting for Christmas. I saw her Christmas Eve and she was in good humor--as she always seems to be--and her chronic Lyme Disease was not affecting her. It has been arrested for several months and basically, she had her life back. Lyme is a debilitating affliction.

Sarabeth is 5'2" tall, 115 pounds, blonde (recently), hazel eyes, fair complexion and very pretty. She is bubbly, smiles a lot and talks almost without end.

Double click on any of these photos for a larger view. 

I don't know what to say about this further, except that we really need your help.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Christmas from the Top of the Mountain

Susan and me with our Mountain Tree, atop Tinker on the Appalachian Trail.
Susan walking the trail.
The hike has become something of a tradition with me, since my friend Leah Weiss and I hiked up Crabtree Falls on Christmas morning a couple of years ago. This year, my partner was my good friend Susan, who jumped at the idea of hiking up Tinker Mountain, overlooking Carvins Cove, where we spent so much time kayaking in the summer.

Her idea added a new twist: we would take some Christmas tree decorations with us and find a spot on the top--overlooking the Cove--and decorate a pine. It occurred to us after a while that we couldn't simply leave the tree decorated because of the impact on a pristine area--although we truly wanted to--so we fell on the idea of decorating, photographing, undecorating and packing out. That's the way it worked.

Me taking a break.
Susan wanted to leave a Christmas gift (a gift certificate for a meal at a local restaurant) in a red envelope on the tree, but that would also be litter, so we determined that if we came across a through hiker, she'd get the certificate. But we didn't and that was unexpected. I generally run into quite a few hikers on my Christmas excursions. So we packed everything out.

But the Christmas gurus were on our side. On the way down the mountain, we ran into a pleasant young woman named Carolina, stopped her and presented her with our Christmas goodie. She was genuinely pleased, which pleased us.

Susan and Carolina with the gift certificate.
The hike, which is pretty strenuous on the way up, was pleasant and Susan shot some truly extraordinary landscapes, which I'm hoping she will frame and sell.

It was another dandy celebration of something worth celebration: the birth of a man called the "Prince of Peace." I'm not a Christian, but I appreciate Christ and his intentions. Would that we all honored them all the time.

Susan's nature shots are sometimes emotional.
Pampa shoots, too.
Susan in panorama overlooking one of our favorite places.
That smile will melt you.
Boob plant? Eh, maybe.
This rock had a hole in it.
I like Susan's "watercolor" a lot.
Susan loves the rocks.
Pampa finds them a challenge.
Susan's enthusiasm for our project was boundless.
Ho! Ho! And might I add, ho!
Co-conspirators on a mountain top. Merry Christmas to those of you who spent the day  conventionally.

Oz and Maddie's Christmas Jammies

Here's Oz in his new Christmas onesie, the very one I wanted, but Santa didn't bring. Santa can be a real jerk sometimes. I especially like the shoes.

Oh, well. Maybe next Christmas. I remember when my brother didn't get a bike on his 10th or 11th Christmas and announced to the family, the neighbors and anybody else who would listen: "I hate Santa Claus!"

Well ...

Maddie and Oz: New Jammies

Oops, We Forgot the Turkey

Margie, Meghann and Allison at dinner--minus turkey.
Oh, it could happen to anybody. It was a simple case of misunderstanding, not so much a brain burp. When the turkey wrapping said "fully cooked turkey," the assumption was that we could nuke it for a few minutes or maybe put it in the oven for 30-45 minutes and serve it.

Margie at the stove.
But nooooooooo. This baby wants a couple of hours in the oven and so when Margie went to get it ready, there wasn't enough time before scheduled dinner. So, we went vegetarian. And a lovely meal it was: green beans and cranberries, fruit/veggie salad, deviled eggs, sweet potatoes, cole slaw, cheese pie, banana nut bread and a few other things that escape me.

Margie's daughter Meghann, an actress in New York, and her partner Allison, a dancer, were in for the holiday and it was a brief, but lovely evening. They're staying at Margie's estate in Christiansburg.

I'd spent the day hiking on the Appalachian trail and was dang near worn out, but I thoroughly enjoyed all three of them.

Meg and Allison share a moment.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve with a Few of My Favorite Things (Uh, People)

Christmas with Sarabeth and Caroline Hammond. Yaaaaay!
Got to spend the early part of this Christmas Eve with the Hammond family, including my faux grandgirl, Sarabeth--one of my favorite kids on the planet. Sarabeth (or SaraBelle, as I prefer) recently moved to NewYork as part of her growing up process.

Pampa and my favorite teenager.
At 17 and living with her grands, SaraBelle has taken over her education and has an impressive list of courses she's taking. She's a smart, courageous and good young woman, as anybody who reads here regularly knows, so I won't get into a lot of detail, except to say that she's doing well and I'm proud of her. She's had more on her plate than most do at her age.

I will end the year by saying I admire Sarabelle's mom, Caroline, as well. She's a woman who knows how to stand back and allow growth to take place, the kind of parent I admire and the kind who raises good children.

Caroline and John, looking happy.
Tonight Caroline was with her whole brood--Sarabelle, Pierce and Sophie--and the family was smiling, laughing and enjoying the season. Sophie is in the waning stages of massage school and she's thrilled about it. We were also joined by Caroline's fella, John, and Caroline's employee and his wonderful 5-year-old daughter Rebecca.

Being around family is important to me at Christmas, but with my own spread all over the place, I'm having to adjust to extended families--whom I love as much as I would if we were related. Tonight it was the Hammonds. In the morning, my friend Susan and I are hiking and tomorrow evening I'll spend with Margie and her daughter Meghann (and Meg's partner, Allison).

Christmas is warm this year. As it generally is.

Rebecca, Pierce and Sarabelle.
The lovely smiles of the Hammond family at Christmas, 2016.

The Resolution Record for 2016: 4-5-1 (So Fire Me)

Coffee in hand, working on my list.
Each year at this time--for the past four or so years, anyway--I've done a review of the goals (resolutions?) I set out the previous Jan. 1. I've had a good string of success in the past (10-0 in 2015, for example), but accomplishing the 2016 goals has been a mixed bag with a good bit of "coming up short" involved.

Next week, I'll set out the standards again and some of the following will likely be among the goals, since I failed this past year to achieve them. Here is last year's list and my success/failure:
  • Drop to a size 34 pants. I'm at 38, just about where I started the year. A friend encouraged me that "dropping pants sizes at your age is about as likely as getting married--at your age." Thanks. I needed that.
  • Read more books. The year began with promise: three books in the first two months. Then the books stopped. As I told my friend Roland Lazenby (who has written five dozen books), "TV is so damn good that reading seems less important. The shows I'm watching are better than the books I was reading." He calls it "the golden age of television." I think I agree.
  • Finish writing the book I’m working on (by the end of March) and pick up on revising my memoir, Burning the Furniture. I accomplished (with ease) the first part of the goal, didn't even begin the second half. I keep telling myself, "I got busy," but I was busy when I finished the memoir initially. I mean, I had a full-time job then. No excuse.
  • Put some time into my next fiction project. Fail. Absolutely no effort, even though I already have 250 pages written on one novel.
  • Exercise more than I have. I kept up the pace, but didn't intensify it. Frankly, I do pretty well here.
  • Strongly consider selling my house and moving to a neighborhood that I like better. Nope. No movement at all. When I looked closely at the potential (I asked my favorite agent, Rob Clark, to examine it for me), it was daunting. My house, even with improvements, is worth less than I paid for it (but it is paid for, thank god).
  • Be the best friend I can be and continue to treat Margie as the special person she is. Did well with this one.
  • Listen more; talk less. Donald Trump made this difficult, but I did as well as I expected, though not as well as I hoped.
  • Enjoy each day, each hour, each person, each situation for what they are. Unqualified success, I think.
  • Contribute in ways that are meaningful and positive to all the elements that are important to me. A goal like this invited failure to a degree, but I'm happy with my record, even though it's uneven. These are hard times to be the best person we can be.
The record: Succeed 4; fail, 5; wash out 1. ( There were two ties, half a point each for success and failure, which led to the "washout." If I were a college football coach, I'd be fired.)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Hike About Not Getting to the Top

Taking a break to study the landscape.
A new road for bad weather.
All too often in my haste to get where I'm going, I neglect to absorb the land along the way. Not so much yesterday when I climbed Tinker Mountain with the express goal of not getting to the top and the spectacular view of Carvin's Cove.

This time it was about going there, not getting there. And, o' the wonders along the way, the simple beauty, the easily ignored light and color. "Slow down," Dad used to say. "Take it all in."

Here's some of what I took in.

The colors are subtle and soft in the deep woods.
Even the directions are attractive, in their way.
The long shadows of December.
The trail glistened with a recent heavy rain.
I enjoyed these aging pine sentinels.
A broken trunk is its own statement.
Light and shadow, shadow and light.