Saturday, May 31, 2014

It Remains the Same Astonishing View, 20 Years Later

Your favorite editr shooting a video with a tiny camera from McAfee's Knob.
Pretty yellow wildflowers.
Early-season blackberries

Your choice: Appalachian Trail (left), fire trail (right).
Left turn off the fire trail.
McAfee's Knob presents two distinct challenges, depending on how you choose to hike it. I chose easy up, hard down today.

From the parking lot at the top of Catawba Mountain on Virginia 311, you have to make the choice: Appalachian Trail all the way to the top or fire trail for the first 2.5 miles, then a 1.6-mile hike to the knob. The difference is enormous.

The fire-trail/AT route is as easy as a city greenway walk, except for the last few hundred yards, which are steep. The alternative all-AT route is as difficult as hikes get on the Appalachian Trail, I'd venture. The all-AT route is slightly longer, but immeasurably more difficult, tricky, dangerous, steep, rocky and wearing on these old legs.

It has been more than 20 years since I've walked to the Knob and, frankly, on the way up I was wondering what happened to the trail. I remembered it being at least slightly difficult and it wasn't. I talked to another hiker on the way up--a guy 35 years younger than me--and he remembered the hike from his college days as being much steeper and harder.
My son Evan and me 25 years ago on the point.

On the way down, I decided to do the AT route--against my better judgement. It pushed me to my physical limit and there was as much uphill on this downhill run as there was going up in the first place. It's almost unfair to have to go up coming down.

BUT, there's that view. The view we all know, have all seen thousands of times in photos, the view that never changes, never gets old, always takes my breath when I walk out of the woods and into the sunlight. It is simply astonishing, no matter the time of day, year or your life.

Hike the trail. If you're in very good shape and are sure-footed, take the AT route. If not, walk the fire road. It doesn't make any difference how you get there. Just go.

(Brand new Virginia Tech grad Chris Driscoll took the photo of me. I made the stupid error of climbing all the way to the top with a camera battery in my Canon that was nearly exhausted. I got five pix on the top before the battery died,  and I really appreciate Chris for taking four of them.)

A Modest Proposal To Break Amazon's Grip on Books

Shipping books at
"The nuclear option was exercised for only a few days, a mere flexing of Amazon’s muscles. But imagine what would have happened if it had continued. With a major publisher out of the market for new manuscripts, authors would receive less money. And less money would mean fewer authors, and fewer books. (Nor are self-published authors safe from the power of a monopsony: While a traditional publisher like Macmillan needs an author’s consent to change the terms of his or her publishing agreement, Amazon reserves the right to change any provision of its agreement with any author at any time for any reason.) ...

"Perhaps the best solution would be an online marketplace controlled by the publishers — with the 30 percent commission being split 50-50 with the authors in addition to the author’s royalty."

--Lawyer Bob Kohn, writing in today's NYTimes about the dispute between Amazon and Hatchett/Little Brown (publisher of a couple of big books by local authors Roland Lazenby and Beth Macy, both of which are new).


Friday, May 30, 2014

Photo of the Day: Mads and Picasso

This is my grandgirl Madeline resting on the lap of a guy she likely never heard of: Pablo Picasso.

Her grandmother, Judy Dickerson, shot this early in the week in Malaga, Spain, on the southern coast.

Mads is getting so tall and old that I hardly know her and she's only been gone a few months. Miss that girl. See her soon.

Oz rides a race car in a Spanish mall. Stay left, Oz!

Publishing Turmoil Catches Yet Another Pal

Keith Ferrell and the Indian grubb.
Just had Indian lunch downtown in Roanoke with my buddy Keith Ferrell and the talk, as it always does, turned to books quickly.

Keith, who had a bestseller this past Christmas with History Decoded (with Brad Meltzer) has just sold another excellent idea, but the book won't be here until 2016. That has nothing to do with Keith's speed as a writer, but more to do with the changing face of the industry.

Keith could knock the book out pretty quickly. He says he regularly churns out a million words in a given year (the equivalent of 10 books) with all he writes. I've seen him in a hurry and the speed and quality of his writing is often astonishing.

A couple of locals with big books either just out or coming very soon--Roland Lazenby and Beth Macy--are caught in the Jeff Bezos ego war with publishing as his tries to take over the industry. Writers are being squashed in this fierceness. Keith's challenge, I think, is based elsewhere--contracts, getting institutions to decide and the like.

But the book will be here soon enough and the premise is already being explored in depth.

Such a strange and often alarming industry and it is loved deeply by so many of us, few of whom are in positions to make decisions.

Once Again, the Dogs Just Keep on Barking

I just had another of those tiresome, irritating, day-stopping breaks to call animal control because one of my many dog-owning neighbors could not/would not stop his dog from barking incessantly. This one began at about 7 this morning and finally stopped when the cop left the neighbor's house about 9.

I really hate having to report these irresponsible, thoughtless people who should not own dogs, but the alternatives are to bring in the constabulary or go to war with the neighbors. I've tried it both ways and discovered that in most cases, there simply is no way to reasonably expect a neighbor will quiet his dog just because I want him to. It seems to be some kind of Constitutional guarantee that these people can chain their dogs in the back yard on short leashes and let them howl, bark and scream all day and all night without any complaint from neighbors who don't want conflict.

I don't want the conflict, but I don't want the dog barking, either.

It continues to amaze me that the owners don't seem to hear the dogs, like some parents don't hear their screaming children for long minutes at a time while everybody else in the restaurant has their hands over their ears.

We have barking ordinances and general noise ordinances, but the cops who've answered my calls in the past tell me that it is truly difficult to enforce them. You need tapes, videos, corroborating testimony and the like in order to take it to court and even with that, the owner often only gets a warning. I would like it a lot of City Council would update the ordinance to include a warning for the first offense, impoundment of the dog for the second and a big fine and loss of the dog on the third. If the cop found the dog barking, that would be proof enough.

Throwback Friday: A Grand(in) Re-Opening

In the fall of 2001, Roanoke's last historic theater, The Grandin, a small neighborhood movie house in Raleigh Court, closed its doors for what many thought would be the final time. It showed "The Last Picture Show" as its goodbye performance.

The following spring, this group of people (being videoed at a press conference by the guy at the left) announced that an effort was underway to re-open the theater. In October, the money had been raised, the theater marquee was changed to its original design, seats replaced, facilities totally upgraded and a grand opening was held. The Grandin retained its old, popular popcorn machine.

The money was raised in a variety of ways, one of which was a matching $500,000 donation from the City of Roanoke (one of the best investments it ever made, judging from the number of businesses the re-opening helped create). Ed Walker, the president of the foundation at the time, announced the city grant to the board by saying, "City Council has just approved $500,000 on a unanimous 6-1 vote." The 1 in 6-1 Was Mayor Ralph Smith, who was against everything and was, thus, marginalized. He's now one of those members of the General Assembly whose only response to any proposal is "No!"

In the photo here are Walker, Bill Tanger, Nelson Harris, Ann Trinkle and Warner Dalhouse, all board members.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Throwback Thursday, Too: Redhead

When I was a small child, my hair was bright red, curly and long. People thought I was a really cute little girl. I even carried a doll.

As some of you know, I still hold a warm spot for redheads (you see them frequently in my photo essays where there are a lot of people) and there was a period about 15-18 years ago when I became one again.

Here's a photo following one of those sandy, messy henna sessions that resulted in Red Smith with the carrot top and the (natural) salt and paprika beard, which I still hold dear.

Throwback Thursday: Hiking with Goodlatte; Hearing the Pitch

Goodlatte with the park ranger who accompanied us.
About 15 years ago, following one of my frequent criticisms of 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who (mis)represents me in Congress, he called and invited me to go with him on a hike to the Devil's Marbleyard. He wanted to explain in some detail how his "Healthy Forests Initiative" was set up to work. I already knew how it worked and that was the grounds for my criticisms, but I agreed.

At the time, Bob was head of the House Agriculture Committee and was involved in all kinds of legislation that basically turned over the country to industry and business.

Bob showed up for the hike with a forest ranger (whose name escapes me) in tow, ready to battle both the trail--which is suprisingly difficult--and me. He talked, I listened (and shook my head). His point was that if we took down all the big trees, allowing the lumber companies to clear them for us, the forest would just take off and be happy and healthy. That, of course, is bullshit--big trees are hard to burn and protect the forest in many, many ways. The point is to clear the underbrush.

Anyhow, Goodlatte was not in a position of much power at the time and took the time to explain himself, however inadequately, on a one-on-one basis. I appreciated that effort.

Photo of the Day: Soon. Very Soon

This is my most advanced tomato plant and it's about a week away from the first 'mater sammich of the season. Can't wait. Getting ready to make some of Mother Smith's World Famous Custom Dill Mayo to smear on the whole grain bread. I know none of that is very Southern, but you eat it your way, I'll eat it mine.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Photo of the Day, Deux: Dinner, Eat Your Heart Out

Now this is summer: (from bottom, clockwise)
  • sliced watermelon and canteloupe; 
  • home-cooked beets and onions with vinaigrette and garnished with red fennell from the garden; 
  • homemade hummus, red bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and English cucumber, garnished with mint from the garden; 
  • fruit plate with strawberries from my patch, mango, grapes and kiwi. 
My buddy is bringing a chunk of meat to cook on the grill.

The flower arrangement is red basil, fennel and dill from the garden. Aromatherapy.

Amazon's Dirty Little War Could Hurt Local Writers

Possible victim: Roland Lazenby: Author of 'Michael Jordan: The Life'
This NYTimes story on the Amazon-Hatchett Publishing dustup gives us all an inside look at what is developing in the publishing industry as it happens. It's an ugly little war, as most of this type are: power against power; greed against greed and I'm not sure at all that there's a good against evil element to this.

The publishing industry has been its own worst enemy in recent years, much as music was before musicians began fighting back and taking control of their work. The book industry is top-heavy with profit and at the bottom is the writer who hopes for the crumbs. I don't know that it will be much different, regardless of who ultimately wins here, but I do know that two of our local writers with very big books coming out as we speak are getting belted.

Roland Lazenby's Michael Jordan: The Life was expected to be a monster book and I believe it still will. It went through three printings in its first 10 days of release and I'm looking for it to climb up the bestseller lists. But it will have to do so without, which won't sell it. Same with Beth Macy's Factory Man. Beth's book, I would guess, could be one of the top 10 business books of the year, given the right circumstances, but not being sold by will hurt. Both books are from Little, Brown (and Jugg, as I prefer), which is a Hatchett imprint.

Barnes & Noble--among others--has responded to this scrapping by loading up on Little, Brown books and selling them at a 30 percent discount. Go buy Roland's and Beth's books there and tell the Dot Coms to stick their war up their ass, for the time being. But buy the books, first because they're both excellent, and second to tell these people you won't be bullied.

Ultimately, paper books will be a tiny part of a large industry. Book stores are sinking as fast as newspapers and e-copies are selling briskly--perhaps to the benefit of the industry and authors as a whole in the long run. This is a period of adjustment, dirty pool, scoundrels (think Jeff Bezos), crooks, thieves and struggling writers (who are always struggling because we so love what we do that we don't often worry about the money).

It will work out, but I fear some people I care about will be hurt in the process.

An Info Meeting Full of Info from Tech

The gathering at the Science Museum of Western Virginia.
Every May, the public information people at Virginia Tech gather as many journalists together in Roanoke as they can in order to tell us what's going on at the university, to chat us up, sell us, pitch is and generally inform is in a way that I like. They also feed us. At the Hotel Roanoke. A lot of us show up. Not all for the info.

The information is often jaw-dropping because much of it has to do with Tech research. Sometimes it's a small opening, like Zeke Barlow telling everybody today that he's preparing a release about a natural cure a Tech scientist found for poison ivy. That's an allergic reaction that has been around since man's been here without a really decent treatment, mostly because it's not sexy enough, I'd guess. But Zeke says the cure is simple, direct and will likely be inexpensive, once marketed.

A lot of the PR people talked about Big Data and how much of that is being collected. Which drew this question from me: "Is anybody at Tech collecting Big Data on the morality of Big Data?" and the answer was a resounding "yes!" Emily Kale, who works with several departments, tells me that morality has been increasingly a concern across those departments and virtually every one of them is asking important questions about what the data means, how it will be used, how it could be used harmfully and the like.

I always come out of these little conferences bubbling over with ideas. I suggested to Emily that she should talk to some of the department heads about a Big Data Morality Conference and she promised to bring it up. "That's a really good idea," she said, smiling. I liked that response.

Photo of the Day: The Color on the Roof

I shot these on the roof of Center in the Square today. With all the butterflies on the roof and the flora and fauna abundant, it was the fish and lilly pads that drew me in. Love the color.

Monday, May 26, 2014

An Elevated Hike to Roanoke's Signature Monument

Yellow is the unfortunate blaze color for the Star Trail.
Trail offers alternate routes.
Hiked the Mill Mountain Star Trail from Va. 116, 800 feet up the side of the mountain. It's 3.4 miles round trip and took 2 hours, 5 minutes and about a waterglass full of sweat in the warm sun.

The trail, of course, goes to Roanoke's signature 100-foot star atop Mill Mountain, where you'll find the usual photo-taking crowds.

The one odd little aspect of this trail is the curious color of yellow for the blazes on the trees, marking the trail. I would imagine someone a little more sensitive than he who made this decision would see the connection between Yellow and Star which could make our Jewish brethern cringe.

Still, it's a fine walk for a Memorial Day.

Here's where you're going.
Here's where you look.
And here's what you see.
You might see this, too ...
... and perhaps this too, w/mosquitos.

A Simple Tribute to the Peacemakers

This photo has resonated with me for many years, since it was first published following a Vietnam War protest. It represented the very essence of the peace movement: non-violence in the face of overwhelming force in an effort to save the lives of the very people pointing the guns at the young woman.

It is, in my world, the pinnacle of bravery, sacrifice and the good and great heart of the American. I'm celebrating the lives of the peacemakers today, the people who desperately seek to avoid the wars that sacrifice our young and enrich the already obscenely wealthy.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Waiting for the Beatles, Recording a Bit of History

While the large crowd at Roanoke's downtown amphitheater awaited the arrival of The Beatles (well, a replica anyway) this evening, my buddy Sonya Chappalear decided she'd record the moment for history.

Her little iPhone has this wondrous panoramic camera effect and she got a nice shot, which you can't see in the photo below.

The band was actually pretty good, though I didn't actually stay around long enough to see it. Heard it as I left and the sound was like an old radio, one that the passage of time had forgotten.

Today's Photo: Paris 1956 or Roanoke 2014?

It was interesting that about two blocks away from Roanoke City Market, where this photo was taken tonight about 7, the Beatles were singing "A Hard Day's Night" before a packed crowd at the new outdoor arena. The band would be 1964 and this picture would remind more of Paris, 1956.

The young woman is perfect. Leslie Caron. The short hair, the shirt-waist dress and high, silver heels. All that's missing is a cigarette between her right index and middle fingers, its ash long, its smoke swirling upward. The young man is appropriate, as well in the striped pullover and the go-to-hell sideburns.

When I suggested to the pair that they looked out of place and mentioned Paris, they smiled. They were feeling it.

She's the third Caron I've run into in the past three days, each lovely and charming. Each enjoying the comparison, even though I doubt any of them has the slightest inkling that Leslie Caron was a goddess for a time. I do hope this is a fad, trend, or something that means I'll see more of them.

A Gorgeous Spring Day at the Cove

It doesn't get a lot prettier than this at Carvins Cove. This was shot at about noon today of Teresa Sakasegawa.

Our Little Piece of Heaven on a Fine Spring Day

The Peaks of Otter from the Parkway.
Purgatory Mountain near Buchanan.
If you need any concrete that we live about as close to heaven as a human without credentials can get, take a ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway today or tomorrow.

The views yesterday--a clear, lovely spring day--were simply breathtaking. The air was clean and cool (in the morning) and the views went on and on. At one point, I thought I saw New Jersey.

The hike up Sharp Top at the Peaks of Otter, one I had never completed, was brisk, steep, rock-strewn, difficult and magnificant. The 360-degree view is nothing less than breath-taking, standing there in your sweat.

This is why we call these mountains the Blue Ridge.
Rhododendron in bloom.
Flowers everywhere.
Leah told me what this was, but I forgot. Beautiful, though, no?
Lovers soak in the view from Sharp Top, to Peaks Lodge.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Cooling Waters of Camp Alta Mons

The payoff at the falls at Alta Mons.
Strip the gear, get in the water.
Most hikes in this region of the United States pay your efforts with beautiful views. Camp Alta Mons, a church retreat in Montgomery County that welcomes hikers, goes a step--or maybe a toe--beyond that.

At the end of a lovely walk through the woods there rests a waterfall and at the foot of that waterfall is a pond, perfect for wading and even swimming if you're small enough.

My buddy Sonya Chappalear, an artist and snazzy dresser that I'm afraid I underestimated as an outdoorswoman until yesterday, went with me on this little journey, camera in hand.

Here are a few of my shots from the walk.

One of about four creek crossings.
The creek, which runs to the falls, is strewn with big rocks for picnics.
Daredevil Sonya approaches some lovers.
A large meadow precedes the trail.
Sonya's hiking boots. Girly girl.
Selfie at the falls.
Sonya photographs the view.
And this, boys and girls, is the view.