Rockfish Gap, Virginia, June 2018.

Seen from the edge of Greenwood-Afton Rural Historic District.  (The gap’s 110 miles are the lowest passage through the Blue Ridge Mountains.)  Thomas Jefferson met with other officials at the nearby Rockfish Tavern in 1818 to plan the University of Virginia.

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“November, Blue Ridge Mountains, 1992,” by Eric Robert Nolan (recited by the author)

This is me reciting a very short love poem that I wrote in college.  “November, Blue Ridge Mountains, 1992” was first published in 2013 by the International Ware Veterans Poetry Archive.

November compelled us to visit the hills
Where ignorant rock and lofty pine
Were witness to our disregard
For strangeness, temptation and time.

But memories are sticky things.
Will any mountain ever let
Me dream again? Can I now
Feel rain without regret?

 

Roanoke, Virginia, October 2016

Rainy Roanoke!  It actually is a beautiful small city, even during an overcast October week — and the skies cleared up brightly my last day there.

What I loved most about the city during the daytime is how the surrounding mountain peaks ascended to be obscured by darkening alabaster clouds.  It’s as though some celestial painter was coloring outside the lines, and brushed broad swathes of smoky white to cover the summits, and to turn the slopes the hues of deep, royal blue-gray and dimming charcoal.

This entire region in Southern Virginia rests along a broad valley encircled by mountains — the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Allegheny Mountains to the west.  (The Alleghenies are where you can find Iron Gate and Clifton Forge.)  It is slightly disorienting for a first-time visitor to see mountains virtually everywhere on the horizon; I think it subtly affects one’s sense of direction.  (Mill Mountain, home of the famed Roanoke Star, is within the city limits.)

There actually is a Long Island, Virginia along the Roanoke River, presumably where all the cool people live.  Just northwest of that is Altavista, Virginia, with its notable cottage industry of obsolete Internet search engines.

My girlfriend calls Roanoke “The Snow Globe City,” and that makes sense when you view downtown from the highway.  It is a quaint looking southern city, its streets are neatly lined with boxlike period buildings, and it has the appearance of a picturesque architectural huddle.

And there are churches everywhere within the city.  It is indeed part of the Bible Belt.

 

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“Where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”

These are a few (poorly taken) shots of rural central Virginia between Alleghany County in the southwest and Fauquier County.  It’s a beautiful journey.  F. Scott Fitzgerald described the American Midwest as “that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”  I myself have always thought his description it fits the Commonwealth just fine.

Most of these aren’t great photos.  For one, they were taken from a moving car, as you can tell from the reflections in the window.  For another, I am a terrible photographer, as you can tell from the unintentional shot of my giant white nerd face.  (My phone is new.)

The best shots were those I didn’t get.  Lord knows I scrambled to get a picture of that bear on Skyline Drive, but it was a blink-and-you-miss-it opportunity.

There were other things that I saw, too, of which I’d love to have gotten pictures.  The first was the thin, immaculate strip of white headstones in a family cemetery, lying adjacent to their farm’s vast, green square of a cornfield.  The juxtaposition of life and death in that image was perfect.  Another was a sullen-looking cow, lying in the exact center of a fenced front yard, regarding passing cars like an apathetic despot.

As you can see, what I captured are really just your standard road trip pics, but they still manage to show some of the beauty of the Commonwealth.

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Heading north.

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Imbecile.

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Skyline Drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park.  [In best Stephen Colbert voice:] “Watch out for bears!”

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Creepy solitary abandoned mountain shack is creepy.

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New Yorkers, these are dormitories for Chicken University, where poultry prepare earnestly to graduate someday to a culinary position with your household.  (These flat, low buildings are often visible from the road in the valleys — I remember thinking that they resembled dog kennels, except that they are entirely enclosed and look quite neatly maintained.)

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“Meet Virginia.”

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I think this is the southern fork of the Shenandoah River, but I’m not sure …

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I took a wrong turn on my way to the Mary Washington College Reunion!

And that’s why I wasn’t there.  I should have been concerned when the alums I did connect with in Virginia kept sipping their beers, concealing their laughter and leading me repeatedly to roads that led consistently UP.

Anyway, if you DO live in Virginia, did you see me waving?  I’m pretty sure I could see roughly 65 percent of the state from where I was standing.

Seriously, though — this was my birthday trip to Stony Man Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.  It was unforgettable.  The beauty of the Commonwealth was the perfect balm for the knowledge that I am one year older.

The Stony Man Trail is actually a pretty easy hike, even though the peak is the second highest along the Blue Ridge Mountains’ Skyline Drive.

To clarify some of the content of the below photos:

1)  In the second picture, the ONLY reason that I look so skinny is that the mountains are big by comparison.  It’s physics.  Yeah.

2)  Note the sign at the park visitor center.  One of my friends was totally jonesing for that woefully absent blackberry ice cream, which apparently is part of the park’s fame.  (He was talking about it on the way up.)  It must be good, if the park actually has to post a sign apologizing for running out.  The next time I see the mountains, I am going to have to get some myself just to see what the fuss is about.

3)  Spot the face in the inside of the tree.  And what is it?  A portion of my friends will call “Ent” immediately; others will name Cthulhu or one of his minions.  The inside of a tree can serve as a thematic apperception test.

4)  We met an extremely friendly mountain man in the wilds who was kind enough to let us stay in his home.  (It was surprisingly stately.)  He even had a copy of my book on his mantle, next to a happy, meditating dog statue.  (I see what you did there, man.)

I loved the trip.  If you visit Virginia, treat yourself.  The hike is easier than you think, and you need to experience this at least once.

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