Fools Names and Fools Faces

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
It was not hard to find evidence of Blue Ridge Parkway decline a few weeks back when I went looking for it for the purposes of a Parkway newsletter. Damage from the vagaries of weather–like the two ice storms we’ve had in the last month–one can to some degree overlook as “acts of God.” But the saddest evidence of Parkway decline and abuse was this: graffiti at Rakes Mill Pond dam.

There is, after all, scant risk of being caught by a Park Ranger while in the act. Far too few have far too much territory to patrol to be any kind of threat to vandals and lowlifes with spray paint like Jody.

Do you suppose that people like this carry cases of black spray paint in the trunks of their rust- infested, Bondo-colored vehicles just in case they get the opportunity to become immortalized on an overpass, or even better, at a frequently visited and beautiful place in a national park?

Do you suppose that for Jody this was an act of rebellion, of machismo, or of sheer indifferent disregard that there might be anyone else in the world beside him (or her, as the case may be)?

I sympathize with graffiti in public places to the same extent that I appreciate people rolling down their windows and throwing the remnants of their Happy Meals along our road.

There are just aspects to the human condition and perspective that I simply do not understand. Carrying spray paint for Jody’s purposes is certainly well outside my frame of reference. I can only imagine with some satisfaction that, while the park rangers won’t catch him, someone else with a badge eventually will.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. you captured one of my biggest pet peeves here….. hopefully karma will catch up with jody.

    we had a wonderful overlook with an old cabin on it in rural madison county, nc… was very historic and open to the public. but, vandalism was a constant and they were always having to clean it up and paint over graffiti….eventually someone burned it to the ground.

    i don’t understand that AT ALL…why in the world does someone feel the need to destroy something like that? something that is there for the enjoyment of the public….

    and the sad thing, about both graffitti and litter, it’s usually the loclas doing it, not visitors or transplants, who sometimes seem to value the area more than the people born and raised there.

  2. I, too, was saddened a couple of weekends ago when my husband and I stopped by Rakes Mill Pond and saw that “Jody” had been there before us. The “cabin” at the top of the Rocky Knob trail has fallen to the same ill fate. Fortunately, I have Photoshop and can pretty much get rid of these intrusions on my photographs. If only nature had such a tool to rid herself of the same intrusions. I can only hope that “Jody” and those like him/her can be found and forced to clean up their mess with a very soft toothbrush…

  3. I know it’s just a quick-fix (and doesn’t solve the much larger problem at hand) but in the meantime can’t somebody turn the rock over?

  4. I often ask myself… Why do the Jody’s of the world have to ruin it for the rest of us?… And are there a lot of Jody’s out there or just a scant few doing there best to muck up as much of the world as they can get their hands, ney spray cans on?

  5. :::Sigh:::

    I completely agree with your sentiment; don’t you wonder what passes through minds such as Jody’s? “Gee this is a really a cool place! Let’s spray paint our names on the rocks!” I’m afraid it is probably no more complex than that and unfortunately graffiti has long been despoiling natural treasures and manmade structures alike.

    Examples in ancient ruins indicate that Druids, Celts, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Vikings, Native Americans and Mayans among other civilizations, were all wall writers.

    Even the ancient Druids whom we associate with being in sync with the natural world carved graffiti at Stonehenge.

    The walls of ancient Rome are infamous for their sexually explicit cartoons/graphics and political graffiti as a public bulletin board – from whence the modern word graffiti originates.

    [Italian, diminutive of graffio, a scratching, scribble, probably from graffiare, to scratch, scribble, probably from Vulgar Latin graphiare, to write with a stylus, from Latin graphium, stylus, from Greek grapheion, graphion, from graphein, to write; see gerbh- in Indo-European roots.]

    Our native American civilizations felt compelled to scratch their version of “Kilroy was here” or phallic pictographs onto rocks or natural monuments. The Mayans scratched graffiti into the fired bricks and stones of their city walls and temples.

    [note: phallic graffiti is an enduring meme found throughout civilizations prehistoric, ancient and modern as a token to ward off evil. In the Roman world a phallus scratched, carved or painted above the door was their version of “God Bless This House”.]

    Thousands of traced hand paintings from the late Pleistocene epoch are now thought to be not part of the tribal ritual cave paintings but graffiti placed by youths awaiting initiation. The size and shape suggests that the graffiti artists back then were the same as today – teenage males.

    Modern graffiti also carries significant political and societal messages. Recently anti-war protesters spray painted graffiti on the Capitol Building steps and during the 60’s and 70’s political graffiti was commonplace.

    One of the most popular graffitos of the 1970s was the legend “Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You,” reflecting the hostility of the youth culture to that U.S. president. I am sure you can find many examples of the same sentiment today.

    Gangs took up the spray can to tag or mark their territories and make personal statements or issue challenges on rival turf. East LA and boroughs in NYC, for example, are covered in graffiti, some it it very artistic. The authorities are powerless to stop this type of graffiti as it is cultural, not vandalism. City dwellers have learned to ignore or deal with it as a modern mythos.

    It is still horrid… but obviously leaving ones mark for others to see is an innate human response much as Tsuga scent marks his territory and just as impossible to thwart.