Westlake: Debriefing Part One

Rocky Knob: October Tree

â–¶ You should try it: next time, about an hour before you’re due to leave home for an important event where you need to have your head on tight and your mind clearly focused, discover a well-established dog tick embedded in your flank. It’s amazing how such a thing reshuffles all those stale ideas of what you intended to think about for that hour, lending a fresh rearrangement to your supposed order of things.

â–¶ The drive down Five Mile Mountain (which, as the name suggests, is five tortuous miles of descent down the Blue Ridge Escarpment to the Piedmont) was taken a curve at a time, watching Google Navigation on the Droid mounted on the dash–so as to anticipate  the next hairpin curve in the fog. Five Mile Mountain road was also Five Miles an Hour road–and it was no better coming back up it at dusk. At that same hour, Interstate 77 below Fancy Gap was CLOSED–meaning some folks were immobilized and I guess spent the night on the interstate because of the fog. Sheesh!

â–¶ First time I ever saw an official highway sign that said “GPS not reliable in this area.” Roger that. “Your destination is on your right” said Robot Voice Lady. It was a wrong turn, and there was nothing but woods. An inquiry at the nearest store was unproductive: no one seemed to know there was a Westlake Library–about a mile away. The librarian says they suffer “Rodney Dangerfield” syndrome.

â–¶ I overheard some of the audience discussing one of the two dozen landscape paintings that hang on the walls in the auditorium. “Says Rocky Knob. Where’s that?” So I had to see what they were looking at to make sure it was “our” Rocky Knob. I looked and the painting was of THIS tree in summer–no mistake about it. When that slide came up in my visual program, I’d told them to expect it, and you could here the murmurs of recognition.

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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. Sounds a bit like my very first trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway back in 2000. The fog was so thick around Blowing Rock I ended up getting off at the very next exit…an hour or so later. At 5 mph you were flying man.

    It was really good sitting out on the porch with you last week. We’ll have to do it a little more often…every three years seems a little long.

  2. Agreed, Gary. I enjoyed the visit! And keep me posted on your SmugMug experience. I really need to get prints out there. I was invited to a photo-show over in Franklin County (next May?) and really need to start getting my money’s worth out of the Epson 2880.

  3. That’s a frightening image Fred. Driving by Droid? I think I understand your train of thought but I can’t get past the idea that driving in poor visiblity is enhanced by a distraction.

    I’m glad I don’t have to drive regularly on roads where that condition is too common. Bent Mountain is one of those places and I did a daily commute at the wrong time of day for a few months. Caution by myself is completely negated by drivers that must think they have super powers.

    I’ve had similar experience on I-77 at Fancy Gap. I was going slower and slower and would have gladly pulled over. Not an option as the Super drivers were passing at speeds far beyond any ability to stop if anything ahead was already stopped. Pile ups aren’t caused by fog, they are caused by idiots.

  4. We’re glad you got to Westlake and back home safely. Your presentation was excellent. (At least you didn’t come by way of Shooting Creek Road. It’s scary in good weather.)

  5. I’m astounded there was any audience at the library, with drivng conditions (and local ignorance) as you described, but I’m glad there was.
    Get that Epson going for the photography show! I know, choosing what to print is almost too difficult a task, but do it anyway.

  6. Two things:
    1) The photo of the Rocky Knob tree (which I also recognized). What fascinates me is the clouds. I’m a cloud addict. Have been all my life. As a child on a farm on Cannaday School Rd. I watched the thunderheads boil up from Franklin Co. and delighted in the sunsets in the opposite direction. Here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, about the only thing I can say for the scenery is that there is a wider scope for clouds.
    2) Your talk of the fog reminded me of a trip up Five-Mile-Mountain from Ferrum College to my mother’s house after dropping off my son. one January. One of those snows followed by a warm spell created one the densest fogs I ever met. My faithful Safari van was really good on the lowest drive, and I drove by ‘touch’ giving thanks that I was on the inside edge not the outside edge of the road. About a mile into Floyd County, the fog thinned enough to see the road and I could start shaking from the reaction. Unforgettable.