No corner of Floyd, on the map or in the mind, escapes the author’s notice as he gazes through the fabled HaruSpex (“Seen and Seer”). A number of readers have asked for more information about the makeup and history of this mystical monacle. So the author willingly obliges:
Imagine that its central jewel were described in The Crystal Bible: A Definitive Guide to Crystals, by Judy Hall (Cincinnati: Walking Stick Press, 2003):
ORIGIN: Unknown, perhaps interstellar.
ATTRIBUTES: Substance unknown, cut exotic. Reputed agent of haruspuication.
HEALING: According to one legend, originally half a twin, both jewels mined in the Cordillera Central by privileged members of a now-extinct tribe. Given to the chief or king, the pair decorated his bride (eyebrows or nipples). During the ceremony she was bitten on the foot by a jealous ex’bjo. Because the jewel is the only antidote for its poison, she tried to swallow it–but choked, expelled it violently, and saw it carried off in the beak of a rpeth-g. Various single-jewel sequels begin with the grieving ruler. Did he bestow it upon a shaman for use as an artificial eye? Did a prisoner steal it to bribe a jailer, who then traded it for a B & B? Did a sinner give it to a venal priest as an indulgence? Most likely a refugee, pilgrim, explorer, soldier, or farmer got ahold of it (stories abound as to who and how) and traded it for a sort of ticket. This person was then carried across seas and up unknown tributaries by sail, paddle, and pole. In one of these water-versions, the jewel was eventually rafted up the Little River what would become the state of Virginia and buried in a Native American settlement, maybe to hide it, maybe to encourage the growth of crops.
DOCUMENTED PROVENIENCE: It was discovered by a denizen of what is now informally called Left Bank Community who was transplanting mystical seeds.During Virginia’s Blue Ridge Music Festival in 2013, a symphony orchestra was performing in the school gymnasium. This space retained a subtle aroma of sweat, and athletics again competed with music when sirens loudened and faded as police cars celebrated the girls’ softball team’s state championship. The conductor stopped for a while to let the celebration fade, then continued cheerfully. During the outdoor phase of a concert at Floyd EcoVillage, next to the pond, a loud chirrup competed with Handel—not a hawk but a frog. According to report, “Next year we’ll play “Froggy Went A-Courtin’.”
One day a few red signs appeared staked into various patches of town: “Accept your brothers and sisters” and “Haters need love,” although the latter soon disappeared. A sticker on a dumpster read “Independent Nation.” It invited questions about the relationship between figure and ground, i.e., between the slogan and dump. Such a grungy place to vaunt a country! Furthermore, this “nation” had ambiguous borders: the dump itself? Country as green cube? Divers for Self-Determination? Once at the same recycling center I noticed that a driver had the vehicle’s radio tuned to a loud banjo song. I asked her with a smile if a person can listen to “Over the Rainbow” at a dump. “Ab-so-lutely!”
The Lotto Pot of Gold: I happened to enter a business two days in a row and saw the same customer scrutinizing cards at the counter. Noted the clerk, “She comes in here ten times a day.” Making money the old-fashioned way, by contrast, another woman was mopping the floor of the Jacksonville Center (former dairy-barn). I offered sympathy for someone who had to clean up after cows. Without a hint of a smile, she replied, “Dirty, nasty paw prints.” In that same room one night an internationally-respected Kasich String Quartet, from Czechoslovakia, played from the dais. As they did so, their phantom selves stirred energetically on the wall thanks to three spotlights that caused as many shadows per member, one dark and the others lighter. Immaterial bows sawed horizontally and vertically as the two-dimensional cellist bobbed over his instrument.
Another day a mysterious stratum appeared across the valley—too dark for fog. Smoke, possibly a forest fire in Wythe County, a suggestion as to how interrelated places are on this earth. The same landscape became even more troubling one late afternoon in November. From across valley a whiteness like a slow tsunami rolled into Floyd-upon-the-Hill. It obscured the peak of the great spruce in front of the Rakes Mansion, suffocating it in wool before the adelgids could. Then it dimmed and extinguished the random streetlights, amber or fluorescent. The silos of the Jacksonville Center faded as if into their dairy yesteryear. The western-facing slopes below town could still be made out, but ….
“Then it happened” (Jack London’s only lame sentence): the white opacity was itself becoming obscured. Blackness was falling with End-Town Times. GET READY! GET READY-Y! I lamented the new chrome-laden espresso machine in Black Water Loft, the Aurelia II, with her two pairs of handles and steam-wands, now devoid of sparkle; The Stoplight with its blinded lenses that directed absent traffic; the old building still labeled “Floyd Press” but now declining from obsolete to extinct; the funeral home now becoming its own casket; the Country Store losing shelves of CDs and barrels of candy; and even the cell-phone tower, its red blinking lights were returning to their mysterious provenience.
Yet the next day, like Brigadoon in the musical play, the county seat reappeared, although no doubt the Ethiopian coffee beans were half-price after getting soaked.In early December appeared another candidate for the Guinness Book of Meteorological Records. In the dark sky a whiteness hung over town and over no less than one-fifth of the circular horizon. I yelled to my wife and daughter, and we assembled on the deck to behold not the usual bright sliver in the direction of Roanoke, but low clouds somehow illuminated to a degree far out of proportion to the lumens of the hamlet. All we could do was shake our heads and at last go inside.
By contrast, one midnight the electricity went out in the cabin. When I groped toward the inside balcony to look out the window toward Floyd, a white flash, flash, flash disoriented me. A pajama-clad look over the valley revealed nothing but darkness broken by the emergency light of the cell tower.
You must believe me that one day the invisible rising sun created an ocean. Behind the town it gleamed a washed-out yellow under pale gray clouds. Marjory and I craned to the right out the door-window and located its farthest-south extent. Then we gradually traced its flat surface leftward as it outlined trees—green pines and bare hardwoods with their random nests. Then we lost sight of its flat surface behind Storkers Knob, but recovered it over the hill beyond the Jacksonville Center. An expanse without floating vessels, it stretched past the downtown to a point roughly even with The Stoplight, where it declined to nothing. Another day what should appear but a new mountain range. In the west rose a touch of Nederland, Colorado, without the snowcaps. From our aerie we traced its dark serrations, which once again defied the rules of geology by ending at the north with a horizontal gap like an open beak.
Stay with I, the personage who utters the Bald Truth in premium grammar. At sunset a mass appeared in the southwestern sky. It called to mind the floating island of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels. An expanse of lava, its molten orange slowly became dimmer as I stared. Eventually it turned an ominous gray as if from ash. Then as if to conclude the show, just above its top edge appeared a bright planet. During that whole day the clouds seemed in such restless, creative turmoil that a person might be excused for imagining the supernatural at work. During one phase, a pair of oblong wispy cloud-puffs extended over the valley toward the northeast. Each held a series of indented marks that suggested a finger-painting hand. And did they not make a discontinuous line with the island? Something going on up there, some kind of twisting tunnel?
One afternoon as winter neared Penn Rd., Marjory and I hiked uphill toward town at right angles to the inclined sun. If I walked on the right edge of road, the shadow of my red stocking-cap bobbed along the left edge. My walking stick grew to about 13 horizontal feet. I used the actual wood to measure a vine next to the road that had been cut in half by a mower: about 31 feet.
At the end of December, three or four of us, with the help of sturdy-wheeled Dolly, tried to plant the live Christmas tree. First we rolled the Fraser Fir across the deck, where it had been adjusting to the outdoors. Then we labored to guide it down the porch stairs until it tipped over and gave Marge a bruise with its root ball. A few days after the tree enjoyed another spell of adjustment, I slid it into a fairly deep hole and bolstered it with dirt created by digging a second hole. This vacancy I eventually filled with another evergreen I hauled up from Slaughters’ Nursery.
On January 30 I was driving up Snaky 8 from the direction of Stuart and looked in the rear-view mirror to behold a very long, new-looking tanker that was grand enough to sport a couple of turrets. “You don’t suppose,” I thought. Yes, it was gaining on me, so I sped up and even drove so fast at one hairpin that my wife complained about the jostling. Somehow the vehicle would make up for lost ground, and it was crowding me when we both had to slow for a tractor-trailer that lumbered up a long, straight, uphill stretch. Suddenly the mirror was empty of grill and cab! Then to my left streaked a long, moving side, for the powerful vehicle was trying to pass the tractor trailer. I could read the number 1200 on its silver rear end as it stirred up the residue of snow and road-treatment into a cloud that almost obscured the slower truck. By the time it was far enough ahead to turn back into the right-hand lane, I could see its back set of wheels cross the double lines as another vehicle came downhill.
This adventure was like jostling for a set of rails with a train. But one afternoon a month or so later, driving up Rt. 221 toward Floyd, I rounded a curve and beheld the headlight of a real locomotive. The Ro’ & Willie! (explained below). Its blaze was a blessing. I drew closer, passing the former clinic but could spot no flatcars–and in fact no engine, just the blinding light. How disappointing to realize that it was merely the reflection of the western sun on a yellow 35-mph sign.
In early February, several curves of the Little River–viewed from the Floyd-bound lane on Rt. 221 N.–flowed turquoise and pink toward the already-vanished sun. Viewed from Rt. 221 S. toward its crest of the Stoplight, a man in a dark winter jacket trod through the cold from the Courthouse to Farmers’ Supply–a silhouette against gray clouds, the last soul on earth.
We exchanged isolated Floyd for a week on the literal island of Curacao.
But then to return and forfeit balmy trade winds for ridge-removing gales! After putting our swimwear back in storage, we bundled up in our second-floor bed near the west window. But how can we get to sleep with that frequent sound—its timbre not so much a whistle as a flute. Was the wind blowing through that corner rupture of the fascia and gutter caused by heavy snow thundering off the roof? (This 23-incher of February slid off the Firsts’ barn, mangled the chain-link fence around the coop, and sent the chickens to live at the neighbors’.) But the reverberations seemed closer. There would be three or four seconds of mourning dove. Whenever the wind was forceful enough, it produced two notes in exact synchrony. Native American? This dyad would move up and down without marking separate notes, glissando, like a fretless violin.
Suddenly this combination would panic and rise angrily in pitch and volume. Typically the high note (as I measured it later) was about sixteen notes on the piano above middle C, while the bottom note was around an octave below it. The two yoked-together pitches often rose and fell with incredible complexity. Unlike the roaring wind out in the trees and against the house, making it creak, this tune seemed to be some creature or spirit trying to get in. I imagined bat ghosts. Silence. The occasional flutter of the high note, once a rapid series of triplets. Like jazz, like some modern piece, like a damaged CD or a faulty PA system that stops and starts in sudden, brief spells.
The next morning Marjory called to me downstairs. “One of the locks wasn’t locked on our window. It wasn’t down all the way, so I turned the lock and it stopped.”One frigid day, white smoke rose from a field somewhere around the Slaughters’ compound—its source obscured by the grove of white pines down the hillside from Annie Lane. It drifted over the red cap of the annual Santa Claus, whom I had watched from the parking lot as Mike and Lorenzo pumped and tethered it like an entry in the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. As the puffs rolled across Rt. 221 just below the bridge, I could almost make out the coal-fired locomotive, a Shay 0-4-0, that must have paused at Slaughters’ Station. Why should Floyd County not have its defunct railroad? Nederland has the Colorado and Northwestern, whose narrow-gauge tracks once served the mining area of the Front Range. Warrenville, Illinois (home of Sunny Bernardine, earlier chapter), has the “Roarin’ Elgin.” Stuart, Virginia, downhill from Floyd, has the Dick & Willie, nickname for the Danville & Western Railroad. Here is a ditty that celebrates Floyd’s own Roanoke & Willis. Lyrics by R. Wells and music by Vicki Sowers [click to listen].
First you’re tall and then you’re long,
No more branch-bird sings a song.
First the saw & then the skid,
Then the rails, done is did.
Cut you down,
Trip to town,
Ridin’ the Ro’……. & Willie!
Don’t need ticket, you’re a tree
Chestnut lumber, ride for free.
Shay the engine, chuggin’ might,
Save you fro–om the blight.
“Oak tree,” toots the horn,
“Never make another ‘corn.”
You ain’t first–them lumber reapers
Cut that row o’ wooden sleepers.
Cut you down,
Trip to town,
Ridin’ the Ro’…… & Willie!