40. Colors: The Immanent Rainbow.

galax Sept 20

And God, wrathful at humanity’s abuse of the earth, of other creatures, and of each other, declared:

This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and thee for perpetual generations. I do remove my rainbow from its immanence in life terrestrial. Expunged be all eye-pleasing hues of whatever shade, saturation, or tint. “Taupe” becomes extinct though the mole lives on; the eggplant still waxes, recognized by its shape, size, and weight, by its dark skin, lighter pulp, and taste, but “aubergine” reverts to meaningless. “Red-right-return”–the venerable mantra of river-navigation–becomes as useless as the boats wrecked at the former channel marker. Citrus greening disease will become citrus graying. As for Goldilocks, the whole palette of hair–copper, silver, platinum, or carrot-top–becomes drab and un-dyeable. Oz perpetuates black-and-white Kansas. Even the stained-glass of the eyes, the mystical irises–light and dark blue, blue-green, green, light and dark brown, hazel–all now unseen and unseeing except for grey-scale. The smilax but turns a lighter gray in the autumn, the bluebell rings a rebuke, flaxen fades to a mere texture, orange to a flavor. As for the sky itself: “cerulean” becomes as “handsome” to one blind.

                                   Roy G. Biv

May it never come to pass, this vision of hue-doom. Ironical that it was expressed by Mr. Biv, of people the most colorful and gay. Let the human ocular palette continue to draw its miracle from the spectrum of light. According to Wikipedia, the “distribution of light power versus wavelength” interacts in the eye with the sensitivities of light receptors (“Color”). And may Floyd County never leach out to black-and-white, like the photographs of Old Downtown compiled in “Stayed Heres II.”

Here is a bit of theory. It hints at the intricate mystery of what the cones of human eyes–conical photosensitive cells of the retina–can distinguish within the visible spectrum. “Physically,” explains the article on Colors in Wikipedia, “objects can be said to have the color of the light leaving their surfaces….” So wherever the light stays, no Crayola. Such a color “is a complex result of its surface properties, its transmission properties, and its emission properties, all of which contribute to the mix of wavelengths in the light leaving the surface of the object.”

If these properties scatter all wavelengths evenly–a rainbow-buster–the result is what people see as white. This is what Marjory and I, along with our friend Tom, beheld after climbing Buffalo Mountain in a sprinkle of rain. No amazing vista, not even a horizon, just the hint of crags and a mystically misty presence. One bright but cold autumn day at the Community Market, McCabe Coolidge took a break from his pottery display to stand in a slice of warm-shine next to Notebooks/Black Water Loft; his gleaming white apron made him look even healthier after his long recovery from Lyme Disease.

Color can work by synecdoche–i.e., when a vivid part of something suggests the whole. Once a family was washing cars behind a gas station to pay for a deceased member’s funeral expenses. The main scrubber wore a T-shirt that bragged “Redneck of the Year.” No argument there, cigarette over belly and beard. “Seems that since you’re the redneck,” I observed in a friendly tone, “you only wash red cars” (mine being the second). “We take ’em all,” he replied as his relatives laughed at our exchange.

Literal hues of Floyd County have often adorned Floydiana. You have seen the tri-colored Stoplight. One lens seems to beckon Jay Gatsby across Lake Floyd; another throws a lipstick-kiss; and the third ripens back to green in three or four seconds. Blinded by orange sky? About the time of the equinox, someone driving uphill toward The Stoplight on E. Main St. must look away from the sunset reflected in a plate-glass window to the left.

Jayn’s pottery mug, its teal blue a result of “blending two glazes on a brown clay (native Appalachian)”; Randall’s green rock-bucket; yellow light sweeping across the paper meadow of Dennis’s notebook; Tree Gigante’s sunlit-orange vase; Kaisa’s reddish outfit glowing in the mist of the Saddle; the maroon and orange of Tech clothing and stickers; the pink and blue trails on a map of Rocky Knob; the beyondness of blue set off by contrails; the red-orange flame on Sid’s stocking cap; the large brown eye of the trespassing horse; the chic red chapeau of the veiled mannequin; the psychedelic steer in front of Harvest Moon; the pigments clinging to weatherbeaten Rustiques; the silver-silo’d tanker truck; the oil-paint rack of Volvo truck-cabs; the punctured pink label of a cat-food can; brown muddy ruts of early spring; the Old Masters’ painting of women sitting at a campfire; the wall of luminous apricot behind the tapas bar that a First Degree Mason never dreamed of; numerous textures that fill a range of earth-and-wood tones; Val’s lavender house-bus; the yellow-and-brown-streaked wood of a banjo; yard-signs (the color of Santa’s coat and Rudolph’s nose) proclaiming the true significance of Christmas…. 

Unlike many a county, hues in Floyd are not mainly commercial; in fact billboards rarely mar the landscape (“Bring on the BACON!”). By contrast, one November billboard for Pirate Voyage, near Myrtle Beach, pictured swords that crossed next to the Three Wise Men, or perhaps the Holy Family. Neon, too, is sparing in Floyd County. The area’s natural spectrum–its rainbow chthonic–shines in its vegetation, animals, artifacts, and costumes. Even in a doorless barn on Black Ridge Rd., where ramshackle gray wood sets off the blue-green capital letters NED in the cluttered dimness. 

The sign-colors of a few places correspond to their names, e.g., the Green Man Inn on W. Main St. and the Blue Ridge Cafe on E. Main (its sign a bit greenish). Or with their essences, e.g., the Little White Church on Daniels Run. (White is a legal color because it’s a crayon.) On Daniels Run, by the way, a driver passing an automobile junkyard is likely to be blinded by a silver spotlight from a fender-laser. Ahead in your lane of the road, a blinking amber of a lantern means that, in the game of Floydopoly, you have landed on Poky Tractor.

Be-vined spruce trunk on N. Main St. graces downtown for another generation.

In summer the be-vined spruce trunk at 209 E. Main St. with its double green graces downtown for another generation. Because of the area’s abundant meadows and woods, most colors of the landscape are shades of green, burnt umber, and straw. In late summer, however, the arboreal colors already range from various greens to yellow-to-red-to-blue-tinctured. And hues also vary by weather. “I am so happy for this rain,” wrote Polly Hieser of Seven Spring Farms. “It has been so dry the pastures have turned brown. Maybe they will green up a little now.” In the autumn, hardwood foliage owns a good part of the rainbow, often varying on a single oak or maple, and even these hues range from a dull against gray to sun-spangled, especially by wind-shimmer. Winter extends its white fingers here and there in Floydiana. Washed-out March finally reaches Dodd Creek Valley. 

Washed-out March barely makes it to Dodd Creek Valley. Photo by Marjory Wells.

                           Photo by Marjory Wells.

Hues are also complicated by shadows that deepen or complement them. One could spend a day admiring the multiplicity of these sun-blockers, which even on the surface of roads cast ever-varying sizes and shapes. Once in autumn the inclining sun brightened the already-light-colored leaves of several trees across the valley. The foliage cast dark green shadows on the grassy slope of a pasture behind–like manifestations of their other selves, or like the envelopes of hot-air balloons that lay slightly rumpled uphill waiting to be pumped full of air and rise into the sky.

And that black rotundity of fur that just lumbered speedily across Franklin Pike?

Alas, the majestic verdancy of hemlocks, both forest and yard, continues to bleach to gray, thanks to the tiny white dots of the wooly adelgid. Below is a photo of one victim in 2014. It towers over James Coartney (retired from teaching at Virginia Tech), who is about to convert it from tall to long. Its approximately 110 feet of timber would yield about 1700 board-feet of lumber.

Coartney J by hemlock June 2104

The end of summer brings the annual collision between the Potato Wagon (which mortals interpret as thunder) and the ox-drawn, leaf-wreathed, Cart of Autumn. Again the two drivers express road-rage: the grizzled farmer hurls his pipe onto a mound of his potatoes, which are being mashed by horses’ hooves, while Autumn rips off her cornucopia-tiara and throws it onto the spokes of a broken-off wheel that still rotates horizontally. Now liquids from countless open jars of tempera shoot upward and their wide-scattered pigments descend at different rates, sometimes mixing, sometimes retaining their elemental property.

To watch a leaf dangle between summer and fall:

Agricultural colors? Fields change hue over the next hillcrest, into the next hour, into the next season. They are often dotted with brown, black, white, or black-and-white cattle that can be multicolored of herd or hide. (Look for a steer that sports a pinkish label on its ear.) One city-dweller, originally from Italy, wondered why all the cows were not white.

Leached-out wood, its pigment having enlivened the past, does appear on abandoned dwellings, barns, and other outbuildings—perhaps with a rusty roof as a concession to color. On the hill above the unpaved road stands an outhouse; below the highway, a barn collapses partway to archaeology. But these gray structures lend historical-architectural-esthetic character to the landscape. Rustiques often provide their mechanical counterparts but with touches of mottled or faded paint.

The sunrise or sunset, especially when seen from heights rather than from valleys of the Blue Ridge Plateau, make an unhurried royal progress that dazzles the onlooker.

Goodnight, cloud-lit west.

Goodnight, Floyd County. Good morning, Kazakhstan, 80 degrees east longitude.

Suppose we take out Randall’s Botanical and scan few county-colors:

A scarlet oak after the rain—its new leaves sparkle yellow-green with a tinge of red-orange, forerunners of autumnal glory. Halfway through summer black locust trees turn dull copper on their lower branches. The cause: healthy leaf- miners and their larvae.

One day in Warren G. Lineberry Memorial Park, a locust tree as high as the roof of the old shirt factory rustled at its top. It was reflected in the hundred or so window panes nearby, as if mirrored in a vertical river—gray-green with white clouds, the image distorted in places by the glass as if shimmering in water.

In late summer the black-gum species absorbs red ink, maybe garnet-crimson, into some of its leaves as if colored in by a fountain pen. Apple-skins under a tree range from brown (bruised) to black (bit) to red (go ahead and bite). Wildflowers—one of life’s complex simple pleasures—exhibit how many hues in their attempt to attract insects? They include the understated mauve of a cluster of tall-stalked flowers shaped like a parachute.

wildflower yellow

Petals safe among needles.

What color is a blackberry? Red, purple, or black depending on its degree of ripeness. Of a two-liter bottle? Transparent, if I may judge from one that I discovered while dragging a hose downhill from cistern to hemlock. Perhaps ten years old, the crumpled artifact stood out (although half-buried in leaves and mud) not only by the shiny plastic but by the faint blue remnant of a label.



Floyd county has no shortage of wavelength-varied animals and insects. Suddenly the grass sets off the yellow dome of a box turtle. This creature invites leisurely admiration for the hieratic design on its shell, one that would provide competition for Native American storytellers. And on my walk to the garage, the familiar set of brick-colored tiles underfoot becomes the background to the swirling arabesque of a little snake. (For an appreciation of animals, plants, and weather on the Wells acreage, see Angel in Goggles.)

Our hot-potato cats having been dispersed (earlier chapter), a pale yellow butterfly with black markings makes itself indecisively at home in air and on flowers. Another time I was disappointed at the colorless shadow that flitted flitted over the ground and a white pine before I could catch sight of anything but a wingtip. Another time: James Joyce might have christened that winged creature buttermoth on thistleflower, just front legs with a fuselage, its translucent flappers slightly tanning the pink blossom. Another insect on a butterfly bush—merely a beetle, yet an iridescent and dotted copper ring fit for an emperor’s finger: “Kiss it as you kneel!” A black-legged tick on human skin? It can produce a red “bull’s eye” rash that indicates the bacterial Lyme Disease.

There are colorful artifacts aplenty, even disregarding the Tractor Parade.

Viewed through the cold panes of the tapas bar, the night was forbiddingly dark–except for the cheerful, red-shedding lampshade in the window of Gallery OneEleven. Down at the corner I once waited at The Stoplight for the blue billboard of a truck to wheel past letter by letter, “Bud Lite.” Another time the two red lights above were doubled by two red bulbs atop a fire engine. Two pedestrians, half-hidden by orange raincoats, made their way across S. Locust oblivious to the red light, and downhill from the Library a red truck once sat sidelined by a blue light. Further from town a World War II souvenir along Rt. 221 S angles its barrel toward Stonewall Church on 221 N, its surface properties helping to produce a “Don’t-spot-me” color:

WW II artillery piece near VFW headquarters.

Battleship gray: WW II artillery piece on Rt. 221 S. near VFW headquarters.

Across the highway, glassware in the kitchen window of Janice Coartney absorbs all colors except what is usually termed cobalt blue:

Coartney bottles

Farther down the highway to a rollable restaurant, an artistic customer has set down a fork to carve designs on the picnic table with Sharpies and knothole provided. A couple of months later the flame still burned but the bird had flown into the rain:

bird full length tableflame on table


Farther downhill, the no-man’s-land by the dumpsters once hosted an informal racing installation by Valley’s Lube and Tire:

race car valleys

Across the road at Slaughters’ Grocery, I waited for the cashier to fetch two packets for the customer in front of me: they bore the capital letters RED MAN. On a shelf at Food Lion stood Our Lady of Guadalupe, rainbow-of-raiment–plus stars and squiggles of gold. She helped to encircle a white candle 20 cm high. To her left a slightly curved trellis of red and pink roses followed the edge of the shell-like background; to her right the Mexican flag with its red, white, and green bands hung in folds like a closed drape. A figure little dreamed of by the early Protestant settlers from Northern Europe; and although her garb is even longer than the skirts worn by Mennonite women, the two styles are otherwise polar.

La Luz de tu Fe.

La Luz de tu Fe, Spanish for “The Elation of your Cones.”.

Around the curve just past Margie Keith’s house:

Tan, dark brown, yellow, red, green--and the most powerful wavelength of the rainbow to match the most pungent ingredient.

Tan, red, yellow, dark brown, green–and purple, the most powerful wavelength of the rainbow, which matches the most pungent ingredient of the burger. The asterisk limits “natural” to the patty.

Back uphill to the Stoplight. You don’t have to live in Floyd County long to behold a firetruck with two lights flashing as it speeds under two overhanging red lights. Now we turn left and reach School House Fabrics:

Bolts of fleece.

Bolts of fleece, color-rockets on the gurney.

Back to town and The Stoplight corner, a fortunate driver might watch as the truck ahead begins to pull away and the lug-nuts of the rear left wheel–viewed from behind and thus collapsed into a line made of individual rounded ends–begin to rise up and up and up like a short silver chain.

just in front of Farmers’ Supply, the annual display of rakes:

rake rack

Once because of an exigency at home, we bought a large plunger at Farmers’ Supply. “Going for the big guns,” remarked a clerk, who didn’t try to find a bag for something 20″ long with a dozen disks near the business end that measured about 8″ by 6″ wide at the broadest point. It suggested a battle mace–a club with a handle and weighty head–made of blue plastic. How to get it to the car without embarrassment? I stuffed it under my jacket but got a rebuke from Marjory for looking like a thief. While she continued to shop, however, I stood on the busiest corner of town holding one side of the open jacket over the bulge like a concealed-carrier hoping for trouble. Finally we got away from Main St., and for a few seconds I imitated a drum major who pranced while pumping the blue baton.

As I hiked along this very sidewalk of E. Main, a Jeep passed that bore a yellow, coiled-snake license plate–Don’t tread on me–yet above it a large yellow smiley-face of a spare-tire cover. Another time I passed a woman who wore a bright orange sweatshirt proclaiming ILLINOIS, and as we chatted, I learned that she had grown up with the corn near my alma mater. “The mountains got me,” she explained; “If God sees fit to put them in Illinois, I’ll go back.” Another time as I strolled my new grandson along the sidewalk, we passed DJ’s Drive-in; although a distinctly home-made business, its carhop wore a shirt with the image of a big red heart placed between the words “I” and “New York.” Further downhill at the Post Office, a young woman once got into a car wearing tennis shoes and a T-shirt of a color and luminescence similar to the neon gas-price numbers displayed at the Exxon station. Incongruously, her vehicle was the sort of lifeless brown that results when you mix all your watercolors together. Then, in another contrast, two man exited their car wearing white, long-sleeved LDS-label shirts.

In the other direction, on S. Locust St., I once admired a silver tractor-trailer that waited for the light next to the sidewalk. As it ground forward, the trailer mirrored the facade of Farmers’ Supply–rather, distorted it, and artistically so. The brown of the brick was largely absorbed by the aluminum, stainless steel, whatever, so as to de-emphasize color and emphasize shape. For the dark frame of each window of each story was compounded–doubled or tripled–by what I realized was a series of panels that sheathed the trailer. And of course the half-abstract composition was not static but dynamic. The artist’s signature on the back: “Walton.”

A few yards down the sidewalk: Black Water, swinging colors.

Next door at the Community Market, voila! A bouquet of vegetables:

vegetables mkt Aug 23 2014


Across S. Locust St., it’s the Wooly Jumper yarn store next to the barber shop. Needle-fodder stored in cubbies:

Needle fodder. Courtesy Michelle Neukirch.

Courtesy Michelle Neukirch.

What’s this outside? A parade of adults and children head toward The Stoplight. On a dreary morning each child carries a sort of flower, yellow or blue or light green–ahh, a pinwheel made of construction paper. The Rising Sun Community School is holding a march, Pinwheels for Peace. One of the children is Maya, who once petitioned Mother Gaia to heal my scalp. (An earlier time I had encountered her on this sidewalk while forming my own parade with a silver tray, which I flapped, rapped, and flashed back to the bakery.)

Past the barber shop to the Country Store, where a double-line of about thirty-five barrels and jars make a candicopia of hues, many of the brands already multicolored.

Country Store candy

Next door, at the rambling-second-hand store Angels in the Attic, I recognized an item as magical and bought it for a quarter. Nobody can say, “Randall, you never gave your grandchildren a brass-plated tray, somewhat blotchy, engraved with JAI ISHAM ISHVARAM.

Photo by Katie Wells.

    Photo by Katie Wells.

Further down S. Locust St. at Lineberry Park, is what else but a parachute camouflaged for a mission in Crayolaland:

parachute park Aug 23 2014

3 kids in park

 Shirts from chutes?

Uphill and around the curve to the Jacksonville Center for the Arts, which is hosting a Saturday workshop on making barn-quilts–wood treated with three coats of paint and adorned with designs of acrylic paint:

Marjory Wells and Andrea Vasaune display their nearly-finished creations, Sept. 2014.

Marjory Wells and daughter Andrea Vasaune display their nearly-finished creations, Sept. 2014.

The next evening, in the same Hayloft Gallery upstairs at the JAX, a young soprano from Korea sang in Italian, German, and Latin. Amid amid the three dark-suited instrumentalists, she seemed to draw power from a red dress.* 

Attached to a wall of the Jacksonville gallery is a wooden box. Glass on the front, slot on top, it bears this sign: “Although our exhibits and gallery receptions are always free, a donation of any amount is greatly appreciated.” At the bottom nudged against the back was a lone copper coin.

On the corner of Rt. 221 N and Christiansburg Pike, multi-hued signs cheered a gloomy day:

signs Colors

Farther out of town stands the Pine Tavern Restaurant, where colors on a wall yet shine from the nineteenth century:

Collection of Reed and Jane Embry, 2015.

Button collection of Reed and Jane Embry, 2015.

Further toward Roanoke, along the right side of Rt. 221 N., two stored snowplow-blades faced the highway abreast, scooped up the inclining August sun, and glowed bright orange. In one garden along that road chartreuse shirts continued to scare away crows; in another, a scarecrow changed hue with its costumes, one of them rusty purple.

Off Franklin Pike, on a windy hilltop, a rowdy group attended the solar eclipse. As the big orange declined toward Downtown Floyd, it was gradually nibbled by moon and tree:

Telescopic photo by Ken Cundiff, October 23, 2014.

Telescopic photo by Ken Cundiff, October 23, 2014.

Red, white, and blue: colors of the poker chips brought out by high school students who congregate at Black Water Loft on Friday afternoons. And of the flag skillfully handled by the Honor Guard on Memorial Day. (With no hint of elegiac irony, the national flag waved over a ritual that honored Confederate soldiers among those of a half-dozen other wars.) During this ritual behind Zion Lutheran Church, a red plastic flower caught at the bottom of the cemetery fence, unable to escape or wither. On Rt. 651 a memorial oval of plastic red roses hung on a tree near a sign for Camp Creek. Orange once brought life to an all-gloomy-green day: ”A fire!” proclaimed Marjory, as down in Dodd Creek Valley flames rose from an uneven circle like a heathen ritual of hope, a wood-stove for the outdoors, its smoke easing off to the northwest.

In August, 2014, the annual Floyd Yoga Jam was held in the area of Indian Valley, near the far west end of the county. It drew many different-colored license plates but seemed Very Floyd in its counterculture ambiance. The atmosphere of easy peace was disrupted only by the burbling of a stream filled with noisy, healthy-looking children. In the photo below, what is this circle of biomass and rocks? A mandala created from amaranth shoots, watermelon pieces, orchid petals….

Symbol of the universe, Hindu or Buddhist.

Symbol of the universe, Hindu or Buddhist.

Your author held a YogaJam FotoShoot with the cooperation of an acquaintance:

Lacy w feathers

Lacy in the Jam with Feathers. By permission 2014.

And of an unknown but friendly woman:


Taking a detour from the YogaJam to attend a meeting, Randall noticed a street sign for “Reedsville”–mentioned in earlier chapter, where his friend’s father had been born. He turned around, snapped a photo, and couldn’t start his car. Within a minute a bunch of guys came to help, along with a woman and her blue Jeep:


Near the end of August the Floyd-Montgomery Jazz Project at Oak Grove Pavilion (behind Zion Lutheran Church) produced a melange of colors under the blue, red, white lights from the top. As Deb pulled and pushed the trombone slide, columns of mercury flitted up and down it as well as along the rest of the instrument. (When we crossed paths at Black Water Loft, she reported that her the bell of her saxophone is Sterling silver and the slide is nickel.) The sax lit up like votive candles dedicated to The God of Jazz. I asked the guitarist to name the color of his instrument and after a moment he chuckled: “Gibson red.” And the rich brown wood on the front of the bass fiddle? “Maple.” 

Four jazzy people at White Oak Pavilion. Photo by Fred First.

Four jazzy pals at Oak Grove Pavilion, 2014. Photo by Fred First.

In 2014 Passover Purple may have helped to rid Floyd County from a threat to its water, landscape, property values, health, and safety. An energy company moved the intended route of a pipeline so that it would just miss our hostile area. The tube, 42 inches in diameter, would carry methane gas produced by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from West Virginia to North Carolina. One citizen bought 400 copies of the metal protests, fabricated by a company in Floyd, which were quickly sold or, after the route was changed, shipped to other counties.

One of hundreds planted around the county.

As if in celebration, hardwood forests turned to fireworks:

orange trees

* Ironically some of her lyrics expressed a jaundiced attitude toward the colors of this world. Blando colore oculos mundus decepit–“With superficial show this world deceives the eye.” Spirat anguis inter flores et colores explicando tegit fel–“The snake hisses as it uncoil itself among petals and beauty, concealing its venom.” From Vivaldi’s sacred motet, Nulla in mundo pax sincera. The anonymous text declares that Jesus is the source of all truth and peace amid a world of deception, punishment and torment. By contrast, Roy G. Biv’s deity (as recounted above) seems to regard worldly colors as true indeed, substantial enough to be extracted as punishment.