11. Glimpses II: Spectacles, Acoustacles, the Ro’ & Willie.


Saw, sawn, shadow on Roger Rd. near Left Bank community.

      Saw, sawn, shadow.         Roger Rd. NE near Left    Bank Community.

No corner of Floyd, on the map or in the mind, escapes the author’s notice as he gazes through the HaruSpex. Several readers have asked for more information about the makeup and history of this mystical monocle. The owner-author 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 unidentified, gems apparently related to emeralds. Cut exotic. Reputed tool of haruspication.

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 s’hgmhth (a kind of B & B that provides chains for the guests)? Did a sinner give it to a venal priest as an indulgence? Most likely a refugee, pilgrim, explorer, soldier, or farmer achieved possession and exchanged it for a sort of passport. This figure was then carried across seas and up unknown tributaries by sail, paddle, and pole. In one of these water-versions of the story, the jewel was eventually rafted up a river in what would become the state of Virginia, then buried in a Native American settlement, maybe to hide it, maybe to encourage the growth of crops. 

PROVENIENCE: Discovered by a resident of Seven Leaves Farm. 

Of course its thirteen jewels have an obvious mystical-musical significance. Witness Wikipedia on the phenomenon of ten + three: “the interval between the sixth and first scale degrees when the sixth is transposed up an octave, creating a compound sixth, or thirteenth.”

More glimpses into Storied Floyd: 

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 held the baton steady 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 disappeared (the signs, not the haters). Once at the recycling center, noticing that a driver had the vehicle’s radio tuned to a loud banjo version of a classic song, I asked her if a person can listen to “Over the Rainbow” at a dump. “Ab-so-lutely!” I often risk addressing a stranger with a touch of friendly chutzpah laced with an attempt at wit. Usually a warm moment results. Few people (in the U.S.A., anyway) will resist an amiable laugh, and they often enjoy adding to it. In the grocery store, I looked downward at a somewhat elderly woman who was steering her motorized cart. “Didn’t you just come by here in the other direction?” “I’m goin’ in circles,” she laughed; “gettin my exercise!”

One 17-degree day Gannon and I happened to meet outside the Harvest Moon health food store. “People tell me,” he said, “‘Don’t be afraid to ask'”–i.e., for a lift. He glanced at his open coat, and on behalf of the town I immediately zipped it up and closed the top snap for good measure. Noticing that his right hand, which held a bag, was ungloved, I offered him mine. At the second offer he took it but declined the left glove–shortly before I noticed that hand tucked in its pocket-home. A couple of years later I congratulated him on being named King of Mardi Gras, a celebration sponsored by Blue Mountain School as a fund-raiser. But when I offered him a ride home from the grocery store, he said he already had one. “I don’t walk anymore,” he quipped: I’m king.” 

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 neat 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. 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. 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 do so. 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” (to quote Jack London’s only lame sentence): the white opacity was itself becoming obscured. Soot-like blackness was falling as End-Town Times were coming. NOT READY! NOT READY-Y! 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 in the dark fog. END OF THE WORLD! warned The Stoplight with its blinded lenses. NOT READY! cried the old building still labeled “Floyd Press” but now declining from obsolete to extinct. LAST CALL! announced the funeral home as it became its own casket. GET CDs sang the Country Store as customers felt their way with one hand and clutched barrel-candy with the other. ON THE BLINK! broadcast the cell-phone tower, its off-and-on red lights returning to their mysterious provenience.

Yet the next day, like Brigadoon in the musical play, the county seat reappeared. Were the now-soaked bags of Ethiopian coffee beans available at half-price? Would the statue-soldier’s rifle-barrel rust?

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 sliver of town-lights 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, and when I groped toward the inside-upstairs balcony to look out the window toward Floyd, a white flash, flash, flash disoriented me. A pajama-clad inspection of the horizon across the valley revealed nothing but darkness broken by the emergency light of the cell tower.

One day the invisible rising sun created the Yellow Sea. Behind the town it gleamed, washed out under pale gray clouds. Marjory and I craned to the right to peer out the door-window and located its farthest-south extent. Then we gradually traced its flat surface leftward and townward as it outlined trees—green pines and bare hardwoods with their random nests. Then we lost sight of its 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 east 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 abruptly at the north with a horizontal gap like an open beak.

Stay with I, who uttereth Bald Truth in premium grammar.

Once 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 its own 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 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 back 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 thirteen 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 thirty-one feet.

White Ridge Plateau to the northeast.

 White Ridge Plateau to the northeast.

At the end of December, three or four of us, with the help of sturdy-wheeled Dolly, tried to plant the live Christmas tree in the yard. 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 hauled up from Slaughters’ Nursery.

On January 30 I was driving up Snake 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 rearview mirror was empty of grill and cab! Then to my left streaked a long, moving side, for the powerful vehicle was trying to pass me and 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 still crossing back from the double lines as another vehicle came downhill.

This adventure was like contending for one set of rails with another train. But one afternoon a month or so later, driving up Rt. 221 toward town, I rounded a curve and beheld the headlight of a real locomotive. The Ro’ & Willie! Thought by some to be mythical, it revealed no flatcars as I drew closer. In fact no engine, just the blinding headlamp. How disappointing to perceive the reflection of the western sun on a yellow 35-mph sign.

In early February, several curves of the Little River–viewed from Rt. 221 N in the Floyd-bound lane–flowed turquoise and pink toward the already-vanished sun. In that same month, as I sat in the car on Rt. 221 S waiting for the stoplight, a man in a dark winter jacket trod across the crest from Courthouse to Farmers’ Supply–a silhouette leaning against gray clouds, the last soul on earth.

Frozen Little River viewed from Dobbins Farm Rd.

Frozen twists of the Little River as viewed from far above on Dobbins Farm Rd. NE.

We exchanged isolated Floyd for a week on the literal island of Curacao, in the Caribbean, and its blue liqueur of the same name:

bottles Curacao 380

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 that blew finding a rupture between fascia and gutter caused by heavy snow that thundered off the roof? (This 23-incher 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, then, whenever the wind was forceful enough, two notes in exact synchrony. A Native American tune? 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 highest pitch (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, one time a rapid series of triplets. Like jazz, like some modern piece, like a damaged CD or a faulty PA that stops and starts in sudden, brief spells. The next morning Marjory called to me downstairs. “One of the window-locks wasn’t down all the way, so I turned the lock and the noises 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 gigantic 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. Surely its smoke had fallen upon Chestnut Springs Retreat, a hundred-year-old cabin made of wormy chestnut. 

Former rolling stock of the Ro’ & Willie. Boxcar discovered on the property of Charlie Brouwer (Akers Rd. NW), who then claimed to have built it.

Hear that toot as it echoes from Wills Ridge?! Why should Floyd County not have its own defunct railroad? Nederland has the Colorado and Northwestern, whose narrow-gauge tracks once served the mining area of the Front Range. And Warrenville, Illinois (home of Sunny Bernardine, Appendix 2), has the now-unplugged electric railroad, the “Roarin’ Elgin” (Aurora & Elgin). Stuart, Virginia, downhill from Floyd, has the Dick & Willie, nickname for the Danville & Western Railroad. (Thanks to John Hopkins for this bit of railroad lore.) Here is a ditty that celebrates Floyd’s own Roanoke & Willis RR, so vital to the lumber trade. 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 from the chestnut blight.

“Oak tree,” toots the horn,
“Never make another ‘corn.”
You ain’t the first–them lumber reapers
Cut that row o’ wooden sleepers.

Cut you down,
Trip to town,
Ridin’ the Ro’…… & Willie!

Please stay on the Floydiana platform, peer down the track, and await an entire chapter on reconstructing the Ro’ & Willie station.