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Thursday 22 June

Monday is very easy to write up: I did almost nothing, didn't go anywhere except into town for some very minor grocery shopping, took not a single photograph and talked to nobody. Laundry, computer stuff, chatting with Susan on the veranda, and to bed early.

Tuesday wasn't that very much, but the afternoon Susan drove me to and around Pikeville, and it was an interesting afternoon. We started by taking the road to Dorton, and turning on Marshall's Branch Road to look at the little church the sign for which at the turnoff says 1½ miles off (so the day I walked to Dorton I'd decided against it). Well, it's not 1½ miles away, but maybe only ½ mile if that. We got out, peered at it — the most interesting thing to me was a manual bell pull by the door — squinted at the nearby creek and its dragonflies, black wings, behavior more like butterflies, but metallic green body (we later learned they're called "snake doctors" because they're said to be a sign that there are snakes around) — when a car stopped and the driver stepped out with a slightly wary expression asking if we needed help: turned out he was Allen Culbertson, the pastor of our little church, the Marshall's Branch Worship Center; so Susan and I did our by now practiced antiphonal explanation of Boobykins likes history and churches and old buildings and photographs them. Pastor Culbertson gave me a brief summary of the history of the church, offered to show me inside and of course I accepted; after six years, starting with an attendance of 15 or so — church seats maybe 100 — he's got about 70 on your average Sunday, and the congregation rather active, including the 10‑year‑old boy appointed, to his great delight, to ring the bell for service on Sunday morning. The most interesting item in the church to me was the Jewish prayer shawl prominently central in the worship space, Pastor Culbertson and I talked about Christians being merely grafted onto the root of Judaism; Susan during all this outside looking at various plants with one of the church's deacons, a man named Donny, and another parishioner Ellis — inside the church I made the good Reverend work a bit; the man's obvious sincerity and the happy quality of the little church was such that I did something I can't remember ever doing in my dozens of years visiting hundreds of churches: I asked him if he'd say a prayer there, and we did. Back outside, we squinted at burdock — dull and unlovely if medicinal — and at touch-me‑not: pretty yellow flowers but touch the seedpods and they suddenly pop rather alarmingly even when you're prepared for it, and the leftover empty pods make curious little twisty things. And we left.

[image ALT: A wooden bench over the back of which is neatly draped a Jewish prayer shawl. Behind the bench, a large mural photograph of a woodland scene and some live plants. In front of it, a small table with a crystal pitcher and glass flanked by two low bouquets of flowers. It is the chancel of Marshall's Branch Worship Center near Jenkins, Kentucky.]

Above, the chancel of Marshall's Branch Worship Center; below, touch‑me‑not pods, after popping. Several plants by that name; this one is Impatiens pallida.


[image ALT: A tangled knot of the thin flat stalks of a plant, with a sticky filament and several small pods of much the shape of a hand grenade, against an irregularly ridged background. The plant is Impatiens pallida, a species of touch‑me‑not, and the background is part of a human hand. The photo is much magnified.]

Millie Jean and Annie the other day had mentioned a ruined old church along the Dorton road; with my eyes this time carefully primed, I spotted it, click-click: amazing how fast the woods take back an untended building —

[image ALT: A small rectangular single-story building almost engulfed by vegetation and trees. It is the abandoned Elkhorn Primitive Baptist Church on the Dorton-Jenkins Highway in Pike County, Kentucky.]

The ruins of the Elkhorn Primitive Baptist Church on the Dorton-Jenkins Highway: the little steeple is just barely visible to the right. The building was really identifiable only by a sign on the ground by its door. (Two more pictures on its own page.)

Toward Pikeville, trying real hard not to take the big empty four-laner: we found Virgie, an intermittent long curving road of town, with an unusual number of trucks and truck-related businesses; gritty and not that great, but a huge gym and what I think was a community swimming pool (lots of kids splashing around behind a fence), and some churches that weren't bad actually. More circuitous wandering (Robinson Creek, a small town), but eventually fell back on the blasted highway and caved in, zoomed into Pikeville.

Pikeville a rather large and very prosperous-appearing place, never seen a downtown so totally given over to lawyers in my life; logical I suppose since the county seat, courthouse and all famous Hatfield and McCoy trial there the year after the present building was constructed — but other county seats not so full of lawyers: surely the coal companies and the unions and the people suing them must account for them all.

[image ALT: An elegant somewhat lower-than-cubical stone building occupying most of a small city block; it is topped by a two‑story square tower with a little bronze cupola. On one side of it, three flagpoles; flower-hung 19c‑style curving lamp-posts complete the picture. It is a view of Pike County Courthouse in Pikeville, Kentucky.]
Pike County Courthouse.

Nothing of extraordinary interest in Pikeville, although the courthouse attractive, and the Methodist church, which exceptionally happened to be open for a Bible school registration: a couple of pretty good windows. The downtown, quite small, about five blocks by maybe three, super-clean, late 19c buildings, but no real commerce: with only a little exaggeration, if the building wasn't a law firm, it stood vacant. Produces a sterile effect; on the other hand, like the signs warning you as you enter the county on the roads, Pike County is "the cleanest county in Eastern Kentucky" —

And from there, via a Mexican restaurant on the outskirts, El Poncho, pretty good because real and not part of a chain I don't think — home to Jenkins.


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Page updated: 30 Jul 06