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Monday 12 June

Woke up this morning around 7:30; it's something like 10:45 and I've been busy at various "housekeeping" tasks, some of them real housekeeping helping out with little things in Susan's new house, most of them uploading photos, diary, etc. We may be on our way any minute to Seco and Kona and after that who knows where else: this is the last day of Susan's weekend, so very likely my last day of roaming around in cars until next weekend.

Saturday we poked around the remoter little roads of nearby Virginia, mostly Dickenson County; yesterday Sunday we went on a shorter excursion towards, and eventually to, Benham.

Saturday around noon we headed off to Virginia, with the thought maybe of going to Abingdon, although 90 minutes away, where better and/or more exotic groceries can be got: never got anywhere near the place, of course; which was, as usual with me, just fine.

So zooming up the highway to Pound Gap, then down it thru Pound or possibly bypassing it (one of the disadvantages of cars: you jabber and barely notice where you are), and our first sort of stop, not very long, was in a very depressing place called Coeburn; or at least, with many of these little towns, the old center of town is depressing dirty dilapidated decrepit brick buildings, some of them barely occupied or not at all. Here we saw a tiny storefront labelled Something Cafe or something like that; Susan noshes thru the day, so we stopped: not a whit of food, a bar only; sign outside, with an American flag, read "Beer drinkers parking only; all others will be flagged". Inside, four old men drinking at a wooden table; no bar, just a sort of counter: on shelves on the wall behind it, among other paraphernalia, two large cups in the shape of a woman's breast. The whole place filthy; the western Virginia version of some of the little dives I've seen in Umbria, I felt right at home.

(Actually, before Coeburn — and Norton, from what I could tell, we didn't stop there, a similar place before it — we'd pulled in briefly at a small mining operation of some kind — I really don't understand mines and I'm not sure it was a mine — where no one could enter, no trespassing etc. without checking at the office: no office in sight, we just peered at a large field of coal débris and what appeared to be equipment for grading and sorting it, without of course going past the line that said no go past — but a guy in a truck showed up and shooed us away, "you're on private property" and an expression on his face like he had a shotgun — Susan said there were frequent equipment thefts from places like that —)

[image ALT: A largish area or field covered with small gravel-like chunks of coal; in the background, an industrial conveyor-belt system can be partly made out, and in the foreground right, a group of signs with safety and ownership information, as well as a no-trespassing warning.]

Glamorgan company mine in Wise, VA (and a close-up of the signs).

At Coeburn I saw a sign for "Nora", and this was appealing enough (memories of "Nora's freezing on the trolley, Walla Walla Wash. and Kalamazoo" I think) for us to head off in that direction: quickly small winding roads with almost no traffic, and few signs, so that I was never quite sure where we were, especially since we had no map at all with us. The road, Dr. Ralph Stanley Highway, rose to an irregular ridge, some houses here and there and I saw signs half-identifying places as Sandy Ridge and Smith Ridge: nothing much except at one place an old church and its cemetery, established 1904 and 1906 respectively; Maple Grove Church quite photogenic.

[image ALT: A small single-story wooden church on a patch of lawn amid some tall deciduous trees. The square belfry, about 2 meters tall, is in the shape of a cube with a picket railing and a heavy pyramidal shingled roof, and is very noticeably tilted. It is Maple Grove Baptist Church in Dickenson County, Virginia.]

Then back down into something like a valley to a place called McClure where we ate lunch: Susan opted for a small plate of corn fritters, I just told 'em surprise me, and got a beef sammich and mashed potatoes (from a mix) and gravy: OK, certainly no stars, and more cafeteria food than homemade.

From there to Clintwood, on the strength of a recommendation to see, since that's what I was interested in, an "old stone church" — I expected to be disappointed, and pretty much was: a Rustic Gothic Revival building from the early 20c.

A sign in Clintwood gave us "Birch Knob Tower" 10 miles away, no explanation; for once, when we got there, I'd guessed exactly right: a former fire observation tower with a view. The view extends over a huge tract of essentially empty country: Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and on some days just barely Ohio — not when we were there, not clear enough. The Knob I'd guessed too, a natural outcrop hill, some large boulders on which a metal-grating stairway had been affixed; geodesic markers (four of them, three on the very same rock curiously, a few feet apart). No orientation table, so we still had no idea where we were nor what we were looking at. The US is a huge empty country. . . .

[image ALT: A young woman leaning against a metal railing; in the background, a side panorama of apparently uninhabited land: almost all of it forest.]
Susan after 138 steps up to the observation platform.

From there we fell into bits of the Jefferson National Forest; near the parking lot 100 yards from the observation deck, a striking vivid carmine wildflower, a few stands here and there, had no idea what it was, but easily the prettiest thing I saw Saturday, except for the deer at several points later along the road to Haysi: the first pair of deer caught me totally by surprise, out of the corner of my eye as we first whaz by I thought golly, plastic lawn-decoration deer way out here. . . . Susan had to point out them was deer, and we turned round, and pulled over, and I put my telephoto lens on in the car before even getting out, and walked toward them: they weren't too scared considering: an adult female I think and her young maybe, though nearly grown; although what do I know about deer.

[image ALT: A montage of four photographs, clockwise from upper left: a deer, a small wildflower possibly of the snapdragon family, a small lizard almost perfectly camouflaged against a grainy rock, and a small wildflower with five cleft petals.]

In and around Jefferson National Forest, straddling the Kentucky-Virginia border.
The red flower is a fire pink, Silene virginica.

Haysi (pron. Hay-sigh) a small town with what seemed to be more civic pride then many places: monument in honor of a local doctor, a large mural of the town, a town flag, clean and untorn, flying next to those of the US and Virginia (Jenkins' flag in November at the Town Hall was in bad shape, and is no longer flying there) — and a restaurant, where we stopped from about 7:40 to very close to 9 P.M. I had a chef salad, which turned out to be a huge circular mound of thank goodness mostly lettuce and only veneered with shredded cheese; lots of broccoli, cucumber, tomatoes, quite good. Glass of milk — and back to Jenkins in the dark, the back road via the Breaks State Park, Elkhorn City, Hellier, Burdine. To bed rather quickly.

Yesterday Sunday I didn't make up my mind 'til the last minute whether to go to church or not; at 10:53 Susan's yellow Miata put me in front of the Methodist Church — the one with the famous stained-glass windows — only to find their service is at 0930, an unusual time; but the neighboring First Baptist Church, people filing in, so that's where the Lord wanted me to go, and in I went, grey trou, my almost-matching Italian blazer, a white shirt, and no tie since I just couldn't button the shirt at the neck. As it turns out, I was neither under- nor over-dressed, and I slithered into a middle pew, being conscientiously greeted by Lester McPeek and Ruth Robinson in addition to the official crew in the narthex passing out bulletins and stuff.

It was an odd day for a total stranger to be attending that particular church. The pastor, after a few hymns (two of which I remember having sung years ago, and one never), preached his last sermon in that church: he'd tendered his resignation which had been accepted, and is now apparently already in fact pastoring a church in Somerset KY, and he therefore preached from Acts 20:25‑32, on what a church should look for in a pastor and vice-versa. A big man, somewhat distractingly wearing a tie with the Israeli flag on it, he needed no microphone to preach (although he had one), and preaching in fact was what he felt the prime duty of a pastor was: and not, as he put it, the works of Dr. Bonstopper nor the self-help ideologies of man, but the Word. He has to have a calling to preach; he has to have sound doctrine; he has to be grounded in the denomination; he has to have a desire to serve. Conversely, the congregation, having called a pastor, should go along with him, cherish him as they would a member of their family, and not oppose him outside the church to the face of non-parishioners, which is destructive to the entire church.

O had such a sermon only been preached, and heeded by even only half the pastoral search committee at Good Shepherd Parish those now many years ago! How much ghastly, destructive, damaging stuff would have been avoided! We got what we deserved, though — I told both him and a couple of his parishioners that. Withal, the sanctuary, which seats maybe 180, only about 25 in attendance; hobbling by on no choir, just the pianist; and the occasional soloist though not yesterday. Mind you, another Baptist Church two or three doors down Main Street; but then for all I know, not the same denomination at all. I asked a member of the congregation, then the pastor and his wife, if I might photograph, the sanctuary quite handsome — and with that peculiar fragrance so characteristic of American churches, compounded I think mostly of well-polished wood — they seemed pleased, and I did. Only the second time I've ever been in a Baptist church; First Baptist has, although it took me a while to realize it despite facing it thruout the service, a baptistery pool under the crucifix. Pastor and his wife Barbara — attractive strawberry blonde — drove me straight back to Susan's house, and I didn't have to say who it was though Susan just moved in a week or so ago: maybe a small-town thing, or then maybe they live right down the block.

The rest of Sunday, after a quiet time on Susan's porch — partial view of the lake, but mostly a view of neighbors below her, Byron and Amanda Thomas (coincidentally, he's in med school, Pikeville Osteopathic) but of course I'da never known any of that were it not for their wonder­ful schnauzer-terrier mix puppy, who lives indoors but every good weather day gets tethered to her run between two big trees on their back lawn: Roxie yaps happily at her Dad playing basketball, or runs around, or sits like a dignified adult dog watching things —

Distracted by Dog, I'd better start that sentence again: we had a late lunch of macaroni salad, then a bit before 4 headed out — Susan wants to drive me everywhere — to various places: stores and such, then track down SuperMike in Marshall's Branch, where we found him sitting on a neighbor's porch; Millie Jean and her friend Annie, we sat and chewed the fat a bit, primarily of course checking up on Mike — his father seems to be doing somewhat better and they're even talking of releasing him.

We didn't stay long; Susan thought she'd drive me somewhere, where? I hadn't seen the area around Cumberland, and especially Benham — the other big old coal town, Jenkins' competitor in a sense — so we headed off that wayº

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