Here are some excerpts and sample chapters from "The Spine of the Virginias", "Union, WV", "Harmonic Highways", "Providence, VA" "War, WV", "Orange, VA," "Keepers of the Tradition" and "Chasing the Powhatan Arrow".  I hope you enjoy them!


From Chasing the Powhatan Arrow

This was told to me by Davina Clyburn who along with her younger brother manage the volunteer fire department in Oakvale, just across the border from Glen Lyn, Virginia. It’s about a fatal car accident on US-460. 

“The one that got to me the worst was a girl that got killed when she flipped her Hyundai Tiburon on the superhighway. She was a Virginia Tech student coming back from spring break. It was a white car.

“She drove her car off the road into the median. The drain channels are steeper than they look. They will send your car airborne like you will not believe. She was not wearing a seatbelt. When her car rolled over, it threw her head into the sunroof and the glass shattered against her head. It rolled her around in her seat. The impact broke her back and when we got there, she was in a back-bend half-way outside her driver’s side window. The car landed back on its wheels. She was already dead. The car flipped so fast that almost everything just rolled and set back down in its place. She had just been to Wendy’s. She bought a baked potato with sour cream and chives on it. It was still sitting in the console between the front seats. She had took a bite and had set it back down. When she looked up she’d run off the road. I doubt it ever moved.

“Her purse came out of the car and flipped as it rolled. Everything  came out. Lip gloss. Checkbook. Compact. There was a little teddy bear, about this big. No doubt she’d had that teddy bear since she was a kid – missing an eye, tattered and torn with a tail that had been re-sewed back on. This was about eight years ago. You never forget.

“It started to pour the rain. We had to wait for a Medical Examiner from Beckley. Two hours. The victim was still laying with her back broken, half-way out the car. We covered her with a sheet; we are big in the dignity of death. I’m setting there in the truck right behind her car. And I’m setting there and setting there and setting there. It was daytime. I said to my chief at the time who was sitting with me, ‘I can’t leave her stuff out there to get wet.’ He said to me, ‘Davina, you can’t touch nothing.’ I said, ‘I am not letting her stuff get wet.’ I said, ‘I’m a momma. It’s her purse. It’s her personal stuff. Her mommy will want those.’ I got out in the rain and I got her stuff. I was smart about it; I piled it in order by the way it came out of that purse. When I got to that teddy bear, I lost it; I just bawled. I stuck it down inside that purse and I zipped it and I got back up in that truck and I set it down. He said to me, ‘You know, you’re going to get in a lot of trouble for doing that. You know that the M.E. has to take pictures of that purse and its content where it landed.’ I said, ‘Let them fine me; I don’t care. That dead girl is somebody’s baby.’

“The M.E. got on scene, a female. The rain had stopped. I talked to her and told her about the purse and what I’d done. I took her to the truck and gave it to her. I laid the dead girl’s personal items back on the ground where I’d gotten them so the M.E. could take pictures. The M.E. said to me, ‘Davina, pack that girl’s stuff back up. You’re fine. Don’t worry about that.’



From Keepers of the Tradition

This was told to portrait artist Leslie Roberts Gregg and me by gospel singer Ada Sherman when I asked her if she'd ever been poor.

“Yes, when I was a child. I remember when we didn’t hardly have food to eat. But we had so much love! I had three sisters and a brother. I’ve seen my mother wrap sacks around her feet because she didn’t have shoes. She went out to pick up wood to keep us warm. She would walk the railroad tracks and pick up the coal that had fallen off the trains. She would bring it home to make a fire for us. She washed our clothes on a washboard. I saw her hang up clothes on the line in the wintertime and they’d be freezing on the line before she could hardly get them up there. Sometimes we just had beans and bread or fried potatoes.

“We had so much love! My mom would set us on her lap and hug us and tell us how much she loved us. We didn’t have toys and things. We’d get fruit at Christmas, apples and oranges. We were so happy we’d eat the white part on the inside.

“They taught us to be honest. They taught us not to steal anything, not even a safety pin. Even if we were hungry, she told us not to steal food. She said, ‘If you ask somebody, I believe they will give you some food.’ She said, ‘Don’t never mistreat nobody. Don’t never make fun of nobody.’ My parents, they planted those seeds.

“But I want to tell you something: I am so happy to be black. God don’t make no mistakes. He made every last one of us. He created every nation under Heaven. If your blood is AB+ and my blood is AB+, we can give each other blood. When we give blood, they don’t put on it, ‘This blood is from a black person or from a white person.’”


From Keepers of the Tradition

Here's a story told to portrait artist Leslie Roberts Gregg and me by restorative forester Jason Rutledge:

“Before you go, I have a story to tell you.”

He began by telling us about his service in the military during the Vietnam War. He wanted to avoid combat, so he joined the Navy and following his aptitude testing, was assigned to work at an office in London, England. Once on his day off, he drove his Triumph motorcycle northeast of the city towards Ipswich. Lost, he stopped to regain his bearings. A boy of twelve or so was leading a large, chestnut-red horse down a lane. “I was raised by my grandfather. He was a sharecropper and a horse trader. Mules. Oxen. Chickens. Whatever he could trade on, he’d trade on. Whatever he could make money on. He enjoyed it, and it was part of his culture.

“The English countryside was mesmerizing to me. Every field had been in cultivation for centuries. There were endless rock walls that had clearly taken enormous labor to build. There was a ‘landscape patina,’ shiny from the presence of human use for thousands of years. I was mesmerized by this child, leading this great horse that was pulling a cart filled with bundles of twigs. The horse stopped before a gate. The boy opened the gate, and he spoke to the horse. The horse walked through and then stopped at the boy’s command. I spoke to the boy and asked him if I could better see the horse. It was beautiful! I had never seen a solid red horse without any markings. When I asked about it, he said, ‘it is a Suffolk Punch’. Punch is an English colloquialism meaning ‘round’. So the horse was thought to be round all over.

“At that moment, I was experiencing olfactory-stimulated homesickness. I smelled the horse and it made me homesick. I also smelled wood, the bundles of twigs. When I asked him what he was doing with them, he said, ‘My mum cooks with them.’ It was fuel wood. I was from a state filled with forests from horizon to horizon and I was in a country where people were using twigs as a fuel source. We both went on our way.

“Decades later, I was back home in America and that experience faded from my memory. After the Vietnam War, I dropped out. I had given up on education and being accepted by society. I had a relationship with cannabis that created some legal problems. Ten years after that experience in England, I was given a coffee-table book by my mother, an album of horses. I thumbed through the book, and I saw a photo of a horse pulling a cart. The horse was a solid-red mare, just like that horse I had seen in England. The memory flooded back into my mind and swept over my body. The caption had the name of the owner, who lived in Ipswich, England. I wrote to him and told him about my experience. Weeks later, I got a reply. He said that his hired man’s son had told about meeting an American sailor on a motorcycle a decade earlier. ‘That is indeed the same horse you saw in 1969.’

“Now the story gets even better.”

Jason explained that in the meantime, he had acquired three imported English draft horses. The Englishman wrote that he was a member of an international draft horse owners group. He had recognized Jason’s name. Jason continued, “He wrote and said that one of the horses that I owned at that time was a daughter of the horse I had seen years earlier as I was lost, riding my motorcycle around England!

“I tell this story to youngsters. I want them to believe that there is a creator. If there is a creator that puts these mysterious things together in a seemingly unconnected reality, that experience is proof of the oneness.”


From Keepers of the Tradition

Here's a story told to artist Leslie Roberts Gregg and me by famed luthier Wayne Henderson of Rugby, VA (population 7).


“My cousin Tex lived around the corner and he was one of the only kids I could play with. My sister and brother were 9 and 11 years older and were out and gone. If I wasn’t carving or whittling or gardening, once in a while I could play with my cousin who was my age. We were sickly and puny. He was sick all the time with a sore throat, so his folks decided to have his tonsils taken out. I had a sore throat, too, but I never said nothing about it because I didn’t want them taking mine out. So they took him to the hospital over in Jefferson (NC) to have his tonsils taken out. When they made an appointment for that to be done, the doctor came out to talk with his parents and they said, ‘While we’ve got him in here and put to sleep, we should circumcise him, too.’ So they did that at the same time. My cousin showed up back in school a couple of weeks later. I couldn’t wait to see how he was doing. He said, ‘When I got back from that hospital, I was in pretty bad shape. I feel fine now. But let me tell you something that we didn’t know. Those tonsils aren’t where we thought they was.’”


From Orange, VA

Here's the opening of Orange, VA, a novel of political intrigue.


“It’s malignant,” Dr. Paula Truesdell informed definitively. Behind her, a raven-haired Asian-featured nurse dropped her chin to her chest and sighed, painfully. The double-paned window in one of the older buildings at the University of Virginia Medical Center rattled in its moldings against the wind where browned leaves danced in the air. “I’m very sorry.”

A brilliant red northern cardinal, perched in the tree outside, sang a high-pitched whistle, “Tear. Tear, psssss!”

The afflicted woman, Sally Taliaferro Bradley, took a deep breath and turned to her twin sister, Marjorie Taliaferro. Marjorie grimaced, and said nothing, but her heart felt as though it had been pierced by a dozen swords.