Weekly Journal

Here's a compilation of everyday thoughts and articles I've written. Many have been published as part of my recurring columns in the News Messenger, the twice-weekly paper in Montgomery County, Virginia.


* * Falconing at Meadows of Dan and motorcycling to Burke's Garden

Last week was an entertaining and educational week.  My father, who is now in his early 80s, is a wildlife photographer in his retirement.  He and I visited with Lee Chichester at her home near the village of Meadows of Dan in Floyd County, Virginia.  Lee is a falconer.  She keeps two birds of prey near her home.  One is a red tailed hawk.  The other is a hybrid true falcon that was grown in captivity.  We took the red tailed hawk to a forest not far from her house where it was able to attack and kill a squirrel.  She also took out her falcon.  It caught some meat that she swung from the end of a string.  This experience was something I wish to write about in my second book, my novel.  Her birds are beautiful, appealing, and intriguing creatures.  It was a wonderful way to spend a gorgeous fall afternoon.  Dad took several pictures.  If you are interested in seeing them, please send me a message at my e-mail, bikemike@nrvunwired.net.

On Wednesday, I met my motorcycling friend Mike Gunther and we rode together to Burke’s Garden in Tazewell County.  I have been asked by Blue Ridge Country magazine to do an article for them about motorcycling there.  We had another beautiful fall day for this trip.  The article will appear in that magazine sometime in the spring.

Speaking of Blue Ridge Country magazine, the current edition is about the Civil War.  One of the articles in it is a profile that I wrote about Bob MacGraw, a Civil War reenactor from Tazewell, Virginia.  Writing this article was a very emotional experience for me.  When I met Bob a year earlier, he was approximately my age, in his mid-50s.  He seemed to be in decent health.  When I called on him a year later, he had a bandage on his ear lobe and said he had had a touch of melanoma that had recurred.  During the week I was involved with submitting the article to my editor at Blue Ridge Country, I made a call to Bob to confirm his permission to have the article printed and to get some last-minute details.  The voice on the other end of the line was unrecognizable to me.  He explained that his melanoma had returned with a vengeance and that he was in hospice care.  Three weeks later, he was dead.  The article in the magazine hit the bookshelves only a week or two later.  His wife, Anita, was very appreciative and she knew he would have been delighted.

My quest for a suitable publisher for The Spine of the Virginias is ongoing.  If you have any contacts in the publishing industry or any suggestions for me, please do not hesitate to contact me.




* * Motorcycling to Paint Bank, Hiking to Peters Mountain


Two days ago, on Saturday, I rode my Honda CBX motorcycle to Paint Bank for breakfast.  It was an overcast day, much colder than typical for this time of year.  The owners of the general store in Paint Bank built on the rear a new building to hose a restaurant called The Swinging Bridge.  This is a wonderfully funky place and with a big fire in the fireplace I was able to warm myself quickly.

Mikell Ellison is the general manager of the general store and restaurant.  I met her about a year ago and interviewed her for my book.  Since then, she has become a good friend.  Her insights into the area are as interesting and profound as anyone I’ve met.  She was very kind to offer me some shelf space in the general store for my book once it becomes available.  She also asked if I would come to the store and do a book signing and read excerpts from the book.  I told her I was certainly happy to do that.

Yesterday, I hiked with Kyle, a young friend who is a student at Virginia Tech, on a section of the Appalachian Trail to the north of us near Pearisburg, Virginia.  The woods are now in the peak of autumn color season and the forest was beautiful. We spoke with a group of three backpackers, a father and his two sons.  They drove all the way from Indianapolis to hike a 90 mile section of our backyard Appalachian Trail.  Kyle and I hiked to the ridge line of Peters Mountain.  At the top of the mountain, there was a light dusting of snow.  In this time of year, mid-October, it is unusual to have our first snow fall.  The trail was beautiful with the white snow covering the colorful leaves.  There was a brisk wind blowing from the north which made the ridgelines quite cold.  However, on our descent back down the south side of the mountain, the weather was much milder and more comfortable.

On the way home, we were driving on US 460 with a pickup truck and a car side-by-side some 100 yards in front of us.  A large doe darted across the highway from our left, narrowly missing oncoming traffic.  Unfortunately, the car in front of us smashed into her horrifically.  The entire front end of this car was destroyed with plastic and glass parts seemingly erupting from the collision.  The car pulled off the side of the road and we stopped momentarily to make sure everyone was okay before continuing on.  There are so many dead deer on our highways these days.  But in all my years here I had never seen one actually hit and have never hit one myself.  Last night I had nightmare visions of the collision.


* * The Spine of the Virginias is DONE! (sort of!)


After about four years of optimistic head-scratching, followed by two more years of serious research and writing, and then by four months of rewriting and editing, The Spine of the Virginias is finally finished, at least to the point where it is ready for consideration by a publisher. There are invariably some last-minute grammatical corrections yet to be made, but the book is essentially complete.  I am pleased to admit this has led to recurring fits of euphoria.

I have employed the services of several wonderful editors in recent months who have done a terrific job in helping me separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.  The document now is as concise and relevant as it can be while still amply illustrating the vast region the book covers, the 300 mile border between Virginia and West Virginia.

One of the reviewers, Kate McCoy of Blacksburg who is in my wife Jane’s book club, wrote to me last evening,


Michael,   I am enjoying the book tremendously, and find that now I've really gotten into it I can't wait to get back to it. I look forward to each new person and experience, and find myself wishing I could talk with and visit some of these people and places too! It's a great read - you should be really proud. It is unique in subject matter and approach, and is such a tribute to the people and places and natural history of our part of the world (to which I am extremely partial). Thanks for letting me read it. I'll try to keep pushing along quickly now, as much as my crazy life allows. Kate


I sent the document to a publishing house a few days ago and eagerly look forward to their impressions.  It is notoriously difficult for a first time writer to find a publisher willing to take on his or her work.  If this publisher is not receptive, I will continue my quest elsewhere.

I am also working with a designer at my former printing company on a design for the cover.  He and I are very excited about how this is coming together.  Whether a publisher may decide to use this cover or decide to design another from scratch is yet to be determined.  But it looks very nice to us.  If you are interested in seeing it, please drop me a note at bikemike@nrvunwired.net and I will e-mail it to you.

I am continuing to work on my second book, my novel about the community of Union, West Virginia.  As part of the research for that, next Monday I am going to join a falconer as she and her hawk hunt for rabbits and squirrels.  Falconry is the sport of kings.  I am very excited about the opportunity to see how falcons can be trained to hunt.  My father, Bob, who is now 81, is an avid wildlife photographer.  He plans to join me and take pictures of the experience.  I will post these here on my website as soon as I can.

As always, thank you for your interest in my writing projects.



* * Visiting The Greenbrier, Sweet Springs Resort, Fort Lewis Lodge and Capon Springs Resort


It has been a couple of weeks since my last entry. 

A week and a half ago, I spent three days on the road in Greenbrier and Monroe counties in West Virginia doing research for my second book.  At The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, I watched a falconry demonstration.  The handler allowed his bird, a Harris hawk, native to the American Southwest, to fly into a nearby tree.  Then he positioned a food morsel, a body part of a chicken, on his leather glove.  His hawk swooped down from the tree and landed again on his glove to eat the food.  I was with a group of only five people so each of us had the opportunity to wear the glove and have the bird take the food from us.  Exciting!

I interviewed several people from which I hoped to glean some ideas for my novel.  I stayed at the Sweet Springs resort where I was joined for dinner by owner Warren Smith and his lady Amonda Moon.  They are actively refurbishing the grand resort at Sweet Springs.  I detailed this in a chapter in The Spine of the Virginias.  Anyone who cares about area history should be grateful to Warren and Amonda for the work they are doing.

Jane and I spent several days on the road last week on a mini vacation.  We took the opportunity to patronize two of the businesses that I was fortunate to get to know and profile in The Spine of the Virginias.

I had stayed at the Fort Lewis Lodge in Bath County last spring and wrote a chapter about my experience riding with Carolina Tailwinds, a bicycle touring company.  I also profiled a young woman named Shelly Roberts who worked at the Lodge.  This trip, I invited several friends from Blacksburg who I ride bicycles with frequently.  We arrived on Saturday in the midst of a pouring, drenching rainstorm.  We had planned to take our first ride that afternoon but the weather was miserable.  Instead, we watched on TV the Virginia Tech versus Miami football game taking place back home in Blacksburg.  Our daughter was in attendance at the game.  We called her frequently during the game to see how things were going.  At one point she sounded so wet we thought she might drown!  Fortunately, Virginia Tech won the game handily.

The next day, we were able to take a nice 45 mile bicycle ride.  Our trip took us northward from the Lodge through the town of Williamsville, then McDowell, over Bullpasture Mountain, then back through Williamsville again and back to the Lodge.  One highlight was the spotting of a pair of bald eagles on the Bullpasture River.

Because the Fort Lewis Lodge is so remote, they include a full breakfast and dinner with each night’s lodging.  The food there is absolutely terrific, easily the best I have eaten along The Spine of the Virginias.  Unfortunately, Shelly was off work while we visited and I was not able to see her again.

If you'd like to read more about Fort Lewis Lodge, on this website in the "vignettes" section is an article about John Cowden who with his wife Caryl run the Lodge.

At the Capon Springs Resort, we took two nice hikes in the surrounding forests.  We were also able to “take the waters,” in the form of a relaxing bath-pool experience.  Jane attended two classes in watercolor painting.  Capon Springs has many endearing traditions, including a morning flag raising and an afternoon serenade of classical music on loudspeakers placed throughout the resort.  One evening’s dinner was provided at an outdoor pavilion with a wonderful sunset view.  Capon Springs is an enchanting place.

The day before yesterday, Jane and I rode one of our Honda motorcycles to Rocky Knob recreation area on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We took a short hike to a vast open field where we flew a kite in the stiff wind.  This area is often used by birdwatchers to see the annual hawk migration.  We spent perhaps an hour and a half flying our kite.  At one point, for about 10 minutes, there was a flurry of activity in the sky where we saw six hawks.  I believe they were either broad-wing hawks or red tailed hawks, but I forgot to bring the bird book.

My book, The Spine of the Virginias, is finally nearing the point where it is ready to be seen and evaluated by potential publishers.  I will include a fuller report next week.  Thank you, as always, for your interest in my writing projects.


* * Back from the far Southwest Corner


Last week, I rode my aged Honda CBX motorcycle to Yukon, McDowell County, West Virginia, to meet with my friend Benton Ward, who offered to guide me to the far Southwest corner of The Spine of the Virginias, where Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky come together.  The write-up for this trip was to be the final chapter for the book.  Benton rode his Honda Gold Wing.  We were joined by four of his friends, also on Hondas.

In contrast to the Northeast corner of the Spine, which is on Cacapon Mountain and relatively easily found, the Southwest corner is in the middle of the Tug Fork River. The Tug forms in the tight hollows of McDowell County and flows generally northwest towards its rendezvous with the Big Sandy River and eventually the Ohio.  The Tug is infamous for dividing the families of the Hatfields and McCoys, in addition to being in the proximity of the Coal Mine Wars in Matewan.  It forms the border between Virginia and West Virginia for only four miles before forming the border between West Virginia and Kentucky for most of its length.

This area is stereotyped as being the depth of Appalachia.  In much of the area we explored, the word “poor” is impotent in describing the wrenching, abject poverty.  I saw many listless, disheveled people sitting on front porches, staring into space, surrounded by yards of rubbish and abandoned car parts and children’s toys.  Part of the area had been hit by flooding in the spring and there was still much rubbish in the stream courses. 

As always, McDowell County provides interesting viewpoints on the American experience.

Meanwhile, editing continues on The Spine of the Virginias.

This week, I’m traveling for three days to White Sulphur Springs, Sweet Springs, and Union to do research on the new novel, Union, WV

Thanks always for your interest in my books!