“Roanoke Summer Midnight,” by Eric Robert Nolan

“Roanoke Summer Midnight”

Its midnight moon is newly minted coin —
a white-hot silver obol
forged in burning phosphorus.
The crisping clouds around it blacken.

Its silhouetted mountains
are great blue gods at slumber
the faded-haze azure horizon’s
giants in the dim.

Those slopes have known a billion bones of hares
that raced upon them other midnights, then,
pausing, one by one,
drawing up their downy legs at last to final sleep.

Where the Shenandoahs’ driving
beryl falls to black,
aquamarine to onyx,
lay legions of hares — generations resting.
There are the hills where ivory
rabbits sleep among gods.

Ahead and under moonlight
the curving rural road obscures its end.
At right, an intersecting well-lit modern block
confuses the curling topography.
The fresh and symmetrical asphalt’s angle
mars the winding thoroughfare with order:
a ninety-degree anachronism.

That new and perfect subdivision
affronts the corner’s antebellum chimney,
broken down to stones and overrun in lavender
— its lilac colors driven plum by sunset.
That last century’s smokestack
was itself effrontery once
to the formless places where natives stayed
their only edifice the stars,
their only currency the blinding coin of moon.

Eyeing, then, the summits’ crowning cobalt
driving down in royal blue to coal,
I hope to one day take my rest
there, in the darkening indigo,
alongside giants,
among white rabbits in myriad easy stillness,

to pause myself at last and sleep beneath
what meadows stretch in cerulean dark,
where hares will race like moon-kissed silver,
or comets of darting pearl.

(c) Eric Robert Nolan 2017

 

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Photo credit: By Jessie Eastland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Roanoke, Virginia, June 2017

If you look closely at the third photo, you can see a helicopter beginning an ascent from the top of Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.  Evidently, the facility’s landing pad is at the top of its cylindrical section.  It kept landing and returning the day I took this photo; I’m guessing that a pilot was either training or practicing.

 

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You’re going to fawn over these pictures I just took.

Or maybe not.  They’re a good deal blurrier than I’d hoped.

I encountered this lost little lady about an hour ago.  She was between a rock and a hard place — the fence and the adjacent road.

I did the best that I could to help her.  (Hey, if there is a human who knows what it’s like to be lost and confused in Roanoke, it’s me.)

But my assistance didn’t amount to much.  The best I could do was wave at oncoming cars and point out the deer to them.  (She kept wandering into the road in desperation.  At one point an SUV almost hit her … she collapsed and clattered to the street in fear, and, trust me, that is one heartbreaking sound).  I’m not sure what more I could have done; I’m no Deer Whisperer.

Anyway, a pair of pretty girls showed up in a jeep and cheerfully assured me that they would take it from here.  They sounded pretty confident, and they seemed like Roanoke natives who were well-versed in country ways.  (They had a jeep.)

Either the fawn is now fine, or someone’s serving venison extra tender tonight.

 

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Botetourt County, Virginia, June 2017

At left is a Bradford Pear tree, at right is a Cleveland Pear.

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Bradford Pear.

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This Bradford Pear tree was felled by a derecho windstorm.

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Termites?  A mutant steel-billed woodpecker?

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I have no idea what this … organism is, but it looks like the inside of a dog’s ear.

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Mary Washington’s grave and the Gordon Family Cemetery, Fredericksburg, VA, June 2017

The entrance to Kenmore Park/Memorial Park on Washington Avenue.  The obelisk itself is the grave of Mary Washington, George Washington’s mother; right behind it is the Gordon Family Cemetery.  Although George’s father died when he was just 11 years old, his mother saw him ascend the presidency.  She died in 1789.

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Looking east from the park’s entrance, you can see First Christian Church, on the intersection of Washington Avenue and Pitt Street.

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Washington Avenue looking south.

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Gordon Family Cemetery.  The Gordons lived at Kenmore; the gravestones date from 1826 to 1872.

If you were a Mary Washington College student returning from a party downtown in the 1990’s, you could pass the cemetery on your way back to campus at night.  I saw a group of high school kids inside the cemetery one night; they scattered in a panic when they realized I’d noticed them.  (To my knowledge, no Mary Wash kids were involved in shenanigans like that here.)  I believe it is illegal to enter a cemetery like this at night … and I have it on good authority that Southern cops take such an offense very, very seriously.

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Behind the cemetery is Meditation Rock.  This was an occasional destination for college students out for a walk.  Shortly after I arrived at Mary Washington in 1990 from New York, a patient group of upperclassmen “adopted” me and kindly resolved to keep me out of trouble.  (One of them is still my “big brother” today.)  This is one of the first places they showed me when they gave me a tour of the town.

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Am I a weird guy if I suggest that images of Meditation Rock can have Freudian undercurrents?  Is that wrong?  There is a whole “Picnic at Hanging Rock” vibe here.  (The sad thing is, I was actually studying Freud at about the time I first saw it, and it never occurred to me then.)  The juxtaposition with the nearby images associated with death and godliness is aesthetically striking.

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The Kenmore Apartments are still across Kenmore Avenue on the other side of the park.

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Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, June 2017 (6)

Pictured are Willard Hall, The Fountain, Woodard Campus Center and New Hall.

*****

My cell phone’s battery died as my Alumbud and I reached the northern end of Mary Washington College’s campus earlier this month.  Hence, there are no pictures of the truly massive Simpson Library/Hurley Convergence Center.  (I swear to you, that entire complex is about the size of the goddam S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier.)

 

Willard Hall and The Fountain.

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Woodard Campus Center.  I don’t remember calling it that when I went to school here in the early 1990’s.  Wasn’t it just “The Student Center?”

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The student mailboxes.

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Inside Woodard.  The Eagle’s Nest would be down and to the left.  Upstairs was where the fall and spring formals were held.  Those were significant social events back in the day.

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I thought this was nice — I’m guessing it’s probably a product of the campus-wide remodeling project.  And it has the college’s correct name!  Beyond it is Seacobeck Dining Hall.

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The renovated outdoor deck, another apparent feature of the remodeling project.  I much prefer the unenclosed split-level deck that I remember.

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New Hall, old man.  My battery failed also before I could get pictures of the nearby light pole and the Fredericksburg municipal water tower, both of which I climbed on a dare, back in 1994 when I went through my “Spider-Man” phase while residing here. (That’s my senior year dorm room window behind me.)

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“The Bridge!”

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Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, June 2017 (4)

Pictured is Bushnell Hall at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I lived here during the 1990-91 school year.  It was a freshman dorm then; I don’t know if that’s still the case.

I arrived here just before my 18th birthday; this was the first place I ever lived away from home.  I have never admitted it until this moment, but I was terrified watching my mother’s car pull away after I unloaded the last of my things.  That terror lasted … two hours?  Three?  After my first dinner with the other Bushnell kids at Seacobeck Dining Hall, Mary Washington College felt goddam perfect.  I never wanted to leave.

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My dorm room was on the bottom floor, second from the right in the picture below.  It was a suite — there were two rooms connected by a small bathroom.  And there were six 18-year-old boys living there — yes, that means three to a room.  Good lord, those were close quarters.  We were awakened twice a week by the BEEP-BEEP-BEEP of the garbage truck reversing to empty a dumpster outside our window.  And this was in a room without air conditioning, in Virginia, where teenagers were experiencing college-level academic stresses for the first time.  I helpfully eased tensions in the suite by playing Depeche Mode’s “Policy of Truth” 3,043 times.  The other five guys LOVED that.

There were even good-natured jabs connected with the North and the South.  I habitually and dryly referred to one of my suitemates as “South Virginia;” he addressed me just as dryly as “Long Island Piece of Shit,” (or just “L.I.P.S.,” for short).  He also took to calling me “Urban Spillover,” an appellation he derived from one of Dr. Bowen’s “Geography of North America” classes that mentioned Long Island.  For some reason, the latter nickname absolutely felt more pejorative.

Seeing those double white doors beside my room below, and that steep hill in the following photos, will always remind me of my 18th birthday.  A group of first-floor guys and fourth-floor girls had gathered inside that door just after moving in during the August of 1990, before classes started.  A polite debate stirred there about whether opening those doors would set off the fire alarm.  (They were clearly marked “Fire Doors” by an electric sign but … the LIGHT wasn’t on in the sign.  And surely the administration wouldn’t require the guys on my floor to walk up an entire flight to the lobby just to exit the building, right?)

Without a word of warning, one of the first-floor guys spontaneously decided to test this theory by just blasting right through it.  (No, it WASN’T me.)

The fire alarm went off.  Everyone panicked.  The guys and girls all shot down the hill outside Bushnell after the guy who’d triggered the alarm, and we all ran … right off campus.  We didn’t stop running until we’d reached somewhere along William Street, I think.

But not all of us escaped without injury.  One of my roommates was a tall, burly guy from right there in Fredericksburg, and he slipped in the sand and loose gravel that characterized that hill during that long ago August.  I still remember that dull, loud, discordant thump-and-rattle as his body hit the slope, while my own lungs were pounding.  When we reached the spot along William Street where our panic finally subsided, we all turned and gaped at his wound.  One of his legs had become a sepia Monet of sand-encrusted blood.  There were still pebbles clinging there, I’m sure of it.

He took it like a trooper.  I guess … he just walked it off.  And we walked around the ENTIRE town.  We were scared to return to campus, what with images of arrest and expulsion dancing in our teenage minds.  (We all might have overreacted a little.)  So we went on a truly lengthy hot summer trek that circled all of the historic downtown area.  (I think we wound up at Carl’s Ice Cream on Princess Anne Street at some point.)

That was really when I saw the City of Fredericksburg for the first time.  I remember thinking that the South seemed like some other world — or maybe the same world, but 100 years ago.  And I don’t mean that in any negative sense.  It genuinely confused me that this town was called a “city,” but it just seemed idyllic and old fashioned and beautiful.  I’m not sure if the average Fredericksburg resident realizes this, but their city indeed makes an impression on newcomers.

Somewhere along the way, I finally let it slip that the day was my birthday; I think heat exhaustion influenced my usual reticence on the subject.  A couple of the girls stole away to a card store on Caroline Street, I think, and bought a card for me.  My new friends all signed it for me upon our eventual return to Bushnell Hall that day (which was thankfully not occasioned by even a mention of the fire doors).  I went to bed that night thinking that my new friends were a pretty decent group.

Anyway — more on my roommate’s injury … he was a bit of an eccentric guy, and one of his eccentricities was that he did not like to go to the Campus Health Center.  He cleaned his long leg scrape himself, and then … bandaged it with duct tape.  That’s right — duct tape.  He’d apparently brought some along with him as an incoming freshman, just in case of an emergency.  You can’t say it was a needless precaution — here he was, using it in lieu of bandages.

He walked around campus like that for a while.  He looked a lot he was wearing part of an extremely low-budget “Robocop” Halloween costume.  I honestly don’t know what transpired when it came time to remove the duct tape, and I’m not sure I want to.

You can’t make this stuff up.

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This the dorm’s south side.  If you face Bushnell looking north, the southern cap of the rectangular campus will be at your back.  Today, it is is one the last places of the main campus’ 234 acres that remains undeveloped.

I’m not sure if there is any connection here, but there is a large mound of dirt among the trees and ivy that was rumored to be the remains of a Civil War fortification.  It makes sense — that hill commands a view of the city; that’s why I used to go there to have my once-a-day Newport menthol cigarettes around dusk.  And in the Nineteenth Century, before William Street’s more modern buildings were erected, I’ll bet you could see Marye’s Heights and the key sections of Sunken Road where the Battle of Fredericksburg raged.

I chatted with a girl on the steps of Bushnell once who told me she’d spoken with the ghost of a Civil War soldier.  She actually carried on a brief conversation with him.  She re-enacted the exchange after a some urging from me, but I wound up giving her story little credence.  I didn’t exactly believe in ghosts, and she sounded like an actress confused about a role.  (I wasn’t sure why her Confederate soldier would speak with a British accent.)

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