Ground Zero was Doc’s home base, his safe place, his patch of land, suburban retreat. He bought the house on Brasac Drive in Stone Mountain in the late 1980s when the neighborhood was still under construction, choosing the house and lot because it overlooked the wetlands on the fringe of Hairston Park. He could look out the back of the house and see woods and swamp, not other suburban houses. After he moved in he made a grand landscaping plan(seen above) called Loco-Motion/The Three Year Plan. Thanks to Paul Lamarre for unearthing this drawing to be seen here. Much of the plan Doc created, sweating away countless hours weeding and digging on days off, the physical labor an antidote to too many days sitting at a desk or in a conference room. He built a morning glory net over the living room picture window and enlisted some friends to pour a concrete(not flagstone) patio out back. It was his shelter and the place where he spent many of his happiest years. I and his closest friends and neighbors were lucky to spend time there with him, too. The house is still there, but Ground Zero only exists as an idea anymore, in drawings like this one, the busy, deep mind of Roy Burke spilling out on the page again, a marvel.
Around Christmas time, Doc and I would get together, sometimes with Paul, for a holiday toast, a meal, exchange gifts. We would listen to Bell Wringer, his Christmas music mixtape. Sometimes I would stay the night in the guest room at Ground Zero, preparatory to an early morning run into the mountains or down to South Georgia the next day. I always read before I go to sleep, and the light in the guest room came from one of these lamps. He had a few in the upstairs guest rooms. They aren’t antiques or museum pieces, just a functional little lamp with an unmistakable low-wattage yellow lightbulb. I keep one by the front door today, and the atmosphere it creates reminds me a little bit of good times with my friend, especially around this time of year.
Doc loved the Blue Ridge Parkway. It sang him a siren song of beauty, majesty, sound engineering and good governance. In honor or Rev. Reheis’ August pilgrimage the length and breadth of the ‘Parkway, here are three shots on film of S curves near Big Spy Mountain in Nelson County, Virginia near mile post 26, taken last century.
Stone Mountain Park was Roy’s refuge, relief, workout facility and subject for much of the final 30 years of his life. It was a woodland buffer from the grind of urban life, all the fine particulate matter in the air and the bureaucrats downtown. Those of us who knew him would give anything for another of those walks together through Stone Mountain Park on a breezy day. Post full-time retirement he walked there every day that he could, taking pictures in all seasons and all weather. His second blog Stone Mountain Meanderings is worth your time if you didn’t catch it first time around. This photograph of Stone Mountain Lake at the beginning of 2009 evokes Monet and his water lilies in its painterliness. They were both old men with beards who were familiar with their subject matter, and the brief moments in an average day when nature and weather combine to focus the eye, the hand on the canvas, the camera’s lens.
Two years on it still hardly seems real Doc, that all that would be left are the logbooks and maps, photos and blog posts and memories and laughs and the many, many remembered miles we spent strutting and fretting our way across the back roads and creeks and country churchyards. A headstone in your hometown and a righteous sendoff by your friends were good, but not enough. I still grieve a little every day recalling afternoons whiled away at Ground Zero, digging deep into South African resistance music or the oeuvre of Slim Harpo, tossing off jeers and asides at the ballgame on the TV down the hall. “That’s the Cavs,” your disgusted mutter standing in for every let down anyone ever took in the gut, as time expired. So there’s this photo, from your 2006 Blue Ridge trip, an image of American Pastoral that makes me smile at the thought.
Country Churches were one of Doc’s very favorite subjects. He made sure to visit them(and re-visit favorites) throughout his ramblings. If there was not a national forest handy, lunch at the tailgate would nearly always be in a country churchyard. His church aesthetic for the best photographs were exacting, and very nearly impossible to reach in the time and place he shot most of his photos. This shot, about as Currier and Ives as you can get in 2006, fell short by the length of the two utility wires crossing the picture, a technological affront to the identity of the country church as a simpler, earlier place in his mind’s eye.
Sun was setting, the end of a long day touring back roads in South Georgia, headed for our overnight lodgings in Cordele. Doc was compelled to stop and shoot by hand this picture of a pile of railroad ties.
In 2005 on his annual Blue Ridge sojourn, Roy logged an amazing amount of things, including Dames Rocket(Hesperis matronalis) on Day 5 of his trip, in Smyth County Virginia on County Road 660 East. It was one of his favorite wildflowers, easily accessible, not exotic, reliably found along many of his favorite country roads.
By 2007, Roy’s vacation road logs had become a model of organization and a data mine into the ecological and aesthetic ebb and thrum of the backwoods he traveled. On May 25, 2007, Day 5 of his annual Blue Ridge ramble, he logged the following botanical observations: cinnamon fern, yellow daylily, fire pink, butterwort, black snakeroot. Wildlife sightings that day were limited to a single box turtle. He took this pic of the North Fork, Cherry River around 5:21pm that afternoon.