From Roy Burke’s spiral bound secretary’s notebook, the second of three he filled up on his Blue Ridge vacation from 1986: Saw a deep red barn, contrasted against a green hillside, with a winding road. The shot didn’t pan out; however, I found my first wild basil–a neat little lilac-colored mint with flowers growing in bristly clusters in the leaf axils. And, next to the truck, the Common St. John’s Wort, an uncommonly pretty 5 regular with yellow petals, dotted on black around the margins. I looked and simply smiled…Over in that big clump of trees there must be a thousand crows, well maybe 8 or 10, mobbing, squabbling, and kicking up a general racket. I’m inclined to sit here for a while. Keep my wildflower books and notes up front, now; before in the briefcase in the back of the truck. Each time–tailgate down, briefcase open, briefcase shut, tailgate closed. And the Minolta in travel-ready position. The longer the camera stays zipped in its bag, the less inclined I am to stop and seize a quick opportunity.
Sittin in the shade of a big maple, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. 1220. Cool, soft breeze. This, the Western part of Augusta County radiates peacefulness. An orderly graveyard across the road, one acre, wrapped in black wrought iron fence, deeply rolling, mixed farmland dotted with well-kept old buildings. People stop to ask if I’m o.k., and seem sorta disappointed to hear that I don’t need to be aided. Green, everywhere deep greens with a thousand textures. Glowing in the midday sun. To the west, running north and south as far as I can see, foothills of the George Washington National Forest. Covered in a mosaic of regrowth. Patterns. Inviting…Maybe I’ll spend the rest of my vacation here.
Jefferson Co Ga Louisville Store Front 12/26/18 Photo by Roy Burke
The best back-road trips with Doctor Flowers aka Roy Burke usually included forays into small towns, which if they rated, featured some weathered windows and doors for Doc to suss out and capture on his trusty camera(in later years a digital Nikon). The entrepreneurial dreams and aesthetic choices he loved to capture were those of the independent hangers-on in the near-abandoned blocks nearby the square. The actual commerce in many these places had long before decamped to the bypass or the interstate, plopped down in a late 20th century shopping mall tied to the Wal Mart, or the food gas bathroom node at the interstate crossings of Generic America. Left behind are often the ruins of the glory days when everyone ‘came to town’ to trade, to gossip, or in the case of this would-be club, sip a Bud Light. He took this photo on one of our last Christmas week runs together, in 2013. Our ultimate goal was to see and feel the mysterious Ohoopee Dunes, which we saw and documented the next day outside of Swainsboro. But towards end our first day out we found ourselves in Downtown Louisville, Georgia, with the perfect winter afternoon light to hunt some windows and doors. The uneven-ness of it all, the land and carpentry and paint job, the Rothko-like color and line juxtaposition, the light fixture from another century standing guard, the ghostly Bud Light light, with the battered OPEN sign putting the lie to it all–it’s a quintessential Roy Burke photo.
Crows on power line Dade County GA 7/11/2004 photo by Roy Burke
Crows were one of Doc’s favorite creatures. They are one of the easiest birds to watch because they live almost everywhere, from downtown to the forest and most places in between. Their raucous calls(crows) to one another always seem to be delivered with the spirit of the back-row heckler or inveterate smart ass. A regular funny highlight of our back roads runs was the sight of a diligent crow or two(or three) patiently hopping out of the state route right of way as the cars passed, then heading right back for some tasty roadkill. “Must be something good there, Rob.” “I think so, Doc. Good as the Golden Corral to a crow.” At one point Doc purchased and learned to use a PS Olt crow call. I admired it so much that he bought one for me as a Christmas gift one year. But you have to be pretty savvy to try to call up/fool a crow. They are legendarily smart, shown able at various points to remember people, give gifts, and use tools. Your best bet is to lean flat against a large tree trunk and act inconspicuous as you blow the call. Most of the time the crow will spot you and call you out for the piss-poor crow imitator you are. Every now and then you can fool them into returning a companionable call, beginning an authentic crow call and response, but not often. Corvus brachyrhynchos is no fool.
Strangely enough in Doctor Flowers’ photo archives there aren’t too many pictures of crows. The one above is the only one on hand, although he kept a dozen or more archival pictures of crows from other photographers. Now-days when I spy a crow I think fondly of my friend and usually start up a conversation with the crow, an animal spirit stand-in for Doctor Flowers. “How’s it going today, Doc?” The crows seem to cut me some slack, not thinking me crazy. I’d like to think if there is a heaven, it is much like that Dade County, Georgia transmission tower shown above, my best friends and loved ones gathered on the cross beams, cackling and crowing to each other, no more care for the world below.
Gas Pump, Hancock County GA 1998/Photo by Roy Burke
Doc had a soft spot for abandoned, rural gas pumps. We discussed the logistics of acquiring one and putting in the back yard at Ground Zero but things never quite lined up. He took many pictures of them, though, including this one in Hancock County, Georgia in 1998.
1965 Doc Holds Diploma, photo credit unknown.
As I hit the road for a three day tour of colleges with my daughter, I can only hope that she applies herself as diligently to her studies. This pic is one he saved to digital from his graduation day from the University of Virginia. There would be more degrees to come.
Doc’s final trusty iron horse was a Chevy Tahoe named The Hoe. In the years he invested in traveling back roads, he started with an ancient 70s Chevy Vega named Lotus Blossom, which spit oil by the quart and was not optimal for Forest Service roads. In the mid 1980s he intensified the experience with a GMC Jimmy named The Beagle. The Hoe was the apotheosis of Roy’s roadworthy education, with enough space for him to sleep in at campgrounds when he wanted, room to stow all of the critical gear needed for backwoods photography, with enough torque and tread to make it out of the occasional unpaved road too far. This is a representative example of the field-dressed Hoe, gumboots at the ready should wetlands abound.
Douglas Co Ga Seven Flags Infield 5/20/95. Photo by Roy Burke
Douglas Co Ga Seven Flags Pace Lap 5/20/95. Photo by Roy Burke
Douglas Co Ga Seven Flags Check In 5/20/95. Photo by Roy Burke
Douglas Co Ga Seven Flags Infield 5/20/95. Photo by Roy Burke
Douglas Co Ga Seven Flags Rob 5/20/95. Photo by Roy Burke
Douglas Co Ga Seven Flags Blur 5/20/95. Photo by Roy Burke
Douglas Co Ga Seven Flags Wreck 5/20/95. Photo by Roy Burke
Douglas Co Ga Seven Flags No 33 5/20/95. Photo by Roy Burke
Doc and I became enamored of NASCAR and small Southern race tracks in the early 1990s. By the time we had ridden that obsession out a decade or so later we had attended big time races at Bristol, Talladega and Rockingham.We also watched Saturday night specials at Tri-County Speedway in Brasstown, NC or the old paved track at Senoia Raceway, south of Atlanta. My media jobs in those years allowed me access far beyond the average ticket-buyer, and Doc often came along as my ‘producer’ and unofficial photographer.
Through an odd confluence of events, for most of a year split between the 1994 and 1995 Southern Dirt Track seasons, I served as public address announcer for Seven Flags Speedway, a 3/8 mile red clay “bull ring” operating at the lowest reaches of grass-roots motorsports, a past it’s prime motorsports facility, playing out its final seasons before being overwhelmed by the tsumani of suburban Atlanta development. Good old boys who wrenched on old engines all week and then tried to lay it all out on Saturday nights, spinning wet packed red clay into fine orange mist that found every crack and crevice, aerosol clay I would still be washing out of my ears days later. Doc came out a few times, and recorded audio and took photos. He digitally archived the ones above, for which I am grateful. Seven Flags Speedway has long since been replaced by a subdivision, much to the relief of the encroaching suburbs of 1995. “There’s chaos in turn four,” I shouted into the mic. There certainly was. I miss my racing buddy.
Rockbridge County Lexington VA Door 6/24/1986 photo by Roy Burke
Roy Burke 1986 Vacation Log extract June 24, 1986: GAS Lexington. Chevron on U.S. 60. 1215 hrs, $11.82, 12.7 gals. 30305.1-30089=216 mi. or, 17 mpg(ugh), 5.47 cents/mi. Oil ok. So, off for a photo walk of Lexington while the weather still holds. Burning bush and care free.
The pic above is of my favorite early Doctor Flowers photos. He created a watercolor version of it that hangs on my wall today. The pic below is Doc’s beloved GMC Jimmy dubbed The Beagle after Charles Darwin’s 10-gun sloop HMS Beagle. It was his faithful companion for a decade of road trips.
Beagle On Curve photo by Roy Burke
Stone Mountain Park, 2013 photo by Roy Burke
Doc loved Christmas in his own way. In 1988, to celebrate his move into his new home and new way of life in Stone Mountain, he created one of his greatest cassette mix-tapes Bell Wringer:A Humbug’s Christmas(tape #319 in the archive). You can see his original playlist below. This Maxell UDXL 90 minutes-worth of his lavishly curated collection of Christmas music runs the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime, from the canon to Scrooge McDuck. Clarence Carter’s Back Door Santa? Natch. Harvard Glee Club? Of course. He gave me a copy for Christmas that year, and for the quarter century or so afterwards we regularly set aside a holiday season opportunity to listen to it together at his Stone Mountain home, lights strung across the INSIDE of the house, an obscure college football bowl game soundlessly providing our ‘fireside’ holiday glow as we soaked in the music, sipped some liquor, and talked and laughed about the world at the end of another year.
Lamar County GA Trumpet Honeysuckle March 23 2008 Roy Burke photo
Harold and I originally planned an overnight run to the Chattahoochee and Nantahala National Forests to trace some of Doc’s favorite county and Forest Service roads. But severe drought has brought forest fires, so we opted to run south and make a long day of it in Meriwether County, Pine Mountain, and Sprewell Bluff in nearby Upson County. We kept a road log, stopped at a rural church and graveyard, Flint River crossings, ate a road-food lunch beside a covered bridge, and sunned ourselves at FDR’s favorite picnic spot outside of Warm Springs at Dowdell’s Knob. We hiked the Delano trail for an hour, and made our way to Sprewell Bluff along the Flint, just in time to spend the golden hour. I took photos along the way and kept the log book. Harold drove his truck and developed our map strategy. We listened to a lot of Dwight Yoakam and talked of many things.
Just past dark, just past the Lamar County line on our way to dinner at the local meat and three in Barnesville and thence back to the city, on a rural stretch of State Road 36, we saw the brightest greenest closest meteorite either of us had seen in recent memory flash across the night sky like a coda, a cosmic boo-yah, as though Doc had cracked the time-space continuum and hurled a roman candle back at us, chuckling at our attempt to duplicate his fieldwork.