There could not be a mountain back roads run with Doctor Flowers without a fair amount of Toots And The Maytals to play as part of the soundtrack along the way. Frederick Nathaniel Toots Hibbert was a ska and reggae originator that both of us preferred to Bob Marley at the head of our Reggae Pantheon. Doc had most records Toots had released, and several more that were probably released without Toots’ permission, culled from record stores and thrift-shops. Collecting music was hard work in those days, pre-internet. Toots Hibbert enjoyed a long and durable career as singer, songwriter, and force of nature. We played his music at Doc’s Memorial Service. Toots released his final record, Got To Be Tough on August 28, 2020. He died of COVID-19 on September 11. The unspeakable tragedy of his loss is made sharper by the fact that Got To Be Tough kicks ass and is as relevant musically and lyrically as anything he put out, in over a nearly 60 years of recording. However you might listen to music, go search for it and play it all the way through. It will be better time spent than watching the news or liking a funny meme. I listen to it and think of better times for all of us. I know Doc would’ve loved it, and we would’ve mourned Toots’ passing together, either at Ground Zero with a UT Women’s game silently playing out on the TV in the background or riding slowly along some county road in North Georgia, winding through the early morning gloaming, Doc beating rhythm on the steering wheel of the ‘Ho, saying “damn, Toots”. Time is growing short for us all. I just wish Doc and Toots had gotten a little more of it. Doesn’t seem like much to ask, looking back.
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.
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.
Doctor Flowers Road Rules: Avoid cliche, indulge whimsy. Always take the county two lane road over any alternative. Any alternative excepting the Blue Ridge Parkway. Always take the Blue Ridge Parkway. This road loomed large in Doc’s perspective throughout his years as a writer and photographer. Click here for the real stuff. He started a separate logbook specifically dealing with his travels on it. These shots of a storm passing over the mountains, taken from the Courthouse Valley Overlook on the ‘Parkway outside of Canton, North Carolina would be taken nearly a year to the day before his passing. We talked many times about this late stage of life over the years. Roy avidly followed the space program and NASA. During the space shuttle era he adapted their phrase ‘the final glidepath’ as a metaphor for the last of the years we are all given in this life. “But what about climate change,” I would rant. “F*ck it, someone else will have the solve that one. I’m on the final glidepath.” As are we all, sooner or later.