Smyth Co Dames Rocket Barn photo by Roy Burke
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.
May 22 2007 Mitchell Co NC Dames Rocket photo by Roy Burke
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.
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.
Reflection Portrait In Window, Murphy NC 10/12/2003
Roy loved small town photo walks, and made dozens of them over the years. He always looked for windows and doors, the more weather-beaten and unrenovated the better. I accompanied him on many of these walks, rambling the back alleys and main streets in search of a perfect combination of light, vernacular architecture and setting that worked for him. This photo, taken on a cool, misty October morning 13 years ago in Murphy, North Carolina(Clay County), includes a reflective portrait of the two of us. Roy created a monochrome version of a different shot from this same photo walk for his Doctor HP Flowers blog in a post called Epistemological Indifference.
Dekalb Co Ga Rose first picture 1983, Roy Burke
Roy Burke got serious about his photography in 1983, took a class, and learned that art and its equipment with the same devotion and obsession he brought to music, fluid mechanics, wildflowers, watersheds and rural roads. Shooting film at his peak, Doctor Flowers would return from his annual Spring trip along the Eastern Blue Ridge with hundreds and hundreds of slides to go through. But everyone has to start somewhere, and the rose picture above, taken in Dekalb County in 1983, was digitally archived by him years later as Dekalb Co GA Rose first picture. He considered it his first ‘real’ photo. There were thousands more to come. The double exposure self portrait below was shot from the same roll of slide film.
Dekalb Co GA Doc Flowers double exposure 1983 Roy Burke
Tailgate lunch outside of Newberry, SC 10/08/10
One key to a successful backroads run with Doc was the right food and refreshments. Mixed nuts, chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, dried apricots(for gas), M&Ms, Diet Mountain Dew, a cold beer, road sandwiches made with turkey or roast beef deli meat and cheese on a kaiser roll, light mayo. His truck could not leave the driveway without the dry box of snacks, and the cooler filled with sandwiches and drinks. Particularly prized were Hostess Sno Balls, preferably stale and chewy. A proper amount of snack foods of marginal nutritional value are required to properly fortify you for a hard day’s voyage across rural two lanes and unpaved county roads. I took the above photo of Roy enjoying a tailgate lunch in a typical country churchyard, this one outside of Newberry, South Carolina off of State Route 34 on October 8, 2010, during a trip we took to visit both the Carolina Sand Hills National Wildlife Refuge and Rockingham Speedway.
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.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Courthouse Valley Overlook 6/19/14 Roy Burke- 1st in sequence
Blue Ridge Parkway, Courthouse Valley Overlook 6/19/14 Roy Burke- 2nd in sequence
Blue Ridge Parkway, Courthouse Valley Overlook 6/19/14 Roy Burke- 3rd in sequence
Blue Ridge Parkway, Courthouse Valley Overlook 6/19/14 Roy Burke- 4th in sequence
Dog, Marlinton WVA, Pocahontas County
Roy Burke/Dr. HP Flowers began recording custom cassette tapes for his own archiving and entertainment purposes over 40 years ago. He started with bluegrass tape transcriptions in 1975, then expanded his curation, utilizing a personal collection of some 5000 vinyl records, then hundreds of cds and other archival sources. Between 1975 and the Summer of 2002 when he dubbed his 403rd and final cassette (Detroit Redneck Kid Rock), Doc used cassette tapes to log everything from natural sound he had recorded on his backwoods adventures to blues records he played in his upstairs room as a frustrated teen in Brandy Station VA. One of his later great creative mixes was Kennel Sessions (#362, Feb 1997), a collection of music showing the importance of the dog in American popular culture, in Southern Culture particularly. More about Kennel Sessions another time. Here are his notes about the song he chose to lead off his curated collection of dog songs:
Side 1 Lightnin’ Hopkins. Lonesome Dog Blues (1967)
While playing his guitar to mimic a dog howling he laments, “I got a dog in my back yard, howls every day my baby’s gone.” Lightnin’ is dumbfounded that the yard dog can know that his woman’s gone and then, astonishingly, can also understand how low he’s feeling because of it. I must be sad if my dog can feel it too, he marvels. Felt it, “deep down in his heart.” Man lonesome, dog lonesome; what could measure lonesome better. These blues don’t say.
This version of Lonesome Dog Blues came from an original Jewel album, JCD-5000 Blue Lightnin’. I bought it mail order from Randy’s Record Shop, Gallatin, Tennessee, in the late ’60’s. A 3-album package deal advertised every few minutes on WLAC Radio, from the Life and Casualty Tower in Nashville–home of Gene Noble, Herman Grizzard, Hoss Man Bill Allen, and the highly respected John R (Richburg). These DJs, and the R&B they played, were frequent late night companions for me in the late ’50s to the early ’70s. That is, whenever my little Westinghouse AM radio could handle the faint signal from so far away, encased in green plastic. Imagine! Three brand new Lightnin’ Hopkins albums from Jewel Records: Blue Lightnin’, Talkin’ Some Sense, and The Great Electric Show and Dance showing Lightnin’ on the cover in dark shades and orange jump suite, proudly sporting the stump of a cheroot in his left hand and a size 10 shit-eatin grin. Did I fall for it?(These albums have recently been released on CD using the same cover art as the original vinyl.)