Monday, September 6, 2010

No service, a plough and doin' awesome

Driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains, as we did last Friday, without cell phone coverage, is a worrisome experience, especially for two citified men used to being available for texts and calls - few spoken conversations nowadays and increasingly more texts - twenty-four hours a day. It's not that anyone calls late at night, generally speaking, though when the phone does ring in the early hours it has the same force as did a telegram for a previous generation.

I'm not sure it's that great an advance of civilization this constant availability, but so used have I become to texting the Celt whilst at work - he's always first with asking what kind of day I'm having, and I'll text when I'm on the way home and, on occasion, as I did two weeks ago, call from the garage to ask he have a Manhattan ready for me when I got upstairs after such a frustrating day and a sixty-five mile drive  home - that I wonder if it is possible to live without a cell phone. We have not had a landline for about six years and both of us use our cell phones as our house phone. Even the concept of a house phone seems so archaic now, as it well it might, if you think how far the telephone has come since at the beginning of the twentieth century when it left its singular existence in the closet, sat for decades positively palpitating with self-importance on tables throughout the land- even, in the seventies having a little table designed for it by a hot-shot New York designer - and how only recently began its rapid diminution of size in inverse proportion to its growing status as a icon of cool. So social has the phone become that it frequently buddies up with flatware by the side of many a restaurant dinner plate.

We visited a friend whose bark-clad, book-rich house, one the most beautiful and personal I've ever been in, clings to the steep slope of a deeply wooded mountainside. He took us to houses he'd decorated, and from each The View - that great panorama of the Blue Ridge Mountains rimming the green gorge at Blowing Rock, one of America's greatest, and worthy of a few quiet moments and the attention of a nineteenth-century Luminist painter, spread out before us - as expansive as were the rooms in which we stood.

At night, without the pollution of city lighting, the skies above the Blue Ridge are full of stars - a moving sight to a man used to seeing nothing but the moon and Venus through the orange glow of Atlanta. The Plough, or Big Dipper as I know it now, seemed to be scooping the edge of the ridge we drove past on the way to a restaurant our friend had decorated - a towering, vaulted and beautifully lit volume walled and roofed with reclaimed barn siding, where one is met by a superb horse, a driftwood steed suitable for Marcus Aurelius - and the Pole Star visible as the Celt pointed out, if one traces a line directly above from the star at the right-hand of the bowl of the Dipper. Magical! As magical and moving as seeing the Milky Way overlaid with star after star through a break in the leaves of the tree shading the front of our friend's house. I want to tell you, the iPhone does not, cannot capture, the awesomeness of it all. Such a cliche that word awesome, as in I'm doin' awesome, thank you for asking, but what else suffices when faced with the visible universe - no longer the Aristotelian heavens but the great vault of heaven nonetheless?

I had intended to write again about Roderick Cameron but that I think might be a post post for another day.

First photo courtesy the Celt and the second, the panorama of Bass Lake, taken using my iPhone. The Celt put it together for me.


  1. being unavailable

    often makes us


    to ourselves...

    more mail

    less e-mail


  2. by land by air by sea, that is what is worrying!

    Laurent, get a kilted one.

  3. The entirety of the Blue Ridge is like that, from Virginia all the way south. Over the past couple years, I've had occasion to be in western North Carolina several times. It's more rugged there than in our Piedmont, but the colors are much same, particularly on "the morning side" of the Blue Ridge.

    And you're right -- it's amazing to see the stars so far away from city lights. (A few years ago, we acquired a hand-held device which allows you to look at any star in the sky and know, at the push of a button, its name or number, how far away it is, and what if any constellation it belongs to. In practice, we seldom use it, preferring to sit on the terrace and gaze in mute wonder.)

  4. The Ancient, thank you. Mute wonder sums it up exactly! As a child I saw the stars every cloudless night and I'd forgotten how incomprehensible it is. What we got home I read that the Plow (Plough, as I never learned not to spell it) is not a constellation at all but an asterism - simply a grouping not a constellation - assuming that Wikipedia is right.

  5. Terrifically jealous of this sojourn in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Blue. I stared at the night sky on our recent visit to the Dorset cliffs and everything you said here resonates with that. How I would have loved to have you both with me under the Milky Way on those crystal clear nights.

  6. Rose, thank you. Isn't it magic to get away from the city glow and see the stars? I was quite moved by it all. Rose, we would have liked that too!

  7. Well, dear Blue, you put the iPhone to good use none the less. Sometimes it is good to be off the beated path. Next time you are up this way, you must tell me...