Rain, wind and temperatures in the fifties, under darkening afternoon skies put us a long way from home on Interstate 81, the highway that truckers love to pound to and from the industrial suburbs of Pennsylvania, just north of the Mason Dixon line.
But we were bound for the Star City, the industrial town that built a metal contraption on a mountain overlooking the Roanoke River Valley.
A hundred thousand people live in Roanoke including a blogging friend who invited me to see what the mountains of Southwest Virginia have to offer a lover of sun sea and tropical moisture.
Cheyenne was mightily impressed by the winter-like weather and her appalling skin allergies immediately started to lose their grip on her skin and her eternal incessant scratching. The views from Mill Mountain under the Worlds Largest Metal Star were somewhat...limited.
The star reminds me of the statue of Vulcan built on a hill to look out over the foundry town of Birmingham, Alabama which in many respects resembles Roanoke, with it's industrialist history, brick buildings and slightly seedy downtown. Not visible on a foggy day any of it.
The city is dominated by the golden roof of the tallest skyscraper proudly boasting the name of Wells Fargo bank, the publicly sustained subsidiary of Goldman Sachs and the Evil Empire, so I felt no need to take a picture of that monstrosity for the record. Instead I took Cheyenne walking in the leafy suburbs of southwest Roanoke, the genteel neighborhood where I was staying with friends.
The sun put in an appearance, as did early morning frost, and we strolled on proper sidewalks bounded by thick grass with the early efforts of spring straining overhead.
For a city four times the population of Key West it was very quiet and peaceful and amazingly pastoral. It was even equipped with it's own lighthouse:
I spotted the seemingly inevitable pirate Jolly Roger flapping under a Beech? Elm? Something? tree which was doing double duty as a tree house and pirate ship when the diminutive swashbucklers were home.
The locals were keen to tell me winter has been the mildest in
living memory - yay global warming! - and we saw highs in the mid eighties. One memorable afternoon it was hotter in Roanoke by seven degrees than it was in 79 degree Key West!
There were purple trees called I think, rather confusingly blue buttons or some such, in evidence everywhere.
This is colonial country, land of revolution and confederacy and deep seated traditions, exemplified by every third building that looks like it was built to accommodate the Continental Army, made of brick and subsequently painted:
Churches are everywhere modest chapels of wood and less modest brick strictures with towering steeples painted white like fingers pointing the way to salvation.
Cheyenne and I know nothing of Roanoke or of Virginia so perhaps it's time we learned.
But before we take a few days to explore Appomattox and Monticello and the hippie town of Floyd and the coolest little town in America, in West Virginia of all places, a fat old Labrador needs a rest after a twenty hour drive in the car. Virginia's lush green lawns get her vote.
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