Sparky & Rhonda
We jumped off the trail for a day to go hang out with folk musicians, Sparky and Rhonda Rucker. Sparky has been a performing musician for 50 years and his wife, Rhonda, was a doctor before she decided to trade in her stethoscope for a harmonica and join him. They have been recording and performing together for quite some time and had a lot to teach us about the folk music tradition.
It turns out that much of the music from this area comes from a unique blend of cultures. The songs from the Irish and Scottish immigrants got combined with the rhythms and instruments of the Africans (turns out the banjo is from Africa). The songs often have what Sparky and Rhonda called “blue notes”. These are special expressive notes that kinda bend and were used in many African work songs. They were usually sad sounding notes but can sometimes show up in songs that are happy. This gives them more of a periwinkle color in our opinion.
After playing together, Sparky and Rhonda put away their instruments to tell us the importance of mountain songs that don’t use any instruments. Most times, folks didn’t have anything to play on so they just used their voices. Wished we would’ve known that before we carried our guitar and banjo up and down the Appalachian hills for 15 days. They taught us an old a capella tune about camping in the wilderness. What a great theme song!
Outside the town of Roanoke, Virginia is a place considered to be the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail. A quick Google image search will show you just how photographed it is. McAfee knob is a little spot of rock that juts out over the Catawba Valley offering magnificent views of the landscape below as well as a natural little stage to pose for a picture.
We got to the knob around lunchtime hoping to observe the panoramic viewpoint, however, things looked a little strange to us. The green trees looked strangely white. The rolling hills were also very white. The blue sky was white. The houses, roads, and rivers in the valley all looked very white.
We were reminded of a story we heard of a man named Bill Irwin. He was a blind hiker who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail with his Seeing-Eye dog. He probably didn’t hike for the view at McAfee Knob. What drove him to be outdoors was likely something very different. Often times we think the view from the top is the true motivation for climbing a mountain. However, once the view is blocked by the inside of a passing cloud, it becomes clear that adventure is more about being humbled while facing something much bigger than us.