A Book


So much of art comes from feeling. Feeling can be expressed in many ways: a word, a song, tears, laughter--or a painting. The book that follows started with a drive down a familiar road. The drive became a painting, then another, then another. Eight in all. Then the paintings became a book, with words, a bit of poetry and even a map.

I did not start out with a book in mind, yet in hindsight it seems quite inevitable.

Click on the page numbers or use your arrow keys to navigate.


Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night,my friend.

C.G.Rossetti, Up-Hill (1861)

In 1970,my parents divorced. My father remarried and moved with his new wife to an old farmhouse about 14 miles west of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.The University of North Carolina is in Chapel Hill; in 1970 my father was a professor of English literature there, and I was attending that institution as an entering sophomore.Three years later, in the fall of my senior year, I moved to a dilapidated unheated house on Collins Creek about a quarter of a mile above where the Creek flows into the Haw River.

My landlord was a flinty German eccentric who was the conservator at the University’s art museum, who called the house “Monbijou”, I think after Frederick the Great’s rococo folly of the same name in Rheinsberg. (“Mongarbage”would have been more apt.) When you leave Monbijou by the Loop Road, a left hand turn would take you to my father’s house, which he called “Five Chimneys”, about 2 miles to the north in Alamance County, where Old Greensboro Road meets Orange Grove Chapel; a right hand turn would take you over Collins Mountain in Orange County to White Cross at Jones Ferry Road, also about 2 miles away.

The 4-mile stretch of road beginning at Old

Greensboro Road and ending at Jones Ferry Road is called Crawford Dairy Road. It is a beautiful stretch of roadway, with a variety of moods and views, to me all quintessentially North Carolina. This spring, 30 years later, I attended my brother’s 50th birthday party in Durham, North Carolina. A lot changes in 30 years. I had gone on from Monbijou, gotten married, had children, and made a life for my own family in Boston, Massachusetts, where I now live. My father died in 1979, still living at Five Chimneys, leaving a widow and two young sons. My mother died six years later, in her own bed at her house in Chapel Hill.

In those intervening years, the town had ceased to be the sleepy backwater I had known from my college days, and had reinvented itself as the center of concentric carchoked, mall-laden, retiree-living circles, all clad in plywood Georgian facades. I do not look back, as many do, on my college days with unalloyed nostalgia for a gilded youth. Moreover, seen through the filter of promises unfulfilled and death, memories now are as much sad as happy. My father is buried in the small cemetery at Orange Grove Chapel, which is across NC 1956 from Five Chimneys. I generally visit his grave when I am in Chapel Hill—it has become one of the several stopson a personal pilgrimage when I am in the area.

The visit for my brother’s birthday was no exception.When I left the cemetery this time, I decided to go back to town through White Cross. It was April, and it was one of those North Carolina mornings that for New Englanders is reminiscent much more of high summer than early spring: cloudless and bright without a hint of a breeze, and with an intensity of sunlight that both electrifies and bleaches the landscape.

As I drove, I was almost immediately struck by the fact that this road—which I had traveled countless times a generation ago—was unchanged in every respect. I sought some evidence of the stamp of 30 intervening years.There was none. In addition, its beauty was undimmed by time. In fact, it seemed to me more beautiful than I had remembered.

It struck me too that nature is completely indifferent to the dramas of our human lives. I have not lived through hurricane or shipwreck, but those who have I’m sure can testify to nature’s ambivalence and power. Some like Captain Ahab take it personally, though I wonder whether in his case the dumb white brute was even aware of his pursuer’s existence. I think not.

Nature’s beauty and abundance of life is similarly indifferent. It knows no self-pity or shame, no sympathy or joy, no suffering or gladness. The cemetery stone is richly weathered and lushly overgrown; Five Chimneys is surrounded now with tricycles and arbors as it hosts new life.

But while nature may be indifferent, I am not. So I tried to capture that April morning in the paintings which follow. Looking at them now, I think,“Oh, that’s not quite right” or “I should have made that lighter.”However, I was not trying to depict a place, but capture a mood. In my experience,we can only come close to capturing feeling in words and pictures;we can never describe it completely. Hopefully, I have captured something for you.

Future pilgrimages will no doubt yield different thoughts and perspectives, for my life’s journey—like yours— continues still,“from morn to night,my friend.”

The Paintings

Orange Grove Chapel Road:
Alamance County, North Carolina

To the left is the tree-lined drive to Five Chimneys. Orange Grove Chapel and the cemetery is on the right.

Orange Grove Chapel and
Old Greensboro Roads 1:
Alamance County, North Carolina

The vegetable garden of Five Chimneys, on the left, abuts the intersection of Orange Grove Chapel and Old Greensboro Roads.

Orange Grove Chapel and
Old Greensboro Roads 2:
Alamance County, North Carolina

One rarely meets another car at this deserted crossing, which seems in the middle of nowhere and at the same time the middle of everywhere.A left-hand turn will take you to Chapel Hill; a right hand turn will take you to the metropolis of Greensboro 40 miles way. Going straight takes you on to Crawford Dairy Road.

Near River Road:
Crawford Dairy Road,
Alamance County, North

Crawford Dairy Road curves in broad arcs, with open fields and occasional houses on either side.

Mail Box:
Crawford Dairy Road,
Alamance County, North Carolina

It curves both left and right.At the beginning of Crawford Dairy Road, open vistas are rare on the gently undulating roadway.

Orange County Line:
Crawford Dairy Road,
Alamance County, North Carolina

I suppose the Crawfords had a dairy on this road; they may still. Certainly today’s cows still give the road’s name relevance.

Collins Mountain and
Crawford Dairy Roads:
Orange County, North Carolina

Collins Mountain Road descends and meets Crawford Dairy Road just across from Monbijou.

Farrells Creek Near White Cross:
Crawford Dairy Road,
Orange County, North Carolina

Crawford Dairy Road becomes hillier as it approaches White Cross, which is just over the distant rise beyond the dip formed by Farrells Creek.

The mailbox at Monbijou 2003, 30 years later:
my name is still clearly visible!