Hanging photos

•September 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Christine and I spent the afternoon at the Yadkin Cultural and Arts Center in downtown Yadkinville hanging the photos Christine has taken over the past year or more. The show includes a dozen portraits of people whose lives are informed in one way or another by the river. You’ve met many of them here in earlier posts. There’s also a group of images taken at Donnaha Park, mostly of families who come to the river to escape the summer heat. These are joyous images. The one I love the most shows a man with his arms raised to the sky with drops of water falling around him. We also hung a group of photos of baptism scenes, taken at the Fisher River, images filled with spirit and wonder.

Christine printed her landscapes on large foam panels, each about three feet wide.  You can see these images on our website at: http://yadkinriverstory.org/. But the large prints take you to the water in ways smaller ones can’t, and there you are, at dawn, at sunset, on a snowy day and high above, looking down from a helicopter through the fog that rises over the water when the nights get cool.

Our project focuses on people and communities bound together by the river. But we have also come to see the river as a character with many personalities. That was unexpected. But as you listen to the stories people told us and study the images Christine made, I think you will come to understand, as we have, that the Yadkin is at once wild and tranquil, angry and caressing.

My students at Wake Forest University and I have been studying a poem about the River Dart, in England, by a British poet named Alice Oswald. She spent three years on a journey much like the one Christine and I took, interviewing people who lived and worked along the Dart. Their voices make up her poem. In the introduction Oswald writes: “All voices should be read as the river’s mutterings.”  So we are not the only ones to think of a river speaking – or muttering — in many voices.

Christine and I hope you can make it to the exhibit opening Saturday, from 9 am until 4 pm. If you can’t make it Saturday, the show will be up through the end of October.



An eagle sighting?

•September 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I spent Sunday afternoon at the Yadkin Islands portion of Pilot Mountain State Park in East Bend with a group of students from Wake Forest University. I teach a first-year writing seminar there with the river as the organizing theme. We have read newspaper accounts of river journeys. And they’ve met some of the people you’ve met here in earlier posts. But I wanted them to see the river for themselves.
We took the trail that heads south from the boat access. My students talked about their rafting and hiking adventures out west. One had spent seven weeks in Utah. Another had hiked the Grand Tetons. And they all had a class IV rafting adventure in their past. I wondered how our own wild river would compare.
The trail follows the river through the woods for at most half a mile, and ends at a point where an unnamed creek empties into the wide water. Ahead lie the Shoals. Just as we came to the point, I heard a rush in the woods and a large bird flew in close for a moment, close enough for me to hear its wings beat, before it headed out over the water.  I saw its white chest and dark tail. I know a pair of bald eagles nests nearby. And I heard it call, kleek-kik-ik-ik. I swear it sounded like the birdcall I found on line:  http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/25/overview/Bald_Eagle.aspx. It had to be one of the eagles others have seen nearby, but I can’t be sure. And my students came up a moment too late to see anything but a large bird in the distance and a river that was larger and wilder than they had expected.

Coming full circle

•September 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Nearly 30 years ago, the Winston-Salem Journal sent Floyd Rogers, one of its best writers ever, on a journey down the Yadkin River. He traveled with local environmentalists in an effort to raise awareness about the threats facing the river and wrote a series of articles about the people he met along the way. The series was republished as a book called the Yadkin Passage. Five years later, when I started at the Journal in the Davidson County bureau, I borrowed Floyd’s book from the Davidson County library.  I wanted to learn some local history and also get a feel for the possibilities for in-depth storytelling that lay ahead for me. Floyd was still at the paper, and I learned much from him about the writer’s craft.  Every once in awhile, someone at the Journal would say it was time to repeat Floyd’s journey. But other, more urgent stories, always stood in the way. And so Floyd’s journey was never repeated. When I left the Journal in 2008, Christine and I decided to work on a documentary project together. We had reported long stories together before when we were both at the Journal, and wanted to see what we could do with her photography and my interviews. She wanted to focus on her community in and around East Bend. I thought of the Yadkin journey we’d never gotten around to taking again at the Journal. With today’s coverage in the Journal of our Yadkin River Story I feel as though we have come full circle: http://www2.journalnow.com/content/2010/sep/12/drinking-water-recreation-agriculture/news/.

Many thanks to the Journal for taking an interest in our project and for devoting precious space to Christine’s photos. And many thanks to you, our readers, for following our work.


A new website, up and running

•August 31, 2010 • Leave a Comment

We’ve been hinting for months about turning the interviews and photos you’ve seen here into a more complete story about the river. Here it is, the Yadkin River Story, at http://yadkinriverstory.org/. I am also pleased to announce the opening Sept. 18 of an exhibit of Christine’s photographs at the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center in downtown Yadkinville.

We had a lot of help with the site. First of all, we couldn’t have moved beyond the blog without the support of the North Carolina Humanities Council, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem Forsyth County and the John W. and Anna H. Hanes Foundation. And we could never have built the site without Amanda King, at M Creative, a design firm in Winston-Salem. She understood immediately how to make the project come alive on the web. And her taste is flawless. Finally, Michelle Johnson, the multimedia editor at the Winston-Salem Journal, embraced the project and turned my raw interviews into poetry.

I have worked with Michelle for years, and know her near obsessive attention to detail. We gave her the raw files for about a dozen interviews and sound we recorded at baptisms and at Donnaha Park. Michelle listened. “Wonderful stories,” she told us. But the sound quality, well, it was not up to her standards. So this spring and summer we recorded interviews a second and in some cases a third time. We turned off ceiling fans. We locked the dogs outside. We waited for the traffic to pass.  In Michelle’s way of taking oral history nothing should distract from the pure sound of a voice. When you get to the website you’ll hear what I mean. Michelle spent her weekends in July and August – probably June too, but who’s counting – editing sound and mixing the audio stories with Christine’s images. Thank you Michelle for getting it so right.

Thank you, most of all, to all of you who shared your stories with us. I hope you’ll take some time to explore the site and join us on the 18th at the arts center in Yadkinville.


Junior Matthews

•May 16, 2010 • 6 Comments
Christine Rucker Photo

Christine Rucker Photo

Phoebe and I met Junior Matthews about a year ago. He moved to East Bend after coming home from WWII. He married, raised a family and made the river an integral part of his life as a farmer and family man. I was amazed that he still tends the bottom land every year and he seemed always on the go.

Junior lives just right up the river from me, and a few days ago I noticed a pretty fog settling on the water after an afternoon storm.  Junior had been on my list to call on again for more photos this time of evening. I caught up with him right about the perfect time, as the sun was going down. By 7:30, Junior had already brought dinner to his neighbors, gone to a visitation at the funeral home , then gone to his church to volunteer. I wasn’t sure he had the energy to take me down to his river dock, but when he called me back he said to come on over and he was waiting in his truck for me when I arrived.Christine Rucker Photo

By the time we got to the river, the fog had lifted away but the water was completely calm, with a mix of blues and pinks reflected off the surface. Junior told me how much he enjoyed this time of the evening as his breathing settling down to match the  rythym of the river. Junior said that listening to the frogs and crickets and fish splashing to the surface of the water was more relaxing and calming for him than sitting on his sofa inside

Christine Rucker Photo

This year Junior Matthew’s turns 90 — you wouldn’t know it by looking at him or by trying to keep up with him. Christine

Christine Rucker Photo

Taking Time

•May 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Photo by: Christine Rucker

Lawrence Haynes/Christine Rucker Photo

I met Lawrence Haynes and his wife, Wilma, in June 2002 when I was a columnist for the Winston-Salem Journal and he was part of an informal supper club of English and Spanish speakers from Surry and Yadkin counties. The group got together to practice their language skills. I was drawn to the Haynes’s because of the effort they made to reach out to migrant workers who farmed the land next to theirs in East Bend.

Here are excerpts from the column I wrote. I think you’ll see why I never forgot them:

“Tino Andrade started making the seasonal trip from his home in central Mexico to the Kirk farm in East Bend when he was 17. He has worked there for seven seasons. Some years he looked after the chicken houses, some he pulled tobacco. He knew the other Mexican workers on the farm. That was it. Not many people in East Bend, or anywhere else for that matter, will take the time to make friends with a newcomer, especially when friendship requires learning a new language to express something as simple as ‘How are you?’ The farm is next door to the land Lawrence and Wilma Haynes bought for their retirement. They saw new faces in the fields beside their house. They took the time.”

Andrade told me how much his friendship with Lawrence and Wilma meant to him: “It’s difficult,” he told me then. “I was alone here. These are the only Americans I knew. They are the only people who are interested in us.”

I learned part of Adrade’s life story that evening but mostly I learned about a friendship built around a sense of community and a shared love for the Yadkin River. Here’s how the column ended.

“On Sundays, Haynes frequently goes fishing on the Yadkin with Andrade and his other friends. They use a net, tied by hand from fishing line. This year, they made Haynes his own fishing net. It took them 20 days, one knot at a time in the evenings after their long day in the field. In the twilight Friday, they practiced throwing it. Up over the shoulder. Hold a portion open and toss. With help from his friends, Haynes learned the technique well. His net landed in a perfect circle.”

When Christine and I decided last year to document the lives of people who know the river best, Haynes was the first person I called. I had hoped that he and Andrade were still friends and that Christine could photograph them tossing their handmade nets into the river. With the decline of tobacco farming, it turns out that Andrade hasn’t been back to East Bend in several years. But as I’ve learned over many years of reporting, stories take their own turn and I learned just as good a story from Haynes about his childhood. He grew up in 1920s and 30s in West Bend. Western Forsyth County then was a rural place where families survived by living off the land and the river. Haynes fished for catfish. He learned to swim in the river’s treacherous waters. And he collected a series of tall tales of bootleggers and river men.

We met again last week to see the places of his childhood. Andrade may be long gone, but Haynes still listens to Spanish language radio to keep up with his Spanish. Today he lives in East Bend, but he is rooted here by the Shallow Ford. His grandfather ran the store. His father taught school. And his relatives are all buried in the graveyard behind the West Bend Baptist Church. Haynes tried to take us to the place where he was baptized, but the path is overgrown. So he shared his life story as he has shared his life. As he told me in 2002: “I don’t know what draws some people together in friendship and makes other suspicious of strangers. It runs the whole gamut. There are those who talk down, those who tolerate and those who empathize.”


Family Day

•May 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Badin Dam/ Christine Rucker Photo

Christine Rucker Photo

I was not able to paddle with Dean and his crew today, the final day of the Tour de Yadkin, but I was able to join Dean, his daughter Krista and his Father Harold yesterday at Falls Reservoir. I went primarily to photograph some landscapes to add to our project, “river of the people”. I thought it would be nice to include a few landscape images of where the waters of the Yadkin end. Turns out the photo of the day was a quiet one of Dean and Krista looking out over Badin Dam from an underground tunnel.

Christine Rucker Photo

Christine Rucker Photo

This project has been a funny one to me, I am drawn to photographing people and many times I have turned my camera to landscapes; The waters of the river my subject. And I have found the waters carry their own personality.

Christine Rucker Photo

Christine Rucker Photo

Yesterday however I was drawn again to the human experience. It was nice to photograph three generations of Naujoks on the water. Dean has told me many tales of river adventures he has shared with his brother and father. And today, I enjoyed photographing him passing that on to Krista.


Photo by: Christine Rucker

Christine Rucker Photo