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Route 39. The sky was a mussel shell, clouds glossy and purled. The meat of this front wouldn’t hit us until that evening, bringing the rivers up once again. The thick light accentuated the color starting on the trees. Redbuds were at their shrillest voltage. Clumps of anemone blossomed along the road’s shoulder. I didn’t even consider listening to music. There were songs everywhere and everywhere else there was music. At some point in the drive, while reviewing the list of supplies I needed to fetch at the hardware store in Lexington before heading home, I made a couple of phone calls to prospective tenants of our rental property and probably scared the people on the line with the buzz of expectation and excitement in my voice. I do not apologize for being fired up. There were no cars at the take out above Rockbridge Baths. There was nobody at the picnic area or at the overlooks stonewalled on cliffs above the gorge. The Webster Springs Whitewater Festival in West Virginia must have drawn a lot of the regulars, I thought. It seemed I’d be paddling alone or else waiting for a group to appear. I didn’t want to paddle alone, but I didn’t want to wait. At four-thirty, I was needed to

Photo courtesy of Shea Mack

help a neighbor hump a front loader washer down a winding stairway. It was already going on eleven. So I zoomed past the monument to Matthew Fontaine Maury, for whom the river was renamed in 1968. Maury, known as “pathfinder of the seas” for his tradeenhancing work charting winds and tides in the early 19th century as director of the U.S. Naval Observatory, is one of those figures from history whose accomplishments and honors feel dizzyingly consequential, if not abstract. In addition to shaving weeks off the sailing lines and inventing torpedoes to harass the Union navy when he quit his post in D.C. to serve the Confederate cause, the guy published a dozen books on geography, helped to create the U.S. Naval Academy, The Virginia Technological and Agricultural Institute, and was asked to be president of William & Mary and VMI. I don’t know how many roads and buildings in Virginia bear his name. In a recent blip of fortune, Pat Robertson honored him as a scientist of faith. I prefer to think of Maury in the image of him as a young man traveling from Virginia to Tennessee, when he first visited Lexington via canal boat on the then named North River after coming up the James


Summer/Fall 2012  

In This Issue: 2nd annual Ridge to River Contest winner revealed! Plus, explore whitewater paddling culture in Virginia with Thorpe Moeckel...

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