On one vacation in the mountains I wrote my first poem. It was about a bird -- a cardinal, the state bird of Virginia. When done, I felt a red brightness in my hands and rushed to show my uncle, who had fought in Europe in World War II, and had graduated from William and Mary. He looked at it and smiled, told me that maybe I would become a writer, perhaps a journalist. I didn't know what that meant -- but I was disappointed by the sound of it. I had always liked the stories, images and sounds of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which exist for me now in a permanent and pleasant shadow; comfortable memories such as the sight of bugs skipping on pools above below the cabin, a wildcat screaming at dusk, bats flashing above a fire, or the snap of a mousetrap late at night. And like the cardinal, these were the things I wanted to record,touch or understand; objects and memories joined in a mixture of color and sound: my own small history, embedded in a yellow foolscap my uncle had in mind. An hour later I forgot the poem in my pocket as my cousins and I yelled at a safe distance while my uncle chopped at a cottonmouth that had crawled near the cabin. The snake coiled at each separating chink of the ax, its red and black turnings pushed beyond my eyes, embedding itself into a poet's memory.