I love West Virginia. It is so near and deer (pun intended) to my heart. To me, West Virginia is family history, natural beauty, and joyful childhood memories. A couple of weeks ago I woke up to the most delightfully sunny, crisp, cool, fall day. And my impulse was to go to West Virginia. I drove for an hour and then crossed over the Shenandoah River and into the mountain state. Apparently, West Virginia is where I go when the world is looking and feeling a little extra beautiful, which is perfect because it is where I’m getting married. And it is where I just celebrated birthdays with my mom and aunt- two true mountain mommas. West Virginia is my past and my future.
Genealogical research has confirmed that my mom’s family lived in the West Virginia/Virginia part of the Appalachians for centuries. Those ancestors are always with me. One summer, years ago on a road trip with my mom and brother, I spent some time in the southern part of the state. At a huge cemetery in Hinton we went looking for my ancestors’ graves. The headstones, spread out all across the top of the hill, were divided into three large sections. We had no idea where to begin looking because the cemetery office was closed. We chose a spot, parked, and hopped out of the car right next to the family plot we were looking for. Surely, the Lewises led us there.
More recently, I spent a year in the eastern panhandle teaching environmental programs with the Potomac Valley Audubon Society. I taught myself and others about watershed science. I made new friends- humans young and old, birds, salamanders, rock buddies. I spent time with an inspiring and resilient immigrant community. I chased fireflies and caught crawdads. I played my mandolin in the forest, way down yonder in the pawpaw patch. I threw a seed bomb into the woods with a whispered prayer. For one glorious week I was a woodland fairy, protector of Yankauer Nature Preserve. I wrote haiku and crocheted pussyhats and rolled down hills. I developed a love-hate relationship with a pig named Penelope. And I will always cry any time I hear kids singing Country Roads.
Despite the fact that many of my ancestors made their living mining coal, I feel fiercely protective of those ancient, rolling hills they had no choice but to exploit for their own survival. I have no doubt they loved the mountains too. West Virginia and her mountains remind me of them. And also of love and beauty, the resilience of humans and nature, and of the comfort a spiritual home provides.
Thanks to the work of Louise McNeill, former poet laureate of WV, I think of poetry too. Here are a few haiku I wrote, inspired by the most wild and wonderful state in our nation:
to ancient, rolling hills
from rocky, snow-capped peaks
this mountain momma moves
and water meanders
couldn’t that wily stinkbug
have been your mother
in a past life?
pepperoni rolls and chai