Posts Tagged With: appalachian mountains

Serving AmeriCorps and AFHA the Second Time Around

 

Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 
― 
Fred Rogers, Methodist Minister and Host of the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

As my first year of AmeriCorps service at the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area was quickly coming to a close I found myself feeling like my work in Randolph County, West Virginia was not complete. That I had just started to see the impact of my service and I was not willing to walk away. I was not willing to end the project I was working on and was not willing to leave the many people who I was serving every day. In my heart I knew I was helping and making a difference and just did not want to stop making this community a better place.

So by September of 2016, I signed up for another year of service to AFHA, AmeriCorps, Elkins Main Street and the Community of Elkins West Virginia. It was the same day that a new group of AmeriCorps members were sworn into the program. The day was filled with speeches, group photos and getting to know the other volunteers who would join me in the Appalachian Mountains and small towns. It was also the day that I knew that I would never leave the life of service that I had been building for the last 12 months.director-of-volunteer-west-virginia-2016

Executive Director of: Volunteer West Virginia Heather Foster speaking to new enrollees.

I know that many who join AmeriCorps come for the education awards and the on the job training. Some come to explore job possibilities and some come for the travel to a new place with pay. I on the other hand came because I love the state of West Virginia. I understand my states weaknesses and challenges because for 27 years this is where I called home. I understand its proud nature, where her people do not want a hand out, but a hand up. They want an equal chance at raising a family; have steady work and a chance to live in warm safe homes. West Virginians prefer to do it on their own, on their own terms, and if you want to join them in a battle of any kind, they bless you for fighting alongside them. Together they battle to make things better for everyone.I serve next to them so can add my skill, education, strength and love to help bring a brighter future to a mountain community.

I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”― Kahlil Gibran

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Members of AFHA, AmeriCorps enrolling for the 2016-2017  year Morgantown, West Virginia.Sign says “Volunteer West Virginia the state’s Commission for National Community Service. AmeriCorps West Virginia.”

I believe that the AmeriCorps program achieves what it sets out to do. It brings together caring, helpful, educated people who want to make a difference in a location where there is need for support. With guidance, service members do the work in areas of our state that most are not willing or able to do. We aid in making a positive change in the communities doing all kinds of work from preservation and redevelopment of historic buildings, tracking trout populations to building non-profit websites and giving historical tours at local sites. We are here to serve the people and enhance their communities and make them stronger.hands-on-team-working-to-reglaze-and-paint-windows-at-the-historic-darden-house-elkins-west-virginia

AFHA, Hands on team members re-glazing windows on the historic Darden house Elkins, West Virginia.

Being an AmeriCorps member over the last year has opened my life up to new people, new opportunities, and the joy of service. I look forward to my second year of service with Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, AmeriCorps and with the people of Elkins, West Virginia. I can only hope to give them back what they have already given to me. A fresh new outlook on what I can do for the people and places that I love.Thank you AFHA, AmeriCorps and Elkins Main Street for the best job this 48 year old has ever had.

Categories: About me, Appalachina Mountains, community service, Elkins Main Street, Elkins West Virginia, Nonprofit, Randolph County | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Return of “Doc” Holiday

Please forgive me for not writing more the last month. It seems as if I have taken on a little more than I should have and the main reason is “Doc”.

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Our new Redbone Coonhound Puppy “Doc” Holiday 8 weeks old

Doc is a 8 week old Redbone Coonhound who has stolen my house and my heart. We have been waiting over two years for his breeder to have another litter of pups. So I was overjoyed to be contacted by our friend that they had puppies again and I could finally get my very own hound.

Ok, so it is true that very best coonhounds are bred in Appalachia and the top two in the nation are from West Virginia or Kentucky. It might be the terrain or the population of raccoons that keeps this breed’s history so closely linked to the mountains. But this breed of dog is such a good reflection of who we are that you often judge the character of the man based on how he treats his dogs. In my part of the world often times a grown man will cry like a baby when a hunting dog dies or is killed. Often the dogs are raised as family and are more trusted than most humans and only surpassed by the trust a man will have in a rifle or shotgun. The love of the Hill Billy is deep, their loyalty is unwavering and their ability to work hard and fight to win is just like their dogs.

Hounds have been scent hunting these hills and hollows for generations and it is not uncommon to hear the bay of hounds ringing out for miles in the night. It is truly not a bark at all, but a cry from way down deep and is instinctual, nothing taught. It is the sound a hunter waits for, the dog is saying to his master “Come running we have something for you.”

Here in West Virginia there are three typical coonhounds, the Redbone, the Treeing Walker, and the Blue Tick. All three have the same typical look of a hound but coloring is different. Each have a voice that is unique and hunters know their dog miles away by the sound of the bay they make. If trained properly the dogs once on a treed coon, will remain at the bottom a tree for hours guarding the coon until help arrives.

The reason I love them is not about hunting really,but about their personality. Hounds like the stereotypes portray, are big, silly, loving, dogs that are tolerant of children who play too rough and of cats who often times get rolled into balls on the floor as the hound forces games of chase.Their love of family and protectiveness make them wonderful alarm systems without the deeper fear of being known as bitters. They have huge hearts and are willing to do most anything asked of them. If you can keep them from being distracted by the powerful noise that God gave them.

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Sleepy Puppy ready for a nap

The Redbone Coonhound breed is the grandfather breed to the more well known Bloodhound and was first developed by Irish immigrants in the 1700’s. The long floppy ears play a major role in how well the dog can track and the longer the ears the better, fanning scent to the noise with every lunging step. Some would refer to the hound breed as having a one track mind because everything comes second to their sense of smell and many dogs get lost do to the fact that hunters and families forget that they go wherever their noise leads them, sometimes that is right to the local dog pound.

They are social dogs and love to spend time with their owners. They are active and enjoy being outdoors doing physical activities like running and swimming. My Doc’s sire is a grand champion water dog and could out swim almost every person I know. He loves to track through streams and ponds and has webbed toes on all four feet. So does Doc and we will soon learn if he likes to swim.

So as you can see I have been busy…and will be for a few more months as we get through house training and teething, but I will keep you posted on our adventures together. I hope you enjoy the photos and I am sure to take tons more of the silly guy as we train him.

There is nothing in the world better for a boy then the love of a good dog.

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A National Quiet Zone and a National Radio Telescope.

I maybe the last remaining member of my family to not have a smartphone. But when traveling to Green Bank, W.V.  and the National Radio Telescope Science Center, I am not alone. This 13,000 acres of land inside the Monongahela National  forest is designated as A National Quiet Zone. Residents in the area are not allowed to use cell phones, WIFI is strictly prohibited,and families are not even allowed to use microwave ovens. I am thinking, I should move to Green Bank and go back in time to a place where things were different and people actually talked to each other. A time when life was slower and communication took hours not seconds.

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Green Bank,West Virginia and the world’s largest steerable radio telescope.

Many people who live in the Green Bank area either love the reason for the Quiet Zone or they hate it. Green Bank, West Virginia is home to the largest  steerable radio telescope in the world. The technology is so sensitive that they could pick up a cell phone signal on Mars and when researchers received that information back on earth, they would think that your phone was the loudest radio signal in outer space.It is hard to wrap my brain around that but, that means cell phones are the “Devil” to these researchers and their work. So I feel like I may have found my “People”. These families, researchers, farmers and public employees all live in a world that is more reminiscent to the 1940’s and 1950’s then 2016. Maintenance workers at the research center are not even allowed to have gas powered engines on the astronomy property. The researchers all drive diesel vehicles so they do not have spark plugs firing near the telescope. The spark sends out  a signal to the telescopes sensitive receivers.

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Green Bank Science Center National Radio Astronomy Observatory

So this holiday weekend my family decided to explore the Green Bank Science Center and finally see the huge radio telescope for ourselves. I have just enough of a nerd in me to find the study of astronomy very fascinating and  always jump to the chance to learn more. This research center is only about two hours from our house and is hidden in a rural mountain community so the trip was not only to see the telescope but spend the rest of the weekend in a small community called Cass.Cass State Park is home to  a scenic Railroad with several passenger trains that run year around. We spent the following day riding the trains up into the beautiful forests of Pocahontas  County for a restful day of sight seeing.How could we beat two great locations to visit about 15 minutes apart.

When you arrive at the Green Bank Science Center you are able to spend several hours exploring the building and grounds before actually taking a bus ride out to see the telescope up close. They have a nice interactive exhibit hall with activities for people of every age to explore. Tom, Christopher and I played with all kinds of fun devices that explained different things that they study at the science center. We took inferred photos of each other, played with mirrors and light reflections, put together huge puzzle pieces and got to see a scale model of the telescope that was beautiful.We walked around the grounds looking at some of the historic telescopes  and checked out a scale solar system display.

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JoLynn Powers at the Green Bank,West Virginia Science Center Exhibit Hall

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Green Bank,West Virginia Tom and Christopher are my favorite Aliens!

 

After our lunch and time in the exhibit hall we were allowed to photograph the telescope outside on a wooden landing area just out back of the main building. This would be the last location that digital photos would be allowed.Even the smallest click from a digital camera can disturb the radio waves near the telescope, so we packed away our cameras as we boarded a small tour bus to see the megalith up close. In a matter of minutes we were within a couple hundred yards of the huge structure. Watching the huge dish move into position for recording the data that a scientist needed that day was hypnotic. It is hard to explain how quite the telescope is when it moves. We stood only 50 yards from the large base of the telescope yet you could not hear a sound of any movement. How lonely it feels to be in the dishes huge shadow and how little I feel when I think about the fact that this telescope is looking not just at our solar system but ones hundreds of millions of miles away.

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photo from last safe point before entering the restricted camera area

After we returned to the bus and traveled back to the main building it was time to spend a few dollars on a nerdy telescope t-shirt and cool toys for Christopher at the gift shop. I also got the schedule of coming events. The science center hosts many child friendly events throughout the year and we hope to try to come back for some of them so ….. Christopher ( not his mom ) can learn more about space, the planets and the world we live in.  This very inexpensive trip  has to be the coolest thing I have done all summer.

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Roof and view from visitors center of the Green Bank Science Center.

Just as a side note, I love metal structures of all kinds, bridges, towers, old piles of rusted junk, cranes, old ships, radar dishes and now radio telescopes.This man made aluminum dish is the most fascinating object I think I have ever seen. Its sheer size,the dish is larger than a football field across and around 2 acres is surface space, the height is taller than the statue of liberty and makes me want to take hundreds of photos. I love its maze of bright white structural supports with so much open spaces to look through. I could have spent most of my day just watching it slowly move on its 6 legs with 12 feet tall steel wheels that support the 8,500 tons or 170,000,000 pounds. I will one day return to spend more time with a film camera so that I can take photos really close up and enjoy sitting it the shadow of a giant.

For more information about the Green Bank Radio Telescope please check out their Website at NRAO and plan to visit one of West Virginia’s most undiscovered treasures.

 

 

 

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Categories: Green Bank NRAO, historic locations, Monongahela National Forest, Pocahontas County, rural life, Science Center, State Park activities, trains, Travel, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Exploring the National Parks System on it’s 100th Birthday, Aug 25th 2016.

It is in the woods that I find peace and my spirit is rejuvenated. It is in the forest of my beloved West Virginia that I rejoice that we live in a country that values and protects the most unusual of our natural resources. It is in our countries wisdom that they have saved millions of acres of land and miles of waterways for future generations.

West Virginia is one of the states that does not have a fully designated National Park. So for this August 25th celebration I want to share a vision of one of my  states protected National Forests, Monongahela National Forest. This unique forest ecosystem is preserved at the national level within the National Park System along with West Virginia’s  National Rivers, The New River,and Blue Stone, Two National Recreation Areas,The Gauley River National Recreation Area and Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, a National Historic Park at Harper’s Ferry and of course a National Scenic Trail the Appalachian Trail. All of these locations are protected for future generations buy the National Parks System of the United States of America.

 

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The Monongahela National forest represents a wide verity of rare and unique ecosystems, natural wonders, beautiful vegetation, and abundant wild life. It is here within the forest that my family and I have spent hundreds of hours exploring, searching for that rare moment when the outside world disappears and  nothing remains but the sights, sounds and smells of nature.

This National Forest comprises roughly a million acres of forest land in West Virginia. An approximate 1.3 million visitors come to the Monongahela National Forest each year.The forest spreads across the Southern portion of the state from the city of  White Sulfur Springs to the Northern border of West Virginia to Maryland state line. With the main body of the forest residing on the Eastern side of the state, along US Highway 219.

Within West Virginia’s largest National Forest there is a long list of natural wonders. Some I have photographed over the years and others are still a mystery to me. Some are easy to access and others are miles from civilization. So with the help of my family I have had the pleasure of seeing much of the forest and can share just a few of the wonderful sights that I have explored over the years.

Stuarts Park campground, picnic area. DSC00023

Stuarts Park has several CCC built covered pavilions with in the Monongahela National Forest. Also located within a mile of the campground/ park pavilions is Bickel Knob Observation Tower where it is possible to see about 1/3 of the National Forest and the surrounding towns.

Bickle Knob observation Tower in the the morning sun randolph county West Virginia 2016

The trip up this tower early in the morning lets us see over six different ridge tops and two small towns.

Christopher and JoLynn on top of Bickles Knob observation tower last days of summer 2016

 

The Bowden Fish Hatchery is where the local brook trout, brown trout and the West Virginia Golden Trout are brooded for release all over the state.

Tom Christopher at the Bowden Fish hatchery 2016

We fish in the many streams and rivers in the forest. My son learns to cast at Shavers Fork of the Cheat River.DSC00172

Exploring Smoke Hole Caverns on a hot summer afternoon is a treat.To spend a couple of hours under ground exploring the caves is one of my families favorite summer time trips.

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Smoke Hole Caverns entrance

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The slow drip of the Smoke Hole Caverns ceiling

All of these amazing locations are within the National Forest but what I am most fond of is the simple quiet beauty that we see as we forage and hike through the woods.

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Mushrooms growing on a tree stump near Bear Haven Campground

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Young horse at home on public grazing land at Monongahela National Forest

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Summer wildflowers along a forest service road in the Monongahela National Forest

wildflowers Monongahela National Forest Elkins WV

Wet wildflowers at Stuarts Park, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

 

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Cheat Mountain Salamander takes visitors on rides through hundreds of miles of the Monongahela National Forest. This is my favorite way to see the sights.

This train ride is headed for Green Bank and the National Radio Observatory where in the middle of the Monongahela Forest is the darkest place in West Virginia. It is the perfect location for star-gazing with professional astronomers. This is where my family and I finally got to see the Milky Way with our bare eyes.

As you can see I love my state, love my Forest and am excited to be included in this centennial  celebration. Thanks to Cotopaxi Company  for inviting me to take part in the festivities in my small way. I am proud to share with all of you the great work that Cotopaxi is doing all around our world and how one company with a mission can change the world one backpack at a time. I am so glad that their company supports and loves the outdoors as much a I do. Thanks for reminding us all about how important our Nation Park System is and what would be lost without our ability to explore and enjoy to great outdoors. Again Thank you Cotopaxi for letting me join in the fun!

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Camping, Cheat Mountain Salamander, family fun, Hardwood forest, hiking, Monongahela National Forest, mushroom hunting, natural resources, Potomac river, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

West Virginia Flood waters of Change 2016

 

It has been a very long hard couple of days for friends and family all over my beloved state. It seems as if God opened the floodgates of destruction on some of the most fragile and isolated communities of Southern West Virginia. If they had little before the flood waters rushed into homes and businesses last Thursday, then there is nothing left at all today.

As volunteers, Red Cross, National Guard units and Department of Highways workers rush to the southern portion of West Virginia the reports of loss get larger and harder to hear. The reality is starting to sink in that tomorrow will not be easier than today. That home is no longer home and never will be. That this historic flood was not just a single stream overflowing or even a town that got several street full of water but, county after county is destroyed…. whole towns have been wiped from the maps or our lives.

I am sure that when all the information is totaled this will be listed as the third most deadly flood in our state’s history and the 2nd most deadly caused by nature. Worst on the list is the Buffalo Creek Flood in Logan County, Feb. 26, 1972. The flood was caused by Pittston Coal Company’s coal slurry impoundment dam #3 when it gave way after several inches of rain fell along Buffalo Creek Hollow killing 125 and covering 16 small coal towns in black sludge water.

 

 

Then followed by the Election Day Flood Nov. 1985. The flood was concentrated in northern mountainous portion of the state around the area where I have lived for the last 20 years. The flood was storm related and killed 47 West Virginians. My family was lucky to not suffer damage to property during the flood but spent several days trapped due to high water.

It seems to me that flooding is just part of living in West Virginia. You can not have our high mountains and low hollows without the water to carve them. You can not live with the lush green hardwoods without the water that falls year round. So it is our plight to constantly keep an eye on the river and her course. We all in West Virginia know her power and know that the flooding is a small price to pay to remain within her mountains and hollows. Rebuilding is not a question, it is when that is the issue that hundred face in West Virginia today.

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Change, community service, Flooding, historic locations, history, rural life, Travel, weather, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | 17 Comments

Victorian Era Mummies in West Virginia

This is a story of one West Virginia mans curious mind. How he managed to develop a formula for making mummies and how he refused to give his secret formula away for years.How his experiments resulted in two mummified females from the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (also known as the TALA in Weston, Lewis County, WV) and how they have survived for over 120 years.

Image being alive during the Victorian Period (1837 to 1901) in the United States. Interest in all the sciences was growing and new discoveries were happening in every field. The interest in Egyptian culture and mummies is fueled by the discovery of the Pharaoh  Ramses II  in 1881. People are collecting relics of everything human, bones, teeth, hair and death masks were all common.Ordinary people are struck with deep curiosity about our world and how it worked.P.T. Barnum was touring the country with a spectacular collection of wild animals, strange entertainment acts, and items collected from around the world. Sideshows traveled small towns with strange examples of natural oddities that everyone could see for a few cents.So for one farmer/undertaker is was a wonderful time to explore his own curiosity about Egypt and their mummies.

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia built 1903

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia circa 1903

Graham Hamrick of Philippi, WV was not only a farmer but also a local undertaker. In his life he was educated in common burial processes and use of embalming fluids. He found the process of mummification interesting and wanted to learn more. It is stated that he found his formula with in the pages of the Bible somewhere among the pages of The Book of Genesis. With a secret formula in hand, Hamrick gathered materials and began to experiment with the process. Hamrick is said to have mummified fruit, vegetables, small animals and snakes before the trying to mummify a human.

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Female Mummy #1 taller of the two

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Philippi Mummy #2 smaller of the two

To mummify a human Hamrick  would need human remains to prove his secret formula worked. Living with in a day ride to Weston, and the TALA, Hamrick  arranged for the purchase of two sets of unclaimed female remains at the insane asylum. This fact makes me sad for the two woman, who were forgotten by families, sold to a farmer and mummified instead of having proper burials. After transporting the remains to his farm Hamrick began the process of turning the remains into mummies.  crop of TALA front lawn on Easter

At the time the process is thought to have taken several weeks but no one was really sure how long. When Hamricks process finished and the results were visible, he had created what resembled Egyptian mummies.He began to share his successes with others in the local area and beyond.

Eventually, he was contacted by the Smithsonian Institute, who wanted to add the mummies to the museum’s collection and display them to the public with the formula he invented. The farmer refused to share the formula even though he had sent in the process into the U.S. Patent office.The mummies remained in Barbour county until they were recruited by P.T. Barnum’s for  his circus shows. The Mummies spent several years touring the United States during the end of the 1800’s.

Finally, they were returned to Barbour County and the Hamrick family. They stored the bodies in several different places over the years, in the barn on the farm, under the bed of a local history buff. Then in 1985 the two female mummies even survived the worst flood in North Central West Virginia.

 James Ramsey, an 82-year-old museum curator, explained in 1994: “After the flood dropped, they were covered with green fungus and all kind of corruption. [A man] secured some kind of a mixture that would get the green mold off them and also the hairs that were growing on them.”

The mummies would finally come to rest in the Philippi Historical Societies hands and be displayed at the Train Depot Museum,where they still remain to this day. They have the mummies displayed with the “Secret Formula” posted on the wall of the display room.

 

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Philippi, WV Train Depot Historical Society Museum

 

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Graham Hamrick information and formula

The Historical Society also was able to get a copy of a letter written by one of the ladies  before her death at the Tran Allegheny Insane Asylum. The transcription of the letter is sad. It is hard for me to believe this young woman (age around 17) would be left and forgotten by a husband and family. Yet,it gives us great insight into the world of the mentally ill in the 19th century.

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Transcription of a letter from mummified woman to family 1880’s

I found the whole experience to the Depot Museum  wonderful. The other objects in the collection are educational also. Most dating back to the civil war era and the stories of the battles that filled the hills of this town are worth their own trip to the museum. Philippi  being the location of the first land battle of the Civil War makes the entire town a treasure trove of stories for further visits.

If you are lucky enough to be traveling in the north central portion of West Virginia. Take Rt #250 through the historic covered bridge into Philippi to see the Mummies. The museum is on the right just across the river next to the train tracks. Pay the small donation fee and take a look at one the little Mummies that Philippi made.

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Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Barbour County, Country life, Farming, ghost stories, historic locations, mummies, museums, Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, traveling | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

AFHA AmeriCorps, Who We Are, What We Do, Who We Serve.

My friends and I  in AmeriCorps serve my state in so many ways I thought I would let you explore some of the interesting things about, “Who We Are, What We Do, and Who We Serve in the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area in collaboration with AmeriCorps.

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia circa 1903

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia circa 1903

The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area is a regional initiative to promote, conserve and educate the public about our Appalachian heritage sites and forests within West Virginia and western Maryland. We work on a variety of community projects relating to heritage development,conservation,historic preservation and economic revitalization. AFHA AmeriCorps is funded in part by Volunteer West Virginia and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Each year our regional AFHA AmeriCorps service members have a meeting with some of the community members we serve. AFHA,held its Annual Stakeholders Meeting in May in the small town of Philippi, in Barbour County, West Virginia. Philippi is a town of about 2900 people with a rich history that centers around the Civil War and its role as the location of the first land battle of the war.

panorama of Downtown Philippi West Virginia... Wikipedia

Panorama of downtown Philippi, West Virginia… Wikipedia

During these meetings we share information about the projects we are working on within the communities we serve. We give community leaders information about what we really achieve while spending our year with them as service members. It was stated at the annual meeting, by Alison Thornton, Assistant to the Director of AFHA, that “a total of 920 community volunteers who serve in 16 counties have put in 10,076 Appalachian Forest Heritage Area service hours so far this year, with 44,683 beneficiaries of our work. Thrity eight service members have improved or treated 643.60 acres of public land with in our counties and AmeriCorps has over all  39,775.75 hours of service this year.” The impact of those 10,076 hours have in West Virginia is huge. Making the time AHFA members serve worth more than $150,000.00 in  man-hours to our state economy for the first half of the fiscal year.

Many of the positions that AFHA AmeriCorps fill are tough physical jobs in very isolated locations making their positions hard to fill. My fellow members work with the Forest Service and other conservation agencies repairing trails, clearing invasive species and fighting forest fires. Some members spend time working with the Arts, in tourism, and at historic locations doing preservation and giving tours. Some serve in rural communities working on economic revitalization.Some spend only a few hours a month in their office, instead working at construction and demolition sites, where  buildings are being redeveloped and updated. Yet, we all serve with this motto in mind “Getting Things Done.”

So when you get us all together it is a wonderful educational opportunity not only for the public but for us as members also. We see and hear about other members projects and the impact they are making for the better. We hear from speakers, who like us, are trying to make a difference in their area of expertise.We are also encouraged to explore the communities where we serve to get a deeper understanding of the area’s history and needs.

AFHA AmeriCorps members listing to Barbour County Circuit Clerk explaining about community history and the courthouse.

AFHA AmeriCorps members listing to Barbour County Circuit Clerk explaining about community history and the courthouse.

This by far is the most important part of our meetings from a member standpoint. We talk with local leaders about the successes and failures of our program. We see first hand what our service is doing in these communities. It is a time to see that our efforts are real and tangible.So with cooperation from the city of Philippi we were able to tour the town, see historical locations and see some of the physical evidence of our work. It gives all of us a chance to understand the area where we serve better and leaves each of us with a feeling of pride as we share in each other’s positive impact.

AmeriCorps listen to Dustin from Woodlands Development Group about redevelopment work done on the Sunnyside building with the help of AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps listen to Dustin Smith from Woodlands Development Group about redevelopment work done on the Sunshine building with the help of AmeriCorps.

Alex Thomas discusses the challanges of historic Preservation and redevelopment of the Sunnyside building with another AmeriCorps member

Alex Thomas discusses the challenges of historic preservation and redevelopment of the Sunshine building with another AmeriCorps member.

Alex Thomas serves as a AFHA AmeriCorps project manager for Woodlands Development Group  ( a local non-profit housing developer) on this main street building in Philippi. The building was almost a total loss for redevelopment in a town of this size but with many community groups working together and funding coming from grants the future looks brighter for this building. When finished the building will have retail space and two modern upstairs apartments for people who work in the downtown area. It is this collaboration between local officials, AmeriCorps service members,non-profits, the State and Federal Government that we begin to see what is possible. Every AmeriCorps wants to be part of the solution for our communities problems.

Store Front of Sunshine building before repairs begin

Store Front of Sunshine building before repairs begin photo courtesy of Alex Thomas

Hands on crew members inside the Sunshine building doing restoration work to the punched tin ceiling

Hands on crew members inside the Sunshine building doing restoration work to the punched tin ceiling photo courtesy of Alex Thomas

In the end AFHA and AmeriCorps is all about the people and communities we serve. In Philippi we were lucky to have the opportunity to see one of the largest covered bridges still in use in the United States. Seeing the bridges long historic arches puts all of our efforts into perspective about what is important about this region and its history. We serve as AFHA AmeriCorps to remind the world that we have a proud and long history that deserves to be protected, preserved, developed and cherished. As AmeriCorps members we make a difference in little communities just like this one all over West Virginia, so that the future of this region will be brighter, our communities will be stronger and our history will never be lost.

Barbour County, West Virginia, Philippi Covered Bridge

Barbour County, West Virginia, Philippi Covered Bridge 2016

It is my pleasure to serve the people as an AFHA AmeriCorps in rural West Virginia!! For more information about AmeriCorps and where they serve follow this link, National Service AmeriCorps, or visit http://www.appalachianforest.us/americorps.htm, and think about joining us.

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Categories: AmeriCorps, Appalachian Mountains, Barbour County, Civil War, community service, Friendship, historic locations, Nonprofit, rural life, Travel, West Virginia, Woodlands Development Group | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Wishing these houses would share all their Stories

Victorian two room house

Victorian two room House, Johnstown, WV.

 

Often when I have free time I drive the back roads to my destination. I make a point to bring my camera and give myself plenty of time for extra stops along the way. As I drive the hills and hollows that surround my home I always find some treasured old building and take its photo. This one really caught my eye last week and Christopher said it was “beautiful” as we drove to his dental appointment. It seems more decorative than most two room houses you usually see along the back roads. Making me wish that the somehow theses old houses would share all of their stories with me.

It is the stories that I love, not so much the genealogy of the houses ownership, that makes me write this blog. I want to hear about the births that happened in the houses, and if the children lived. I want to hear about the medicines that the woman of the house used when those children got sick. I want to know if those long gone children, got doses of cod liver oil in the spring as a tonic, just like mine. It was traditional every spring to line the children up for a heaping spoons full of the nasty oil. I wonder if everything moving got a dose as if they were cattle that needed spring worming.

Dried herbs grown for medicine in the 1700 to 1800.

Dried herbs grown for medicine in the 1700 to 1800.

I have always loved stories of feather tick beds in those houses, although my mother’s family could only afford to sleep on straw and corn shucks. I imagine a grandmother airing out the house on a warm spring day with the bedding hanging out the windows. I can see her out in the yard beating a rug on the clothes line and see her walking back from the root cellar with jars of canned food for supper on a cool spring night.

empty canning jars

Empty canning jars on my kitchen table.

 

Dairy Barn Rt #20 Harrison County

Dairy Barn Rt #20 Harrison County

I  imagine her grandchildren taking a wagon down the road about 6 miles to this dairy barn to collect the milk she would use to make butter, and cheese for her family. I can hear the cows and see the doves flutter away as the children run toward the barn. Somewhere in the distance is the  dairy farm owners house. Where the same family has lived over 125 hundred years. Working the land and raising beautiful cattle and gallons of rich milk.

Century farm house Lost Creek, Wv

Century farm-house Lost Creek, WV.

Christopher feeding a 4 day old calf.

Christopher feeding a 4 day old calf Lewis County, WV.

It is the stories of the people who carved out a life from the woods that call to me. I wait on them and try to catch a glimpse of them as they pass by an old frame windows and hide behind creaking wooden doors. I listen for their voices when I sit quietly on an old porch.I wait to meet the old folks when I smell wood smoke from a stone chimney and hope that they invite me in for a spell around the fire.

Tom surrounded by smoke from a 1860's chimney

Tom surrounded by smoke from a 1860’s chimney

Cellar steps into the basement to Sunny Pointe Guest House

Cellar steps into the basement to Sunny Pointe Guest House

Hutte Hause window

Hutte Hause window  Helvetia WV.

I dream of sitting on porch swing and talking for hours about the “old days” with a woman who shares a jar full of sweet tea with me. I feel that somehow we have known each other for generations even if she is nothing but a dream. I ask her about her  life and family and then when the light changes she is gone and all that is left is her home place.

SunShine on old house Doddridge County WV

SunShine on old house Doddridge County WV

I know that her house wants me to stay a bit longer, so I linger. I look in the windows at the mess that is left from a long life of children and farm hands. I know that really  my job is just to uncover the stories that live in these houses, cabins and barns. They want me to  spread the stories of peaceful joy and long-suffering. They want me to remind the world that they existed and promise that their memories will not be forgotten. I hear on the whispering wind that these old houses are not willing to die without a fight. That like the men and woman of the mountains they will not go down easy into the earth.

At times I wonder how  I am going to share the lives of so many. Then it happens, a house or barn or person  appear. They show up in my life without any warning. I take photos and hear the most wonderful tales. They remind me that I am just supposed to slow down and listen to the stories these buildings want to share.

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Barns, cabins, Country life, family memories, ghost stories, ghosts, Memories, nostalgic | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Legend of the Dogwood Tree, Spring in the Hollow

Like so many things in Appalachia, legends surround almost everything and many are held as truths still today. One of my favorite folktales told over and over in West Virginia is the Legend of the Dogwood Tree.  (This is a wonderful copy of the poem that tells the story)

Dogwood blooms in Buckhannon, WV

Dogwood blooms in Buckhannon, WV

As the story was told to me over two decades ago… Jesus was nailed to a large wooden cross made from Dogwood timber and as he died he blessed the tree because of it sorrow for its master’s death. The blessing held that the tree would never again grow straight or tall enough to be used for a  crucifixion cross again.  The flowers would be a symbol of his life, death and resurrection, to everyone who looked on them. With the white blooms standing for Christ and the red tinged edges being the symbol of his blood. The petals of the flower would shape a cross with two long arms and two short and the center in gold is the crown of thorns that he worn on that day.The notched edges of each petal are a reminder of the nails the held him on the cross and each spring we are reminded of his being raised from the dead when the Dogwood blooms again.

So is the story true? No, not really. The evidence pretty well shows that the story is just a tall tale. Do the people of the mountains and hollows still look forward to seeing the Dogwoods bloom every spring… and do they remember this story, Of course!

Dogwood berries ready for winter

Dogwood berries ready for winter in our back yard

The legend moved me so much when we lived on the farm, that while my neighbor was clearing the fence line between our two properties, I stopped my car along the road where he worked. I asked  the older man “please not cut down the young dogwood tree”. I shared the legend  with him while he looked on in amazement and put down his saw. For the following 10 years that same farmer never cut down the dogwood tree that stands in our shared fence row. At that moment I understood for the first time the power of the circuit ministers of the 1800’s in Appalachia. They must have had a lot of time to think when they rode these hills and hollows. They needed ways of reaching people so that they could understand the ideas of crucifixion, resurrection, sacrifice, forgiveness and love. So they used nature as a teaching tool(just like most folktales) to keep a story alive in a way that everyone could understand.

This tail is still heard in churches and at picnics here West Virginia. In spring as the forest slowly returns to life, it is the dogwoods blooms that remind me to tell this story again to another generation. So that my children will one day will share the story that holds many in these mountain hollows together.

Dogwood tree from Wikimedia commons

Dogwood tree from Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Buckhannon West Virginia, Church, Country life, Folk tails, spring | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The “Creepy Virginia”, Stereotyping West Virginia.

When I hear about people joking about West Virginia it ruffles my feathers. I am not a native to the Mountain State so I find it even more offensive when outsiders make fun of the people I love and work with everyday. Last month I was again disappointed when I heard that The Daily Show’s Twitter feed called my state “Creepy”.

The Darden House my office in Elkins WV

The Darden House my office in Elkins WV

The Daily Show’s Twitter statement that I have linked to, shared a disparaging comment about West Virginia and it struck me as irritating. As usual, a person who knows nothing about history or culture has attempted to paint a crude generalisation about the people who call West Virginia home. Calling West Virginia “creepy” and implying that West Virginia is not the “Good Virginia”, pissed me off for about 2 seconds. It took me two seconds to get mad and then two seconds more to understand that maybe being creepy is not such a bad thing…. Let me explain.

West Virginia is 75% wooded and has a population of about 1,844,128 about 36,488,393 LESS than California! That ranks West Virginia in the lowest 12 populated states in our county. So lots of woods, few people, few big cities, means less of the problems that many of our Western States face. Massive growth and terrible air pollution( I know about this one, I grew up in the Denver Metro Area and you can keep the brown cloud) are just a few of the Less Creepy Problems that California, Colorado and Nevada face everyday. Then when we start to think about Virginia you know the “NOT SO CREEPY STATE”… the one with Washington D.C. I wonder if the Daily Show would like us to forget the constant gridlock of traffic in and out of the Capital City?The high cost of living( 6th highest in the country) and the amount of people pleaser who live in and around D.C. Also does The Daily Show really want all of us to forget about the Crime Rates of other states and cities all over the country? We are not perfect here in West Virginia but we do have some really great things going on, maybe Creepy is not so bad after all.

Old cabin in Cleveland West Virginia

Old cabin in Cleveland West Virginia

As my mind rolled this twitter post around over the following weeks, something came to mind. It is a very specific kind beauty that popped into my imagination. An image of something that is not found just anywhere but in the deep hollows and on the high ridge tops. The beauty of the ancient and of the decaying, the beauty of the “Wild and Wonderful”. The beauty that is found in hard work and long-suffering,the kind of beauty that is epic and larger than a single story. These are not the images of perfect clean beaches, crisp snow-covered vistas or smooth sandy deserts. They are not images of the huge skyscrapers or modern metro stations. They are images that are creepy and I love them.

Kenchelo road barn before being torn down

Kincheloe road barn before being torn down 2015.

I am not a fantastic writer or photographer, but I have dedicated my blog to trying to share the magic of my state. I share my love of  the creepy, decaying, damp, world that I see every day.

Fairy Mushroom in the woods of West Virginia

Fairy Mushroom in the woods of West Virginia

Snail on river moss, cleveland, WV

Snail on river moss, Cleveland, WV

If you find in some way that these photos  are creepy, then you have discovered the ancient magic of West Virginia. A magic that is not always visible to outsiders, as the above Tweet reveals. West Virginia does not open her secret vaults to all who pass by her borders. She remains hidden just like Avalon in Camelot.Only allowing those who understand her mystery to view her treasures.

 

Iron train bridge in foggy Lewis County West Virginia

Iron train bridge in foggy Lewis County West Virginia

snow bales, west virginia

snow bales, West Virginia 2014

So, I now am wondering if maybe Trevor Noah and the crew at The Daily Show are close to the truth when posting that West Virginia is “Creepy”. Maybe our lives seem foreign to people who live in the big city under the spotlight. I am thinking maybe being Creepy is the very best way to keep our state a secret for another generation.Saving all of us Mountaineers from the problems of the “Good Virginia” and other states.

reenactment at the TALA front lawn

Reenactment at the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum  front lawn, Weston, West Virginia.

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Barns, blogging, Country life, history, rural life, Stereo Types, stereotyping, trends, Twitter, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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