Almost Heaven (2)

The second in a series of posts of good things about West Virginia.

West Virginia, like most of Europe, but only 13 other states, has abolished the death penalty.  The last execution in West Virginia was in 1959 and the death penalty was abolished in 1965.

One in every 198 U.S. residents was in prison in 2007; only 1 in 426 West Virginia residents were.

In 2007, the violent crime rate in West Virginia was 275.2 for every 100,000 people, 12th lowest in the country.  The national rate was 466.9.  We were 20th lowest in murders, 5th lowest in rapes, 14th lowest in property crime, with rates well below the national average.

See Thy Brother’s Blood: Capital Punishment in West Virginia

U.S. Department of Justice
Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin December 2008, NCJ 224280 Prisoners in 2007
Data Online

Almost Heaven (1)

This is a first of a series of posts of good things about West Virginia, beyond the obvious beautiful scenery and friendly way of life.  When I announced my retirement and where we were going, my Texas friends and colleagues (and a few WV natives) started sending me emails of bad-news items about West Virginia.  Having lived away for 30 years, I had had it with even well-meaning misconceptions about our ignorance and poverty, not to mention nasty West Virginia bashing (which continues even in high places, where you would think they would know better) of the ethnic joke or slur sort.

85.9% of West Virginians have health insurance, above the national average of 84.7%.  95.4% of children (under 18) are covered (nationally 89.0%), and 99.5% of those over 65 (nationally 98.1%).  About 40% of those of working age without health insurance were in households making over the average household income, and 20% were in households making over $100,000, indicating that they had chosen not to have coverage.

Part of this very good coverage rate is due to Medicaid, SCHIP, and a high disability rate, but that just says that, although West Virginians may be poorer than average, we take care of those who need help.

Not to bash Texas, but guess which state has the highest percentage and next-to highest absolute numbers of uninsured?

Data from the CPS 2008 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (2007 Income) from the U. S. Bureau of the Census

Friday the 13th, Indeed

Today the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2007 decision in a suit by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was issuing valley fill permits without environmental reviews.

This will immediately allow as many as 90 mining permits to proceed without stringent reviews of the damage and polllution filling the valleys with the tops of mountains will cause.

Read much more at the Charleston Gazette coal blog.

There is a Sierra Club petition to the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency  here.

The Zen of Wallpaper Stripping

I have been stripping wallpaper from the room that we are referring to as the library.  Before we can put up bookcases, the walls and woodwork need to be painted.  To do that, we need to put down new shoe molding, which was removed when the room was carpeted, sometime in the 1950s from the looks of the carpet we removed, strip the wallpaper, and repair the plaster (which seems to be in fairly good shape).

There is a certain soothing rhythm to pulling off the wallpaper.  I think there must be a universal appeal to peeling off layers.  When we were children, we would spread white glue on our fingertips (when adults were not supervising; for some reason they saw this as a waste) and peel it off.  Young teenage girls all seem to enjoy peeling off nail polish; I know I used to paint mine just to peel it off.

There are six layers of wallpaper, and the first four come off easily in most places, all together, in pieces six inches square or so, with an occasional fine long strip that rips right off.  I use a wide-bladed putty knife slid under a loose edge.  In a few places, just enough to make this a long task, it is still glued tight and comes off only inch by inch.   So the rhythm varies from long smooth rips to small scrapings.  Sometimes I skip around the tight spots to keep up the ripping, and then come back for an hour of scrape, scrape, scrape on the hard places.

As I work, I think about the women who put up the wallpaper; in this case, probably only one or two, since our old house was in one family for almost 60 years.  Mrs. Tonkin and probably her daughter-in-law chose the paper, which starts in a shade of gray-green, changes to another shade with flowers, and a third shade in an Art Deco print with silver metallic highlights.  Then there is a layer of solid Pepto Bismol pink, although I am sure she didn’t think of it this way, but as perhaps a lovely rose color.  The next layer is clearly 1950s, a pinkish beige grasscloth, and finally, the visible layer that had to go, a linen-look whitish layer, very 1960s and now mottled brown.

As I work, I also think of my own mother, who bought a house in 1960 built not long after this one.  I can see her scraping the wallpaper in her bedroom, with huge and hideous yellow cabbage roses that someone once thought lovely.

Red Squirrels

When we first moved in, we noticed what seemed to us to be chipmunks in the line of Norway spruce and hemlocks along the back of our yard.  In Austin, we were at the western edge of many species, including the fox squirrel, which has a black variety common on the Texas Capitol lawn.  Our back yard was full of fox squirrels, which even bigger than the grey squirrel I grew up with, and the ones in our evergreens seemed tiny.  As it turns out, they are red squirrels.  I had probably never noticed them growing up because they eat evergreen seeds, and we didn’t have many in town.

I wondered if our red squirrels were the same as the ones being driven out in England by imported North American gray squirrels.  They are a different species, more closely related to our gray and fox squirrels than to our little red squirrel.

The Smithsonian has a great on-line field guide to mammals.  One feature allows you to choose a location and create a custom printable PDF field guide of just the mammals for that area.

Sweet Gums and Bluebirds

Sunday was warm and sunny (well, for January in north central West Virginia) and so we took a walk around the trail in Veterans Park, down the hill and across the river from our house.  Most of the path was free of ice and snow.  waspnestThere was a fine paper-wasp nest on a sycamore branch leaning out over the river, and further along, back near the parking lot, Robert spotted a bluebird.  It had been 25 years since we saw a bluebird,  when we lived in Tennessee.  I almost missed it, being busy puzzling over a huge and unusual earthworm, until he pointed out that it was a plastic fishing worm.

This morning I swept the sour gum balls from the patio before more snow accumulated.  The sweet gum is a beautiful tree, shading the patio, providing shelter near the feeder for the birds, turning a glowing deep red in the fall, and belonging to a genus with a beautiful name, Liquidambar.  The early settlers chewed the sticky sweet resin.  The seed balls are interesting, but harder to keep clear than leaves.  They fall in batches when it is warm and sunny; wind, rain, and snow don’t seem to bring them down.

Moving: An Adventure in Four Parts (4)

Tuesday morning, sunrise on the prairie – even if we can’t see it.  It is raining but not freezing.  We pull out, me in the lead, keeping an eye on the truck in the rear view so I don’t get too far ahead.  Four days on the road and we have hours yet to the Texas line.  We’re still not sure about the truck, which had not been able to do over 50 on the level before the repair.  Visibility is low, and drops to about 20 feet every time a big rig passes me, which is often.  It is hovering around freezing, and I worry there will be unexpected patches of ice.  I set the cruise control at 60 and we slog on.  We make Forrest City, Arkansas by dark.  This is short of halfway, so we’re looking at another night on the road.

Wednesday morning, five days on the road, we finally make it east of the Mississippi, passing the glass pyramid at Memphis, which Arend declares he likes.  I say driving this road is always like going back in time, and he asks why.  Before Texas, we lived in Tennessee.  In the first years in Texas, we drove back to West Virginia each Christmas.  The year he was born was the last.  Too far, too much time on the road for small children, it needed at least ten days off to make it worthwhile, time that was hard to get.  Waco, Dallas, Texarkana, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Elizabethtown, Lexington, Ashland, Huntington, Charleston, home.  By the time we drove him to college in Chicago, with a detour to Cincinnati on the way, we never wanted to drive that stretch again.  We had made three round-trips since then, experimenting with cutting across southern Indiana and Illinois, sliding across northern Arkansas on local highways.  But there’s not much way to avoid Texarkana to Dallas and I-35, not if you live in the heart of Texas.

We hit the snow somewhere in Middle Tennessee, and the maze of lanes, split and merges through Nashville is as daunting as always.  The truck is due back Thursday morning and we haven’t heard from Budget Customer Service; we think we should get two days, since we lost two days of driving time.  It is snowing hard, and we’re in serious hills now. We stop at a combination A&W/KFC in Bardstown, Kentucky.  Robert calls Budget, and they say we can have until 2:30 a.m.  Saturday, an extension of the exact number of hours from breakdown to repair.  We move on.  We stop for gas and diesel in Versailles, as soon as we get off the parkway, and decide we can make Mt. Sterling before dark.  Later, watching the news in the motel, we see pictures of multiple wrecks on the New Circle Drive overpass in Lexington an hour after we went over it.  There had been “thundersnow” – a snow squall with thunder and lightening, when an inch of snow fell in 10 minutes.

Thursday morning, the end is in sight, but we’re heading into snow.  I am always pleased to cross the bridge at Ashland and see that West Virginia welcome sign, never more than today.  I point out a bookmobile stop far below us as we go through Huntington, from my days working for Cabell-Huntington Library.   As soon as we have threaded our way through Charleston and made it to I-79, I call my brother, who will leave work and meet us to help unload.

The snow gets heavy about Big Chimney.  Arend asks to stop at a gas station and I pull of at the next exit, which happens to be Clendenin.  As soon as I am off, I realize the road is snow-covered, curving, and way too narrow, there is not much between there and Clendenin, and no place to turn the truck around.   I have Arend call Robert to tell him to pull over and wait for us.  We pull into a gas station and I call Robert back to tell him where we are and why.  He says he has pulled in to a gas station, and asks where we are.  I look across the lot and see him parked.  I can see why he missed the Jetta wagon; how I missed seeing a 24-foot truck, I don’t know.  We get drinks and move on.

I always forget until I’m on it how steeply I-79 goes up and down over the ridges.   Robert says later he was relieved to see how slowly other trucks were going on the hills.  I woory about the exit to US 50 on Bridgeport Hill, the long steep slope down Bridgeport Hill into town, the narrow tight cloverleaf from there, and most of all, whether the truck will actually fit on our parking pad.

We do all that, the truck fits, and my brother arrives soon after we do.  It will take until Friday afternoon to get everything unloaded, but we’re home.