Week before last, in pursuit of more adult sports equipment (racquetball racquets), we ran across sleds.  There was, at the time, no snow.   But I had run across an article on the sled run at Blackwater Falls, and we knew it would snow again eventually. The sled is an interesting hallucinogenic swirl of dayglo colors, and was made just up the road in Girard, Pennsylvania.  It’s rated to hold two at our summer weights – with our winter padding, I think we go over the rating.  This afternoon, with yesterday’s fresh snow evaporating in the sun, we decided we should try the sled.

Here’sSled Run the slope in the back yard.  There’s a path the neighborhood uses to cut across to the next street, many small pine trees, and a large downed branch we hadn’t gotten around to moving.  It proved to have a strange magnetic attraction for the sled, but we managed not to impale ourselves.  After my third trip, Robert went, careening wildly a couple of times.

“How did you steer?” he said.

“I dunno, with my feet, mostly.”

It’s steep and was so fast even the first time that I had dragged my feet the whole way.

“Would you like to see how I do it?” I said.

I went down again – careening wildly – it had packed down and gotten much faster.  We decided to move up to the side yard, which is not quite as steep.  He had a few good runs; then I tried it – and careened wildly.  Looks like we’re going to have to wait for another inch or two – or go find another hill.

Robert on sled

Less is More

Here is more news on the front of useless or even harmful technology.  Central heating may make us fat, antihistamines cause restless-leg syndrome, requiring more drugs, and as I noted awhile back, running shoes are worse than high heels in putting stress on knee and hip joints. A Harvard professor of evolutionary biology, realizing that people have been running for millennia (well, epochs, really, since before Homo was sapiens) and only invented running shoes 40 years ago, has been studying barefoot running.  Guess what?  Barefoot runners land on their toes, not their heels, causing much less stress and conserving more energy.  Running shoes apparently contribute to shin splints and other injuries.

Expensive, produced in sweat shops, adding to the trade deficit, sold as a status item, and not good for us.

Let’s add high-tech athletic shoes to technologies we can live without.


Writing about Burns Night and the Selkirk Grace got me thinking about grace before meals. In my family growing up, we alternated two children’s graces:

Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.


God is great and God is good.
And we thank him for our food.
By his hands we all are fed.
Give us Lord our daily bread.

I remember singing the Johnny Appleseed grace at Girl Scout camp:

Oh, the Lord’s been good to me,
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need
the sun and the rain and the apple seed.
Oh, the Lord’s  been good to me.

When our daughter was small, she came home from church school with this, which we still use:

May we have eyes that see
Hearts that love
And hands that are ready to serve

Burns Night

We won’t be making a really traditional Burns Night, but we will be having “neeps and tatties” (mashed turnips and mashed potatoes), plus cabbage and pork sausages, since authentic haggis is banned here anyway. I have a bagpipe video to play, and we will say the Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

We have a Norwegian version on a plate from Stavanger, inherited from Robert’s family:

Noen har brød, men kan ikke spise.
Andre kan spise men har ikke brød.
Vi har brød og vi kan spise.
Derfor vil vi Herren prise.

The Thaw

It has been close to 50° all week, and the snow was almost all gone, except where it had been plowed or shoveled into piles.  There was a bit of sun. It was laundry day, and when Robert finished hanging it, we decided to go find Cranesville Swamp, a Nature Conservancy preserve over in Preston County. It is a peat bog in a frost pocket, cooler than even the surrounding mountaintops.  It is also along the Maryland border, in an area where I suspect some of my “missing” ancestors, first settlers of West Virginia, may have been before the Revolution, an area I haven’t visited much.

The farther east, and higher, we got, the more snow remained in the woods.  Terra Alta is indeed high land, a town on the mountaintop.  Most of Preston County, Garrett County, Maryland, east of it, and Tucker County, just south, is high plateau, broad flats turned into high meadows and fields by German pioneer farmers starting just before the Revolution.  It is very different from the narrow parallel ridges and valleys of the Allegheny Front farther south and east, and the even narrower and broken ridges and valleys of the Allegheny Plateau which is most of western and southern West Virginia.

We found the turnoff to the preserve, marked only with a brown wildlife viewing sign, and soon discovered that the road was covered with ice and snow in the shady spots, and going downhill.  I wussed out, envisioning us sitting in some deserted spot at the bottom of an icy slope, miles from a cell-phone tower, and unable to get up the hill.  We really should have picked up a set of chains for the Jetta, but I keep putting it off, thinking we will get a Jeep, so we can visit my brother and traverse other backroads in all weather. There were houses all along the road, and Cranesville is less than 15 miles from I-68, so I really was being wussy.Terra Alta

This view is looking southwest in Garrett County, just over the Maryland line.  There was an ice storm this week, and the snow had an ice glaze. We drove south to Oakland, passing a swamp at Lake Ford.  Had we been sensible and read the brochure and map, we would have known that was the swamp, we had been only a mile or so from the trail head when we turned around, and it is even more accessible from the Maryland side.  Ah, well – we had not been to Terra Alta before, and it was a lovely drive.

Had we known there was still so much snow, we would have taken our new sled to the slope at Blackwater Falls State Park.  As it was, we stopped at Mountain Made‘s Country Store on the riverfront in Thomas, and then drove down the Canaan Valley and back across Route 72 through Red Creek, after which it follows the Dry Fork down to Hendricks, where the Blackwater comes in, to Parsons, Elkins, and back home on the four-lane, since by then it was dark.Dry Fork You can see that the Dry Fork was anything but.  There were a number of mountain farms up above Red Creek – some of the fields had horses or goats; others had herds of deer grazing.  We need to go back and ride the Allegheny Highlands Trail, which starts in Elkins and currently ends at Hendricks, or hike in the Otter Creek Wilderness.

Dirty Coal and the Politics of Violence

Tonight there will be a “debate” at the University of Charleston between Don Blankenship and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.  This AP story characterizes the issue as “what’s at stake if the U.S. government restricts the efficient, cost-effective practice of extracting coal by flat-topping mountains and filling valleys with excess material.” The AP has begged the question at issue and come down on the side of violence.

Mountaintop removal is only “efficient [and] cost-effective” if many of the costs are ignored. At issue in southern West Virginia are the environmental, health, and human costs – air and water polluted, mountains leveled, communities destroyed.  Many of these costs were documented in an unprecedented article by 11 scientists in Science this month, which follows a long series of studies which identified the harms from mountaintop removal.

There is constant violence in southern West Virginia:  blasting the mountains, slow disease and death from pollution, and intimidation in the coal communities. Tonight’s debate will undoubtedly be packed with young miners in working gear, bussed in by their employers to shout down and intimidate in a show of force.   There will undoubtedly be coal trucks driving by blasting air horns.  I had a West Virginia state delegate tell me last month, in a public meeting, that legislators, especially those from southern West Virginia, would not vote for restrictions on coal mining “because they would be shot.” Worse than the destruction of the mountains is the rule of violence and intimidation to allow a few coal owners and managers to continue to profit.

The “debate” will be covered live on West Virginia television stations; if you are elsewhere, it will be streaming on the web at,,,, and, and audio at West Virginia Public Radio.

For Summer Song, Eat Local, Eat Organic

We have tried to eat local or organic foods for years, because it is healthier, better for the local economy, better for the environment.  Eating in season is one of many ways to keep closer to nature.  Eating locally and in season means that every season is different and there is always something to look forward to – the first greens and peas in spring, the strawberries, blackberries, peaches of summer, luscious August tomatoes, the apples and pears of fall, the warming and filling beans and cabbage, carrots and potatoes of winter.

From the National Wildlife Federation, another reason to eat local and eat organic: Put a Songbird on Your Shopping List – birds that winter in South America are dying from pesticides being used there that are illegal here.

Isn’t This Just a Performing Art?

The current Thing of the Day on Jellypress (a beautiful blog on old recipes, art, and ideas) is not a thing at all, but a performance.  Nancy discusses a NY Times piece on Tino Sehgal who  “shows objectless, undocumented live pieces in museums and galleries.”

Apparently art critics are agog at (oh, all right, maybe not agog, but taking seriously as a new concept), the idea of an artist making objectless and unrecorded art. Nancy makes a parallel with cooking, which is equally ephemeral.  But surely much art, for most of time, has been ephemeral – song, dance, poetry, storytelling, drama. The work was carried only in memory – of the performers and of the audience.

The Times piece says “working only with human clay, he can call forth thoughtful and visceral responses from people who remain unmoved by more conventional paintings and sculptures.”  Playwrights and bards have done this for millennia. And on the other hand, there are those who remain unmoved by mime or speech or song who are moved by sight. Some people are more moved by music, or speech, or sculpture, painting, or the movement of light and water in nature. A comparison across media owes as much to the audience as the artist.

Again “Sehgal is adamant that he is producing a work of art, not theater: unlike a performance, a Sehgal is on display for the entire time the institution is open, and the human actors are identified no more precisely than as if they were bronze or marble.” I fail to see how the duration or interval changes a piece from a performance to a work,  nor the anonymity or not of the actors. Is a film shown once a day a performance, but a film loop a work? In many times and places, the individual identities of the actors (and indeed characteristics we find essential, like gender) were irrelevant.

Perhaps most of my impatience with high culture is its belief that elaborate conceptual frames, rather than content, create meaning and value.

Almost Heaven – It Takes a Village

I’ve been looking again at the National Survey of Children’s Health. One of the questions West Virginia scores lowest on is “How many children live in neighborhoods that contain a park, sidewalks, a library, and a community center?” Only Mississippi has more children who live where there are none of these, and only Mississippi have fewer children who live in neighborhoods with all four.

But what does this really mean? Doesn’t it mean that whoever wrote the survey was thinking only of city children? West Virginia is in some ways the most rural state in the country. If children have large yards, a garden, a creek in front and woods out back, do they need a park, sidewalks, and a community center? We already saw that West Virginia parents are more likely to read, sing, and tell stories to their children. If the kids get taken to the library every week or two, does it need to be in their neighborhood?

And our children live where
“People in my neighborhood help each other out.”
“We watch out for each other’s children in this neighborhood.”
“There are people I can count on in this neighborhood.”
“If my child were outside playing and got hurt or scared, there are adults nearby who I trust to help my child.”

More West Virginia children lived in caring and supportive neighborhoods than all but 8 other states, all of them rural (Utah, Vermont, Idaho, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Nebraska). More of our poorest children live in supportive neighborhoods than in all but 4 other states. And more parents feel their children are always safe in their neighborhood than all but 7 other states.

We may hear more often about the things we and our children don’t have and don’t achieve. But we have healthy children, in neighborhoods where neighbors still care, and where we don’t need city parks because we have not “paved paradise.” West Virginia families have held on to many of the values and ways of life that people in other places are now trying to regain or rebuild.

Ah, Parenthood!

All other things being equal, parents scored 4.5 points lower than non-parents in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and 3 points lower than non-parents in diastolic blood pressure. Holt-Lunstad says the size of the difference is statistically significant, but she warns against hastily making major life changes based on this finding alone.

from Brigham Young University. “Raising Kids May Lower Blood Pressure.” Science Daily 14 January 2010.

The effect is even larger for mothers than fathers, but the research only covered people with children living with them.  I suspect that we’re not likely to make any more major life changes at this stage, like persuading the children to move back home or adopting more.