Pleasant Valley Sunday

My virus scan had slowed my computer to a crawl, so I spent the morning cleaning out the mess at the top of the basement stairs, which was used as the cleaning closet by the previous owners, despite the fact that it is less than three feet square and is in fact the stair landing and needs to be used to get up and down, and brainstorming how to rearrange it.  We had gotten mop clips to be put up, but you can never just do one thing.  There is a circuit box there, for which a giant hole was cut in the plaster wall and never finished, leaving cable, rough plaster edges, and the inside of the wall exposed, and something needed to be done about that.  We brainstormed and decided to surround the thing with pegboard, so I put chicken in the crockpot for green chile enchiladas later, and we went to Lowe’s and then off to the mountains again, figuring there wasn’t any daylight in the staircase so the afternoon would be better spent where there was.

We went to Pleasant Creek WMA, where we didn’t find skunk cabbage, and then back down to see if we could actually find Arden, a swimming spot on the Tygart Valley River.  We weren’t planning a swim, but we got lost in the wilds of Barbour County a few years ago while planning a picnic there on the way to take our daughter to the Pittsburgh airport.  It was meant to be the scenic route, and was, but not what we had planned, and we wanted to try again.  We did find Arden, a pretty spot on the Tygart, and then went over the hill to Moatsville, a beautiful spot on Teter Creek just above where it joins the Tygart.


So while Robert finished the pegboard, I made these brownies.  I found the recipe while adding all my recipes to this blog, partly as part of the “automate menu planning and the grocery list” project, for which I’m using Ziplist, but don’t want to copy all my recipes there.  I can put them here, link their ingredients there, use them for schedule and grocery list generation in Ziplist, and still have them under my control.  I suspect this was my mother’s recipe, but I don’t remember her ever making them – and I haven’t either.  An experiment.  I suspected from the tiny amount of flour that they would be the kind described as “fudgie” but they are more like baked mousse or maybe divinity (and way less trouble than divinity).

And the top of the stairs now looks like this, and will be quite lovely, as basement stairs go, once we paint it all gray to match the kitchen.  Broom closet

Swallow Falls

Robert above the Swallow Falls

Robert above the Swallow Falls

We hadn’t been out in the mountains for six weeks or more, since Robert’s cousin Priscilla was here. We hadn’t been anywhere much but Lowe’s, Home Depot, and a few other forays for bits and pieces for our refurbishing projects, more of which soon. Nature was limited to our views of the yard (not too shabby), and watching the activity at our bird feeders (dozens of goldfinches, with some excitement like a towhee, which I had been hearing for weeks, but hadn’t seen.)

I put on long johns, jeans, my heaviest sweater, a flannel shirt, a fleece vest, my down jacket, a pashmina scarf, a wool hat, my down jacket and hiking boots, and we headed out for another attempt at skunk cabbage at Cranesville Swamp.  We now know that the snow isn’t plowed on the last stretch to the parking area (tantalizing visible from the plowed road) and there is no other place to park and walk in.  So four-wheel drive (or maybe chains) are required.  But the views driving there are grand.

Driving on, we came to the sign for Swallow Falls State Park, just over the Maryland line, and decided to try it.

We walked the trail to the Swallow Falls

Swallow Falls of the Youghiogheny

Swallow Falls of the Youghiogheny

Image Image   Image

Muddy Creek Falls

Muddy Creek Falls

and then down the Youghiogheny to the mouth of Muddy Creek and up to its falls.

I always enjoy just driving the backroads in this part of the mountains. I noticed a lot of stores and mailboxes that said “Friend.” Those families are descendants of Anders Nilsson Frande, a Swedish trapper and trader who lived and traded on the Potomac in the very early 1700s or before. My pioneer Germans moved in a generation later with the first permanent settlers. The high plateau holds the headwaters of the Youghiogheny and Potomac, and also branches of the Cheat and Tygart Valley River. When it was first settled, the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia lines were in dispute, so naturally my ancestors moved about freely, leaving traces in all three states (not to mention multiple counties in each, as the counties split.) The plateau now, reached by winding up Laurel and Cheat Mountains, holds wide vistas of beautiful rolling farms, interspersed with pine and hemlock woods and alpine bogs.

As I was writing this, we received word that Priscilla died unexpectedly after what was expected to be minor surgery. We took her to Blackwater Falls in January, and she was thrilled with the mountains, and curious about the geography and history, a treat for me. She was looking forward to more travel, and we to visiting with her. We will miss her deeply.

Where the Woods Are

The first time I came home from Chicago in the spring, after spending most of a year among gray limestone and very little green, I was overwhelmed by plants that seemed to be taking over.  The Woods Hole Institute has analyzed satellite data and produced this image of where the woods are in the United States.  Having grown up in the midst of the large swathe of dark green in the East, which is the Appalachian mountains and foothills, I think of the woods as normal.  Looking at the map, it is clear how unusual it is.

The Appalachians are a billion years old.  There are more kinds of plants and animals here than anywhere except the tropics.  I am so privileged to be here for another Appalachian spring.

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.

Almost Heaven – Families

My husband and I are both librarians, were read to by our parents, and read to our children.  Robert read James Thurber and other funny stuff to our children before they were born (I enjoyed it, too) and they are both bright, literate, and have a certain dry wit.  I’ve been looking again at the National Survey of Children’s Health.  Of all the parents in the country, West Virginians are the most likely to read to their preschool children, and 9th in reading to them every day.  57% of West Virginia pre-schoolers are read to every day and almost 90% are read to most days.  Even in the poorest households, more than half the parents read to their children every day.  We’re good at singing and storytelling, too – 9th in the country, and two-thirds of all parents sing or tell stories to their children every day. And 40%of school-age kids spend less than an hour a day watching television and playing video games. Our pre-schoolers see more television and videos than most, but not in the poorer households.  Preschoolers in our richest households watch more television than anywhere else in the country.

Sadly, most families no longer eat dinner together regularly, but West Virginians do better than most; almost half of all families have a meal together every day, but only about a third of our richest families.

Almost Heaven – Healthy Children

Here is a report on a grant to “fight obesity” among kids in Kanawha County. When I saw “47% of kids, predominantly those in families with low incomes, are considered overweight or obese” with no source cited, I went looking.  I haven’t found where those numbers came from, but I found some other encouraging facts.  Somehow, the media never report the good news.
The National Survey of Children’s Health compares the overall health of West Virginia children to children nationwide, at different incomes.

At every income level, West Virginia kids are healthier than the national average, and the poorer children are farther ahead than the richer ones.  On overall health, West Virginia ranks 20 among the 50 states plus DC – and Texas and California are 50 and 51.  On almost all of the measures in the survey, West Virginia scored higher than average. West Virginians are taking care of our kids – all of our kids.

A Previous Lack of Crows

When we were in Texas, I missed the crows.  Cawing in the distance had always seemed as integral to early morning as the dawn, until it was gone. I was pleased to hear one occasionally, especially early morning on our camping trips. I thought it was just that they didn’t come in to town.  But now, in our house on the edge, but still surrounded by town, they are often in the yard, especially in the spruce trees behind the house.

Today, following up a mistaken story about crow migration (they flock, and may move south up to a few hundred miles, but don’t really migrate), I found a map which explains why they seemed so few.  We grew up in some of the darkest areas on the map, I in West Virginia, my husband, in corn (and asparagus and pea) country in northern Illinois. We lived on the thin pink edge in central Texas.

Map of American Crow summer range

American Crow Summer Range, courtesy of Crowbusters

Map of American Crow Winter Range

American Crow Winter Range, courtesy of Crowbusters

Letter to the President

Mr. President:

I am sure you are aware of this editorial by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

It outlines what you can do immediately to enforce existing law and regulation and end the travesty of mountaintop removal coal mining, and touches on the consequences it has had for the people of the southern coal fields.

I am a West Virginia native who left in 1978 to attend the University of Chicago and have only this year returned.   West Virginia, the only state completely within Appalachia, has suffered the fate of a third-world country for a century.  Even though coal mining is now a much smaller part of our economy, the coal companies do not have to pay the full cost of extracting the coal, and can spend a great deal on politicians and judges to keep it that way.

I was shocked by the conditions in the South Side of Chicago when I moved there; the southern coal fields of West Virginia are more shocking, because the people can be helped only if the land is not irretrievably destroyed.  Please go and visit southern West Virginia.  Visit the grade school threatened by sludge.  Fly over the devastated mountains.  Visit a “restored” mountaintop mine and listen to the silence of a destroyed ecosystem.  Walk the streets of the communities.  Then go visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Greenbank, in the heart of the untouched mountains, and see what was and could be.


You can write President Obama at

Almost Heaven (8)

Morgantown is number 9 in the Small Cities Rankings – 2009 New Geography Best Cities for Job Growth, of 173 small cities in the country, and 13th among all cities.  Charleston has moved from the small to medium cities category, and is 37 of 103 medium-sized metro areas, and 114 overall.  Smaller job markets  like Clarksburg and Parkersburg aren’t included.

Toledo, Hickory, NC, Sarasota, and Dayton, all places West Virginians long went in droves, are the bottom four medium-sized cities, and near the bottom overall.