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

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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.

Fun in Them Thar Hills

Last winter we worked on the house, and the yard once the weather warmed up.  We did a bit of traveling around with various visitors, and did quite a few Sunday drives around the countryside, but not much else. New Year’s weekend  I started out to plan our garden, a traditional January task, but somehow ended up looking at events for the coming year.  There’s a lot going on within an hour’s drive or so, not even counting the things we’re unlikely to do, like monster truck rallies.

We keep our calendars on a server so we can share them (and access from anywhere), so I decided to put our West Virginia events on a public calendar.  You can download them, all or individually, or subscribe with your calendar program.

The Warm Old House

In a casual conversation I promised to send someone some of the information I had found on weatherizing and home energy efficiency.  West Virginia, having cheap natural gas and electricity (in cost to the consumer, but not in cost to those who live where it is produced – oh, wait – that’s us, too), and depending on energy for a good bit of its economy, hasn’t put in place the energy conservation programs that most other states have.  You can’t call up a local contractor and have an energy audit done.  And we haven’t had much success in finding professionals knowledgeable about insulation options, energy efficient heating and cooling, etc.  The state spends a lot each winter to pay people’s heating bills, when the same money could be used for weatherizing and lower those bills forever.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar program have done a great job of do-it-yourself energy information. I used their Home Energy Yardstick for a quick look at how we compared to the US average on energy use.  Even with our very old (25+ years) furnace and no insulation,  because we do a lot of other energy-saving, we scored 9.8 out of 10.  But our CO2 emissions are still above average on EPA’s Household Emissions Calculator because our house is bigger than average.

The best energy audit tool around was sponsored by the EPA, the Department of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and a number of California state programs, and developed by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories. It takes awhile to complete, because you have to input details like window area on each side of your house, but you end up with specific recommendations on insulation, appliances, and other steps to take, and information on cost and whether they will be cost-effective for you.  You can save your session, too, so all that work isn’t lost.

Our audit showed that replacing the central air-conditioner wouldn’t be cost-effective.  We don’t use it anyway; there were only a couple days this summer that just opening windows wasn’t enough.  Our biggest cost-saver would be replacing the electric dryer with a gas one.  If we ever replace it, that’s what we will do, but we have been hanging our laundry for years.  The second biggest saver was air leaks, which they estimate would save us over $500 a year, and would cost about $400 done by a contractor.  We spent less than half of that on materials, and Robert did the work, following the EPA DIY manual on locating and sealing leaks, and adding insulation. It’s the first thing we did, so we can’t really tell how much it saved us.

What started that conversation was my mentioning we had gotten an infrared thermometer to check for cold spots.  I spent some time yesterday checking likely spots.  The dryer vent needs insulation, it looks like the fireplace needs some more sealing, and there are a few small spots under doors.  I was hoping for more easy fixes, but it looks like we’ve done a good job already.  The new patio doors, which are double-glazed with built-in weatherstripping and insulation, are amazing.  The glass and frame are warmer than the outside wall next to them. I was also relieved to see that the huge double-glazed window in the den, which is quite old, seems to be holding up; it was as warm as the new patio door, and both were only a couple of degrees below room temperature.   It’s only 22 today, so I’m pleased.

Replacing the patio door just for energy-efficiency wouldn’t have been worth it, though – doors and windows almost never pay for themselves – ever.  Our audit also says lightening the roof would cost us money – the heat lost in the winter would be more than the air-conditioning saved in the summer, even if we used air-conditioning.