West Virginia, Almost Heaven

14286_10100261356820705_1697844902_nThis post isn’t about the chemical spill in West Virginia, at least not completely. Of course I am writing this because of what has happed in West Virginia, but this is a love letter of sorts and so it may be a little scattered. You see West Virginia, specifically Kanawha County, is my adopted home. I was born here in Pittsburgh but grew up moving around the mid-west and eastern seaboard and subsequently never really felt at ease in any place I lived. Then I met and married a man from Charleston, West Virginia, and while we have made our home here in Pittsburgh we dream and talk about ‘moving down.’

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River

It is hard for me to adequately explain my feelings about WV without sounding clichéd; sadly my words fail me when I need them most. Maybe these emotions come from the fact that I have always gone for the underdog, or possibly it is simply the Appalachian Mountains which, despite the harshness of the terrain, have inspired loyalty for generations.

Life is old there, Older than the trees

What is happening right now is a shame. There is a long history in WV of King Coal and for every person you find who curses that history another will praise it. WV is an economy based on a few natural resources and for many complex reasons, political and otherwise, opportunities have dwindled in the state. It hasn’t helped that, for much of the rest of America, West Virginia has become a stereotype of the “Row faster, I hear banjo music” variety.

Younger than the Mountains, Blowing like a breeze

We traveled to my mother-in-laws’ the weekend after the spill bringing a U-Haul of 55 gallon drums of water with us. The gesture was appreciated but the truth was generations of making do with little assistance from the outside world have created a people who seem almost impervious to distress. It rained on Saturday night and we woke up to find that many neighbors, friends and family had simply put out plastic totes to collect the rain water. Others were gathering water from nearby unaffected streams and still others offered up well water to those in need. People who were unable to work due to restaurants and businesses shutting down were busy finding other ways to make ends meet. My MIL tried to convince us to take the gallons of nursery water (meant for my sister-in-law and her baby) back with us since we are expecting. She argued that we needed it more. This is the West Virginia I see. This is the West Virginia I love.

Country Roads, Take me home

And yes, like every other place in the world, there are terrible problems and issues and people with backward ideas. I am not saying it is utopia south of Greene County. What I am saying is that it is a place where, when the sun sets, it turns blue mountains pink, dirt paths lead to centuries-old cemeteries, pawpaws grow on sandy creek beds, and there are hidden waterfalls and caves around every bend. It is a place where my daughter goes to bed with dirty feet and wakes up with an open heart.

To the place I belong.



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51 responses to “West Virginia, Almost Heaven

  1. theladyherbalist

    This literally made me the happiest person ever this morning!

  2. Joelle

    I heard this song on the radio this very morning! It makes me homesick, though I’ve never lived there.

  3. Julie Kant

    Your post makes me want to grab my backpack!
    Although, this time of the year I think I’d prefer Israel Kamaka wiwo’ole’s version of Take Me Home Country Road http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvIoHEwR19A.

  4. lizzy

    A beautiful tribute reminding us that much is due to our perception of things and that we have the ability to alter that and see the beauty and good all around us.

  5. paperback writer

    My parents live in Cross Lanes and every day I called them to make sure they were okay and if they wanted me to bring water. They said no and were doing okay. I may not live in Chemical Valley anymore but I am still just as angry and upset that something of this magnitude happened.

  6. I’ve seen the mountains in WV and they are unequaled. Thank you for this post; you touched my heart.

  7. smasonader

    I really enjoyed this post. I’ve lived there too–I recognize and love the attitude you describe!

  8. I’m a Piitsburgh area author now, but was born and raised in the affected area. Many family members and friends had to cope with the spill. Thank you for this post. Well said.

  9. I am from Kanawha county. Wonderful post!

  10. My family is originally from WV, and I have relatives all up and down WV 61 between Charleston and Montgomery. The tiny town of Handley is a place where it really means something to have my last name.

    I was born and raised in Indiana and never set foot on WV until I was 22. But I felt instantly like I belonged there. The hills felt like a shield of protection.

  11. I’m glad you brought in John’s opinion on this as well. Great job!

  12. Thanks for all the comments everyone. It makes me happy to know that, native or transplant, there are many people out there who feel the same about WV as I do.

  13. hellokittyprincess15

    Reblogged this on All Things Beauty.

  14. Nice to see something positive posted on WV. Thanks for sharing.

  15. I too have a huge soft spot for WV. My mother’s family is from there and I spent my summers at my grandparents farm in Elkview, or my uncle’s houses in Charleston. It’s been heartwrenching to see the damage.

    Lovely post!

  16. My other 1/2 is from WV & I had the opportunity to visit a few years back & have to agree it is a beautiful state. Nice blog!

  17. Your story reminds me of the first time I traversed the hills and hollows of WV on our way to Washington. I fell in love with the terrain and the idea of living in a secluded place away from the outside world.

  18. look like home bound scenery!

  19. My wife and I visited the state a long time ago. I am into history and now at sixty eight I am history. We went to Harper’s Ferry. Saw the John Brown places. But we marveled at how beautiful the state is. I understand how you feel.

  20. I liked your blog. I am also guilty of using a John Denver lyric …….so fun. Please check out my blog about West V. Zulu Delta

  21. Thank you for this lovely read! I visited this area when I was a child and it has imprinted beauty, joy and history in my heart ever since.

  22. benjaminwilken

    John Denver, i was just listening to this song<3. Nice explanation haha

  23. Thanks. I was in graduate school at WVU during the seventies. Your blog brought back some pleasant memories. One comment. If West Virginia is “almost heaven,” then Virginia IS heaven. :)

  24. Kim

    Lovely post! My mother’s family is from WV, and I spent summers growing up along the Greenbrier River. It truly is a beautiful place filled with some of the most friendly and industrious people I’ve met. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  25. I see in this post a commonality of people who live in the foothills of the Ozarks. The generosity and respect given to others is like a reflex reaction. Thank you for the post.

  26. As I native of Charleston, West Virginia I appreciate your sentiments. Truly there is no place like home. While Tampa, Florida is currently “home”, I miss the nostalgia of my true home–Appalachia.

  27. ♥…beautiful sentiment…♥

  28. kenju99

    This Charleston born and bred woman thanks you for such an eloquent post. I love the state of WV and it is so pleasing to see something positive written about it. Thank you.

  29. Great tribute to a beautiful state. Thanks for posting it.

  30. mattnotdamon

    Reblogged this on My Best of the Web.

  31. Reblogged this on World of Transport Travel and commented:
    Lovely blog post on West Virginia I just had to share with you all!

  32. Thanks for share West Virginia with us all!

  33. Born in Putnam Co so I am the next county over. And for those who might not know how to pronounce Kanawha it is “Ka-naw’-uh”, at least by the locals. Nice post!

  34. I grew up in McDowell County, West Virginia, and I couldn’t agree with you more Natalie. Even though I no longer call WV home, Coalwood, WV will always be my home. I am proud of my Appalachian heritage, and the people who still live in the holler. Awesome article! Congratulations for being ‘Freshly Pressed’ too!

  35. I grew up in Putnam County, though I now live in Ohio. West Virginia will always be home and I run away to ‘home’ as often as I can. It’s a beautiful place! Great post!

  36. Me and my fiance’ were just in West Virginia back in October near Davis and we camped at Blackwater Falls State Park. We drove all over and explored, hiked, took lots of pictures. It is a beautiful state and we planned to move there someday. I pray they can clean up the waters and make it safe again. God bless and thanks for the post, it was heartwarming.

  37. I empathize with your feelings for WV, I live in Virginia and absolutely love the mountains!! Fabulous post!!

  38. I have been in WV 3 times in the past years. Riding my Goldwing, pulling a Trailer behind me, I rode the back roads and enjoyed very much the majestic mountain’s that were always in front of me. Taking the back country roads is where you really can see what WV is all about. I just loved that State, and always will.

  39. andrewsource4homes

    Nature. A place where God walks without obstruction.

  40. Lovely post, drew me in with the John Denver references (old childhood memories there) and I’m glad I read it. Superb :-)

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