Well, we’re now just about 10 days from Daylight Savings Time as we spring forward in time from a winter I’ll never forget. With just 17 days left until the advent of springtime, I realize the unpredictability of the March winds — rain, snow, sleet, and sunshine — all possible on any one given day. Still, we can clearly see the light at the end of the weather tunnel, so to speak.
As West Virginians, we are quite familiar with the four seasons of Mother Nature’s offerings, and frankly, I believe we are blessed with the beauty of each season. For me, however, springtime —as long as it does not mean rain nearly every day — is a favorite.
This time last year some of us were planning for things which lay ahead — perhaps, the Kentucky Derby, baseball games, or a summer trip to the beach, or elsewhere. It’s interesting that we have traditionally left these hills for other places, particularly back in the days of what was called “miners vacation.” With many coal mines and coal-related businesses successfully operating in most parts of southern West Virginia, the first week of July annually meant miners and their families would enjoy a week of “pure” Appalachian freedom, as the mines were idled and the coal dust settled in every hollow. For many, it was “Myrtle Beach, here we come.”
Although some people did last year make their annual pilgrimages to beaches and to favored places in Tennessee, Florida, etc., the beginning of regular visits by the COVID-19 death angel would by summertime put a “hold” on many family plans. Even now, as optimism abounds concerning the disease that has taken over 500,000 American lives (some of them our friends or family), we still must remain cautious in any endeavor. Nevertheless, the light at the end of the tunnel, like the sunshine itself, is getting brighter.
Soon the redbuds will show their early blooms as winter begins to unmask itself, and another “new beginning” will slowly unveil the hidden beauty of our glorious state; it being something I believe most residents sometimes take for granted.
While Logan County can certainly boast about having one of the most splendid state parks in West Virginia, the truth is that since nearly all of us “southernites” of this state co-exist between two hills or mountains in hollows or valleys where millions of trees ever cast their shadows over streams we call creeks, nature’s blessings can easily be viewed from any front or back porch.
Where I live, there is nothing stopping me from traversing by foot any mountain in any direction I can view, despite not owning the property. Perhaps it is knowing this fact of hillbilly freedom that keeps me content with viewing nature from a porch. Then again, although I may not want to admit it, the age factor could be a valid reason, as well.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice recently announced that more Hatfield and McCoy trail passes have been ordered for this year than any time in our past. That alone should speak volumes as to what so many of us have taken for granted — our hills and mountains in “Almost Heaven” West Virginia.
I remember seeing a study that was reported over a year ago which showed West Virginia to be ranked as “the least fun” of the 50 states of America. The metrics used in the study related to entertainment, recreation and nightlife. The report indicated that our state was low on the “number of restaurants and specific attractions,” as well as lacking in the area of performing arts and fitness centers.
My thoughts on this matter are two-fold. First, how in the heck was this study determined? And secondly, with Logan County having a fitness center at Chief Logan State Park, and with two great performing arts organizations, I wonder if this county was even included in the report published by WalletHub, a website that reportedly specializes in personal finance.
Upon further review, I think we all like the idea of sitting down at a good restaurant on certain occasions, but maybe the reasons we don’t rely solely upon restaurant eateries is because most families in these hills enjoy their own traditionally good foods. Although the Appalachian cooking art is dwindling — as microwaveable foods tend to create laziness — such foods as chicken and dumplings, home fried potatoes, pinto beans, half-runner green beans, cornbread, and the likes of gravy and biscuits on a radiant Sunday morning — to name just a few hillbilly staples — could be why more “fancy” restaurants are not necessarily needed. After all, there is a compelling reason why travelers enjoy the food available at places like Cracker Barrel and Tudor’s. It’s called country cooking.
West Virginia, particularly southern West Virginia, started out as being explored and since has been mostly exploited by coal and land companies who made their millions and left behind the scars to remind us of how most of us existed — first, the timber industry and then coal mining.
Our reputation as being a backwards, unhealthy, fossil fuel-dependent state is something we have grown to acknowledge as mostly the truth. Living in West Virginia isn’t always easy. We have our share of floods and, as recent history shows, power outages due to snow or freezing rain storms can place us in harm’s way upon occasions. However, just as we have for decades taken for granted our local beauty, we may also need to realize our weather fortunes.
In the “fun ranking” study I cited earlier in this writing, California was the number one ranked “fun winner,” followed by Florida and New York. The former coal miners’ vacation paradise — Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — was ranked 17th. For me, all of those locations provide nice places to occasionally visit, but not to live.
Think about it. Uncontrollable wildfires and earthquakes, like in California, and constant fear of hurricanes and unbearable summer heat in most of Florida are valid reasons for appreciating the sanctuary our mountains provide. As for New York, no concrete jungle for me.
The coronavirus pandemic has created opportunities for our region of the state to possibly attract new residents. During the 1950s when mechanization caused many coal miners to seek employment in factories, etc., elsewhere in mostly big cities, it was all right to be relocated in such industrialized areas as Detroit, New York and Chicago, but just as millions later began to migrate to suburbs outside of such places, today many of those suburbanites are seeking the tranquility of country life, such as in Appalachia.
There are certain aspects of southern West Virginia living that should serve as positive intangible reasons why people, especially those with children, and particularly those who desire to be closer to nature, could be enticed into settling in our backwoods.
Quality and yet affordable housing is easily obtainable here as compared to other regions where rent alone can be in the thousands monthly. While unemployment remains a negative issue and one that creative minds must address, those same creative minds could be the result of migratory relocation. Lower taxes being just one incentive, the resurrection of Logan County and other southern West Virginia locations is going to rely on creative leaders who must attract people with the capital to invest in our area, particularly in its local history.
I like to optimistically believe that the “glory days” are yet to come in Logan County despite uncontrollable illegal drug use that is slowly wiping out one segment of our local society.
To me, it’s comparable to the early days of Logan County when residents of the area were literally sitting on “gold mines” and didn’t even know it. Those mines turned out to be coal, of course, and only a few landowners would truly benefit from the mineral that has sustained our native ways.
Today’s “gold mines” in attracting more residents just might consist of seasonal weather, mountain beauty, and our friendly people. Those three attributes alone may not be the answer to a more collective quality of life in southern West Virginia, but if one adds the word “vision” to the equation, well, it’s comparable then to what some of us hillbillies might call a good ol’ mustard, onion and bologna sandwich.
After a review of my earlier words, it could be that suffering with the COVID-19 virus through Christmas and New Year’s just may have taken its mental toll on me. I mean, shucks, any true West Virginian knows I meant to say a hot dog with chili, mustard and slaw. Oh, well, I hope you get my message.
“Take me home, country roads.”