Irene Looney is librarian at the smaller of the two libraries in the County I now call home. I met Irene when I stopped in last year looking for a book on the history of the area. There is a highway placard on a bridge across from the library that claims the river that borders my property was used by early fur trappers to transport their furs 60 miles by canoe down to market. I thought that was cool so I wanted to know more. Irene sold me a beautiful leather bound book for 65 dollars. The book, although interesting, had no mention of my river or trappers navigating to market. Since Irene is the only person I know in the area that has a computer with internet access I stopped in to ask her if it would be ok to come in from time to time to post my blogs. She reminded me that the computer was County property and she would have to know the content before she could say yes or no on the matter. With her permission I brought up my posts to date and let her read them. Although Irene was one the best educated town members I had met so far, I was curioius what she might think of my early ranting. There is, after all, no Walmart within 60 miles, the bank is independantly owned, the only doctor in town works out of his house and invites patients to” just stop by”. The most serious issue in this week’s County newspaper was the removal of a family of raccoons from the drop ceiling in the County clerks office. I didn’t know if Irene would understand the anger I had left behind. With a great deal of seriousness she slowly and deliberatley read every word. When finished she squinted at the screen for a moment, looked up and asked, “Do you have a dog yet?" It wasn’t a minute later that I had agreed to have lunch with Irene and to meet Dooley the dog. The dog in my imagination when I decided to move to the woods was named “Ole Blue” but Dooley seemed a good name for a hound dog companion. I wasn’t about to accept just any hound. The dog I had pictured sitting on the porch of my cabin was a red tick hound, strong, brave, ready to sacrifice itself to protect my chickens and goats, and yet perfectly happy to sit in the passenger seat of my pick-up with its head out the window, long floppy ears flapping in the wind, or curled up next the potbelly stove on a cold winter night. He would never be further than 15 feet away as I worked my garden or walked down the mountain to the spring. He would listen as I complained about the weather or bragged about my tomatos. At lunch Irene warmed up some fried chicken and mashed potato leftovers. She told me about her enterprising brother who thought it might be a good idea to put in a quarter slot cinderblock self-serve car wash on a lot her mother had left her on the edge of town and of her son-inlaw who had developed some respiritory distress from breathing pesticide dust while working at the Taylor’s Market, a combination grocery, hardware and feed store down the street. Finally, when I had properly finished my lunch and rinsed off my plate she said, “Lets call Dooley, I think he’s out back huntin’ rabbits”. We went out on the back screened porch then down into the yard At the edge of the yard was a tall grass meadow and further up the hill a stand of woods. Irene called and clapped her hands and I looked up to the tree line expecting to see Dooley come running out with rabbit in mouth. As I watched, something caught my eye in the meadow. It looked like a small brown animal on a see-saw. First its nose would pop up and then its tail… nose,tail,nose,tail.. coming right at us. At one point it stopped and dissapeared completely. I looked back up the tree line again expecting Dooley break out in full stride. Surely he would love chasing this small animal whatever it was. The small animal that finally broke out of the meadow was, as you may have guessed, Dooley. The only thing he had in common with “Ole Blue” were two floppy ears. I knelt down to be polite and Dooley came right to me and seemed anxious to jump into my arms. (I discovered later that Irene had slipped a piece of chicken in my shirt pocket as I helped her clear the table.) I made it immediately clear I was looking for a more traditional country hound, one that was tall enough to walk across the low water crossing into my land without a snorkle. Irene asked, “How about some pie?” Driving back to my secret cabin in the woods I looked over at my imaginary dog, Ole Blue. He was sitting brave and strong in the passenger seat, head out the window, ears a flopping. On the floorboards in the backseat, asleep, was Dooley. Irene sold me Dooley for $65. I should never have had that pie.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I finally made it to the woods. I have begun my life of isolation and ignorance of the outside world. I will have to make trips from time to time to the nearest town but I have warned the town folk not to update me on world events. By this time next year I will not know who our President is, if Israel has bombed Iran or visa-versa. I will not know if we have pulled out of Iraq or it there has been another terrorist attack on the US. I will not have heard the words “global warming” or economic downturn” or care diddley about the price of oil. I already feel a great sense of relief and calm. Let me tell you a little about my secret cabin in the woods. The land has been in my family since 1967. My parents bought the approximately 500 acres from a lady named Taylor for $3500.00. There is a small river that borders one edge for about a mile. Splitting the land is Rock Creek that runs into the river and forms a small delta that provides a low water crossing which is the only practical vehicular entrance into the property. There used to be a rickety swinging bridge that crossed the river but seasonal floods eventually knocked it down. There are literaly miles of exsisting logging roads, oil roads and ATV trails throughout the property. The ATV trails are relatively new and, although I don’t encourage it, the locals seem to enjoy using the land. They have been very respectful. On either side of Rock Creek are rock formations and typical West Virginia mountains that rise steeply up to zig-zaggy ridges. There is very little flat land in the area. According to local lore and some evidence there was a town named Owl Rock on the property around the turn of the last century. There was a schoolhouse, a sugarcane mill and a number of small homesteads. In my explorations I have found two large millstones that confirm the mill’s existence. My cabin was built on a hill near the mill site in about 1930. It has three rooms and a large front porch that overlooks the valley. I plan to spend a good deal of my spare time on that porch. The nights are still strangely silent to me. No sirens, helicopters, diesel trucks, no thump of bass speakers from disrespectful youth and no TV background noise. In the early evening there is plenty of sound. Flirting birds, insects and frogs all sing their hopeful songs but ease up around ten o’clock like a self- imposed curfew. The summer mornings provide a spectacular light show. At dawn there is generally a mist that gives way to the sun peeking over the eastern mountain. The sunlight is filtered by the trees and constantly changes the patterns of shadow and light on the ground. Dew on hundreds of spider webs built in the trees during the night catch and refract the light into little blue sparkles. I feel safe here. A beautiful thing about West Virginia is the absence of dangerous natural things. In Florida I had to worry about hurricanes, tornados, gators, brush fires, extreme lightning, coral snakes scorpions, extreme heat, sharks, amoebas, jellyfish, sand spurs, fire ants, heavily armed gangs, home invasions, burglars, dishonesty and water shortages. About the only natural thing that causes great problems to the common man in West Virginia is the occasional flood. My cabin sits high enough for that not to be a concern. We have snakes, but I’ve only seen one blacksnake in my last ten years of visits. There are ticks but they are more of an aggravation than a hazard. There was another cabin built along Rock Creek that my father used for hunting. He allowed two local brothers to live in the cabin with an agreement they would keep a path clear to the cabin from the swinging bridge. When we would visit the property my Dad would give the brothers some whiskey and they would disappear into the woods until we left. The brother’s names were Dexter and Holly Sleath. On Halloween night in 1969 Holly shot Dexter with a shotgun and burned the cabin down leaving Dexter on a bed inside. As a teenager I remember visiting the site with my dad and the only thing standing was the large stone fireplace and chimney. Nearby, a charred bed spring still had a few tiny bones overlooked by the local sheriff. All that remains of other cabins on the property are the stone chimneys, foundation stones and bits of rusted tin roofs. Perhaps that will be all that remains of my time here.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
I’m not in the woods yet. Although I am actively weaning myself from current events, I inadvertently saw Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States suggesting, for the sake of humor, that inbreeding was alive and well in Almost Heaven, West Virginia, secret site of my cabin paradise the woods. It was almost as if he knew that I was abandoning all the nonsense he represents and wanted to get in a parting shot. As I was gathering a wad of saliva to fire at the TV I realized that this was not such a bad thing after all. West Virginia and its people have always been the target for disrespectful humor and this perceived negative image has actually helped preserve much of what I find magical about the State. To keep my paradise locked in a time when America was great I would not want people to know that the people there were hard working, self reliant, independent, friendly to a fault and instilled with a morality that bonds its native inhabitants with a trust and honesty long lost in most of Mr. Cheney’s country. I wouldn’t want them to know that its crime rate is traditionally the lowest in the country or that even though it is mostly rural and 75% forest, its location puts it within approximately 500 miles of half the population of the US should one feel the need for company. So, if you have yern'n to malign a hillbilly, please reference the hillbilly as living in West Virginia. I want my paradise to remain a paradise.