Here on our little hillside, in WV, we try to live a simple life. One where we can try to make the best decisions in regards to what we feed our family, and where we source our foods. We try to make green decision that are not only good for our family but for our community and planet as well. There is no place I would rather raise a family, than these WV hills! So I guess it is our responsibility to preserve them, and our heritage.

Friday, August 5, 2016

My Sacred Mountains

While finishing up college at WVU, a professor in one of my religious courses asked us to describe a place sacred to us........I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging the last few years to finish school and focus on my toddler.  It is time to start sharing again, and this time, with something I wrote a few years back for class........

It is easy for me to speak of my sacred place.  It is a place most would not consider sacred.  Especially as you drive through and see the locals not far from my place of sanctuary.  For me, I guess as with most on their pilgrimage to their sacred places, it is just as much about the journey there are it is the place itself.  It is also the culmination of the stories, and history that go along with this, in my case ancestral place, which holds such sacred qualities.  It is as much the path as it is the journey and destination. 
As I leave my little mountaintop, in my beloved Preston County, I descend into the river valley and follow Route 72 through Rowlesburg and into Parsons, on through towards Hendrix and Harman.  Once I reach the tall peaks of the exquisite Tucker County Mountains, I start to fall once again down the winding road towards that familiar bridge.  Here we jump on the road that follows the river Dry Fork.  We follow the river down to where Gandy Creek pours in.  Here is where we set up camp.  Here is where the story begins.  In these mountains surrounding these streams.  Along Gandy, Glady, and Dry Fork.  This is where, as a couple, we started our family camping tradition.  We would pack up the tent and go to the woods.  We like to rough it and took basic survival supplies and have a great weekend, or better yet, week!  A few years later, my parents set up the camper along Dry Fork, and it has been there ever since.  The entire family now enjoys their recreational time in these Mountains. 
After we had dug our roots into this Mountain, I decided to return to college.  Upon doing so, I had signed up for a collaborative class between the science and folklore departments.  We learned the Science of Coal as well as the historic impact it had on West Virginia culture.  As part of this class, I was required to do a family research project and it had to be on a West Virginia family.  I chose my own.  My grandmother went through her closet and pulled out boxes that contained our family history.  Pictures, documents, certificates, etc.  Then she gave me a document she said her father had written by one of their cousins.  It was supposed to be a history of our family.  It was written out in long hand cursive.  It was well over thirty pages, but I was determined to transcribe it and see what our history held.  I came to find that my little sanctuary in the woods had ties that were closer to my family than I had originally knew.  I uncovered the history of the Wyatt family of Middle Mountain, starting with my eighth great grandfather John Wyatt.  Turns out John had settled his family at the base of Middle Mountain right along Dry fork and the Seneca Trail in what is now the same area of the Monongahela National Forest that we had become our sacred place.
Let me describe this place in a little more detail.  There is no way I can do it justice with my descriptions, but I will try to express the things I have encountered while there.  Firstly, these Appalachian Mountains are sacred in their own right.  As the oldest Mountain range in the world, formed during the creation of supercontinent Pangea, these mountains hold a history like no other place on earth.  Just downstream, in Clover creek, you can retrieve unlimited amounts of fossilized stones that show the history of these mountains as they were once the sea floor before the formation of Pangea forced these sea beds into mountains.  Not only are these mountains ancient, they are also very powerful, silent, and majestic.  I have seen so many animals while in these mountains.  From deer and bear, to owls and bald eagles.  The majesty of sitting in the woods with a brilliant owl hooting a few yards overhead, is hauntingly breathtaking.  You can sit in these woods and really commune with nature.  Feel the vibrations of the earth and soak up the spirit of it all.  This is definitely a place where you pack it in, you pack it out.  It is majestic and needs to be kept that way. 
Not only do these Mountains hold the sacred quality of most mountains, but they are also the headwaters/birthplace of many streams and rivers.  This area alone provides a great deal of the fresh water for the majority of Eastern US.  It is the Headwaters of the Potomac which drains into the Chesapeake and the Cheat which drains to the Monongahela, Ohio, and eventually the Mississippi.  These waters are in the process of being petitioned to become a National monument as the Birthplace of Rivers.  These waters run from the tops of these ancient mountains throughout our state and then continue to support people and wildlife in states throughout the US.  When I sit atop these mountains, I take full advantage of the waters that run through them.  From fishing, to swimming, and playing, to simply enjoying the sheer beauty of the water, with its reflections, ripples, wildlife.  Also there is a gentle and sweet lullaby to the sound of these waters.  When you add a fire (also sacred) to the sounds of the mountain (crickets, frogs, owls, etc.) and the waters you can almost reach a trance like state getting engulfed in the majesty of it all.  These waters, like the mountains, are something I actively fight to protect.  There is absolutely nothing in comparison to getting in a raft or boat and floating these streams.  I could start in my mountains and float, peacefully for miles!
What I had discovered while transcribing that letter my Mammaw had unearthed, was that my connection to that land I love was far stronger than I could have ever guessed.  As it turns out my eighth great grandfather John Wyatt was the first settler on Middle Mountain.  He had owned 1500 acres of what is now the Monongahela National Forest and he himself had named many of the local places like Laurel Run.  (My daughter’s name sake)  The heart of my sacred place in the mountains was once the home lands of my ancestors.  They made a life and a living raising a family in these mountains.  Living off the land, exploring, hunting, and socializing with the other mountain folk.  This History of the Wyatt’s starts with John and details many of his expeditions and then continues on down the line to detail his family as was recorded at the time.  It gives a fairly detailed and unbiased account of life on Middle
Mountain in the 1800’s and has been a treasure of mine since I began transcribing it. 

So what started as my little sanctuary in the woods, soon became my sacred place in the mountains.  A place that had always had that spiritual quality to it.  Where the Mountains and the waters combine.  Yet you can still find that link to the ancient past in the fossils and rock formations.  Went from my place to relax and reconnect to my place of grounding, where I can regroup and find my center.    I do not know what drew me to this spot, or how I lucked into that old story, but the two have transformed my life and my respect for these mountains.  I had always respected these West Virginia Mountains and revered them as home, but now, they are home!  They are my sacred.  They deserve my protection so they can one day be my children’s sacred.  It also gives a more personal meaning to the University we all love.  West Virginia Mountaineers, why yes, yes we are…….  


I have held onto this blog long enough.....I haven't been quite sure how I felt about #TheStruggleToStay 
My Little, in the Cheat River.  Upstream from Pringle Falls, and downstream from the Wyatt homestead.

I was born and raised in WV.  Appalachian Proud and strong!  As a teenager, I wanted to escape these hills and run off to the big city to try and find myself.  In the long run, I couldn't leave these mountains I call home, it's like my soul is tied here.  Even though I stayed here in "My home among the Hills", I did manage to find myself along the way.   These mountains, and the home/life they provide helped me discover who I am, how I want to raise my family, and how I want my family to live and contribute to our community.

Let's start this story way back!  In the late 1700's early 1800's I had family settle here, not just settle, but take root and grow.  They had a hard frontier live, and they chose to plant themselves in these mountains and I will be forever grateful for these decisions.  My 9th Great grandfather was Samuel Pringle.  Many people in the state know the stories from him and his brother John.  They were deserters from Fort Bragg in PA, deserters from the French and Indian War.  They were grossly mistreated as soldiers and faced death by hanging for deserting, but chose this life anyhow.  They and two friends made their way out of Pennsylvania and into North Central WV, in what is now Preston County.  A popular recreation spot, Pringle Falls was named after the brothers.  Still on the run from the British Army they deserted, they feared capture, so they kept a very low profile and eventually made their way up the Cheat river into Randolph county and eventually to an unoccupied part of the state now known as Buckhannon.  Here they lived in the hollow of a large sycamore tree for three years. (1764-1767)  They were miles from the nearest community, without the provisions and daily supplies that most frontier settlers had, They basically had each other, their weapons, and their home in the sycamore.  When they received word of peace, they left their home and returned with others to help settle the town of Buckhannon.

Across the way at the base of Middle Mountain, the other side of the family was making a home.  John Wyatt settled in Randolph County, along the Seneca trail.  From the early 1800's my 8th great grandfather and his family had lived in this area.  Working the land to survive, hunting the animals of the, then Virginia wilderness.  Building their own houses, clearing their own land, making their own life.  The blood, sweat, and bones, of my ancestors are in these mountains.  The waters my family settled near are the headwaters of the Cheat river.  This river is our source of recreation and summertime fun and it is excellent fishing.  These waters flow through  our valleys like the WV Mountaineer spirit runs through our veins.

You wonder why I am passionate about my home state.  You wonder why I am so concerned about Mountain Top Mining.  You wonder why I am concerned about clean water.  You wonder why I stay??!!  You wonder!!??  These mountains have sustained my family for generations!  The diversity of plant and animal life found in these hills, the clean water running through the valleys, these very mountains sustained our lifeline!  For our ancestors, they provided drinking water, medicine, food, shelter, clothing, salt, fire, homes, and so much more.  Trade and commerce in the mountains was not always available or easy during these early times of these first settlers.  Sometimes all the Mountains provided was all they had.  Our lives have always been tied to these mountains and today I do not see it any different.  We still need clean waters and the diversity of species.  We need to find that passion for the land again.

The WV economy has always been based around coal.  Coal has been a way of life for so many families.  In Preston County, in a town named for my Great Grand father, another branch of my family was engulfed in the life of coal.  Owners of the local mines, company houses and company store, they had the railroad come straight through the camp to load up and haul out that all mighty black rock.  The ebb and flow of the coal/ railroad industry had such a heavy influence on these small family mines, when the railroads left, the mines closed, the families left.  The remains of these abandoned small family mines are scattered throughout out state.  A solemn reminder that life in these mountains is hard.  The economy here has never been diverse.  We have always been a one pony show when it comes to jobs.  This has been detrimental to our state in so many ways....but yet we stay....

Songcatcher Trailer

Above is a link to the trailer for the movie Songcatcher.  This movie highlights how these mountains keep us cut off from the rest of the country in such an amazing way.  The lack of outside influence has left us with some amazing music, left untouched and unchanged from the old countries.  In my opinion that is not the only thing left unchanged.  The people of our state, oh my these people!!  As a most recent example of the resiliency and strength of our people came earlier this year when a good portion of our state was flooded.  Hundreds of families lost everything!  What happened next shows our true nature.  The state banded together, neighbors helping neighbors, strangers giving all they have to help someone effected from the storms.  Donations and volunteers poured in starting the day after the devastation, they arrived with the sunrise it seemed.  WVian's are an honest, reliable, neighborly type of people.  I believe the lack of outside influence has allowed us to remain as such.  Many of these people were/are living in tents, tiny homes, shelters, etc.....it never crossed their minds to loot or steal, to take things from others to replace their losses, They were faced with loosing everything they had worked their entire lives for, and still the persevered, they rose above, they survived and will again thrive.

You will find more skilled crafters, artisans, home cooks, gardeners, musicians, etc here, I would bet, than probably most other places in the United States.  Why??  Because we are working to keep the old traditions alive, these are skills we do not want to lose, ones we want to pass on to the generations to come. These are also skills that until just recently have been vital to our existence.  We are a resilient and self reliant people who pride ourselves on our ability to thrive/survive independently.

We rank near the bottom on income, health and education.  Our Parental rights are compromised with strict vaccination laws.  Prevailing wage and right to work laws hinder our workers and unions.  But yet we stay and we fight on.  There is a extreme lack of jobs, outside the coal industry, but yet, we stay!  The Struggle is real, don't get me wrong.  Our families could secure higher paying jobs elsewhere, we could move where there are better jobs, roads, education, healthy family opportunities, etc, but we choose WV as our home.

We choose WV because of our heritage, our history, but also for the sheer love of these mountains and her people. There is no other place I want to raise my family.  No better values I want to instill, no better examples, than the people we call neighbors.  The people of this state are as remarkable and beautiful as the mountains we call home.  The Souls of us Mountain folk stay in our little portion of "Almost Heaven", it's where we belong.

For me it's not the #TheStruggleToStay, it is the #StruggleToMakeItBetter!!

  My Home Among The Hills

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wineberry Jam


Take a look at those beautiful berries!!   I lucked in to finding a great patch of these!  My father and I went for a few hours and picked about a gallon total.  We took a half a gallon each and both made jam.  They made theirs the normal way, and I removed about half my seeds making more of a jelly/jam.

Once the berries have been cleaned, you add them to the stove top with a small amount of water and start to heat and smash.  You can make jam numerous ways.  My mom added equal parts of sugar and berries and just cooked it down to the thickness she desired.  I added about half the sugar and pectin to thicken mine.  Whichever way you choose, you will not regret making your own round of jam with the batch batch of fresh berries you get.  And what a better way to stretch the berry love than with jam and jelly you can enjoy all year round??

Wineberry Jam

I we both ended up with about 3 half pint jars of delicious Wineberry Jam.  It is so tasty!  I did end up getting about another half gallon and will juice these berries and freeze it, I plan on attempting wine.  With a name like Wineberries, I think this is a good plan!    You have to love the bounty provided to us by these WV hills, you just have to get out and look around!  These mountains have sustained our people for hundreds of years.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Maple Syrup Experiment

We have been wanting to make our own maple syrup for years.  This year, we finally started the process.  We tapped a few trees and collected the syrup daily for a few weeks.  We boiled down what we had and perfected our process of cooking it off, straining it and storing it.  Next year we are going to work on making a sugar shack and running the lines to it.  We plan on running off much larger batches and possibly having some for commercial sales if all plans are successful.  

We tried many different methods for collection.  Metal and plastic jugs, from 1 gallon to 5 gallon.

 We boiled and boiled.  Boiled and Boiled.  Then we boiled some more.  We were checking out the evaporation rate and mapping out plans to stream line the process and make it more efficient.  Your Clear sap starts to turn darker as it boils down and the sugar content increases.

Our first batch after the first filtering.  

Of course we had to try out the final product with our homemade pancakes and local raised and processed whole hog sausage.  

The Final product was slightly over a half gallon of delicious Local Maple Syrup.  We have shared a few samples with family and friends, but we are hoarding a quart back for our Counties local fair, The Buckwheat Festival!  Come September the Buckwheat cake, Sausage and Maple syrup eating shall commence.