New Home, New River

home1In last month’s post, I mentioned my desire to be free and unencumbered during the last four months of my VISTA term. I am beginning to find my groove at work, recruiting for new VISTA sites, writing grant proposals, and of course, enjoying the mountain communities that surround me.

Last Friday, we had a day off from work, so I explored the Gauley River near Summersville, scrambling the craggy rocks and gazing out at the uneven trees and stretch of blue-green-brown. I watched the fishermen linger and laid on the cool rocks, listening to the water splash, feeling the warm glint of sun on my face. This feels like summer.

bikefarmI decided to do something about making the river region my home. In mid-April, I camped out at the Arrowhead Bike Farm and asked the owner if he knew anyone who had a place I could rent for the summer. He told me to look for Casey on the other side of town. Casey manages a gear shop and campground, and when I drove over to see him, he told me he had one spot left. For $50 a month, I secured a cozy little tent platform in the trees, complete with metal roof to keep the rain at bay. I spent a few hours securing the sides with tarps and shower curtain hooks, so I can open and close the space whenever I need to.

In the mornings, I hear the sounds of the bullfrogs and birds, and the thunk, thunk, thunk of a beaver making his way downstream. My commute is only 30 minutes to Beckley, so I will spend long lazy weekends on the river while living in my worry-free zone.

welcomeWVAWe had some rain the first weekend I arrived, but the metal roof kept the platform clean and dry. During the day, I decided to do something fun indoors. The locals told me I ought to make a trip to Richwood for the best Wild Ramp festival ever, so I headed east through the hilly countryside, filled up on a big egg breakfast at Mumsey’s Iron Skillet, then headed to the local school to see what the ruckus was about.

And so it was. Ramps and ramps everywhere. I couldn’t decide who to buy them from, so I opted to go with the fresh cleaned and bagged variety. Ramps are a cross between a wild onion and garlicky green root vegetable. They are the one thing that everyone in West Virginia celebrates (next to Mountaineer football of course).

bumperI smiled with every ramp story — how to cook them outdoors, or they will stink up your house, and why you should avoid people who have been eating ramps for days. “Take a laxative and clean yourself out after you eat them!” warned one Richwood local. “Be careful, ramps will be coming out of your pores everywhere,” said another. “I know a doctor that hangs a sign in his door. IF YOU HAVE EATEN RAMPS IN THE LAST TWO DAYS, PLEASE RESCHEDULE YOUR APPOINTMENT.” With all the good advice thrown my way, I decided to stir-fry a pound of the wild greens back at the campground with a little bit of seasoning and olive oil so I could spoon them onto my grilled steak and potato dinner.

The ramp festival was community at its finest. Just beyond the Meadow River turkey calls and rows of jarred pepper jelly, I stopped by an odd-looking table full of shriveled apples. There sitting in a chair was a man named Tom Brown, who pointed to his display of over 70 varieties.

“Wow, I said. “I never heard of Rusty Coats, No Blooms and Betsy Dentons. Where do you find all these apples?” Tom was proud about his passion and loved to talk about how he searched the fields of North Carolina to add to his collection.

gauleyRichwood and Summersville were a special treat, and I was so happy to discover they are close to my new weekend home in Fayetteville. I deserve these lazy days after spending a week on the road. On April 2nd, I took a train from White Sulfur Springs to Arlington, Virginia, and attended a conference hosted by the Development District Association of Appalachia.

There are a number of train stations I could have traveled to and from my destination, but I settled on the one directly across from the Greenbrier Resort. The Greenbrier is that famous 10,000-acre property that is well-known for the underground bunker that protects presidents after a nuclear apocalypse.

Before my train left the station, I took some time to walk through the grand hallways and gardens. I was awed by the brightly colored decor. If you’ve never made your way to this part of West Virginia, I highly recommend a quick stop.

DCmonumentsThe train ride to D.C. was about six hours long, and the countryside was green and pastoral. My visit happened to coincide with the annual Cherry Blossom festival, and although the trees had bloomed a little early this year, I managed to catch some pretty hues of pink-ish white during my walks around all the D.C. monuments and museums. I stayed in a wonderful AirBnb near the metro, so it was easy to hop on and off whenever I wanted to.

On the way there, the conductor led me to my assigned window seat. As the train started to roll, I was surprised to learn that the woman seated next to me grew up in Shaker Heights, near Cleveland. Of course we spoke the entire trip from start to finish, and I felt as if I had connected with an old friend from high school. These coincidental meetups seem to be happening everywhere around me.

There was a time way back in January when I met another Clevelander at a local pub in Beckley. Brian and I were enjoying a beer at Calacinos when I happened to mention something about Cleveland. He too had lived in the northeast, spoke of a mom that grew up in Barberton, and knew all the places I lived. He invited me to stop by his house and meet his wife, and now the three of us do a lot of things together on the weekends.

lampsDuring another conference, I was hiking along the Appalachian Trail near Harper’s Ferry and stopped by a tavern in Shepherdstown. There was only one couple sitting at the bar, and the woman’s eyes lit up when she discovered I was from Cleveland. She was from nearby Euclid, and I always feel like time stands still when I make these connections. Like the other encounters, I ended up stealing her away for a few hours, just because we immediately connected.

When you live as a nobody in a rural community, you understand why these conversations mean so much to me. I think that’s why I like the freedom of traveling and living wherever it moves me. I end up learning so much about people, places and things.

Just this morning, I stopped to get a cup of coffee in Fayetteville and made light of an older gentleman wearing a bright purple shirt and tie. “You know, that’s going to get really wet on the river,” I said. He laughed as he introduced me to his family, and told me his wife is from (all places!) Madison, Ohio. So of course we talked and shared coffee together, and all I could do is smile once again.

raftkegI love living in the rafting community of Fayetteville, and now it is time to start thinking about what to bring to the Hungry Guides Supper tonight. Dean is planning to cook up a famous low-country boil of sausage, shrimp, carrots and potatoes. I must take a break from my blog and prepare for the guests to arrive. The keg has officially been tapped, and I believe it is time to go now.