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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Is the winter of 2010-2011 going to be a repeat of last winter? Given that we have had snow on the ground for a solid week with more predicted (including the possibility of a VERY white Christmas), this scenario seems likely. I'm not sure that I'm going to approve. (Not that Mother Nature cares.) 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter visitors (again)

      Wasn't it just winter?  It's here again?  Although mid-December seems WAY too soon for all the snow we've been getting, this kind of weather does bring its compensations.
  • You can see who's been where. 
      Most noticeable, of course, are the hoofprints.  Not Donner and Blitzen, but the infamous North Parkersburg Deer Herd, several of whose members came very close to taking on a line of cars last night on Fairview Avenue. Fortunately, the lead cars in both lanes (one of which was mine) were able to stop, deer ran off in various directions, and we all went on our merry way. But the most casual glance out any window reveals lines of hoofprints criss-crossing the yard--
heading straight up the hill from Roseland Avenue, continuing up the side yard in the general direction of Hamilton Middle School, making random curves leading nowhere in particular, and concentrating near all the bird feeders looking for leftover seed.  It is obvious that these deer are fearless: one print was six inches from the patio door, and not even the barking of Lucy the Loud Labrador keeps them from the feeders near the neighbor's fence.  We're wondering if the deer have already exhausted the massive crop of acorns dumped on the back yard, or if they're simply saving them for later. 
      More welcome than the hoofprints are all the bird tracks.  I can't tell the difference between the toeprints of a finch and a sparrow, but we definitely have lots of little feathered somebodies looking for food in all kinds of places. New spots for birdfeeders, perhaps?

  • Winter visitors return.  The winter flocks of juncos are present in abundance, and the wrens are visiting the feeders that they mostly ignore in warmer weather.  

  • Light on snow.  Does anyone else love the way that night is never really dark when the ground is covered with snow?

Monday, December 13, 2010

A sad history

This weekend, breaks taken from grading research projects were generally spent on the exercise bike, watching bits and pieces of the PBS documentary on West Virginia history.  Though I've worked in the state for more than twenty years now, I've never really known its history. Watching the program, my adopted state struck me as a tragic place from its beginning.

Allen Eckert spoke of the neutrality of the area south and east of the Ohio River in the days before European settlement.  None of the indigenous tribes had permanent settlements here but used the land as a neutral hunting ground.  In Eckert's words: "when they were in this hunting ground it was a neutral ground. It was where they could co-mingle, where they could meet, they could talk, and nobody would kill each other." Of course, all that changed when colonists and rapid economic development (18th-century style) arrived, resulting in the Indian wars and the slaughter of numbers of people on all sides.  After the Civil War, when West Virginia was created as part of the Union, former slaves were persecuted for seeking education and their white teachers threatened.  One woman from Maine kept an axe and a gun by her bed to "sell my life as dearly as I may." Only five years after statehood, former Confederates were in control, with control by railroads and industry soon after that.

It had always seemed to me that West Virginia has been basically a colony of the wealthier areas of the United States, a place used for its natural resources but otherwise ignored.  The documentary confirmed that idea, but the real tragedy is that so few people here seem to resist their colonization by the coal and chemical companies.   When the Upper Big Branch mine disaster occurred, leading to calls for Massey Coal's prosecution, one of my students commented on Facebook that the disaster was largely the miners' fault and that the company shouldn't be blamed.  Visiting the southern counties last spring, I met people who worked in mountaintop removal mining and insisted that West Virginia "needed" to sell all its minable coal, since more than half of its mountains would remain.  The brother of a county extension agent sang the praises of the (not even ironically named) "King Coal Highway" being built with company funds on some of the newly-flat land.  I resisted the urge to ask who the peasants were if coal is still king.

Of course it is true that the southern counties are still poor, and coal is still the only game in many towns, but seeing people embracing coal and blaming those who want to break its grip on the state was an unsettling experience.  I wonder if West Virginia will ever cease to be a "dark and bloody ground."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The first snow days

The juncos returned to the feeders with the first snowfall this year.  Usually, I see them on the ground, but this week they were at living room eye-level, using the platform feeder a good six feet off  the ground. This is a good thing, as the snow also revealed lots of footprints of neighbor cats.