Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Sense of Place

This post doesn't have anything to do with West Virginia specifically, but it is relevant to what West Virginia means to us.

I have grown-up or lived in nine states, in the following order: Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa again, Kansas again, Illinois again, Indiana, Connecticut, South Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia. Each of these states has its own feel and is unique.

To people from the coasts, it may seem that the Midwest is homogeneous, but nothing could be further from the truth. When I was at the University of Iowa, there was a tee-shirt poking fun at this misconception that stated: University of Iowa, Idaho City, Ohio. You know, Iowa, isn't that near Ohio? (They're 400 miles from each other border-to-border, or about the same distance from Richmond VA to New Haven CT.) Columbus to Des Moines is 650 miles. South Dakota itself is 400 miles wide; Illinois is 428 miles long (thanks eighth-grade geography).

Everyone reacts to different places in a unique fashion. Some people love the beach, some people love the mountains, some people love big cities, some don't. Certain places affect specific people dramatically. You might notice that all the states listed above, excepting West Virginia and South Carolina, are bereft of mountains. From birth to age 28 I lived in Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, and Indiana, and spent considerable time in South Dakota. They're all flat, Kansas being literally flatter than a pancake. I've enjoyed all of them, some more than others, although I lived in each during very different stages of my life.

During the time I lived in South Carolina, my favorite form of recreation was heading upstate to the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. It is a little known gem of land, and there are waterfalls, rivers, steep hikes, and fantastic solitude. Cathy and I would often head to Pisgah National Forest to hike, and we climbed Shining Rock from two different directions. I've been up Cold Mountain, of book fame. We spent several Thanksgiving weekends in the Smoky Mountains, staying in Bryson City and hiking up out of Deep Creek. Both Cathy and I loved these trips and the peaceful feeling of walking along a trail deep in the mountains, just walking.

Shortly after we moved to Ohio in 1996, we stopped in a hiking gear store and asked where people went to find mountains. The sales clerk pulled out a West Virginia atlas and circled three spots: Cranberry Glades, Otter Creek, and Dolly Sods. As often as we could we would head to Lewisburg or Elkins with the dog(s) and hike through these areas. These mountains were very different than those in western North Carolina: perhaps less rugged, different fauna, and fewer hikers. It was on a July morning in 2001 that I was driving down Laneville Road headed to a hike in the Dolly Sods Wilderness that I saw the "For Sale" sign stuck into the side of a steep hill. This was the property that became, after a great deal of effort, Dogs Run Farm. I can clearly say is a dream of my lifetime. Every time I get out of the car after driving to West Virginia, I stretch, look around, and feel as if I've arrived someplace I belong.

No comments:

Post a Comment