Guest post: On West Virginia

dollysods

Note: I asked for your thoughts about the best parts of West Virginia and you didn’t disappoint. This will be the first of three posts for West Virginia Day. I liked this one, from my brother Daniel Kersey, too much to edit down to fit in a list. Check back tomorrow for a list of what you all said are your favorite parts about West Virginia and Friday, for another guest post.

Having moved away three years ago, my opinions might not fit well with some residents of West Virginia that stayed but being away allows for a different perspective.

I spent my childhood to my mid 20s roaming those mountains hopping from Summersville to Richwood to Marlinton to Snowshoe then to Canaan Valley and back home. I’ve tramped among the virgin hemlocks of Cathedral State Park in Aurora and swam in the cold waters of the New under its bridge. Studying at both West Virginia University and Marshall University, I was able to see a mountain town proud of its team and its history and also a town trying to get back to its glory years prior to the 1950s.

As a child, I was fortunate enough to ride in a Ford Model T through the streets of Ripley on the Fourth of July during America’s “Biggest Small Town Fourth of July Celebration.”

I’ve witnessed billions and billions of stars over Dolly Sods give way to our closest star as it rose above the mountains to the east over round, wind-shaped, rocks.

My friends and I have been followed by river otters (If my memory serves me well, a friend mistook it for a platypus) as we floated down the Greenbrier River in kayaks during some of the hottest summer days that I can recall.

West Virginia is a beautiful place and I am fond of all my memories I have of it stored up.

And then there are the bad parts. West Virginia has one of the highest (if not, the highest) drug overdose mortality rates in the nation and a pair of cities that continue to land in the top 5 of the most unhealthy or unhappy cities in the United States. Fifty years after the start of the War on Poverty, many West Virginians are still waiting to see how this “war” will affect them by ridding hunger or alleviating the crippling depression caused by year after year of hardship, but nothing changes.

Coal and oil companies move in, promise a few hundred jobs, lobby Washington to change the laws to fit their needs, pollute the waters and lands, remove mountains, fill in valleys, cover up streams, take a bulk of all earnings to other parts of the country and then leave the place a mess for someone else to deal with.

Big corporations promise low prices which may seem like a good idea but the cheap products need replaced sooner than later and the wages generated are marginal at best and really do not help the employees get out of the cycle of poverty.

I simply cannot argue with anyone who says they want to leave the state in order to find a better life. Ask me three years ago, just as I was driving that U-Haul truck out of town and toward Cincinnati, when I would return to live in West Virginia again and I would have said “as soon as possible.” Ask me now and I may ignore the question as to not upset any of the great people from West Virginia who have labored and endured their entire life in hopes of a better tomorrow.

I do not feel like I am turning my back on my state (yes, I still consider it “my state”). Ask my wife, I still get excited when I see a WV license plate on a car here in Cincinnati. I love West Virginia. I love the Herd and the Mountaineers. (Tell me I can’t love them both. Try it).

I love the mountains, the streams and the wildlife. I also love that I am not living there being forced to flush my water pipes in my home because a chemical company decided that my health was not worth plugging a hole from which hazardous chemicals leaked into the Elk River and straight into the water supply. To me, West Virginia has become a getaway. I am glad that I do not have to deal with the issues that plague the area but my heart still aches for those struggling there among the beauty.

Daniel and I grew up in Sissonville, W.Va. He now lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Gabby, two cats and two dogs. The image here is his own. See more of his work at http://www.kerseyphoto.com/.

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