My partner Drew and I are nearly 3 years into living in Princeton, WV – having purchased our home mid-pandemic in the Fall of 2020. And we are still getting our sea legs – indeed we may be getting our sea legs out here (or more appropriately our mountain legs) for the first 10 years or so. I shared with Drew this past weekend my observation of how intensely you feel the seasons in the mountains of West Virginia compared with other places I’ve lived. The winters are dark and sometimes too quiet – filled with time inspired luxuries like making homemade dumplings and reading for hours, while the summers are packed from morning until the 8:30 sunfall with house and property related tasks – the only weekend respite coming with a sudden thunderstorm. Nature grows fast, the sun is high and powerful and if you aren’t careful you can overheat with activity. Seasoned West Virginia farm owners know that leaving the farm is a must or the tasks will swallow you. Last weekend the summer threatened to swallow us – the urgent property repair list was filling up quicker than we could tackle them.
West Virginia is a place where people rely on extended family for so much of what needs to get done on their properties – fixing fences, roof repairs, repairing barns, clearing land and so on and so forth. For so many reasons – there are very few people you can pay to help you with your land. So Drew and I do a lot of it ourselves – mostly Drew with me to assist.
And as I came through the storm of what I like to call our midsummer meltdown – I thought about the interesting fact that people don’t move here or choose to stay here because it is easy. Indeed I love to see the instagram reels of people who own property who are constantly sitting at neatly decorate picnic tables enjoying lemonade and farm to table eats – where are the magic elves that are digging their trenches, who is pruning their fruit trees?). Why do we stay here? This is not the easy choice. What does that mean about the people here?
I was taken aback as I sought a sense of solidarity in my overwhelm in the friend and busy father and business owner who offered to take a day to build the fabric cutting table for me (yes – the cutting table is still not built). Instead of graciously accepting his help – I couldn’t help but exclaim – how in the heck are you going to do that with all that you have on your plate?! His response – “you make time for things”. And he is not alone in this. People are here – living very demanding lives day to day. Just about everything you can think of is more difficult here than in other parts of the country (a fact that reminds me of a less extreme version of living in rural West Africa). Need to get shoes repaired? – 2 hour drive to Roanoke! Grocery store trip 1 – hour round trip if you are lucky enough to be close to town. Need someone to repair your roof – 6 months of asking around and 6 more months to wait for the work. Yes – the effort that goes into each of these things is extraordinary. In my tough moments I can fall into the echo-chamber of despair around how in the heck I expect to sew up my designs or do something novel in the textile industry or sit down and make a watercolor out of the out-of-this-world beauty of my surroundings with how much effort goes into just living.
But something interesting happens in this toughness. 1) You get to see the extraordinary kindness of your community members – when – knowing full well that their plates are at least as full as you – they offer a day or two days in the middle of the summer (the busy season for everything) to help you. 2) You are surrounded by people who are so seasoned by hard work and are humbled by it and the land that whips it out of them that they come to believe in God. 3) It makes you wonder what is possible with such a tough and generous group of people. Yes at times it seems like we can spare no time to look up from the interminable growing grass or needs of children or animals to figure out novel way of moving forward – but these same tough people can and do make time for things like the busy person that gets shit done.
And it brings a new dimension of respect to the work that the women contributed to our blouse project as part of the apprenticeship program. Yes – 4-5 hours per week was not enough time to learn to sew a high quality blouse – but it was a heck of a lot of time to fit into each week with everything else people have on their plates with work, home and family responsibilities. And so instead of seeing where we fell short – I think about the generosity of that time and how I keep seeing it again and again around me.
You can see it in the faces here – in the bodies. We are worn by hard work. But our hearts are big and generous. What can we do with these deep, well worn treasures? What are we doing with them?
I leave it here for today. I am sending you love from deep in the mountains.
Go, fight, win.