Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.


September 2016

They once lived here.


It’s morning, one hundred years ago.

The men are in the mine. Or working the tipple. Or loading the rail cars.

The women are at home with the children. Or teaching school. Or at the company store.

Deep in the New River gorge, coal mining began in 1873 in the remote town that bears the name of its founder, John Nuttall. For more than 80 years, families lived, worked, and died in Nuttallburg. By 1958, it was all over.

All that remains are the ruins. You can still go there, but the trip itself is a harrowing descent down the steep hills that will burn the brakes of your car. And once there, the isolation is eerie. You can see the coal tipple and almost hear its noisy operation echoing through the valley. There’s nothing of the company store other than its foundation. Likewise with the houses that once grew from the hillside. Try to imagine the mothers and kids playing on the dusty paths as they scraped together a life that was as hard as the sandstone their husbands used to build the town. There was probably a doctor to tend to the illness and injuries, and a preacher to tend to those who didn’t recover.

Listen. Hear their voices. They once lived here.

From the tipple, the conveyor disappears into the forest, where the men of Nuttallburg loaded coal that would help power the country.
The natural process will not be stopped.


company store.jpg
All that’s left of the company store.
And the sun still rises where children once played.

Over at True North Nomad, Lily Burgess writes about her adventures through wild and wonderful Canada. The other day she published a story about a ghost town in Ontario which reminded me of my visits to Nuttallburg.  Check out her work.

the band


My music career started early.

When I was 11, my family was living in Houston and I got together with the guys in photo and formed my first band. Ok, my only band. We had a name but I don’t remember what it was. The guys, however, I think about all the time.

From left to right:

Ricky Penton, guitar player, I think, in addition to maracas. His nickname was Pinto Beans.

Randy Crabb, singer, bongo player. I think those were my bongos that I got on a trip to Mexico. I liked his older sister, Cheryl.

Lance Berg. He’s holding a drumstick and a snare drum, so yeah, he’s the drummer.

In center front is Scott Bert, singer. Older brother of Lance. The Bergs were talented. Scott wrote our first original song, Made a Mistake. More on that in a minute.

In the second photo, the kid holding the Polaroid Swinger camera was me. The picture was taken on my birthday and the camera was probably a gift. I’m guessing my older sister, Adele, took the picture.

I was a guitar player.

The kid in the doorway with the cat-eye glasses is my younger sister, Sarah. She’s always been on the cutting edge of fashion. Not sure if she was a fan.

We played two songs, Little Red Riding Hood (which is the same chord progression as House of the Rising Sun, so if you know one, you know the other) and Wipeout. And then there was Made a Mistake, which consisted of counting by five until Scott purposely made a mistake in the sequence. Then the hook, made a mistake, made a mistake, made a mistake. About as bad a song as one could write.

And yet, this was the peak of my musical career. That tells you all you need to know about my level of talent. I still play Little Red Riding Hood and Wipeout occassionally, and since then and I’ve learned a few more chords. But I’m just a pretender, a hack wannabe living in the glow of those glory days in Houston. We played one gig, the big going away party for our family just before we moved back to West Virginia. It was a short set.

And I never saw the guys again. That’s the way it is in the entertainment biz. Fame is fleeting. Everything is fleeting.

Carpe diem.



Larry Ellis wrote this the other day and it struck a chord with me. Maybe it’s the poignancy. Maybe the familiarity of place, of people, of family. He said I could share it with you, so here it is.

Walking With My Father


As usual, he has the television up loud

And we watch our bottom-dwelling team

Go quietly in the third inning

“It’s nice out,” I tell him. “Alright,” he says

“We’ll go.”

The doorway, the step down to the porch

The step down to the walk

Are all obstacles now

Me holding the storm door open

He pushing his walker over the threshold

For a moment he is without support

But he stands


It is early evening and cool

And we step slowly along the driveway

The smooth concrete that he himself poured and finished

Thirty years ago

And then on to the blacktop road

Shuffling. The walker sticking in every crack and hole

Such effort. I wonder is there some better way

And yet we both know that every step is Grace

Every moment we have is Grace

A neighbor sees us and comes alongside

With encouragement and news

We reach the end of his road.

“You want to keep going?” I ask.

He nods. “Let’s go on.”

And we turn onto the sidewalk

As the sky turns from Robin’s egg to cobalt blue

“You remember the first time we fished Anthony Creek?”

“I’m not sure I remember the first one.

“Did we catch fish?”

“Yeah. A whole bagful. We caught fish we didn’t even know

What they were.”

“I do remember that. Andre took us in the truck

And we had to scoot down the mountainside.”


We go on and I wonder how far is too far

I tell him that we’ve gone farther than ever

Farther than ever since he got sick

But he wants to go on

“We’ll go on up to that streetlight up there

“Then we’ll turn around

“That be enough for you?”


On the way back we stop

And he rests

“Who lives in that house right there?”

“I don’t know who lives there now,” I say

“But when we were growing up

That was the church parsonage.

That’s where Dr. Weaver lived.”

“He was one of a kind,” Dad says.


As we reach home again

I point to a sprinkle of stars above the trees

Pure points of light from fires

Eight-thousand years old

“Look there, how beautiful.

There’s nothing like it.”


Copyright 2016, Larry Ellis

You Are My Sunshine

This just popped up on my Pandora station and now I can’t get enough of it. Morgane and Chris Stapleton with their take on a classic. No fancy video, just music. If you have headphones, plug ’em in.

grass over graves


Some day, a preacher will stand before a few people and say nice things about me.

Depending on when this occurs, the preacher may not know me very well and have no choice but to sprinkle generic platitudes in his eulogy. Not that it really matters.

Consider this quote from M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans:

“Soon enough the days will close over their lives, the grass will grow over their graves, until their story is just an unvisited headstone.”

A bit too gloomy?

That’s not my intent.

My wife is not a regular reader of this blog. She’ll log on every now and then and see what I’ve done. She took a look several months ago and was surprised at how much I had written. “You certainly have a lot to say,” she said.


But why all the words? Why do I do it?

I started because everyone was saying that to be a successful writer, you need a platform, a way for readers to get to know you and your work. I guess I still hope for that, but as time goes on, I find myself expressing things that no one really cares about but me. Yeah, it feels good when something I do connects with other people, but that’s becoming less important. Maybe it’s an age thing, maturity making itself known after sixty years.

I subscribe to more than seventy blogs, though most are inactive, so it’s not as daunting as it sounds.  There are a dozen or so that I look forward to reading, and as I do, I get to know the people behind the blogs. Some are writers, some are poets, some are photographers, some are artists. I don’t always comment on their work. I don’t always Like. (Which doesn’t mean I don’t like it, but if you Like everything, you devalue the Like itself.)  Most of my blogger friends will not find fame and fortune, despite their wonderful work. But several times a day, they make my life a little better by what they do.

If I can do that every now and then for someone, that’ll be icing on the cake. Even if I don’t, there’s something about being creative and having the nerve to put it out for others to see that is fulfilling. Like maybe there’s evidence of a life lived in the pursuit of purpose and meaning. Evidence that may endure after the last visit to my headstone. That would be good.

And who knows, maybe the preacher will find something to use.

photography copyright 2016, joseph e bird


why – a poem for the artists

Hiker for web

do you do
what you do?


You see the fall leaves
a season has passed
you pen the good words
and hope it will last.

A memory is shared
it once was so clear
your poetry speaks
to those who will hear.


You comprehend shadows
you understand light
you capture the feelings
of what’s lost in our sight.

Your pictures are poignant
of people unknown
they look faraway
they look so alone.


You see a petal
with colors of fire
you paint what you feel
it sings like a choir.

Your brush touches paper
like a gentle caress
the colors transform
become a child’s dress.


You hear the heart cry
of love gone away
you make it a song
to ease your dismay.

Or light fills your life
and burns off the haze
you sing of the beauty
your song is a praise.


do you do
what you do?

It’s not for the fame,
or to hear accolades
such things are so fleeting
they’re just a charade.

You do it for you
and maybe to share
to give what we need
and to show that you care.

copyright 2016, joseph e bird

A.S. Morgan

sid-on-porch-for-webAlbert Sidney Morgan, ca 1968.

Sid Morgan was one of the most colorful personalities in my family, and the old home place, though it has been gone for more than 40 years, is still seared in my memory. This photo, photographer unknown, captures so much.

Most of the photos of Sid and his museum are in black and white. This one was probably taken just when color photography was becoming the dominant medium and it’s easy to imagine this image in black and white. In fact, with Photoshop I could strip the color down to a grey monotone and create a more retro photo that seems to be popular these days.  But then I’d lose the red shirt and scarf, which I think brings the photo to life.

Check out all the details, starting with Sid himself. There’s almost a smile, at the very least, a glint in the eyes. Self confident, and though past his prime, still very much his own man.

The house, too, is past its prime. The paint long-since faded. Only a little red remains on the porch post. The floor boards have decayed. Dry and dusty. You can imagine standing near the edge and gently nudging the boards downward with your foot and controlling their spring back into place.

The window to the left seems so fragile, as if it could be broken by a stiff breeze. The curtains may be brand new, but the context of the picture tells you they are not.

So many rockers to choose from, perfect for a quiet Sunday afternoon, as Sid tells tales of his trips down the Mississippi, and the Hennis trucks whine down Route 35 in front of the site of the John Amos power plant.

To the right is the front door. My grandmother, Opal Clatworthy, watches from behind the screen, almost hidden. What is she thinking?

What is Sid thinking?

Where is everybody else?

This is how stories start.




Sunday Morning Run for web

I tried to run on my birthday last Thursday, but it just never felt right from the beginning. About halfway through my four-mile run, my legs pretty much quit working. Not a very good birthday present to myself. NBD. Live to run another day.

This morning, I’m up at 7:00. Outside, the air is crisp, quiet, and shrouded in fog. That’s why I love running on Sunday mornings. It’s so peaceful.

City Park is about a mile away but it’s all uphill. If I make it, I’m rewarded with a scene like  the one posted above, which I took last year. I haven’t made the run since then, but in the last few weeks, I’ve started to increase my mileage because, well, I just don’t know any better.

I grab my phone, my knife, put on my cap, do a few stretches and I’m out the door.  The knife?  Last year I heard that there were bobcats in City Park. Overgrown housecats, but with really big claws. Usually they’re afraid of humans, but if you do a quick internet search you’ll find videos of bobcats attacking people. And, the story goes, someone saw a bobcat kill a deer in City Park last year. Suburban legend, probabably, but I carry a fold-up knife with me when I run through City Park. Not that it would do much good if a bobcat jumped on my back. But still.

Usually my legs are really tired for the first hundred yards or so, but not this morning.  They felt good. I went up the hills like they were nothing.  At one point, a group of five deer stood and watched. Look at him go, one of them said. Pretty good for an old guy, another added.  That’s right, I answered. Not out loud, of course. That would be weird.

I got to the summit and felt great.  I took a photo.  Not the one above, but one just like it, only better. Why did I not post the photo I took today?  It needs a little Photoshop and I don’t really feel like it right now. You’ll understand why, later.

I start down through the park and pass a bicylclist struggling up the hill.  I say hello but he ignores me. Too much pain, I reckon, for pleasantries. For me, it’s a nice easy rhythm, cool shade in the forest, all downhill.  I love Sunday morning runs.

Once out of the hills, I try to find my pace for the flats. I push it, because, as I’ve already established, I don’t know any better.

I’m running along Kanawha Terrace now. Usually on Sunday morning, there’s little traffic and I run in the street.  Sometimes along the double yellow line, just because I can. But cars keep coming, which annoys me. I have to stay on the sidewalk.

Then I call my wife, who had texted me earlier, and I talk to her about our plans for the afternoon.  Again, NBD.  We do this all the time.  But there’s more traffic.  And then a train.  Now I’m really annoyed, because I can’t have a conversation and my rhythm is out of whack and I’m losing the joy of running.  I’ve passed Walnut Street and continue up the Terrace toward Spruce Street.  I’m in the section of highway where the road and sidewalk narrows.  I’ve got to go, I say.

Then my toe hits the rise in the concrete.  My arms go out in front of me and for a moment, I feel like Superman. I’m almost horizontal to the ground and I think NBD, because I’m an athlete and this has happened before and in another two steps my feet will be under me and everyone who is witnessing this display will marvel at my sense of balance and conclude that I really am an athlete.  So amazing!

Oh, no.

Here comes the sidewalk. I hit first with the heels of my hand, then dip to my right and hit the ground with my shoulder and roll.  Toward the highway. When I stop, my phone case is a couple feet from me, but my phone is skidding toward that double yellow line.

I waste no time getting to my feet. My hands are red, but not much road rash. My shoulder is stinging, but again, no blood.  Just a little trickle on the side of my knee.

I look up and see two cars coming toward me so I step back on the sidewalk and wait for them to run over my phone.  Somehow they miss and somehow, the screen is intact.

Are you ok? It was a guy who had seen my fall and pulled over to check on me.

I’m fine, I say, hoping that maybe he was attributing my quick recovery to my athletic prowess.  That’s probably not what he was thinking.

And then I keep going.  Like nothing happened. About a half mile later I realize I don’t have my knife, so I backtrack and find it where I fell. It was then I figured out that the real cause of my accident was the warp in the gravitational field which was brought about by the many previous alien encounters on Kanawha Terrace.  It certainly couldn’t have been my duck-footed running style. Aliens are the only logical explanation.

I ran five more miles after the fall. Yeah, that’s how tough I am. As I ran, I felt a tightening and a dull pain around my ribs.  Of course I kept running.  And now, as I sit here and type, I’m hoping the Ibuprofin kicks in. We went out to eat with my Dad this afternoon and he kept telling hurt rib stories that made me laugh.  You really don’t want to laugh when your ribs hurt.

So what lessons have I learned?

  1. Don’t talk on the phone while you’re running. (duh)
  2. Pick up your feet. (really?  that’s a lesson you have to learn?)
  3. Watch for tell-tale signs of warped gravitational fields.

All in all, NBD.

Tuesday: speed work at the track. Because I really don’t know any better.


oh, no

mountains for web

in all good stories, something goes wrong.

that’s not to say it doesn’t get fixed in the end.

but if you want to tell a good story, something has to go wrong.

so if I tell you how beautiful the morning was, and how good i felt when I left for my run at 7:45…

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