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Joseph E Bird

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Photography

Brace against the cold.

Dolly Sods 1 (small)

It was a grey day, fitting for a place like Dolly Sods.

It’s not easy to get there.
It’s not easy to climb over the rocks.
It’s not easy to stand there, braced against the cold wind, and take in the views.

The best things in life are seldom easy.


Dolly Sods Wilderness is part of the Monongahela National Forest in north-central West Virginia.

Knock knock.

r and l 1 15
My mother’s first — and last — time on rollerblades.  

When was the last time you went roller skating?

When was the last time you ran?

When was the last time you rode a bike?

When was the last time you threw a ball?

When was the last time you swung on a swing?

When was the last time you danced?

When was the last time you told a knock-knock joke?

When was the last time you flirted with someone?

When was the last time you watched Bugs Bunny?

When was the last time you flew a kite?

When was the last time you did a somersault?

Pick one.

Do it.

While you can.

The kitchen.

tida in kitchen

I love this photo for many reasons, but the thing that intrigues me the most is the honesty.

The photo itself is a basement shoebox relic.  It’s old.  It’s bent and cracked. No Photoshop effects, here. Just a snapshot.

The subjects are familiar faces, but the photo was taken probably close to sixty years ago, before I really knew them. Maybe before I was born. Even in the older women there is youth I never saw in later years. From left to right, my Aunt Shirley; my grandmother Bettie Pearl, who I knew as Mom; my great-grandmother Tida, who we called Tidy; and my mother, Gloria, who looks to be with child.

The place, I believe, is my great-grandmother’s kitchen. If I had to guess, I would say it was breakfast.  There’s the coffee pot and toaster.  But I can’t imagine them gathering so early just for breakfast. Maybe lunch, which they called dinner.  Dinner would have included fried potatoes and tomatoes from the garden. Supper was the evening meal.  There would have been men in the picture by then.

There’s tension evident in the photograph.  Not a one could manage a smile, which is very unusual for my mother and Aunt Shirley, especially in front of a camera.  There’s a weariness, too.  Maybe they had been working.  Maybe canning tomatoes or beans.

They were all different.

My mother was the free spirit, enjoying every moment.

My aunt was sophistication personified, full of grace and elegance.

My grandmother, hardworking and kind, ready to share with everyone.

My great-grandmother, the strong, independent woman living by herself.

Maybe that was the source of the tension. Around the table love and respect, yet each one not quite understanding the other.  One dreams of this, another of that. And dreams, what are they for, anyway? another may think.  And Tidy, who has already seen enough heartbreak for all of them, keeps it to herself.

I’ll never know. They’re all gone now.  Not that any of them would give me a straight answer anyway.

I think that’ s the wonder of old photographs.  They tell a story, but never the entire story. A moment frozen in time that forces us to think about those who have gone on, to see if we can fill in the blanks. It forces us to remember them as they were, beyond the smiles and laughter. It forces us to remember who they really were.

Even the marble fades.

cemetery 1 for web

“Like the vast bulk of people, the captives would pass from the earth without hardly making any mark more lasting than plowing a furrow. You could bury them and knife their names onto an oak plank and stand it up in the dirt, and not one thing — not their acts of meanness or kindness or cowardice or courage, not their fears or hopes, not the features of their faces — would be remembered even as long as it would take the gouged characters in the plank to fade away. They walked therefore bent, as if bearing the burden of lives lived beyond recognition.” – Charles Frazier, from Cold Mountain

IN THE LATE 1860s, a tradition of decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers began. In 1868, General John Logan formalized the tradition by declaring May 30 as Decoration Day.  Decoration Day gradually become known as Memorial Day, and after World War I, Memorial Day began to commemorate soldiers who had died in any war. In 1968, the U.S. Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, and in 1971, Memorial Day was established as the last Monday in May. 

Although the emphasis of Memorial Day is still to honor those who died in service to their country, graves of all loved ones are now traditionally decorated on Memorial Day.

Many of my family and friends have their final resting place in Cunningham Park, a pastoral cemetery in the rolling hills of my home town of St. Albans. But as beautiful as it is, visits are always times of quiet reflection. My mother is there. My grandparents are there, and my great-grandmother, who passed away when I was 21, is there. My sisters and my cousins are the last generation to have known her personally. When we’re gone, my great-grandmother will likely have no more visitors. The memory of her, like the marble etching at the top of the cemetery stairs, once so vivid and clear, will fade away.

stairs for web

The stairs are a long, hard climb. Do they symbolize life’s struggles? Or the final path to the hereafter?  At the top are symbols of the Christian faith. But time is no respecter.  Even the marble fades.

marble plaque

Every day is a gift and every memory a blessing.

 

wild, weird stuff

It’s Friday, ya’ll.

Time for something really different. (Spoiler alert: The last link on this page is wild. You really need to watch it.)

The Mystery Hole in Ansted will have your head spinning. I’ve written about it before, but as long as we’re on the road, it’s worth stopping by. Up is down and sideways just doesn’t exist. It’s a crazy experience where the laws of gravity are completely violated.

Mystery Hole 1 for web

Or head to Lesage for Hillbilly Hot Dogs, which was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Can a place so crazy really have good hot dogs?  Yep.

photo 3

hillbilly 2

Or maybe the Mothman Museum in Pt. Pleasant is your kind of place. And what would a Mothman Museum be without the M.I.B?

MIB

If all of this seems to tame for you, how about some whitewater rafting? The Gauley River in Fayette County offers truly world-class rapids. Check out the video for some live action.  Go here to book a trip.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the tour of my world. We’ll do it again sometime.

no passport required

hawks nest for web

The New River, one of the five oldest rivers in the world, is an hour away. If I count the hike to get to the overlook at Hawks Nest State Park, make it two hours.

Clear Fork for web

There are rivers like this everywhere.  This one is in Raleigh County, an hour and a half from my front door.

greenbank for web

ET, phone home. Green Bank, West Virginia is home to the largest fully-steerable radio telescope in the world in the heart of Pocahontas County.  If you wanted to pick one place to go in West Virginia, Pocahontas County would be a good choice.

alban fresco for web

No, it’s not New York.  Just another small town Main Street in St. Albans. When I was a kid, we watched Frankie Avalon and Anette Funicello in Beach Blanket Bingo.  For a while it was a Jehova’s Witness Kingdom Hall.  Now the Alban is a theater again featuring plays and concerts.

So ends the tour of picturesque West Virginia.  Tomorrow we go to Logan.


all images copyright joseph e bird

almost heaven

tree for web

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.

Take Me Home, Country Roads, the signature hit of John Denver, was adopted by my home state, in part because of the first line of the song, Almost Heaven, West Virginia, but also because the spirit of the song is about coming home to the country roads we all love so much.  West Virginians are scattered all over the world, but the mountains seem to have an irresistible pull that tells us we should have been home yesterday.

But let’s talk about the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah River.  In truth, both of those geographic features, even though they cross the border into West Virginia, are better known as Virginia landmarks. But let’s call it the songwriter’s artistic license.

It’s easy to understand how the Blue Ridge Mountains could inspire Denver and his co-songwriters.  It’s a relatively short drive from my home to the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most beautifully scenic highways in America.

Overlooks are everywhere.  It’s an incredible sight to see the mountains fade into the horizon miles and miles away.  Picturesque trees are works of art waiting to be painted. Rustic barns, quaint cottages, and chairs on the hillside make you want to slow down and take it all in.  And at the end of every day is the perfect sunset.

blueridge sunset

Here’s another truth.

Though the Blue Ridge Mountains are part of Virginia, there are places just as spectacular all over West Virginia.  So much so, that we tend to take them for granted. The sunset picture above could have been taken in my back yard. A mountain top view is minutes away.  Babbling brooks and rivers winding through the forest are within an easy bike ride.  It’s the stuff that inspires artists and poets.

Almost heaven, West Virginia.

 

ephemeral

sunset darkened 11-2-15 for web

i could write

or watch a ballgame

or work on a project

but it’s October

and every evening

my backyard is lit

in brilliant yellows

and reds

and colors that defy description

another sunset

and another tomorrow

except that’s not true

stop

take it in

because it’s a gift

and it’s ephemeral


copyright 2016, joseph e bird

Sunday Morning

church-for-web

church-sign-for-web


copyright 2016, joseph e bird

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