We kicked off the extended two-month ramble in West Virginia. First stop was the beautiful river-side home of our friends Jeff and Karen where we were joined by Sarah and Mike for an evening sharing a meal, laughing and telling stories. I can’t think of a better way to launch our travels.
The next morning we were off bright and early to Dolly Sods. In some respects it is a strange place to choose for the inaugural hike of this trip. “It was clearcut down to bare dirt, then unintentionally burned down to the charred bedrock beneath that dirt, then intentionally shelled and bombed by the military.” But those factors combined with the fact that it is the highest-elevation plateau in the eastern United States yields a unique sub-alpine ecosystem typically found much further north. The day was glorious and despite an unexpected snafu with GPS, we got in a great hike that left us all planning a return trip.
Jeff, Linda and I then began a trek through the West Virginia mountains to the state capital of Charleston. The views were reminiscent of Vermont with the green mountains and valleys contrasted beautifully with glorious blue skies. We spent two nights in Charleston. With a population of less than 50,000, it isn’t hard to get a good sense of the city. It lacks the glamor and sparkle of many urban centers but we fell into a lovely rhythm exploring its nooks and crannies.
The first night we went to a great dive bar, The Empty Glass. Sadly we missed the Mountain Stage performance but the Empty Glass had a talented house band that has been together for more than 30 years and invites performers from Mountain Stage to walk over and jam with the band after the weekly production at the West Virginia public broadcasting and NPR Music live show.
The next morning, we walked along the river banks, visited a wonderful local book store, Taylor Books, featuring local artisans, books on Appalachia and a coffee shop, went to the vibrant Capitol Market that was brimming with food from local farms where we had a tasty lunch at Soho’s Italian Restaurant and then enjoyed an afternoon nap before the evening began.
The night was magical. We started at Bluegrass Kitchen, featuring “farm-to-table comfort food with a modern edge” where we struck up a conversation with the table next to us. Next thing you know Linda is exchanging notes on civil disobedience with one of the leaders of Charleston’s progressive community, Reverend Jim Lewis. Jim was taking a fellow minister out for a farewell dinner as she prepared to move to Indianapolis Indiana to a new congregation.
What knocked the small world gauge out of the park was what we discovered next. She was going to work at All Souls Unitarian church under Reverend Anastassia Zinke. On day two of my rambles last November, I stayed with Anastassia and her husband, Kent Mitchell. Kent was one of the stars of my work at Pew. Joining me in my first years as an associate and taking on new and more complex roles each year. In fact, their daughter named my car Blueberry to christen it properly for the travels across the states.
Luxuriating in that happenstance, we then went over to a Drum and Bugle corps competition at the local outdoor arena. Drum and bugle corps have a special place in my heart. Not only was I in a marching band throughout all of my years in high school, I also attended these competitions with my dear Aunt Cappy, my mother’s sister that took me in after my family disintegrated. It was a rousing night and a perfect crescendo to the launch of this set of travels. In Cappy’s memory, here is a snippet from that evening.