Panning For Appalachian Gold (And why I named it so )

The soft rain falls steadily from from the darkened sky. Late fall and early winter in the Appalachian Mountains of my West Virginia home is usually marked by gray skies. Most of fall leaves are now on the ground but a few cling to the branches above. As the world around me swims in cold mists of the season a single leaf drops from the ridge line above and comes to rest in a pool of water near my home. As it floats in the pool against the dark background the mists collect on it’s surface. The leaf is from a Yellow Poplar and so is the seed that floats on the right side of feature image. I was struck by simple beauty of the scene that God created before my very eyes and preserved it forever in my lens.

I have given tonight’s feature image the title “Panning For Appalachian Gold” not just because of the yellow color of the leaf but because of the economic importance of the lumber. Yellow Poplar is a fast growing tree and is used to make plywood for building materials. The logs are peeled in layers on a giant lathe and the resulting sheets are cut to standard sizes. Knots are cut out of sheets and plugs are planted firmly in their place by a hydraulic press. The sheet are then stacked so that the grain of the wood is transverse with the adjoining layer making it very strong. When people think of West Virginia they normally associate our state with the coal industry but the timber industry is also one of our biggest resources. It’s gold that actually grows out of the ground.

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Anything Is Possible

My West Virginia Mountains are home to some of our nation’s most creative problem solvers. The 3 rivers area of Gauley Bridge is no exception. In 1954 there were two problems. One, an old Greyhound bus that was no longer able to do bus stuff and a rock in the middle of the river with no fishing camp. Enter problem solver Walter “Bruiser” Cole. I have to admit that I never met this person and I have never been to his unique fishing camp which still looked like a Greyhound bus when I was a kid. I have never been able to figure out how he got it out onto the river either. But it’s been an icon of Gauley Bridge my whole life. I do remember talk in the 70s about the State trying to take his little camp away from him in a clean up effort. They called it junk! Such a unique and artful form of recycling and the State wanted it to go away.

In 2016 there was the worst flooding our area had seen in my lifetime. The News reporters call it the one thousand year flood. With all the damage to our entire state I thought for sure that it was the end of the bus on the the rock. But, on my next trip into town there was the little camp right there on the rock just like always. It kinda became a symbol of hope for me. If that camp could withstand the fury of both the State and nature in such an unlikely location then anything is possible as long as you’re anchored in the rock.

Today, the little camp has a new red,white and blue paint job and an extra room built on. From the front it doesn’t look as much like a Greyhound bus as it once did but the bus is still parked in the middle of the river.

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Looking Forward to Bridge Day 2018

Rising up from the New River Gorge is in my opinion one of greatest feats of engineering in the modern world. The New River Gorge Bridge. To give the outside world an idea of scale there’s a four lane highway at the top. The height of the bridge allows for base jumping. And in just a few short weeks that’s what will happen here. A crowd will be gathered at the top and tourists will hike across. I have not been able to make it out for Bridge Day for several years now but I’m hoping to get a chance to photograph something special. I was there several years ago when a parachute malfunctioned and the jumper executed a successful cutaway and redeployment of her spare chute close enough to the bottom that she said she could see her own face in the water. ( and the high dive at the swimming pool gives the rest of us the willies). I think that the experience of jumping into the canyon has to be the closest thing to living flight that human could feel. I can imagine the wind pressure on my face as I descend into the river and then touching down gracefully on the flat rocks at bottom. I was able to find a short video of the human catapult launching the jumpers off of the bridge Here. (The video is not mine) The spectacle itself is a full fledged carnival. There are vendors set up offering everything from trinkets to Gourmet Foods. This happens to coincide with the peak color of Fall most years which makes it one of the most beautiful occurrences in my mountains. The competition for a premium spot to shoot from will be pretty fierce and I expect that those who are already connected have a claim staked out. But I’m crossing my fingers.

If you’re a person who likes the outdoors, festivals or extreme sports and if you think that you might want to attend then here’s a official Bridge Day Website. The Event is Saturday, October 20, 2018!

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The Battle Of Carnifex Ferry

The long awaited pictures from the reenactment of the Battle Of Carnifex Ferry are finally done! Tonight’s post is going to be more about the pictures themselves than the history. However, I do want to encourage you to Read more the battle here. I also want to encourage everyone to get involved with keeping history alive. If we forget the history then we are in danger of forgetting the hard lessons learned. Too much blood has been shed for us to forget so soon. This goes for my international friends as well. You have your own history that you should be proud of and that should not be allowed to be forgotten.

With that said, let’s get started on the pictures. The turnout was very small. Only fourteen reenactors came out to memorialize the history. When I was a kid you couldn’t find a place to stand and watch the living history.

Above is the Southern camp. The reenactment group has went to great lengths to keep everything period accurate. Canvas tents and breakfast being made on an open fire.

The lady in the picture has to be one of the hardest working people on the face of this earth. She chopped firewood for hours on end. Her clothes are wool. The temperature was in the 80s ( Fahrenheit) and the humidity is very high. I never really saw her take a break.

I imagine that the commanding officer wouldn’t be to happy to have an unmanned weapon in his camp. But, I really liked the Aesthetics of the musket and pistol belt on the wooden table. I began to think about the calm before the storm.

If it weren’t for modern truck in the background I would have thought that I had fallen into a time slip and been transported back to 1861. With the bayonet fixed the musket is a very intimidating weapon indeed.

Another view of the Southern camp and their hard working camp caretaker.

It’s time to inspect and drill the troops. I don’t think that the commanding officer is to easily impressed.

This young man is obviously the camp sniper. All of people involved with the reenactment were very accommodating and ready to give me a great pose.

More close order drill in the Southern camp.

It was about that time I noticed the Yankee spies on the road. Those sneaky devils!

While on my way to check out the Northern camp I encountered a ghost on patrol. I hope my paperwork is order otherwise my accent is going to land me in hot water.

I had actually asked him if I could get view looking down the weapon. He quickly explained that even though the group takes all precautions that it was strictly taboo to point a weapon at an observer. The musket is real and on days when there’s a battle the actors do fire powder charges at each other. (No projectiles ). He did agree to pose as if he was ready to level the weapon.

I was also fortunate enough to encourage a person that I believe is the Yankee General.

On approach to the Northern camp I discovered that they have their own sniper. He’s a dead-eye for sure!

I imagine that in real life the soldiers had this look often. I’m not sure what the actor had on his mind but the image made me think of a young man contemplating his role in previous battles. God be with the “men of conscious”.

The young man here also seems to have that “one thousand meter stare”. I was so pleased with the way the image turned out. He looks like he just stepped out of a tin type.

This is the wall. In the days before tanks these barricades were a mainstay of trench warfare. The logs did a pretty good job of catching bullets.

The cannon seen here is actually part of the park.

I found out a day too late that they wouldn’t be demonstrating the large brass cannon that they brought until the next day. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend due obligations with my day job. As I said before in years past it was standing room only and the reenactment had hundreds of actors and a full scale battle. This year only fourteen soldiers turned out. If you’re a person in the United States and care at all about the history that brought us this far please consider becoming involved with keeping history alive.

Return To Wading Willows

The sound of the rippling water lapping at the shore combined with song birds brings a sense of peaceful joy. I approached the wading willows as if greeting old friends. The willows seem to dance ever so slightly in the river’s currents and it feels as though they are listening to the songs of nature themselves. In the distance the osprey soars across the sky looking for a pearch stunned by falls. Dragonflies skim the waters surface as they hunt occasionally leaving little ripples of their own and the evening sun reflected in the tiny waves produces a light show that only God himself could engineer. The breeze coming off of Kanawha Falls is cool and gently stirs in and around the small park. I take a deep breath and release the stress of the workday into the river so that it will carry away the cares of the outside world. I thank God for choosing to place this natural sanctuary here for me. I take a few minutes to tell him about my day and seek his wisdom. But most importantly I listen. I listen to voice of peace spoken by God and echoed by the moving water. The conversation isn’t long and with my peace renewed I climb back up into the big blue truck and head for home.

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Change Is In The Air

It’s hard to believe that in just a few short weeks summer will be over. The pop of color from the wildflowers will be replaced by the reds and yellows of the fall leaves. The soft feeling of the the cool green grass on bare feet will give way to the dry crunch of fallen leaves beneath my favorite pair of boots.

I spent a few minutes outside of my office at my day job and there was a familiar crisp scent in the air. The wind blew a little cooler and I knew that this was the prelude to the change of seasons. The Appalachian Mountains in fall are one of the most beautiful sights your eyes can behold. The vast forests give us a grand finale with a symphony of color just before the trees take their winter slumber. The days are still warm enough to enjoy without the jungle like humidity. For a brief time the trilling song of the tree frogs will change over to the chirps of katydid. The bucks will begin to rub away the velvet from their antlers and establish their territory with epic wrestling matches. The bears are now fat and looking for a nice quiet den to sleep in. Country gardens are in harvest and those who still live off of the land are busy with canning. The wonderful aromas of stews, jellies and jams are coming from every hill and holler in the backcountry. So breathe in the last few moments of summer and get ready for the grand finale of Fall.

The Primeval Adventures Of My Youth.

The deep forests are an easy place to get lost. You start out on a dirt road and you just keep walking when you run out of gravel. Eventually the mud transitions into leaf litter. The moss grows thick and the gnarled undergrowth fills every available space. Just beyond these trees are the cliffs I used to play on as a kid. There’s a rocky ledge with a large overhang that one can sit on and observe the forest floor below. I’m guessing that it’s only about twenty or maybe thirty feet in hight but to a young man in his early teens it may as well had been the edge of the world. I would get all garbed up to the point where it looked like I was going on a major expedition down the Amazon. I carried a large Bowie Knife on my belt for survival. The only thing I ever used it for was to mark trees by cutting out a patch of the outer bark and being careful not to damage the live bark underneath. (If done right it in no way harms the tree). I would sometimes take a slingshot along. ( called a catapult by many of my international friends). I would try to pick off individual leaves with a small stone. The stones are not nice and consistent like the fancy ammo in the stores today. That made hitting anything consistently quite a challenge. Sometimes I would pick up acorns or hickory nuts for slingshot ammo which was better for accuracy but didn’t really impart much impact to the target. I’d bet that if I made my way to the ledge today I’d find a pile of small stones in the back of ledge waiting to be used during the zombie apocalypse. Other days I would trek down into the valley below. I would pick out a sapling to craft into spear. There was a particular rotten stump below the cliff that was just the right consistency to allow the spear to stick. I was actually better at throwing the spear than I was with the slingshot.

The road in the feature image was one of my favorite childhood memories and a way of escape from the mundane world and a gateway to a primeval adventure.