Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Beautiful, Historic Greenbrier Resort

Over the weekend, I minded a store on the grounds of the swank Greenbrier Resort. It's an amazing place. I had no idea how old some of the vacation cottages on the grounds are. There is a 1835 building called the "President's Cottage," a museum since the 1880's. Several hotel guests asked me about it (as the shop I was minding is right next door), and were disappointed to learn that it wasn't a Roosevelt or a Kennedy who slept there but rather five different pre-Civil War presidents: Van Buren, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan and Tyler. The Greenbrier Resort has a History page, but it doesn't even mention this fascinating structure. This is the resort to which Edgar Allan Poe's guardians brought him as a child, the place where German and Japanese diplomats were confined during World War II, the location of the underground bunker where Congress would be kept should the Ruskies decide to drop the Big One on Washington D.C.

Sadly, you can't just go see it. I quote the Greenbrier's Web page: "Access to The Greenbrier is limited to registered guests and club members. The resort does accept advance dinner reservations or golf tee times for non-registered guests. Access is provided to individuals attending planned group functions." No President's Cottage Museum for you low-life history fans. If I hadn't been having a shop-girl experience there, I never would have known about it.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Another Day, Another Hat

silk knit hat

I've been trying to get a few hats ready for Morning Star Folk Artsfor this fall. This one is 70% silk, 30% wool. I wasn't sure this yarn would work for a hat, but I'm pleased with the way it turned out.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Nothing from Nothing's the Greer County Fair

When I was casting about for something to call this weblog, this song came to mind. It's a nineteenth century traditional ditty about homesteading. I like the phrase, "Nothing from nothing's the Greer County fare," because I've never seen it written out, and I don't know if it's "fare" or "fair." (The Lomax versions of this song don't include that couplet.) I have fewer complaints about the Pocahontas County fare than this singer has about Greer County, but the fare is sometimes only fair....well, never mind. It's a dandy song, and Greer County is an interesting place, because it has been part of Texas and is now part of Oklahoma.

Starving to Death on a Government Claim

My name is Bill Parsons, a bachelor I am;
You'll find me out West on an elegant plan.
You'll find me out West in a county of fame,
Starving to death on a government claim.

Hurrah for Greer County, the land of the free,
The home of the grasshopper, bedbug and flea.
I'll sing of its praises, I'll tell of its fame
While starving to death on a government claim.

My house it is built of the natural sod;
My walls are erected according to God;
My roof has no pitch but is level and plain;
You'll always get wet if it happens to rain.


My clothes they are ragged, my language is rough.
My bread is corn dodger, my goodness how tough!
Nothing to eat, and nothing to wear:
Nothing from nothing's the Greer County fare.


How happy am I when I go to my bed;
A rattlesnake hisses a tune at my head.
A gay little centipede, free from all care,
Creeps out of my pillow and into my hair.


Come all you homesteaders, take warning by me:
Don't live with the grasshopper, bedbug and flea.
I'm going back East, to find me a wife,
And quit this corn dodger the rest of my life.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles and the Black Helicopters

Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle on a sprig of apple mint

I was cleaning out the pantry the other day, making room for my newly filled pint jars of calico relish, spaghetti sauce, and tomato preserves, when I swept up the carcasses of a dozen lady bugs. If I'm lucky I will finally sweep out the last dead lady bug from last year the day they start coming in the house in the fall.

The problematic insect in question is the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle. It looks rather sweet in this photo. You don't see the 10,000 other lady bugs that were swarming over my house, last October, looking for a crack to crawl in. These critters are exotics, their populations unchecked by predators and disease, and in the fall they aggregate and fly in big clouds. I was driving over Kennison mountain last fall on a beautiful, sunny day when I drove smack into one of these swarms. I had to pull over and wash off the foul-smelling haemolymph so I could see to drive. In the winter, the little darlings treat you to a whiff of this stuff whenever you brush against one as it crawls on your computer, around your lamp, on your furniture, up your nose....They also bite.

The extension fact sheets from Penn State and Cornell differ on whether these critters were intentionally or accidentally introduced. Some people in Pocahontas County favor a conspiracy theory, in which people heard planes fly over, and were immediately pelted by a rain of lady bugs. Here on Droop Mountain, we've watched swarms come down like rain, without benefit of planes, black helicopters or other interventions.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Long Distance Invisible Insect Identification

Fred First, of Fragments from Floyd, over in Floyd County, Virginia, has been troubled by a Bully Bee on his white butterfly bush. In turn, I have been troubled by my inability to identify this creature. Fred's observation of the Bully Bee killing a skipper convinced him that it was a predaceous wasp.

Of course, I thought. A sphecoid of some sort, or a big vespoid, provisioning its nest with live but paralyzed prey for the wasp larvae to eat. These are wonderful creatures. As a child, I spent hours watching black-winged orange wasps provisioning their burrows with caterpillars, and when I lived in Our Nation's Capital, I was delighted to see and hear cicada killers at work.

Yet something seemed wrong. Most of these predaceous wasps specialize in particular types of prey. Some only feed their offspring spiders. Some only prey on bees. I'd never heard of any that went for adult lepidopterans, and none of them sit on branches, devouring their prey. Was Fred mistaken about this? Then it dawned on me. Robber flies. Ferocious, indiscriminate predators. There are some big ones here in Pocahontas County, and I've mistaken them for hymenopterans more than once.

So, that's my latest identification of this insect I've not seen or heard. If I'm right, I'm going to hang out a shingle as "Psychic Entomologist of the Blogosphere."

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Little Light Knitting

I always have some knitting project going forward, but lately, my knitting has been, well, boring. I've been re-styling some of my old hand-knits, unraveling and re-knitting sleeves and neck bands, cutting pullovers down the front, thereby turning them into cardigans, over-dying sweaters for new colors. My only new projects have been hats, of the type called: toques, stocking caps, watch caps, toboggans, beanies, ski hats. Morning Star Folk Arts in Hillsboro sold about a dozen of my hats last winter, and a few skeins of handspun yarn as well. I've been knitting hats like this pink mohair one since spring, in the hope that the shop could use a few more this coming winter. I have not, however, produced up to my expectations. If I hope to have a selection for possible sale, I need to get crackin'.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Jim Comstock and The West Virginia Hillbilly

I just returned this book to the library: Best of Hillbilly: A prize collection of 100-proof writing from Jim Comstock's West Virginia Hillbilly. This delightful book is out of print, but used copies are available at from time to time. Jim Comstock published his newspaper in Richwood, WV, not all that far from us in Pocahontas County, and he had a rivalry with Cal Price, the late editor of the Pocahontas Times. I love to reread "The Richwood Panther Hoax," perpetrated by Comstock on Price (pp 47-60).

For another Pocahontas County literati connection, check out the dust jacket blurb by Pearl S. Buck.

For years I have followed The West Virginia Hillbilly. Witty, colorful and independent, Jim Comstock speaks the truth as he sees it and knows it. The cream of everything he has said is in this book. It is perfect Americana.

You can get a little taste of Comstock and his style from this 1975 interview by Dave Peyton.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Local sheep to local fleece to local yarn

My handspun wool, dark pink

A neighbor gave me some fleece he had stored in his barn from the days when he raised Suffolk/Dorset sheep. Some of it was very nice, some of it wasn't. I washed it all this past spring, and I've been experimenting with the less nice portions of the fleece to see what could be done with it.

Dying it in the crock pot a half pound at a time took out a lot of the "vegetable material." (That's a euphemism spinners use. That stuff is vegetable material, all right, but a lot of it was inside the sheep before it was on the outside, if you take my meaning.) Carding it cleaned it up further, and lots more non-wool stuff fell out in the spinning.

My handspun wool, dark teal

By the time I plied the yarn and washed it again, it proved to be nice and soft and perfectly functional. Spinning mavens tell you to stay away from this sort of wool, and I suppose many people would find it discouragingly slow spinning, but I like to see what can be done with the materials at hand. These are a couple of half-pound batches I've spun this summer.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Edgar A. Poe in Greenbrier County

Book cover: Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Neverending Remembrance

A new book for my Recent Reading list is Kenneth Silverman's 1991 biography, Edgar A Poe : Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance Paperback: 592 pages. Harper Perennial; Rep edition 1992. ISBN 0060923318. It's an outstanding biography, as I said before. Check the reviews--they have good information about Poe and this biography.

This book has given me fodder for my Literary Pocahontas project, provided I can extend my geographical limits just a little bit. It seems that John and Fanny Allan, Poe's childhood guardians, summered with him in nearby White Sulfur Springs (now Greenbrier County, West Virginia) to escape Richmond's heat and epidemics. Could the melancholy turn of the Allegheny Plateau have affected his young mind?

I can also link Poe to Musical Pocahontas County. When Poe was a small child, Richmond, his hometown, was growing rapidly because of water power derived from the James River's falls at Richmond. There's an Eddn Hammons fiddle tune called "The Falls of Richmond." A number of writers have suggested that it should be "The Fall of Richmond," referring to Civil War engagements. Because the falls at Richmond were of great renown, this book offers a bit of support to those who believe Eddn Hammons' tune title is antebellum.

There are worlds of Edgar A. Poe references on the Internet, from scholarly reviews to teenage fansites. Here are a few I thought were interesting.

  • The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Just what it says: all the published stories, poems and reviews, available without charge or annoying advertising.
  • The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore: Many essays, resources, and links. I found this the most informative of those Web sites I visited.
  • The Edgar Allan Poe Museum--Richmond, Virginia: A slick Web page, with worthwhile links and some well-presented information on Poe's life, the museum site also boasts Poe products, such as the Annabel Lee T-shirt, the Poe bobble-head doll, and the Poe action figure with detatchable raven. Pretty scary stuff.
  • The Work of Edgar Allan Poe: More Poe resources and Internet links. This site is more like a fansite than those previously mentioned, but still contains some links I found useful. It also offers a way into the Poe fansite world, if that's what you're looking for.
  • Edgar Allan Poe Mystery: The 1996 press release claiming Poe died of rabies.
    In an analysis almost 147 years after his death, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center believe that writer Edgar Allan Poe may have died as a result of rabies, not from complications of alcoholism. Poe's medical case was reviewed by R. Michael Benitez, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center. His review is published in the September 1996 issue of Maryland Medical Journal.
    Well, it put another publication on his curriculum vitae, it came out in time for Halloween, and the UM Medical Center is just a couple of blocks away from Poe's much-visited grave.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Search Engines Find Me, and I Find Myself in a Pickle

Hot dog! My Web pages have been discovered by the search engines! If anyone were to Google for "Pocahontas County GED test," they'd find my page on that very topic. The weblog has fulfilled its purpose. (See my July 30 post.) But there's even more! Mental Kudzu and Hoarded Ordinaries have taken official notice of my existence. Thank you Val and Lorianne! This is very exciting, although it probably doesn't really excuse my excessive use of exclamation marks.

I'm planning to keep blogging. I am surprised at how much I like the format, and how many possibilities I see for it. I can expand a topic in a subsequent entry, or on my Pocahontas County Pages, or let sleeping blogs lie. I'd better stop here. I've read too many blogs where the bloggers blog on and on about blogging. It's not interesting, yet here I am, overly focused on process. It's related to paper and pen writers and their tendency to write too much about favorite writing implements. Lest you think I'm criticizing you, I hereby confess I'm guilty of a very long essay beginning: "My Life in Office Supplies. Chapter 1. The Crayola Years." Never fear, I do not plan to post this.

We are deep in garden harvest season here on Droop Mountain, and I have not yet begun to can, although I've frozen some broccoli, hanovers (rutabagas to those of you outside Pocahontas County), and green beans. Tomorrow, pickling begins in earnest, and tomatoes will be pureed and transformed into salsa, ketchup, sauces, and relish.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The United States of Appalachia

Book cover: Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Neverending Remembrance

I recently located a reference I'd been looking for since 1999. I had read that Edgar Allen Poe championed the name "Appalachia" as a more fitting name for the United States of America. I read this on a Usenet News Group, where great information and insightful comments mingle indiscriminately with utter nonsense, so I had my doubts.

Last week, I was reading Kenneth Silverman's 1991 biography, Edgar A Poe : Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance and on page 248, I found this quote:

Because the lack of an international copyright crowded American writers out of competition and flooded America with English reprints, the issue gave a focus to Poe's thinking on literary nationalism. In 1845, the United States was still an expanding, undefined place; that year, the New-York Historical Society appointed a committee to consider whether some effort should not at last be made to give the country a "PROPER NAME." (The candidates included America, Columbia, and Appalachia, but the committee recommended Allegania.) In most minds the country remained as much unformed culturally as geographically. Calls for a distinctively American literature had been issued since just after the American Revolution; taken up by Emerson and others, they had converged with romantic ideals of the preciousness of self-development in individuals and nations alike, becoming philosophically grounded and passionate.

Poe had of course long challenged this demand for a literature not only by Americans but also about and for them, and often reasserted his cosmopolitan view that not one nation but the world itself was the stage for the "literary histrio."

Silverman gives this reference for the search for a "PROPER NAME": Broadway Journal, I (March 22, 1845), 186, and I (April 4, 1845), 223.

So, it seems that rechristening the United States "Appalachia" was not one of Poe's ideas, but I did find the reference in a Poe biography. I am very impressed with Silverman's book. It's an excellent mix of biography, history, and literary criticism, well-paced and readable.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Hearing Eddn Hammons Again

Edden Hammons Collection, Vol 1 CD cover

At the end of June, a thunderstorm fried our satellite dish. If we ever come to miss the TV, or perhaps simply forget that there is "nothing good on," we'll replace it. Broadcast TV and radio are marginal to non-existent here, so until we break down, I'll be listening to recorded music when I need household noise.

Edden Hammons Collection, Vol 2 CD cover

Lately I have been hearing my Old-Time fiddle CD's as collections of music for listeners, rather than as tune-learning tools. Prominent among my recent fare has been Eddn (or Edn or Edden) Hammons (1874-1955), the famous Pocahontas County fiddler. Louis Watson Chappell recorded Eddn's fiddle playing in August, 1947. Chappell and other folklorists believed that Eddn's style and repertoire represented authentic, "unspoiled" British Isles culture. John A. Cuthbert's article is typical of this mind-set, which David E. Whisnant savages in his 1986 book, All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region. Until recently, I was not a bit critical of the notion that Appalachia somehow preserved archaic British culture in a backwoods amber of isolation and deprivation. It's really a goofy idea, and condescending as well.

Now that I've been awakened from my dogmatic slumbers, I'm no longer listening for music "untainted" by exposure to phonograph records, radio and foreigners. When I hear these recordings, I hear a mature individual musician playing traditional tunes the way he wanted them to sound. I'm much more conscious of Eddn Hammons as a person with specific tastes and techniques. I don't recommend listening to all these tunes, one after another. There's madness there. Eddn Hammons has what my resident Old-Time musician calls "a mournful lick." It's truly evocative of the Williams River of Pocahontas County, where Eddn Hammons lived for much of his life. The forest is dense, the mountains are high and exposed to the wind, and of all the days and nights I've spent there, camping, hiking and playing music, I can't remember a single sunny day.

You can download samples (and order the Eddn Hammons CD's) at West Virginia University Press. Tunes available as samples include "Washington's March" and "Fine Time at Our House" and "High Up On Tug" and "Wild Horse." also has the CD's: The Edden Hammons Collection, Volume One and The Edden Hammons Collection, Volume Two.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Pearl S. Buck, Pocahontas County's own Nobel Laureate

Back from Clifftop, tired, overstimulated, and grateful to be enjoying Pocahontas County fare again.

I recently finished my foray into Pearl S. Buck and her writings. I started reading because she was a native of Pocahontas County and her birthplace is a local historical landmark. (Check my Recent Reading page for the other books I've commented on, and Literary Pocahontas County for links to Pearl Buck materials.) Although I remembered her as a living public figure (she died in 1973), I had only a vague recollection of her and her books. I hoped to reacquaint myself with her style, and to learn what she had to say about her birthplace and her parents, West Virginia natives who lived through the Civil War, grew up, and became Christian missionaries to China.

Fighting Angel is a fictionalized biography of her father, Absalom Sydenstricker. For some reason, Buck changed his name to Andrew for this book. (Perhaps it was to keep the readers from wondering what sort of Oedipal conflicts would cause a man who read the Bible through yearly to name his son Absalom.) Unlike Buck's book about her mother, The Exile, Fighting Angel is a little short on empathy and understanding. It is a fascinating account of a difficult, complex man. Unfortunately for my purposes, Sydenstricker shared few details about himself, his family, or his Civil War childhood, so Buck had little to pass on.

My Several Worlds: A Personal Record gave me a better sense of Pearl Buck's voice, and reminded me how much my mother admired her. In my memory, Buck is linked with Eleanor Roosevelt (personal style, age, and those strange fur stoles). Both women were concerned with the plight of the less fortunate. Strong, outspoken women at a time when feminism was in eclipse, they spoke authoritatively about what should be done and how it should be done. Buck felt ambivalent about her missionary parents and their need to impose their beliefs on other people, yet when she voiced her opinions, it was often with a missionary's fervor and unquestioning certainty. I react to some of her pronouncements (laudable though they are) with the unease she expressed about her father's missionary certainty.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

We're going to Clifftop (String Band, Washington Carver)

Book Cover:
All that is Native and Fine

We're going to Clifftop this week for the Appalachian Stringband Festival. We call the event "Clifftop," which is the name of the geographic location. Some people from out of state call it "Stringband," which is part of the actual festival title. Our friends we camp with call it "Washington Carver," which is part of the campground's official name, "Camp Washington Carver."

It's an interesting festival. To my eye, there are more outsiders living the traditional Appalachian fantasy than there are traditional Appalachian musicians. Some native-born West Virginians have told me they enjoy going up to the campground and looking at all the "hippies". I had thought this invasion of Appalachian traditional ways was a modern phenomenon, (part of "The Great Folk Scare" of the 1950's and 60's) until I read All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region by David E. Whisnant, 1986. (University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807841439.) It seems that meetings of Appalachian people and outsiders who think they admire, understand, and know how to fix Appalachian culture have been going on since the nineteenth century. Sometimes, the meetings are educational, profitable, or fun, but not always. I hope our trip to Clifftop will be a good one.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Swarm of hummingbirds

We've been watching hummingbirds this week. Lately, we have six or more visiting the feeders at regular intervals. They spend more time chasing each other than anything else, but the feeders are still emptying quickly.

Last night, it looked and sounded as though we had a swarm of very large hornets. There were at least eight hummers circling the feeders. I heard a sharp smack when one of them lunged at another and connected. Neither seemed stunned or otherwise discouraged.

Such strange little birds--stumpy wings and awkward squawks juxtaposed with those irridescent feathers and delicate bills.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Pocahontas County Pages, what's there, and what's coming here

Locust Creek in the mist--a veiw from Droop Mountain

I took this picture last fall from my neighbor's back yard. We'd have this view of Locust Creek too, if we cut down lots and lots of trees. I thought I ought to introduce Pocahontas County Fare a bit more, so I've made up a list of topics I've been writing about on my Web site, and which are bound to appear in this weblog as well.

Here's a list of topics I have been working on, but which have not yet gone public.

  • Natural history, especially in Pocahontas County, WV. I have a PhD in biology, specifically in ecology and evolutionary biology of insects. I'm not sure why I haven't been writing more about this aspect of the county; perhaps all that time in graduate school has made it seem too much like work.
  • Nature writing. I have my favorite nature writers on and off the Internet, and I have some definite ideas about what makes good nature writing.
  • Understanding Appalachia, specifically Pocahontas County. An enormous amount has been written trying to define and describe Appalachia. I intend to add to the pile.