Thursday, December 31, 2009

Every Good Wish for a Happy New Year

There's no legible postmark on this card, so I don't know which new year it celebrated, but it is addressed to Florence Williamson, and it says: We wish you many pleasures for the coming year. May you find the ---? Well, good luck and coma and see us. We are all well. Went to a lecture last night. Tell Jim the house is still here. J. M. W.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Good Luck With Your Zeppelin in the New Year

Children flying a zeppelin festooned with pink forget-me-not garlands and giant four-leafed clovers--I think this is the strangest post-card my grandma ever got, mailed by her friend Agnes Moore from Iowa City December 23, 1908. (I don't know if Grandma and Agnes found it odd or not.) Agnes wrote ""Hello Florence, How are you? I'm just fine. Excuse poor writing." (This because the card is so heavily embossed that there's almost no writable surface available.) Agnes includes her new address at "15 E. Washington St., Iowa City, Ia."

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Merry Christmas, 1909, Prescott, Iowa

Another card from Florence Williamson's album: Dec. 22, 1909, "Wish you Merry Xmas and Happy New Year. E.V."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Snow Princess

Most of the time, I think a cat's-eye view of the world is an advantage, but with her chin six inches from the ground and the snow 30 inches deep, it's no wonder Princess is ready to come back in the house after one short trip off the porch. Even a winter-wooly coat is no help with snow like this.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snowy Saturday Morning

By mid-day on Saturday, we had hip-deep snow on the ground. Really pretty, provided you don't need to go out!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Greetings, 1910, Adams County, Iowa

Postmark: St. Paul, MINN, 6 pm Nov. 19, 1910. Dear Florence, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. Did you get my letter? What are you folks going to do this Thanksgiving? We will all be at home. From your loving friend, Edna C.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Index Humor

My work life has, the last few months, involved quite a bit of directory planning and index-making. I hadn't thought of it as an avenue for humor until last week. Miffed that Sarah Palin's new book was published index-less, several people have posted their own indices. It's unlikely that Palin will thank them for their trouble, given that I laughed aloud at the first two listed below. At the risk of joining the ranks of the lonely and shallow people who don't admire poor Sarah, here are the indices I've seen so far.

  • The 'Going Rogue' Index by Seyward Darby (November 17) in The New Republic. Some favorite entries:
    • "Dang" 74, 184, 282, 296, 352, 401
    • "Going rogue" 209, 298, 317, 359, 403
    • Good deeds of Sarah Palin 1-403
    • "Holy geez!" 171
    • Lies told about Sarah Palin 74-75, 77, 79, 95, 102, 148, 202-204, 215, 232, 236-239, 246-247, 272-275, 289, 314, 318-320, 338, 343, 346-348, 350-352, 365-366, 378, 380
    • Lies told by Sarah Palin N/A
  • The Going Rogue Index on compiled by Christopher Beam Tuesday, Nov. 17. My favorite entry: "progress," usage of as transitive verb, 64.
  • "Going Rogue" Index (Unofficial) by Marcus Baram on The Huffington Post also appeared November 17. This one is less amusing than the previous two, but perhaps more functional. As I don't intend to closely examine (or even quickly skim) the text, this is not a selling point for me.
  • It's the Going Rogue Index! just lists the names of living people mentioned in the book, but it provides loud music, and some photos of those not indexed, including, apparently, King Kong and Captain Ahab.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Fall Out With Reverend Price

Have you noticed that every time I mention William T. Price on here, I fall silent for a long time afterwards? No? It's true. Because I've spent so much time with Reverend Price in the last year, I've tried really hard to like him, or empathize with him, or admire him. For example, he was ready with a sermon for any occasion, complete with some appropriate but relatively obscure Bible verses. Always prepared; always professional--that's surely admirable. He faced many hardships--long days in the saddle, riding from church to church to deliver those professional and polished sermons; the hardships of the Civil War; the vague but looming career disappointment in the years following the war--surely I could conjure some sympathy.

But no. I can't turn my attention away from his apparent snobbery, his Jesus-free Calvinistic sermons, and his disdain for careful editing. It always leaves me in a funk. It's passages like this one (from his Civil War diary) that keep me cranky:

Upon resuming my journey...I saw a solitary person approaching at a brisk, headlong trot. He was mounted on a very ordinary looking horse. The saddle and saddlebags were old and much worn, his shoes were of some home tanned leather, coarse and heavy, very need of the attention of a cobbler, while his clothing was of plain homespun jeans. His loosely fitting coat was threadbare and out at the elbows, and his crumpled slouch hat nearly concealed his shaggy eyebrows beneath which blazed a pair of piercing and inquisitive eyes, such as are seldom seen in a life time and never to be forgotten. He rather abruptly stopped me in the road by a stentorian inquiry whether I was from Beverly.

"How is the vote?"

"I think Secession has the majority"

"Do you say the Secession candidate is ahead? I have the honor to be that candidate."

And this was really so: the successful candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates was before me, elected by the counties of Randolph and Tucker. What a comment upon the democratic tendencies of our political institutions when candidates to be popular should dress like the Biblical Gibeonites and behave accordingly. One of the blessings of this civil war, we may hope, will be to inaugurate a happier era by sweeping the depraved and vicious from the political arena, or teach them to prize their political privileges by choosing the best, not the worst looking of men for their rulers.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On(line) to Grafton: A Civil War Journal

For the last few months I've been scanning documents from the Pocahontas County Historical Society's archives. I'm still working my way through the William T. Price family collection. The oldest material I've worked with is from the 1840's, and it does give a glimpse of our local area at that time--not an easy or comfortable time and place.

This week, Reverend Price's Civil War journal, which he published in 1901 as "On to Grafton," is "serialized" on our Pocahontas County History web site. Rev. Price was a Virginian, and like most of the people in this area, approved of secession. Here's what he had to say about "The Cause" on his second day out on the Grafton campaign:

Early in the afternoon I reached Huttonsville in Randolph County where I found the people much excited and worried, and wearied to the verge of exhaustion by attention to soldiers a day or two before. Some persons seemed very desponding of the final outcome....I tried to cheer them up by saying to them that the cause of Virginia is a just one, such as the God of Hosts would approve. We might be slain in battle but never conquered....The question then was whether we should sustain the usurption of power and draw the sword against our friends, or whether it should be resisted and stand on the defensive. If let alone no blood would be shed, but if assailed then battle for all that is near and dear to the noble heart.

Moreover in my table and fireside conversations I tried to impress the minds of all that the question now is whether Virginia shall have the privilege of self government and regulate our taxes according as our interests and social institutions require, or whether we are to have our laws made for us, and enforced by rulers, whose popularity at home is in direct proportion to their hatred of us and abuse of our social and political institutions.

As a seminary trained minister, Rev. Price's opinion on which side the Lord of Hosts would approve must have carried some weight. I find myself anachronistically despondent reading (and transcribing) all the pre-battle puffing up. I want to tell them, "No! Don't! Just stay home--it's going to be worse than you can even imagine." There is, of course, no talk of slavery at all. It appears that it was not considered polite to mention it. Rev. Price and all the other writers of this time use the word "servant" when they must talk of people owned as chattel. It's a nicer word, and it's in the Bible, so it must be OK.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Writing Skills Resources

Sometimes a blog can be a handy online filing cabinet for things like this: 50 Free Resources That Will Improve Your Writing Skills. It's a list of links, most of which point to further lists, sometimes of advice, sometimes of still more links.

I'm particularly impressed by the scope of "writing tips." These include English grammar, advertising copy, student term papers, Web pages, writing prompts, rhymes, and famous writers on writing.

My favorites are the "tools," like Wordcounter, which points out your most frequently used words. I tend to think of some dandy five-dollar word, and then use it over and over again in the same document.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Physics for Fido

How to Teach Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel--This is chapter 3, "Schrodinger's Dog." It's wonderful.

I can't tell you exactly how I came upon this--I know I started at Sherry Chandler's blog, followed a link, and another link...and there I was, reading Orzel's bitter complaint about a New York Times movie reviewer who proudly displays his ignorance of physics. A physicist and college professor, Dr. Orzel is often irritated by The Innumeracy of Intellectuals. Sadly, indifference to math is not limited the the intelligentsia. Adult basic education students, school children, and college freshmen all use a smug tone to tell me they "are no good at math," meaning "Get out of my face with that stuff, I can't be bothered." In contrast, people who can't read well generally try to cover up and fake it. I don't get it, but the reason I often end up teaching math to the unwilling is the scarcity of teachers willing and able to take on those classes.

I'm looking forward to reading the whole canine physics course--we never got to quantum mechanics in my undergraduate physics class, because the physics department thought it was "too hard for biologists." I wish I'd had Dr. Orzel!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Purple Peppers

Our garden had mixed success this year, but one crop I was very pleased with was the Black Hungarian Peppers I ordered from Seed Savers Exchange. I've tried several times to start peppers from seed, but this is the first year I had anything to harvest. The peppers start out a dark, eggplant shade, but turn red when they're ripe.

They're good-flavored mildly hot peppers, but the thing I liked best about them was the way the plants looked as they were growing. The seedlings are nearly black (leaves and all; sorry I didn't think to take a picture last spring!), and the even the blossoms have that purple pigment.

Check out those black anthers!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

One Teacup at a Time

We're living in the new house now, still doing finish work, and still moving in, a little at a time. I don't have any interesting progress photos to share, as the changes are incremental and unspectacular, but I felt the need to break blog silence anyway.

I had thought when the walls were painted, the floor covering laid down, and the cabinets installed that most of my finish work would be done. There were just a few doors to install and paint. We bought pre-hung masonite doors, and installation took one day. They were already white, so how long could it take to get a little off-white, washable semigloss paint on them? Turns out, a really long time.

Our house only has four rooms, so how did I end up with eleven doors to paint? Well, there's the front door and the back door, the cellar door, the bathroom door, the bedroom door, and the office door. Then, there's the pantry door, the double doors in the bedroom closet, the office closet door....

The "pre-primed" masonite doors didn't take paint well, so two coats of primer were required, followed by two coats of semigloss. Eleven doors, painted four times each. The doors started out one shade of off-white, the door frames a different white. The primer was a greyish white, and the final coat a pale, pale yellow. ("Mesa Beige," actually. The naming of paint must be an interesting industry.) I still catch myself humming "A Whiter Shade of Pale."

Now, we've moved in the kitchen, the bedroom, and the part of my office contents required to keep working, and I'm chipping away at the rest. We're turning the old house into a workshop, so I'm trying to decide where stuff "belongs" before I move it over here, and trying to not leave wreckage behind. The TV, china cabinet, and the parrots are still in the old house, along with most of my books, our home-canned goods, and my grandma's china collection. It feels like we're moving one teacup at a time.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Including the Kitchen Sink

I've received a complaint from Pendleton County on lack of new house photo coverage. August was a busy month, but it turns out that newly painted walls don't make really interesting photographs. Here you see the intersection of two kitchen wall colors, and the kitchen cabinet installation, already in progress. This is the same flooring we have in the whole house. It wasn't hard to put down, but there really is a lot of it. My knees are still complaining. The kitchen counters and counter top are in now, as is the sink.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Shopping for Color

I made three trips in three days to the big-box home improvement store in Lewisburg this week. I don't usually go to Lewisburg more than once a month, so this is city-overload for me. The motive for this frequent driving was paint selection for the new house. On Thursday, I got paint samples, on Friday I bought paint for three rooms and half-pint paint samples in some colors I wasn't sure about, and on Saturday, I bought more paint.

I really love looking at paint, and paint-color displays. Here are just a few of the colors I brought home and held up against the walls. You can see I'd already decided on "green" and "blue" and "yellow," but comparing hues and tints and shades...I could turn it into an end in itself.

I'm evidently not the only one who sees the possibility of paint-choice paralysis, according to The Onion's Study Finds Paint Aisle At Lowe's Best Place To Have Complete Meltdown.

"Even the most well-adjusted individual can be reduced to a feeble, trembling shell of his or her former self after a half hour of paint shopping at Lowe's," said Dr. Olivia Kang, a behavioral psychologist at the University of Texas and lead author of the study. "The pressure to make a decision between two seemingly identical shades of beige, the glaring fluorescent lights, the frantic patrons on all sides—it's too much for the human psyche to process."

"In terms of causing normal, healthy adults to completely lose their shit, the Lowe's paint department amounts to a perfect storm," Kang added.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New House--Ceramic Tile

I've painted the drywall with primer, and we've installed the ceramic tiles we'll use as a "hearth" for the wood stove to stand on. These were, for the most part, fun activities, and they made the house look different, which ups the satisfaction ante.

This week, the kitchen cabinets we ordered came in, but the flooring has been delayed until next week. I've been playing with paint samples, looking at them in different light conditions, holding them up against the cabinets, a flooring sample, the windows....I suspect I could do this indefinitely, as it is a lot of fun, but I've picked out some colors, and today I went to the store, and came home with paint for the bedrooms and bathroom, and...more paint samples.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New House--Finishing the Interior

The drywall is up now, and last week I painted it with primer. It has become hard to photograph progress now that all the walls are up and painted uniformly white, but you can see the textured ceiling and the new ceiling fan here, and the drywall in the process of being primed.

This week's project is the subfloor, and, perhaps, the tile platform for the wood stove.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Clark Kessinger Video

A few weeks ago, Larry Ayers, of "Riverside Rambles" posted a link to Norman Blake's version of "Done Gone". I started gathering URL's about my own experiences with that tune (including how it helped me get my banjo fixed for free), when I came across this video of West Virginia's Clark Kessinger, performing at the Newport Festival. I have a number of his recordings (including "Done Gone"), but I'd never seen him in action before.

Whatever I meant to say about Larry, Norman Blake, "Done Gone," and Clark Kessinger has vanished from both brain and hard drive, but Mr. Kessinger's fiddling is well worth a link.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fun With Spreadsheets--Student Resources

I don't use Microsoft products myself, but I recently put together some training sessions on Excel spreadsheets. Here's the list of free resources I handed out to my students. Everything here will also work with OpenOffice's Calc.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Princess Downsizes

Like other cats, Princess enjoys a new cardboard box. However, this puny box makes her look like another candidate for the Washington-based journalists' "2009 Poverty Tour" across the Alleghenies. Eventually she spilled out of the box the printer paper and ink cartridges came in.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

New House Update--Siding Is On!

The house siding has been complete for some time, but rain and other projects have kept us from staining the exterior. Inside, drywall is going up, and should be complete soon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More Journalists Seek Recession Along West Virginia Route 219

It's beginning to look like our part of West Virginia is a required stop on Washington D.C.-based journalism's "2009 Poverty Road Tour." Last week, "The Atlantic Monthly" visited Hillsboro, while the Sunday Washington Post hit West Virginia a few miles south of us, in Union, WV. They report: 'Country' Folk Say Hard Times Not So Tough a Row to Hoe.

The Post's account is archived in their Half a Tank Blog: Half a Tank is part of a summer-long quest to find the stories of lives altered by a flattened economy. Reporter Theresa Vargas and photographer Michael Williamson left Washington June 1 to cross the country and post a daily online journal of the characters and scenes they encounter. If you're looking for a recession road trip, I would recommend this one over the rather amateurish blog that mentioned Hillsboro. Here's a quote.

It's hard to tell whether Union has been slapped more softly by the recession or if its residents are just able to grin and bear it more than elsewhere....

When Michael and I spoke to most people here about the economy, they described subtle changes between their pre-recession and post-recession lives.

"We're country boys," said Robert Ferguson, 90, a World War II veteran who well remembers the Depression. "We can survive better than these city boys when something like this happens."

City folks, said Oswale Yates, 86 and also a World War II veteran, "wouldn't know which end of the hoe to get hold of. We live more simple. In other words, we don't live as high on the hog as some people."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Snake In the Grass

We've been seeing more snakes here this spring than usual. This fellow was having some trouble avoiding cars out at the hard road, so we brought him home.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hillsboro Makes the Atlantic Monthly

Hillsboro, my mailing address, got a brief feature last month in The Atlantic Magazine online: Taking Comfort in Small Joys. The series, correspondent Christina Davidson's "Recession Road Trip," has this mission:

For the next four months I will travel the back roads and State highways through the 48 contiguous United States, uncovering stories of economic survival and endurance. In diners, bars, bingo halls and coffee shops, I seek those Americans who have lost everything--except hope.

The tone of the Hillsboro piece is complementary--

...within the state, the ruggedly self-sufficient culture that endemic poverty has engendered represents strength and independence--a thing of pride for residents. Most importantly--for the purposes of this project--that natural state of being for West Virginia has acted as a kind of buffer against some of the heartbreak and despair the recession has visited upon wealthier parts of the country.

One hopes that the accuracy of her subsequent articles will be better. She has several errors of fact (one per paragraph, by my count), such as mistaking the West Virginia household income for the per capita income, making West Virginia sound like a financially flush place. Still, I do like her take-away message:

Valuable recession lessons can be gleaned from the West Virginia experience: Never buy what you don't need. And learn how to can.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Power Line Preparation, Part Two

I've been teaching bunches of classes, but there's been unblogged house progress. Here you can see siding, and the setting of the power pole at the end of May. You can see that we also got the garden in.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Reading--Off the Page and Off the Screen

Here's my copy of Little Dorrit, part of The Complete Works of Charles Dickens, which I bought for a dollar at an auction in Connecticut, about 1980. One volume contained a German Christmas card, used as a bookmark, dated 1892. This has certainly been a good value, but little pieces of Little Dorrit fall off every time I turn a page, and my other Victorian novels (bought as secondhand paperbacks in the sixties and seventies) are in worse condition. Do I move these old wrecks into the new house? Do I replace them? Most are only available in paperback, or as hardbound sets of similar vintage to my Dickens volumes.

I'd like to rely on Project Gutenberg for my continued reading pleasure, but the computer screen is not comfortable reading. I have an eleven-year-old Linux laptop that I sometimes use to read Project Gutenberg books in html format, but it's heavy, gets hot, and the battery doesn't last long. It did represent my ideal price point, as I salvaged it from a junk heap. I probably won't find a bargain like that again.

That's why I've been eyeing eInk book readers for the last few years. A cute, lightweight, paperback-sized device that isn't backlit and can hold hundreds of text documents--it sounds wonderful. Unfortunately, there are plenty of drawbacks with what's been on the market so far. The various ebook readers have competing DRM's (Digital Rights Management systems), so you can't use books from one device on different hardware, or make backup copies of the (fairly expensive) books you buy. Some of the devices have features I can't use here in Pocahontas County (like the Kindle's wireless capability), and both books and devices are on the pricey side.

Nevertheless, I keep looking at what's available, and daydreaming. I should be daydreaming about drywall, and oriented strand board (OSB), and paint, as these are the items I will be purchasing soon....

  • Kindle: Amazon's 6" Wireless Reading Device (Latest Generation) Too pricey for me, and the elaborate wireless connectivity is useless in this part of the country. It'd sure be cool though, if money were no object....
  • Introducing Kindling, the Wireless Wooden Reading Device! Made me laugh out loud.
  • BeBook Review on's forums. This is one of several implementations of the Hanlin hardware. As far as I can see, BeBook handles the largest range of ebook formats, including pdf's and rss feeds.
  • BeBook homepage.
  • BeBook Mini, smaller, cheaper, and yet to come.
  • Coolreader uses the same hardware as BeBook, but reads fewer formats. They have their own (very expensive) e-bookstore, but they come in lots of pretty colors.
  • EZ Reader is another incarnation of the same hardware (any color as long as it's black)--a little more expensive than BeBook, and the software is not as well-explained on its product web page.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Diane Saunders Critiques American Presidents' Fiddle Playinig

I've been spending more time with Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County by William T. Price (1901) over at Pocahontas County History, and I just posted my favorite account from the "Biographic" section. Here is the narrative portion:
Diana Saunders, p. 201, Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County by William T. Price (1901)

Soon after the war of 1812 there came to our county one of the most interesting and eccentric personalities that our older people remember anything about, Mrs Diana Saunders, late of Rocky Point on Dry Branch of Swago. She was the widowed mother of four children, Anna, Eleanor, Cyrus, and Isaac. Her cabin home was built near the head springs of Dry Branch, almost in speaking distance of the Rocky Point school house, and just below....

But few persons have left their impress upon the writer's memory more vividly than Mrs Diana Saunders. As to her personality, she had been formed in "Nature's choicest mould" and in her youth must have been the peer of Edgar Allen Poe's "rare and radiant maiden." The writer recalls one or more of her granddaughters as among the most perfect models of feminine form and feature that he has observed anywhere.

From the way Granny Saunders used to speak of Jim Madison, Jim Monroe, and Tom Jefferson, and wonder how such finicky, limber-jointed, red headed, fiddling and dancing customers had ever been made Presidents of our United States, it is inferred that her blooming youth must have been passed in Orange and Albermarle atmosphere.

The writer was frequently told by his lamented mother that when he was an infant about six weeks old he had the whooping cough so severely that he was given up to die. As a last resort Granny Saunders was sent for in all haste, and when she arrived the baby was to all appearances cold and dead. The doctress ordered a tub of hot water, plouted the baby in, soaked him awhile and gave him a good rubbing. She then called for a razor and a goose quill, scarified the little body between the shoulders, inserted the quill and gave him a blowing up until the infant began to blow for himself. He came to and recovered, and has been blowing seventy years on his own hook, figuratively speaking. There have been times in his life when the writer has felt rather regretfully that Granny Saunders managed her case so well as to keep him from dying at that safe time. Now, however, he feels thankful to God for what she was able to do. He deems it a most wonderful privilege to have lived the life the Supreme Being has allotted to him. Though this life has been humble and obscure, full of mistakes and blunders, still, blessed be His Holy name, for life and its wonderful hopes for the hereafter, when the Lord comes.

It would be hard to exaggerate the useful services Performed by Mrs Saunders for a half century or more, when there was no resident physician nearer than the Warm Springs or Lewisburg. For years and years her time was virtually spent in the homes of the suffering. Stormy nights, swollen, raging mountain streams and torrents were braved by this heroic woman to be with the sick in their distress.

While it is true the most of her services were rendered in scenes over which the thickest veil of privacy should be ever drawn, yet it may not be out of good form to say that she never lost her self possession. The patient might be to all appearances in extremis, with less than a step between her and death in the throes of of maternity, all present convulsed with grief and apprehension except Granny Saunders. She would dip her pipe in the ashes, ejaculate prayers along with the puffs of smoke, and sit down by the patient: "Hold on old girl, we can't spare you yet; pick your flint and try it again. I have been praying for you, and the good Lord Almighty never goes back on his word to old Granny Saunders."

In the course of an hour or so, Granny Saunders looks up the "old man." When she finds him she opens her arms as if to embrace him. He draws back exclaiming, "Oh Granny, don't do that!" "Well, you ugly beast, if you won't let me kiss you, come in and see what a pretty thing the good Lord has sent your old woman. How it could be so pretty no one could tell without seeing the mother!"

One of the most praiseworthy traits in the character of this grand woman was her abhorrence of "doggity ways," as she would tersely put it. She was greatly worried by the way a young man seemed to be treating a girl in whom she felt a motherly interest. Appearances seemed to indicate that the "young rascal of a puppy" had plucked the rose, but left the thorn with her heartbroken young friend; or in other words bad fooled her upon a promise of marriage.

One day, it seems, the young man met her in the road, and he said: "Granny Saunders, if you do not quit talking about me as I hear of you doing, I shall have to sue you for slander.

The old lady cleared her decks for action, rolled up her sleeves and shook her fist under his nose. "I am ready for you here, at the court house, or anywhere else, outside the bottomless pit. There is where pups like you are bound to go, so I will not promise to have anything to do with you there. I cannot blame a Beaver Dam evening wolf for coming over here and stealing a lamb, for it is built that way, and can't know any better, but when I see a customer like you, with good looks, good natural sense and belonging to a decent family, guilty of things the Old Boy would be above doing, I must tell you, I do say I must tell you the dirtiest, yellow, egg-sucking dog in all Pocahontas is an angel to what you are. If the devil knows you as I do, and thinks of you as I do, he will put you on one of his hottest gridirons all by yourself, as not fit company for any other lost soul."

Granny's words seem to have been "winged ones." The suit was never brought for slander, he mended his ways, looked through his Bible and found a verse in Paul's writings that convinced him that the easiest way out of the tangle would be to marry as he had promised.

If there could have been kept a faithful record of all her doings and sayings it would have made a book by itself, nothing like it in extant literature. She had an entertaining story of the time the troops were on the march to Yorktown, and about Washington stopping at the yard fence and calling for water. Her mother sent her out with bucket and gourd, fresh from the well, and watered the thirsty general and staff attendants. "They took their water, and I tell you they all drank a few, and then the grandees rode away with high heads and stiff upper lips, looking at me as if they thought it was about all that I was fit for, to handle the water gourd for their pleasure."

She had many stories that thrilled the little folks. One was about a child being born in 1775 that only lived a few minutes. Before it died it said just as plainly as could be spoken by a grown person:

"A warm winter and a cold spring,
A bloody summer and a new king!"

One of her most popular lullabys had this refrain:

"Sleep all day and cry all night,
Whippoorwill, whippoorwill."

Persons yet living remember the reply she once made to the salutation, "Well, Granny, how are you today?"

"Poorly enough, to tell you truth. O dear, I am just here and that is all. I have pains in my face, pains in my ears, pains in the top of my head, at the back of my neck, between my shoulders, in my arms, in my breast, in my body, in my knees, in my ankles, in both my big toes." Then pausing a moment as if trying to think of more places for pains, she would raise her eyes toward heaven and devoutly exclaim, "But praise the Lord, bless His Holy Name, I have a good appetite!"

Late in the fifties or early in the sixties, she went to make her home with Isaac and Anna, on New River, where she died fifteen or twenty years ago, aged about a hundred and three years as most of her acquaintances believe. Dear old friend, the Creator has not sent many like her to our part of the world as yet.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cutting Trees

The new house will require a new power line and pole, and last week the electric company's tree workers came to clear the path. Unfortunately, our old pear tree was one of the casualties. The pears were unpalatable, despite my best efforts, and sizable chunks of the tree itself fell off every autumn. Still, it was beautiful when it bloomed in the spring, and the deer seemed to enjoy the rock-hard fruits.

You can see the pear tree on the right in full flower, April, 2008.

Here is the old house after all the tree-cutting.

Here is why chunks of the pear tree fell off every summer as the weight of pears pulled on them. I suppose we're lucky the whole tree didn't fall on the house.

A decrepit Norway spruce, some smallish sugar maples, and two black walnuts also were in the way. The rest of the trees cut were black locust saplings, sprung up in fence rows.

Monday, May 18, 2009

House Progress

After all that rain, there was finally some house progress last week!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sycamores and Pioneers

I'm still pecking away at Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County, making a search-able, sort-able version on Pocahontas County History for the genealogy researchers. I have about 70 more "sketches" edited and waiting to go into Drupal. Some of them have brief stories included, others are just lists of descendants.

Last week, Sherry Chandler shared some fascinating excerpts from her reading on Kentucky history, including Samuel Shepard's diary entries, in which he notices a family encamped inside a hollow sycamore tree. As it happens, our most famous local history story involves Marlinton's founders, Marlin and Sewell, and how one of them came to spend the winter living in a sycamore.

Jacob Marlin and Stephen Sewall, p. 105, Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County by William T. Price (1901)

The first persons of English or Scotch-Irish antecedents to spend a winter in what is now Pocahontas County, were Marlin and Sewall. This was the winter of 1750-51. Their camp was in the delta formed by Marlin Run and a slough or drain near the east bank of Knapp's Creek.

In the course of time--having agreed to disagree--they separated and were found living apart, by Colonel Andrew Lewis, Marlin in the cabin and Sewall in a hollow tree. Upon expressing his surprise at this way of living apart, distant from the habitation of other human beings, Sewall told him they differed in sentiments and since the separation there was more tranquility, or a better understanding, for now they were upon speaking terms, and upon each morning "it was good morning, Mr Marlin, and 'Good morning, Mr Sewall!'"

Under the new arrangement, Sewall crossed the slough, and instead of building another cabin, went into a hollow sycamore tree on the west margin of the slough, quite near where the board walk now crosses, and about in line with a walnut tree now standing on the east bank of the drain and the court house.

The lower part of this tree bore a striking resemblance to a leaning Indian tepee. The cavity could shelter five or six persons, and the writer has been often in it for shade or for shelter from rain or heat. At the top of the cone, some eight or ten feet from the ground, the tree was not more than twenty inches in diameter, and at that height was chopped off about the year 1839, to avoid shading the crops. Thus the stump was left, a great convenience for shade or shelter, until it disappeared during the War, being probably used for a camp fire.

These persons differed, Sewall told Colonel Lewis, about their "relagian." There is a traditional hint that "immersion" was the theme of contention. But it is more than probable that one was a conformist and the other a non-conformist to the thirty-nine articles of the English rubric. This is known to have been a very live question of those times, both before and after.

This new arrangement did not last long, and Sewall in search of less molestation about his religion, withdrew about eight miles to a cave at the head of Sewell Run, near Marvin. Thence he went forty miles farther on to Sewell Creek, west Greenbrier, and was found and slain by Indians. How impressively this illustrates the evils of religious controversy, so called.

"Against her foes religion well defends, 
Her sacred truths, but often fears her friends. 
If learned, their pride: if weak their zeal she dreads 
And their heart's weakness who have soundest heads;
But most she fears the controversial pen, 
The holy strife of disputatious men, 
Who the blest Gospel's peaceful page explore, 
Only to fight against its precepts more." 

It is moreover interesting in this connection to recall the fact that on the banks of Marlin's Run is the burial place of a little child that was dashed to death by an Indian warrior in 1765, when overtaken by a party of Bath and Rockbridge men, seeking to rescue Mrs Mayse, her son Joseph, an unmarried woman with an infant in her arms, a Mr McClenaehan, and some other captives. This burial place is a few rods diagonally from the east angle of Uriah Bird's barn on the margin of the rivulet. The infant corpse was buried at the foot of the tree where it had been found a few minutes after its death. The burial took place just a few hours later, before the pursuers set out on their return. The grave was dug with hunting knives, hatchets, and naked fingers. The little body laid in its place very tenderly, and the grave partly filled with earth. The covering of the grave was completed with rather heavy stones, to prevent foxes or other animals from getting at the remains.

Thus died and was buried the first white child known to history west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Joseph Mayse, 13 years old, was rescued at that same time, somewhere between the Island and the mouth of Indian Draft. In 1774 he fought in the battle of Point Pleasant, where he was wounded, and after suffering from the injury for forty-six years, his leg was amputated. He recovered, and lived a number of years thereafter, a busy man of affairs. He died "serene and calm," April, 1840, in the 89th year of his age.

In the Richmond Dispatch, April 14, 1901, it is stated that the last survivor of the Point Pleasant veterans was Ellis Hughes, who passed away at Utica, O., in 1840, over ninety years of age. In early manhood he may have lived in the Lower Levels of our county. Now if it was known what month Hughes died in, it could be decided who was the last one of the veterans to bivouac in those "silent tents" that Glory "guards with solemn round."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Amazing Camouflage Paint Job

I've finished grading chemistry exams and otherwise preparing for the classes I'm teaching tonight in Beckley, and, on an apparently unrelated topic, I want to pass along this amazing camouflage job: Art student's car vanishing act.

A design student made a battered old Skoda "disappear" by painting it to merge with the surrounding car park. Sara Watson, who is studying drawing at the University of Central Lancashire (Uclan), took three weeks to transform the car's appearance. She created the illusion in the car park outside her studio at Uclan's Hanover Building in Preston.

There's a short video of Ms. Watson and the car accompanying the BBC article.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Mental Fragments, Mental Fractals....

The last few days, I've been converting an OCR'ed text of William Price's Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County into sensible and legible text, then loading it into Drupal a bit at a time at Pocahontas County History. I'm working my way through the 400-plus pages of genealogical information first, because that is the portion most desired by genealogists and least accessible to Internet search engines. It's also the least enjoyable reading for those of us not seeking to understand a particular family's ancestral relationships. Lists of marriages, sons and daughters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, interspersed with the unfortunate fatal accidents and illnesses which ended their various's not as much fun as you might imagine.

At the same time I've been doing some supplemental reading for the chemistry course I'm teaching. (Fragmented? I try to tell myself it's my free-ranging intellect, but I keep picturing free-ranging chickens....)

In any case, I read this very exciting article: Can fractals make sense of the quantum world? illustrated with the pretty cauliflower picture above. I believe it's there to illustrate a fractal pattern rather than quantum mechanics, but according to Dr. Tim Palmer, fractal mathematics may eventually resolve the puzzles that quantum theory poses.

Quantum theory just seems too weird to believe. Particles can be in more than one place at a time. They don't exist until you measure them. Spookier still, they can even stay in touch when they are separated by great distances.

Einstein thought this was all a bit much, believing it to be evidence of major problems with the theory, as many critics still suspect today. Quantum enthusiasts point to the theory's extraordinary success in explaining the behaviour of atoms, electrons and other quantum systems. They insist we have to accept the theory as it is, however strange it may seem.

But what if there were a way to reconcile these two opposing views, by showing how quantum theory might emerge from a deeper level of non-weird physics?

If you listen to physicist Tim Palmer, it begins to sound plausible. What has been missing, he argues, are some key ideas from an area of science that most quantum physicists have ignored: the science of fractals, those intricate patterns found in everything from fractured surfaces to oceanic flows....

Take the mathematics of fractals into account, says Palmer, and the long-standing puzzles of quantum theory may be much easier to understand. They might even dissolve away....

It is an argument that is drawing attention from physicists around the world. "His approach is very interesting and refreshingly different," says physicist Robert Spekkens of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada. "He's not just trying to reinterpret the usual quantum formalism, but actually to derive it from something deeper."

That Palmer is making this argument may seem a little odd, given that he is a climate scientist working at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting in Reading, UK. It makes more sense when you learn that Palmer studied general relativity at the University of Oxford, working under the same PhD adviser as Stephen Hawking....

"It has taken 20 years of thinking," says Palmer, "but I do think that most of the paradoxes of quantum theory may well have a simple and comprehensible resolution."

Monday, May 04, 2009

Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County In the 21st Century

The last few weeks I've been spending a lot of time with Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County by William T. Price (1901), which is now available on Google Books. You can download the pdf file, and for a while you could also grab the unedited OCR version of the text, although this doesn't seem to be available anymore.

About 400 pages of this tome record are genealogical records, interspersed with short reminiscences about the early settlers in Pocahontas County. Because so many people are looking for this information, I'm converting it into html on our website, Pocahontas County History. Over the years, I've encountered unattributed quotes from Reverend Price's book on many different genealogy websites, and last summer I discovered that WPA employees had typed out long passages from the 1901 book in the late 1930'a and early 1940's. Some of these typists identified their source, while others did not, but these typescripts have been appearing here and there on the Internet as well, never with proper attribution.

I must confess, the more time I spend with the late Reverend Price (pictured above), the more exasperated I become with some of his bad editorial habits; however, I don't want his work floating around the Interwebitubes without proper attribution. Besides, with Drupal set up for decent search engine optimization, more people should be able to find their ancestral names and places once the worthy reverend's words are rendered into hypertext markup language. (Worthy ancestors being the only kind he bothered to catalog.)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Gear Shifting and Fragmentation

Hudson Super Wasp hood ornament

I've never been great at shifting gears mentally, so my current work configuration offers me a real challenge. I'm teaching courses in chemistry, statistics, and Microsoft Word 2007, while developing a new course for beginners in Excel spreadsheets. Meanwhile, I'm still the county historic preservation officer, which means I'm maintaining two online databases, digitizing content, looking for grants, and planning museum and archive curation. These are part-time jobs, and don't, in theory, add up to more than a 45-50 hour work week.

In theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice, they are different. In practice, I have a hard time thinking, "OK, that's it for biochemistry this week. Now I'm going to update Drupal and proof-read a genealogy text. After that, I'll write an exam for the junior college computer students, and then, cook supper." It should work, but it doesn't. I'm still thinking about gene promoter and enhancer sequences as I retype sections of the "The Descendants of Thomas Galford." Later, I'll be thinking about the ravages of the Civil War on the Allegheny Front's inhabitants as I try and think how to test students' understanding of formatting features in word processing. And eventually, as I think about hanging intents and margins, I'll probably dump too much pepper in the mashed potatoes again.

I shouldn't complain about having paying jobs, and I do like variety. Nevertheless, I feel as if my mental gears are in danger of being stripped.

Monday, April 27, 2009

New House Update--Siding!

Work on the new house has started again! We got our hemlock siding, and other things we need to finish the exterior last week, and Friday, subtle changes in our stalled project were apparent. I hope there will be more exciting photographs this week.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Crazy Week of Weather

The past week has been a little confusing, weather-wise. Last weekend, we had some warm spring weather, and our daffodils put on a fine display. They smelled heavenly, and I've never known these particular plants to have a fragrance before.

Quite a few leaf buds popped open--buckeye, cherry, hop hornbeam, hawthorn....It looked like spring might finally be here.

Later in the week, we had rain and hail. Next day, we had snow all day. Now, we're in a run of 80 to 90 degree F weather. What next?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Getting and Spending, We Lay Waste Our Powers

"Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers...." An Earth-Day inspired article, Waste Not, Want Not by Bill McKibben reminded me that the Romantic poets were spot-on about the Industrial Revolution. The news sites I follow have featured environmental news and commentary along these lines:

In the end, we built an economy that depended on waste...Making enough money to build houses with rooms we never used, and cars with engines we had no need of, meant wasting endless hours at work. Which meant that we had, on average, one-third fewer friends than our parents' generation. What waste that! "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers," wrote Wordsworth. We can't say we weren't warned.

The economic mess now transfixing us will mean some kind of change. We can try to hang on to the status quo--living a Wal-Mart life so we can buy cheaply enough to keep the stream of stuff coming. Or we can say uncle. There are all kinds of experiments in postwaste living springing up: Freecycling, and Craigslisting, and dumpster diving, and car sharing (those unoccupied seats in your vehicle--what a waste!), and open sourcing. We're sharing buses, and going to the library in greater numbers....

It's not that I don't take these things seriously--my parents remembered the depression after World War I as well as the Dustbowl, and I never felt comfortable spending money on stuff in suburbia, back when I had the income to cover it. It's just that these endless discussions of lifestyle modification are so repetitive, and generally involve at least a little whining.

That's why I was so pleased to find a reference to Susan Strasser's book, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, including a generous two-chapter sample from Google Books.

She provides a review of how people have seen household and industrial trash from Harriet Beecher Stowe's household hints through the swill children of New York City to today's freegan dumpster divers. It's refreshing to get a really different perspective on waste and recycling. ("Fresh" isn't quite the word for it....) I particularly liked Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe's distinction between

"cunningly devised minces" made from leftovers by "the true domestic artist" with "those things called hashes...compounds of meat, gristle, skin, fat, and burnt fibre, with a handful of pepper and salt flung at them, dredged with lumpy flour, watered from the spout of the teakettle, and left to simmer at the cook's convinience while she is otherwise occupied."....Unfortunately, cookbook writers had trouble describing exactly how to achieve a cunning mince instead of a forgettable hash....

That is the rub, isn't it? Sometimes hash is best forgotten, especially if it sports much "burnt fibre."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yew Piney Mountain

You never know what you'll run across on line; I found Pocahontas County musician Pam Lund playing banjo with fiddler Dave Bing on "Yew Piney Mountain." The Yew Mountains, aka the Yew Pine Mountains, are in the Cranberry Wilderness Area here. The fiddle may catch your ear first, but listen for Pam's banjo. No muss, no fuss, just as good as it gets.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter Greetings, 1907

One more Easter sooth my seasonal nostalgia for baby chicks.