Category Archives: Published Work

Dog Days 2020

Oh, this heat. The Dog Days are upon us, the most oppressive period of summer, between July 3rd and August 11th. Why are these days called “Dog Days?” The Farmer’s Almanac tells us it is because, during this time, the Sun occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius, the brightest star visible from any part of Earth. Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog, and this is why Sirius is sometimes called the Dog Star. (It is also the likely reason why Sirius Black of the Harry Potter books can turn into a dog named Padfoot.)

Canis Major as depicted in Urania’s Mirror, a set
of constellation cards published in London c.1825.
The bright star, Siris, marks the dog’s nose.

I discovered during this heat how much ducks need water—and of course, after one being bitten by a turtle, my ducks just flat refused to enter the lake out back. After refilling a kiddie pool twice a day for a week or more, I decided to find the ducks a new home. Of course, I still have my four young hens, who are nowhere near as messy or demanding. This heat is also hard on the garden. We have taken to watering at night with soaker hoses to keep the tomato plants from dying. I forgot about a lovely hanging basket on my front porch, and by the time I remembered to water the basket, it was far too late.

I worked from home for ten years. Maintaining ducks, flowers, chickens, and the garden was much easier when I could address their needs as they arose. But animals and plants do not care if you have to go to work all day. When plants need water, they need water. When fences need mending, delay can cost you the whole garden. And when animals have a crisis or problem, a lack of immediate attention can cause injury or lost lives.

I think about the farms and gardens when West Virginia’s “outmigration” began in the 1950s when fathers, brothers, sons, families began leaving the state to find work elsewhere. “Outmigration” means leaving a region or community, to move or settle into a different place than one’s home territory. Outmigration is a significant problem in West Virginia. What started in the 1950s has continued since.

A statistical brief from the West Virginia Health Statistics Center said more than half the Mountain State’s overall loss from outmigration during a 50-year period (1950-2000), occurred from 1950-1960. When the major 1950s outmigration started, over 40% of the nation’s produce was grown and harvested from family gardens and farms, and I imagine the percentage was higher in West Virginia. Fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, and meat at the store was almost always sourced from a location less than 50 miles away.

Imagine the West Virginia farms and homestead in 1950 — especially after President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged every American to fight food shortages of World War II with a home garden. In 1943, twenty million “Victory Gardens” existed in the United States. But then the war ended, the demand for coal bottomed out, and the outmigration of people essentially drained a whole generation from West Virginia. Victory Gardens were neglected or abandoned, and workers here were forced out of the state to make a living. Gardens, hayfields, and meadows and hills were left in the care of those who stayed behind – or were simply left untended.

Singer Steve Earle wrote a song titled “Hillbilly Highway,” recorded on his 1986 album Guitar Town. The Hillbilly Highway refers to the emigration of Appalachians to industrial cities, primarily in the years following World War II. While most often used in this metaphoric sense, the term is sometimes used to refer to specific stretches of roadway.

Why? Because, during long weekends, holidays, and lay-offs, workers who left along the Hillbilly Highways returned home. More than any other migrant industrial workers in America, Appalachians traveled home. During layoffs in Flint, Michigan, as many as 35% of the Appalachians left for the hills. I often think they came to help put up hay, harvest the garden, and mend fences — literally and metaphorically. They returned to the homestead, but many came home to unkempt and unchecked environments.

Since then, family gardens in Appalachia have declined, at first in tandem with the levels of outmigration, and then (as land and knowledge were passed less often to the next generation) nearly disappeared. While industrialization and commercialism made our lives busier and “easier,” Americans handed nearly all our food production concerns to a few massive corporations. Who has time to grow and weed a garden? Who has time to water ducks when the ducks are less than 50 feet from a lake?

This heat reminds me: we don’t control nature. Nature controls us. If you have a garden, you must constantly respond to the garden’s demands. If you have livestock or pets, you must diligently provide for their health and safety. I know what a neglected garden can look like after being abandoned for three weeks. Imagine the Appalachian migrants who left these hills for months or years and what they found when they returned home. How much changed in their absence? How much was lost?

Happy Dog Days. While you are staying safer at home for COVID, remember to stay safe in this heat. Avoid strenuous activities and take frequent breaks. Wear light, loose-fitting clothing, and avoid direct sun. Drink plenty of hydrating fluids–alcohol, coffee, tea, and caffeinated soft drinks can hurt more than help. And of course, NEVER leave people or pets in a closed car. Come mid-August, it is likely we will experience fewer days at peak heat and humidity and Dog Days will be behind us. We can only hope it’s the same for the virus.

End of Quarantine, Spring Re-Opening

Spring has now arrived with full force, and it matters not if human-kind has re-opened or not, the world of wildlife is ready for business. Oscar, the largest of the resident snapping turtles, returned to the lake in our back yard this week to spend the summer as he always has. He comes up the driveway in the muddy ditch line, then crosses the side yard and climbs up and over the bank around the water. It’s only by luck that we ever witness this silent quest, and in our 20+ years here, we’ve caught the crossing maybe three or four times. I believe the local goslings are perhaps now big enough to avoid becoming his dinner, but that remains to be seen. The parental geese still are keeping the young ones off the water for the most part, so perhaps all eight young (five from one nest, three from another) will survive the season.

Some who read this column will remember that our last hen went missing in December as we were visiting family in Virginia. Winter is not a good time to start chickens, but the moment the quarantine hit, I ordered more hens. Nothing like a pandemic to make you feel like you need your own supply of eggs. I know some people order chicks by the hundred, but I selected four hens of select breeds and paid extra for them to be sent at 6 weeks of age. I’ve named them Sassy (Buff Orpington), Lacey (Silver-lace Wyandot), Coco (Easter Egger), and Simone (Australorp). Frank has been working to increase the fortitude of our chicken pen against ground and sky predators. We also purchased a battery back-up for our automatic chicken door, having realized that there are enough power outages here to skew the timer on the door and cost chicken lives.

Our beehive caught us off guard this week, producing three swarms in three days. Two swarms gathered low in a raspberry thicket along the garden fence and were captured. The third swarm took to the air and very quickly moved across the field, around the barn, and off into the wilds of Bear Fork. Keeping bees is more challenging even than keeping chickens. Some predators and diseases can wipe out a hive in just a few hours, and the warm-cold-warm-cold tendencies of West Virginia early springs can be tough on a hive. We thought we had lost our last hive in March, but now we have three hives in place again.

We are starting the garden late this year, but I have peas and lettuce in pots on the porches and have been harvesting asparagus for a few weeks now. Once “serious” gardeners who worked from home, we now do the best we can in the spring and wish the garden luck. Our jobs prevent us from winning most of the battles against weeds and invasive insects, and typically by late July, we have lost the war. As long as we get to have a few tomato sandwiches, I’m happy. I notice the asparagus patch is thinner this year, and also that my patch of chives is thin this season as well. Perhaps the winter was too wet? Either way, I will attempt to place some new plants in each of the patches. We love asparagus, and I am accustomed to constantly harvesting fresh chives throughout the growing season.

A deer came through one night and nipped the buds off of most of my Asiatic lilies, my most prized and beautiful spring blossoms. I typically spray them with a mixture of dish soap and water a few times in the spring (along with my hostas) but I got sidetracked by other quarantine projects and was too late. I will have to be satisfied with the more fragrant blossoms of the peonies which will bloom soon, but the sweetness of their flowers draw ants, and I have to shake out the insects before bringing cut blossoms inside to place in a vase.

I am glad to have these diversions from national and worldwide current events. The chickens do not care if I’m wearing a mask, and the bees are not out to murder or infect anyone. Even seeing the snapping turtle, Oscar, as grouchy as he is, was like a reunion with an old friend. I can sit and watch the chicks for hours, mesmerized, like watching a fire, a lava lamp, or a fish tank. I’m so grateful to be in rural West Virginia, especially now. I feel protected from “the outside world” here, and the world outside my door offers entertainment, distractions, and opportunities for restoration and calm.

Next week, the world re-opens even more, to a new normal, a world that requires safety measures and sanitization. But today, this weekend with the sun shining warmly on my shoulders, it feels so good to get my hands in the soil, to scrub afterward to wash away poison ivy oil and not some infectious disease. I can almost feel my body absorbing Vitamin D from the sun, my immune system building a defense against the stressors of life. Somehow, I find myself believing that everything, at some point, will be all right.

Normantown/Stumptown News: December Week 3

When I first moved to this area twenty-plus years ago, I did not give the Little Kanawha River the respect it deserves. I grew up in Marietta, Ohio where the Muskingum River flows into the Ohio River—where barges, paddle-wheels, houseboats, speed boats, canoes, and blow-up rafts can all share the waters. I looked at the Little Kanawha when I moved here in August and saw that I could walk across it without getting my knees wet.

“Pfft,” I said. “That’s not a river.”

“Big” rivers, like the Muskingum and Ohio are impressive in many ways, but they are predictable. They rise and fall slowly, and by calculating rain amounts and river levels upstream, one can easily determine how high the water will get and when. The Ohio River will never “sneak up” on you. My father had a business on the main street near the Muskingum, and I remember having an entire day to lift and move valuables, “just in case,” only to watch the slowly rising water crest just below the top stair at the front door. I was almost disappointed. We spent the evening putting everything back where it belonged.

When I heard the tales of the flood of ‘85 (and again in ‘86 here in Stumptown), I imagined those floods were flukes, freak occurrences that happen once in a blue moon. I have since learned that like blue moons, floods are more common than I thought.

When Frank and I moved to the farm and he told me how high the floodwaters could get on the property, I was still skeptical. I simply could not imagine the creek below the road ever reaching my house. And then the floodwaters came, and I found myself wading up the driveway, watching a hay bale float by.

The Little Kanawha River and area creeks and streams can easily be underestimated. They are sneaky creatures that can rise overnight, become powerful, and spread with a speed that quickly catches you off guard. And run-off water? You never think about how water flows across fairly flat land, how it can create new stream paths and puddles that grow into ponds.

My memories of flooding along the Ohio are timed in the spring. Those were the days when feet of snow fell in winter, and spring melt with spring rain spelled bad news. But my memories of flooding here all seem to be when it’s cold and gray and not the best time to be wet. I often wonder if it’s because winter brings more rain now it seems, and is more a season of mud than snow. My insulated mud boots are now some of my most valued possessions.

This time of year, especially when precipitation seems to last for days, I find myself tuned in to the fork of Steer Creek that flows along Rosedale Road. Even in the dark of night, I can tell by the moon’s reflection on the water’s surface if the creek is flowing high or low. I can estimate, by evaluating the water’s depth, the amount of rain that has fallen, and the amount of rain yet to come–if I need to get out the mud boots. I also know, when a large amount of rain falls in a short period of time if run-off waters might seep through our basement.

The 169-mile Little Kanawha River drains approximately 2,160 square miles of northern and central West Virginia. It is the largest watershed in the state, and in the mid-1800s, was also known as the “River of Evil Spirits” because of the number of people who died when canoes capsized in the river whirlpools. I think of that sometimes when the water’s up.

While it may seem odd to think of flooding during the winter season, a significant number of the record flood levels for the Little Kanawha were recorded November through January. The famed flood of 1985 occurred on November 5, and record-high waters were recorded in Decembers of 1944, ‘45, ‘48, ‘49, ‘56, ‘70, ‘71, ‘72, ‘73, ‘78, ‘79, ‘90, and ‘91. In fact, more historic floods have happened here between October and March than in the spring.

No matter what time of year, we have our lives prepared for high water. I no longer want carpet in the basement, and I work with area rugs that can be rolled up easily if (when) necessary. We have 4’x4’ planks of wood the width of certain appliances, and keep them handy in the basement closet for when rains pour more than an inch in a few hours and we need to lift things off the floor. If the rains keep coming, then we venture out to check on the creek below.

When rising, this fork of Steer Creek first crosses Rosedale Road at the end of our driveway, and we take note of the time and location of the water’s edge. We contemplate the factors and try to determine if the mailbox will disappear and we kick into high gear, or if the waters will crest before we reach that emergency mode. We watch the waters rise, and wait for the rains to cease. There’s a balance point in those moments that valley-dwellers recognize as the difference between another round of high waters and a serious situation.

Not much of a holiday message is it? Happy holidays and high water, ho ho ho? But wet weather like we’ve been having of late brings my watershed concerns to mind. Even so, colorful lights, Christmas carols, and smiling faces are enough to lift my spirits and I’m looking forward to visiting my family this season.

Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise.

Normantown Historical Community Center served 92 families representing 216 people at the monthly food pantry in December.  Thanks to Mountaineer Food Bank for their contributions, and to the local volunteers who make it happen. Dues to join and support the organization are still $10.00, due in January. Donations can be made online at https://nhccwv.com.

Kudos to the folks helped their neighbor out of his burning home on Rosedale Road. You’re heroes in my book, and that just shows what kind of folks live here in our community.

If you have any 25267 news you would like me to share, send email to hayesminney@gmail.com, message me through facebook, or leave a message on our machine at 304-354-9132.

Mountains Piled Upon Mountains

I am so proud to have my work included in Mountains Piled Upon Mountains:  Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene.

Image from the corresponding article at 100daysinappalachia.com.

Available from West Virginia University PressMountains Piled upon Mountains features nearly fifty writers from across Appalachia sharing their place-based fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. Moving beyond the tradition of transcendental nature writing, much of the work collected here engages current issues facing the region and the planet (such as hydraulic fracturing, water contamination, mountaintop removal, and deforestation), and provides readers with insights on the human-nature relationship in an era of rapid environmental change.

This book includes a mix of new and recent creative work by established and emerging authors. The contributors write about experiences from northern Georgia to upstate New York, invite parallels between a watershed in West Virginia and one in North Carolina, and often emphasize connections between Appalachia and more distant locations. In the pages of Mountains Piled upon Mountains are celebration, mourning, confusion, loneliness, admiration, and other emotions and experiences rooted in place but transcending Appalachia’s boundaries.

The collection includes my essay, “Shaken Foundations.” An excerpt from this essay was included in the fall issue of “Mountain State Sierran,” the WV Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Shaken Foundations” has also been used in college composition classes as an example of a fact-driven narrative.

You can read and hear more about Mountains Upon Mountains from WV Public Broadcasting, or from 100 Days in Appalachia.

You can purchase the book from Amazon here:

Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility

I am so proud and pleased to have my work included in the recently released anthology: Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility, from Cynren Press.

My essay, “Mental Pause,” discusses many of the issues that are included with the onset of menopause, and how this right of passage can affect a woman’s life.

Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility brings together international poets and essayists, both award-winning and emergent, to answer these questions with raw, honest meditations that speak to women of all races, nationalities, and sexual orientations. It is an anthology of unforgettable stories both humorous and frightening, inspirational and sensual, employing traditional poetry and prose alongside exciting experimental forms. Feminine Rising celebrates women’s differences while embracing the source of their sameness–the unique experience of womanhood.

Edited by Andrea Fekete & Lara Lillibridge, with a foreword by Amy Hudock, PhD, this collection includes voices of women from all over the world.

You can read Lara’s introduction here, Andrea’s here, and listen to contributor Rashida Murphyread her poem from the anthology here.

Get your copy below:

The Birds: OLD SCARS, NEW WOUNDS | ENTROPY

I recently had an essay published at Entropy Magazine online.

Here’s the introduction:

In the sixteen years my husband and I have lived on this farm, only three times have sirens screamed out along our rural road. We can’t see the road from our house, but we recognize traffic by sound. Sirens resonate through the hills like a ringing in the ear as they work their way through valleys, vehicles straightening out the curving roads that follow creeks and streams. The ringing rises to a wailing shriek, louder and louder as the vehicles get closer, vehement mechanical screaming amidst the solemn mountains.

Last week, one by one, seven sirens sliced through our serene country evening just after dinner. They were, by the sound of it, law enforcement—fast, high pitched whooping, but without the low thrumming of an ambulance or fire truck’s massive motor. We wondered what happened. Law enforcement miles from town, flying along with sirens blaring? You do not need a scanner or a news broadcast to know something major has happened, something somber…

Read the piece in its entirety at: The Birds: OLD SCARS, NEW WOUNDS | ENTROPY