Friday, April 29, 2016

Feathered Visitors on a Rainy Day

Yesterday was one of those spring days I dislike. It started well enough but then turned hot, humid and sticky, with occasional breaks when it stormed or showered. The ground is now beyond saturated; even here on the hill we have standing pools in the grass.

But the birdfeeder action has been a real pleasure. This fellow came by for a visit, and he's still here today. I'm beyond happy because we rarely have seen a rose-breasted grosbeak here. It may be because the feeders were a good ways from the house and we mistook these birds for some other species. Now that we've moved the feeders closer we're able to see who's visiting a lot more clearly.

The grosbeak and the red-bellied woodpecker got along quite well, apparently deciding that there was plenty for both.

He's a handsome fellow, isn't he, with that rosy-red breast?

Munching down!

The grosbeak showing me his better side??

The little pine siskins are still with us and I have really enjoyed their twittering in the trees around the house. These little guys are very vocal, and quite comfortable with us nearby.

 You can barely see the touch of yellow on this bird--that is what made me think at first that these were goldfinches who were just getting their summer color.

A better look at the pine siskin, and you can see the yellow here too.

I am hoping we see more of the migratory birds in the coming weeks. The hummingbirds have returned, just two so far, but perhaps more are on the way. 

There's something that makes me happy when I see the various birds coming to the feeders. Maybe it's knowing that their arrival marks the true return of warmer weather. Or maybe it's just seeing them flitting about and knowing that they're eating insects. Or maybe it's just the colors of them, and they're beautiful songs. The truth is, it's all of those things.

Happy bird-watching, my friends!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Stories in the Round: A Recap

I was on the road earlier this week for a storytelling performance in Hagerstown, Maryland for Stories in the Round, a series coordinated by Fanny Crawford and hosted at the Universal Unitarian Church. It was a fine time--good audience, beautiful venue, and the stories and ballads flowed well. The event is held on the third Monday evening of each month, and I was so pleased to be the kickoff presenter for the third year of the series.

Fanny's husband took photos during the evening. It is so nice to get good pictures to share, from someone who knows how to take them. Thanks so much to Jose for these!

If you're curious about how such a storytelling program might go, here's a rundown on what I presented:

I started with one of my favorite of the Child ballads, a humorous one called Devil and the Farmer's Wife. This video was made a few years back when  sang it for a project on West Virginia storytellers.


Following the ballad, I went into a tall tale, which is really a combination of two traditional tall tales and a joke, woven together into one tale the begins honestly enough with when I moved to West Virginia. One of the stories I made my own in this is The Split Dog. Many storytellers tell their own version of this old saw; I bring along a skinning board (in the photo below) because some people are not familiar with them, and also a bottle of turpentine, just for fun.

I followed the tall tale with the Appalachian ballad Pretty Saro, and then went into a brief version of a new story that has captured my mind recently, that of my grandfather Hagger, my mother's father. He was a man I never met, as he was killed by a car in 1930 when my mother was just a child, but recently my cousins in England, especially my cousin Julie and my cousin Bob, have shared information and stories about him that have fascinated me.

From that story I moved on to the story of my parents' meeting during World War II, sharing some of the letters and other documents we found after they passed away. So this is family history, made into stories that everyone can relate to. That's important; my stories might fascinate me, but how can I make them interesting to strangers? What common chord can I strike so that others will feel what I do, and know these people and events as I do?

Another ballad, Jean Ritchie's West Virginia Mine Disaster, was next on my program, and afterward I discussed the display of mining paraphernalia I had brought with me.

Hat's lamps, the canary cage,  self-rescuers and a methane detector, along with other items. Here, I am talking about a turtleshell hardhat, used in the 1930's and made from tough leather.

In this photo, I am holding a display of scrip, the currency minted by individual coal companies and used to either pay miners in full or to be used as credit at the company store.

I ended the evening with one of my signature stories, The Headless Woman of Brier Creek, and then on request, added another Appalachian ballad, Railroad Boy, which has its roots in England as the song Butcher Boy.

Afterwards, Fanny gathered the storytellers who had come to listen for a group photo. It's a compliment when other tellers come to listen. They're a good audience!

So that's a short recap of the evening. I am still smiling as I remember all the faces, the smiles and nods, as the stories and songs rolled out.

And I am ever so grateful to this lady, Fanny Crawford, for inviting me, and to her husband Jose (whose last name I am embarrassed to admit I cannot recall) for taking such great photos.

If you live near Hagerstown, mark the third Monday in May on your calendar and plan to attend the next Stories in the round. You will be very glad you did.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

At Green Bottom

We have passed it by for years, this place of swamps. It is along West Virginia Route 2 between Point Pleasant, that place of Mothman fame and site of the creepy Richard Gere movie, the Mothman Prophecies, and Huntington, home of Marshall University and the site of the excellent movie, We Are Marshall with Matthew McConaughey. 
This is a long, mostly straight stretch of road, probably the straightest in the state outside of the interstates, and travels alongside of the Ohio River and the railroad tracks. Route 2 was probably an early Native route and one traveled by  frontiersmen and settlers. Today this area is largely rural with a smattering of small factories and plants, but mostly one travels through wheat, corn and produce fields. It's a peaceful, beautiful drive, and our route of choice when Larry needs to go to the Veteran's Administration hospital in Huntington for tests or whatever. 
This swampy place I mentioned is called Green Bottom, the name given to it by the Jenkins family, who moved to the area from "old" Virginia and developed a thriving agricultural enterprise here. William Jenkins owned 4900 acres here of good rich river bottomland and even in 1850 the farm was valued at $80,000. The family (slaveowners with quite a few slaves, unfortunately) produced corn, wheat, barley, sweet potatoes, potatoes, wool and beef and in later years grew tobacco and other crops. I was once told that they also tried to grow rice, which might explain the swamps, but my research has not proved that to be true.

Albert Gallatin Jenkins was the son of the founder of this plantation. A Harvard law graduate, he entered the Confederate Army when the Civil War broke out, and left his estate in the hands of his father-in-law. Sadly, Jenkins lost his life in the war, and his estate eventually was divided up amidst much family controversy.

Today the former plantation is a wildlife management area with a focus on wetlands habitats. And for once we took the time to stop. What a great idea that was.

We found a rutted gravel track that led to a parking area and a boardwalk through the wetlands to an observation platform. The walk was almost ethereal, with the lush greens, overhanging vines, and birdsong everywhere. It is unfortunate that the noise of the nearby highway can still be heard but otherwise this is a place apart from the world of man.

Here you can see a beaver dam, and we saw a large beaver lodge as we passed by on the highway--no photo of that, but maybe next time.

We saw several varieties of ducks, some Canada geese, redwing blackbirds and many other birds as we followed the boardwalk. We also heard lots of splashes as little frogs dived underwater at our approach, and the croaking of some bullfrogs that sounded like mighty big fellas.

In this photo, you can just see the Jenkins mansion in the distance. This house was 50 feet long and 25 wide and there were many outbuildings during its heyday. Today only the house remains, and it is slowly being renovated to be a museum, although work on this state project seems to have come to a halt. At one time tours were offered, but now the windows are boarded up and the house is not accessible to the public.

It was such a peaceful place, and I tried to imagine how it might look in early morning, as the mist rises from the river. One day I'd like to see that.

I also thought about how it must have been in the Jenkins' time. Fields of corn and hay, wheat and barley. Fences and cattle, sheep and hogs. Slaves out working in the heat, the smell of cooking from the large kitchen that was a separate building from the bouse...

Somewhere under this water are those sneaky little frogs that would not let me see them.

I could barely see the slow trickle of water through this swampy patch, stirring those brown bits that looked to me like larvae of some type.

If you'd like to know more about Green Bottom and its history, I can recommend Archival Research on the History ofthe Albert Gallatin Jenkins HouseGreen Bottom, Cabell County,West Virginia , and excellent and well-researched online document. For more about Albert Gallatin Jenkins and his part in the Civil War, see this article by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.

Better yet, stop by and visit Green Bottom. Its unique ecosystem is a delight, well worth the time to stop and listen as well as look.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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