Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Getting Out

Editor's Note: Wendy Welch is the 2018 New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. She will be living and writing in Fayetteville through the end of March. This is her third contribution to the Lafayette Flats blog. Wendy is the author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, and Fall or Fly: the strangely hopeful story of foster care and adoption in Appalachia. She will speak at the Virginia Festival of the Book on March 24.

I came, I sat, I conquered. For ten glorious weeks in Lafayette Flats (if you don’t know about their
Writer in Residence program, click here) I pushed out words long overdue and tired of waiting. Two manuscripts as different as chalk and cheese flew—okay, waddled, grumpy with marking time—to Pamela’s desk, my so-patient literary agent happy to see those pages at last.

And then, along about March 12, I slammed the lid on my laptop and went to look around.
With the help of flat owner Amy McLaughlin, who was dancing through the flats on a cleaning day in her magical duster slippers, we identified some trails on which even I—the person who turns the wrong way out of her home bathroom—could not got lost.

Every feasible weather day since then, I’ve been hiking. And shopping: if you come to Fayetteville, buy Ramp Salt at Twisted Gypsy and check out Ben Franklin’s amazing bulk foods section featuring sweets I haven’t seen since childhood and don’t miss the Hobbit Hole because it’s literally a basement and you kinda have to know where it is or ask someone.

Ahem, back to those hikes. My new friend Karen took me to Long Point during a light snowfall. The hike went through deep green rhododendron against bright white snow, then out on the aptly-named rock shelf jutting into the canyon. Blue-diamond-green water lay at the bottom of the Gorge, and those translucent browns of winter trees in the distance, like dragon breath, ethereal and deceptively transparent.

Karen helped me out when my friends Susan and Beth came for St. Patrick’s Day weekend and we hiked down to an abandoned mine tipple in Nuttallberg. The trail kicked our butts: two cancer survivors on post-chemo cocktails, two women in therapy for difficult knee joints, but we went .7 straight down and .8 straight up (the trail lengthened itself going back, I swear) because, gosh darn it, we could.

The next day we drove to the bottom of the tipple and walked a gentle mile back into the ghost mining town of Seldom Seen. All that remains are rock foundations of houses and the churches (segregated community). People who find pottery shards and other artifacts put them on the posts so others can see them. It’s easy to think about who lived there, and why, back by the roaring river in the clinging spaces where people literally hacked out lives. I highly recommend anyone writing about coal go walk that trail. Looking at those moss-covered foundations, one thinks: Coal, past and future.

Endless Wall, Adena, Butcher’s Branch, Cunard: if the names sound lyrical, you should see the hikes. Brooklyn Mine Trail is incredible, hugging a rock and earth wall on one side, dropping to the Gorge’s running river on the other. How can a walk juxtapose calming one’s mind with sparking new creative zest? Brooklyn inspired thoughts of the next book, between snapping photos and just standing in the middle of that little ribbon of road, smiling and letting all those sounds and smells seep in.

Like so much of Coalfields Appalachia, Fayetteville is a place that waits without haste or judgement to be discovered by those who slow down enough to find it. Enjoy.

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