For the third year, Michigan State University professors Anita Skeen (wearing the red shirt) and Chris Scales (the tallest one) have brought some of their students from MSU’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities to West Virginia for a long weekend of all things Appalachian. The Appalachian Immersion Weekend is designed and hosted by Michael Davis at Water Gap Retreat, his campground along the Shavers Fork near Elkins, WV. This year the two professors were joined by their colleague Deidre Dawson (top row, second from left) and seven students, most of whom are studying Appalachian folk music this semester.
I was engaged as the Friday evening entertainment (contemporary Appalachian singer/songwriter!) along with my guitar player George Castelle. Luckily, I got to stay around for the whole weekend. I think the students must have learned a lot; I certainly did!
Here’s a quick rundown of the rest of their itinerary:
On Saturday morning, we all took a geology/nature hike with retired Davis & Elkins professor Jim Van Gundy, who helped found WV’s Master Naturalist Program and is one of the best woods guides I can imagine. On Saturday afternoon the students went to the Randolph County Fair, where they saw fiddle and banjo contests, a talent show (one of them took second prize!), and more. They also visited Laurie Gundersen’s dyeing/spinning/weaving headquarters at the Goff House. On Saturday evening, organic farmer and chef Scott Weaner treated us to a sit-down dinner of homegrown, traditionally Appalachian ingredients prepared in surprising and very tasty new ways.
Sunday morning was spiritual in the best sense: we spent it with Irene McKinney, West Virginia’s poet laureate. I am always transported in this woman’s presence: by her beautiful, lilting voice; by her wisdom and courage; by her humor. I think some of the students felt the same. One told me, “This was the high point.”
On Sunday afternoon we visited the farm of Stan and Sue Jennings, former coal miners who turned to making Appalachian Treenware some years ago, and have made a go of it. Once a year they host a buckwheat pancake party and apple cider-making day for their friends and neighbors; Carrie and Michael Kline got us invited. We ate delicious buckwheat cakes and got sticky making apples and pears into juice. Some of us bought some wooden implements from the Jennings’ shop. Some of the students made music along with their professor and Carrie and Michael.
We hated to see our Michigan visitors leave on Monday morning! But I hope they fell in love with West Virginia and will come back again.