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In January of this year, a coal-cleaning chemical leaked out of a tank less than mile from the intake for West Virginia American Water Company. Some 300,000 West Virginians lost their water for drinking, cooking, bathing or cleaning. For quite a while, the liquid flowing through our taps had a weird, licorice-like odor. Even after it was declared safe, many people did not trust that it was, and continued using bottled water. (Some of us still are using bottled water.)

Politicians—including many who collect big money from their coal investments, and including our governor—skittered to distance themselves from any responsibility to protect West Virginia’s environment or the citizens who depend upon it. As I took my daily walk around Charleston in the weeks following the chemical spill, my thoughts were angry as well as sad. A melody and some words began to take shape in my mind: a from-the-heart, straightforward message.

In early February, there was a public hearing in the West Virginia House of Delegates. Although the prospect terrified me, I decided to “speak” at the hearing by singing my song. Many legislators were absent, but I sang my song anyway. Many other citizens also stood up to express their outrage and to beg our so-called public servants to quit serving extractive industries at the expense of public health.

Now my friends Julie Adams (producer), George Castelle (guitarist), and Paul Flaherty (sound engineer) have helped me record the song, and yesterday I successfully uploaded it to CD Baby as a single (for download only). It’s deeply satisfying to me to send my song out into the world on the same day that the EPA proposes new, stricter standards for water and air quality. Our politicians will no doubt scream bloody murder over the new standards, the way they should be decrying the mining and fracking methods that are fouling our state. They will declare the new standards as a “war on coal” instead of what it really is, a plan to protect public health and safety from the ones who only use us for the riches they can steal.

You can download or listen to a 30-second snippet from the song at CD Baby. You can read the lyrics right here:

If you love my West Virginia, you will keep her waters clean

If you love my West Virginia, you will keep her mountains green

If you love my West Virginia, love her Wonderful and Wild

You’ll respect her like your mother and defend her like your child

If you love my West Virginia, you would suffer for her sake

If you love my West Virginia, you will give more than you take

If you love my West Virginia, you would grieve to see her kneel

To the ones who only use her for the riches they can steal

If you love my West Virginia, you will hold her in your soul

If you love my West Virginia, you won’t let her mountains fall

If you love my West Virginia, you will fight to see her stand

With her summits bathed in glory like our Prince Immanuel’s Land

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Color of the Key of F

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It is still (just barely) National Poetry Month, and I am thinking of Edna St. Vincent Millay, particularly since the subject of one of my favorite Millay poems, “The Strawberry Shrub,” is in bloom now. It’s an odd poem, a very close examination of this plant that she calls “old-fashioned, quaint as quinces,/Hard to find in a world where neon and noise/Have flattened the ends of the three more subtle senses,/And blare and magenta are all that a child enjoys.”

She describes its color as the “color of dried blood, color of the key of F.” I love that last metaphor. Although I do not have synesthesia in the medical sense, Millay’s “color of the key of F” makes sense to me. When I sing my own songs, my natural key is generally A or G. The key of F is lower, deeper, fuller, a bit darker. If fire red is middle C, the key of F is this color.

This past week I have been having a good time finding other blooming plants in the color of the key of F. Here are a few.

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The interior of a jack-in-the-pulpit.

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Pawpaw blossoms.

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A kind of red trillium.

Dew Tell

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Rain on a tulip and dew drops strung along a spider’s web, dripping from a bluebell, and dancing on the leaf of a celandine poppy. Surface tension is a wonderful phenomenon.

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Nature’s Origami

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I love walking on the carriage trail at this time of year because of what’s unfolding…literally. Is there anything more intricate and beautiful than the process of a bud opening into a leaf?

Nature’s origami, the most elegant geometry, has inspired origami designers around the world. One of them, Tomoko Fuse, has created many beautiful designs for containers. She’s famous for her boxes and other modular designs, but I’m also very fond of this leaflike chopstick holder she invented. It’s one of many fun—and surprisingly easy—projects I hope to introduce to willing folders in my Origami Containers class at Cedar Lakes Crafts Center this August.

Check out the Road Scholar website for more information, and join me at Cedar Lakes Crafts Center near Ripley, WV this summer!

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Shadow Play

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Today I was sitting on the couch, looking around the room and feeling discouraged and guilty about what a cluttered mess my whole house is. Then my gaze fell upon this empty drinking glass on the coffee table—one of a number of unwashed dishes resting there—with the morning sun pouring through, echoing the pattern of etching on the glass and even the Venetian blinds behind it. I thought, “That’s lovely.” And ran to find my camera. And forgot, at least temporarily, about the dust on the floor, the tangle of electrical cords in the corner, the piles of paper and magazines, and the complete chaos of the desktop.

It is probably not a good thing that I am so easily distracted from my clutter…but it  makes me happy. Below, what the same glass reflection looks like when the glass is filled with iced tea.

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Walking MY City

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One of the things I have always loved about Charleston, West Virginia is that it offers many beautiful places for taking a walk. Of all the walks I love, my favorite is the Sunrise Carriage Trail, a wooded path that leads from the base of the South Side Bridge up to the old Sunrise mansion (originally a former governor’s home, then an art museum, now a law firm).

A few months ago I contributed to a Kickstarter campaign that made so much sense to me: Walk Your City is a grass-roots group that uses technology to encourage more walking in cities. The reward for my donation was this dandy sign, along with instructions for putting it up. I’m so pleased that Charleston has joined the Walk Your City family.

And here’s what the Carriage Trail looks like this week:

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Winter Pranks

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I pass a small memorial shrine almost every day when I walk up the Sunrise Carriage Trail in Charleston. Former governor MacCorkle built it in memory of his daughter, Elizabeth, who died in a car accident. Some long-ago vandal knocked the hands off Jesus, and it always bothers me a bit, seeing Him holding his empty wrists aloft. So, when I saw a pair of child’s gloves on sale at a local thrift store for a dollar, I could not resist. Here’s a picture showing more of the shrine.

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Jesus has not been there forever. When I first began walking the trail, perhaps 30 years ago, the interior of the shrine was tiled in half-inch, sky-blue ceramic tiles—not quite garish but certainly bright—and the statue I recall was of the Virgin Mary, although I may be mistaken. One year the shrine was badly damaged by a falling tree. The blue tiles were torn out and left in a pile on the ground (I still have one that I picked up for a souvenir). The statue was removed or stolen. Although the shape of the shrine was rather crudely repaired, the tiles were never replaced and, for a long time, the space stood empty.

I retrieved  my own scarf immediately after the photo shoot. The gloves didn’t last long, a day or so, but I know a few people enjoyed them. And, of course, there are other sorts of hand coverings for other occasions. Boxing gloves would be nice….

What reminded me to post this was a lovely little snowman I saw yesterday, perched on a sidewalk table right in front of a sign suggesting that nobody should sit or stand on the table. Ha! Those scofflaw snowmen. He even has a sheepish smirk on his face, to my mind.

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