Glimpses from way out there in West Virginia

By Douglas John Imbrogno, The Story is the Thing

There is much to rue about living in West Virginia. The place is ruled by empty-suited, ethically deficient chuckleheads like Gov. Jim ‘I’ll Pay You Later’ Justice. And Doug ‘I Used to be a Dem Until I Decided to Run for A Cool New Office’ Skaff. Then, there is the current Secretary of State Mac Warner, who is so unctuous and shameless a right-wing Republican wannabe that he now asserts it was the CIA that stole the last election. And, of course, one must confront the generational amnesia of the state’s current Trump majority, forgetting how its population’s grandparents and great-grandparents thrilled to Mother Jones’ fiery oratory and were card-carrying union members who helped to birth the American labor movement.

“Portal,” Somewhere near the Roane County/Kanawha County line. December 2023. thestoryisthething.com

Yet every time I think I need to exit stage left to a bluer state, I am stopped in my tracks by this one’s magisterial, often mysterious, transcendent landscapes and oceanic mountain views. Above is a portal into the ancient topography of this place. I shot it roadside somewhere near the Roane County/Kanawha County line last week, transfixed as smoky fingerlings of cloud and fog went on walkabout through the hills.

“Starry, Starry Light,” When the lights in the heavens best the ones on Earth. December 2023. thestoryisthething.com

My buddy, Orion, shared this selfie the other night from overtop the chilly hills of backwoods Hampshire County, West Virginia. Or it may have been backwoods Frederick County, Maryland. My Apple Maps Guy (who speaks in an Australian accent) took me on his ‘shortest route’ on my way to monasteryland to deliver my first-ever Buddhist keynote address. At one point — I wasn’t paying close attention — Map Guy took us on a right turn out of some busy, medium-sized burg onto black-as-coal, curvaceous country roads for no less than 70 miles. I was not happy. Instead of Right Speech, I briefly engaged in some serious Wrong Speech that might have curdled milk, although if I’d had any on hand it would have been oat milk. (Can oat milk curdle?) Near the end of my inky adventure, it was good to find my buddy Orion out there in the wild pastoral spaces, once I hit some flatlands, retrieved my bearings, and got to spend a few holiday-colored moments with my old friend.

“Lost House,” A housing situation out past Lost River, W.Va., in Hardy County somewhere. November 2021.  thestoryisthething.com

One day, if I am not Raptured soon, washed away by a climate crisis flood, flattened by the return of the asteroid storm that canceled the dinosaurs and has come back to remove a far more ferocious species overpopulating the Earth, I would like to mount an exhibit of rattletrap, ancient, lived-in architecture in the West Virginia hill country. Such as this house perched up a ridge if you take a drive into the voluptuous hills, leaving left out of Lost River in Hardy County, past Kimsey Run Lake, and just keep on going.

“Fire In The Hole,” Skyscrape over Cabell County, W.Va. May 2015.  thestoryisthething.com

Strictly speaking, this scene above is not all that way out in West Virginia. But it is the way to go to be on the way to being way out in West Virginia. This is a shot on the road to the state’s heartland, heading east into a sunrise which like a spark bursting into flame and then into a bonfire, ignites a conflagration overhead. A Modest Proposal: To keep West Virginia’s worst termite politicians busy and diverted and to detour them from wreaking yet more havoc on the state’s people, environment, and future, I propose that West Virginia go all in on a legislative assault and legal brawl to wrest the moniker ‘Big Sky Country‘ from Montana and to bring it home to the Mountain State. Our skies are just as grand and jim-dandy sensational. If not moreso, actually, since they dance in a constant and glorious pas de deux with the state’s equally swell mountain ridges and ranges. Game on, Montana.

“Ascension,” A tree mansion deep along a ridgeline in remote Hardy County, W.Va. July 2021. thestoryisthething.com

Given its elaborate, ambitious construction — and how far out this structure is to be found along an Allegheny Mountain ridgeline way the heck out in Hardy County, W.Va. — I am inclined to think this is a hunter’s deer blind. And that from its high perch, generations of Bambis have been left fatherless and motherless from rifles nosing out of that treehouse living room up there at the end of the ladder. The storyteller’s heart in me would prefer to posit the following. That a troupe of disaffected, enterprising West Virginia lads and lassies — seeking refuge from the onslaught of their parents’ ugly, vehement transformation from Mother Jones’ People to Trumpian-possessed boogeymen and boogeywomen — crafted this forest redoubt to plant the seeds of a future tribe of enlightened West Virginians. One day, they will sweep down out of the mountains and restore common sense and ancestral communal values to the Mountain State, re-coloring it from blood-red to cerulean blue. A boy can dream ….

“Autumn Has Broken,” The autumnal view from the porch of Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, W.Va. October 2021. thestoryisthething.com

Sometimes — actually, very often — you will be minding your own business in West Virginia, thinking, for instance, of how you are almost 70 while psychologically you still feel age 21 on that morning. And pondering such thoughts, you will wander over to a window. And there, West Virginia — as if to direct your attention to what else is going on around you in your world that might be an improvement to what you are going on about — is putting on a show. A killer show. This was what the morning looked like one October day this past Fall, when a crew of us had come to Tucker County to screen our new documentary, ‘HOUSE IN THE CLOUDS: The Artistic Life of Robert Singleton,’ at the fabulous Gradient Project space in lovely downtown Thomas. As you can see, West Virginia dressed up for the occasion.

Douglas John Imbrogno is a lifelong storyteller who spent the bulk of his career as a feature writer, feature editor and multimedia producer at The Charleston Gazette and Gazette-Mail. Follow his latest writing, photography, video and documentary work at https://thestoryisthething.substack.com.

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