Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Tree Blows Down in Brooklyn

"Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York."  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.

From the homes turned into kindling to the disappearance of everyday conveniences, the pictures on the news are all too familiar.  When the tornado hit Glade Spring, Virginia, this spring, the destruction was swift, but the aftermath lingers yet today.  With these memories freshening every time we drive through Glade Spring (and even more intensely quickening for those who lived through the direct hit), the news casts from hurricane Irene were distressing.  Families stared at spots where their houses once stood, rivers swept roads and cars away, and trees lay across crushed roofs and dangling wires.

But before the hurricane hit, there was the earthquake.  The earthquake was centered in Mineral, Virginia.  The newscaster reported, "There has been an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale.  It was centered in Mineral, Virginia."  Okay.  Wait for it.  "And it was felt in New York."  Yes.  Nuclear power plants were shut down in Virginia, buildings were damaged, and communications were disrupted, but Lord have mercy, they felt it in New York. 

I live in an area that can be compared to downtown Baghdad in 2003:  at times we never know if we'll have electricity at all or for how long we'll have it.  Although we don't have a generator, many of our neighbors do have one.  We've learned to prepare for power outages, whether it's caused by heavy snow, flood, or high wind, because more likely than not, we will lose our electricity (and cable, phone, and internet service) several times a year.  I know what to do when the power goes out.  You go to Food City and buy a loaf of bread. 

As we watched the news coverage of hurricane Irene this weekend, Larry commented that he wondered how the storm would affect Philadelphia.  What about Washington, DC, I asked.  The only concern seemed to be that the storm was on course to hit New York.  Yes, yes, yes, they all said, it did come ashore in Cape Lookout, North Carolina, tore up through the Outer Banks, hit population centers in Virginia, but, mercy, it's headed for New York.  Not much was said of the communities north of New York, which as it turned out, were extremely devastated from flooding from the hurricane's rain. 

There stood the ridiculous Geraldo Rivera on a deserted street in front of his office in New York on Saturday night.  I suppose he couldn't get a flight out of New York to report on the storm, so rather than sit in a studio, he stepped outside so we could all see that it was raining in New York. 

Reports of the storm damage have been oddly quiet about New York.  On Sunday there was video of a man sitting at the door to his house watching water recede.  "No big deal" was his attitude; the water did not get high enough to come into his house, and all he had to do was wait a little while for the water to go down.

Locations near the coast are devastated, and the floods in New England have shut off entire communities.  Some areas will not have electricity for a week.  One woman today said that after only a few minutes of the storm, she and her family knew they'd made a mistake in deciding to ride out the storm in their home.

I have yet to see one story about damage in New York.  There might have been some destruction; perhaps a tree blew down somewhere.  Thank goodness the subway trains are running again. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


The canning season at my mother's house lasted from the time the yellow apples came in until the skin was peeled from the last tomato.  We had no freezer, so canning was the only way to preserve food, unless you made leather britches from green beans. 

Anything and everything could go in a jar:  applesauce, blackberries, cherries, kale greens, corn, and the ubiquitous green beans and tomatoes.  Once my parents canned chickens.  Too yucky to even talk about.  

My most recent canning adventure:
 another six jars of chow chow

My canning season is much shorter; my garden is much smaller.  Applesauce goes into the freezer, not the Mason jar.  From our bumper cucumber crop this year, I've canned 11 quarts of dill pickles, 16 pints of bread and butter pickles, made refrigerator pickles, gave a grocery bag of cucumbers away at church, supplied my neighbor with a bag of cucumbers, and served sliced, cubed, and marinated cucumbers for supper.   The plants are still blooming, by the way. 

This year has been a good one for gardening and canning, although the tomatoes have lagged a little; I don't know why, but they just haven't bloomed much.  It probably has something to do with the fact that I haven't watered them much, sprayed them for blight, or kept the weeds away from them. 

A sea of corn on the road to Chilhowie.

This time of year reminds me of the pantry built into my mom's back porch and the sense of satisfaction as the shelves filled up.  When you pulled the string on the naked light bulb overhead, the palette of reds, yellows, and greens sprang to life.  I get the same sense of satisfaction when I pass the cornfields on the road to Chilhowie, even though I have absolutely nothing to do with the planting or the reaping of that corn.  I just enjoy watching the stalks ripple as the wind blows across them. 

My daily walk takes me by the corn field.  When I walk by, the smell of the corn oozes out of the narrow rows.  A look back through the rows reveals dark shade at midday which can hide the secret lives of happy groundhogs and chipmunks.  The deer who live at the top of the hill are probably thrilled with this bounty that sprang up within walking distance. 

A little further past this field is yet another corn field. Actually there are three large fields within a mile of each other. I've been thinking that with the newly painted red barn and the acres of corn covering the rolling hills beside it, this property is ripe for a corn maze.

While there have been times when I didn't have much money, I've never really known true want.  From my mom's filled pantry to my cabinet full of pickles, my life has been blessed with abundance.  I see that abundance in the corn every day.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I've Got Two Pennies!

Tradition dictates that with an ante of two cents, I can gain admission into the game.  The problem with this concept is that, at this point in the electoral process, everybody has two cents, and they all are willing to offer up their "two cents worth" of opinion.  The beauty of America is that my opinion is just as valid and important as, say, Matt Damon's opinion.

Barack Obama has set the news wires afire with the news that he has finally come up with a plan to save us all, a plan that will produce jobs and get our hands unstuck from that gooey economic flypaper.  We must wait until September to hear what the plan contains, but I have an uneasy feeling that the plan will involve items that didn't make it into the debt ceiling increase act.  You know the kind of things I mean:  tax increases (perhaps by another name), increased spending for new programs to make education available to all, any number of projects to build infrastructure that will ensure the jobs will go to union members.  There is no new thing under the sun. 

When the budget hawks start circling, one of the options they mention is the elimination of the federal Department of Education.  While the department provides many important programs, including Pell Grants that enable lower income students to attend college, much of the ire that's directed toward it  arises from its involvement in local education.  Local education has historically been the responsibility of county and state governments, and only in the last 30 years has the federal government interjected its sticky fingers into elementary and secondary schools.  We can all see how successful that has been.  Many of the Department of Education's programs are designed to fix the problems that its programs have caused.

At this site http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget12/summary/edlite-section3.html you will find a list of programs that the Department of Education has designated to be eliminated or consolidated into other, redundant programs.  I counted 62 programs on that list.  My first question is how did we get to the point where the government even has 62 programs?  And these are only excess programs that even the Department of Education admits we can live without. 

Unfortunately the Department is asking for increased funding for the programs into which some of these "redundant" programs will be integrated. 

The total cost of the programs on this list amount to $5,745,200,000.  That's five BILLION.  For programs which the Department of Education, by its own terminology, classifies as unnecessary.  The total budget request for the Department of Education for fiscal year 2012 is $77.4 BILLION dollars, an increase of $7.5 billion dollars.  So the department is making the tough choice of cutting programs that amount to $5 billion dollars and asking for $7 billion dollars more.  What a way to cut the budget.

There are some interesting programs on that list.  The alcohol abuse reduction program is designed to reduce alcohol abuse in high schools.  According to SADD statistics 72% of students consume alcohol by the end of high school, and 37% do so by the eighth grade.  Another successful federal government intervention. 

The charter schools grant program comes in at a cost of $256 million dollars.  The question that arises is:  why is the federal government doing this?  Isn't this a function of state and local governments?  The civic education program spends $35 million dollars to improve the quality of civic and government education.  When I was in high school, we just took a civics class and paid attention.  It didn't cost the federal government any money at all.

The department developed a program called "Even Start" which implemented programs in low-income areas to improve opportunities for families.  This program got the can because stats show that it was totally ineffective.  It only took $66 million dollars a year to find this out.

A program called "Striving Readers" was expanded in 2010 at a cost of $250 million dollars to improve reading skills from birth to grade 12.  Newborns are now checking out library books.  Of course, these activities will be folded into another one called "Effective Teaching and Learning". 

Well, the list goes on.  And the test scores go down.  In spite of all the money spent on education by the federal government, our schools do not fare well when compared to international test scores.  To paraphrase Samuel Taylor Coleridge, redundancy, redundancy everywhere, and not a dime to spare.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Don't Blame it on the Rain

 My daughter in Asheville, NC, is friends with a couple who at one time lived in a house far out in the woods.  When Katie was visiting, she and Ashley were sitting in the swing on the porch watching a heavy rain storm pass through.  During a lull in the conversation, Ashley said, "Rain, rain, rain.  Rainelle!"  Katie blinked twice and asked, "What did you say?"  As far as we know, there is only one Rainelle, an evaporating lumber mill town at the foot of Sewell Mountain in West Virginia.  It turned out that Ashley and Burton had been to the Appalachian String Band Music Festival at Clifftop, WV, and had travelled through Rainelle. 
Unlike Milli Vanilli, we can't "Blame it on the Rain".  We can, however, credit Thomas and John Raine for the town's unusual name.  Most sources attribute the name of the town simply to the Raine brothers, but recently tradition is growing that the name came from the daughter of Thomas Raine, Nell.  Thus, you see, "Rainelle".  However, I could find no documentation for this.  That doesn't mean it isn't true, but if it is, no one bothered to write it down.

The only public memorial to the history of Rainelle.
The only "monument" to the history of Rainelle is a marker along Route 60.  The town is certainly different than when I was growing up there, and I'm sure that it bears little resemblance to the original settlement that the Raines built around 1910.  Since the early 1970s major buildings have been torn down:  the sawmill, the Raine house on top of the hill, the railroad depot, the Pioneer Hotel.  Soon the high school will follow them. 

Thomas and John Raine were the sons of an English immigrant, Joseph Raine, and his wife, Ruth, who were living in Ohio as early as 1850.  Thomas was born in January, 1851, and John was born in Ironton, Ohio, on April 6, 1863. 

In Tumult on the Mountains, Roy Clarkson writes that John started his career as a choreboy in a lumber camp at the age of 13.  He worked in a grocery in Ironton until he was age 30, when he joined Thomas in a lumber business in Empire, Pennsylvania.  After exhausting their timber in Pennsylvania, they happened upon the virgin timber stands of West Virginia. 

The Clarkson book published photos of felled trees with diameters wider than the men were tall.  It's difficult to comprehend the size of the forests that existed in West Virginia before the loggers took them down.  We will never see forests like that again in West Virginia.

Otis Rice says in West Virginia: a History, that lumber companies from New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota bought most of the timber in West Virginia.  The going price was about two to five dollars an acre.  Rice explains that a yellow poplar tree that cost about 50 cents could yield 2,000 board feet of timber that sold for $80-$100 per thousand board feet.  Pretty good return on the investment. 

The Raine brothers eagerly explored the indigenous hardwood forests of West Virginia.  They first developed Evenwood in Randolph County in 1903.  The Raine-Andrews Lumber Company then discovered the forests of Sewell Valley along the Meadow River in 1906.  No rail access existed in the area, so the Raines built the Sewell Valley Railroad to transport timber to the mill.  The first board was sawed at Meadow River Lumber Company in 1910.  The mill was known as the world's largest hardwood lumber mill, a triple band saw mill capable of cutting an average of 110,000 board feet of lumber in 10 hours.  Clarkson says that eventually the mill's production increased to 30 million board feet of lumber a year which required the cutting of 3,000 acres of trees a year.

One of the eight-foot circular saws from the Meadow River Lumber Company is on display at the Cradle of Forestry Historic Site at Pisgah National Forest near Asheville, North Carolina. 

A postcard showing Rainelle and dated 1915, mailed from
Corliss, WV.  It is signed by Rebecca in Camp #7, Rainelle.
The town of Rainelle was incorporated on April 25, 1913.  It was a company town, with a company store and company housing for the employees of the mill.  In 1900 Thomas Raine lived in Pennsylvania; in 1910 he lived in Randloph County, WV, but by 1920 he had moved back to Pennsylvania.  I could find no indication that he ever lived in Rainelle for any significant period of time. 

John Raine and his wife, Elma, lived in Pennsylvania with two children in 1900.  By 1910 they had moved to Hillsboro in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  None of their children were born in West Virginia but were all born in either Ohio or Pennsylvania.  In 1920 John and Elma Raine lived in Rainelle with their five children:  Burton (an inspector in the lumber yard), Richard, Margaret Helen, Max, and Edward.  Another son, John Raine, Jr., died April 13, 1919, at the hospital in Hinton from appendicitis. 

Thomas Raine died in 1933.  John's wife, Elma Davis Raine, died March 11, 1928.  Soon after Elma's death, John married Elizabeth Davis, because they lived in Rainelle in 1930.  Also in the household were Betty B. Davis (John's step-daughter) and Francis S. Davis (a step-son).  The live-in help included a cook, Fanny Lee, and a gardener, Jim Clay.  John Raine owned his home, worth $50,000.  He also had a radio and was the president of a lumber plant.  John Raine died August 28, 1940, in Montgomery, West Virginia, and is buried in Rainelle. 

And so ends the story.  A blue-collar kind of place for most of us, Rainelle, as we once knew it, full of families and stories to tell, is mostly gone.   The massive forests are gone, the mill is gone, and many of the people are gone.  Only shadows remain where once fortunes were made.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

No Hits, No Runs, No Errors

I've hit a slump, of sorts, in my retirement.  Maybe it's the heat; perhaps it's the drought drying out my soul.  If I were a baseball player, I'd still be in the rotation, but I'd be batting less than 200.

I'm staying busy, keeping my mind occupied.  I've made 11 quarts of dill pickles and nine pints of bread and butter pickles.  Next I will look to the making of chow-chow and probably the canning of a few tomatoes, but if you've read my blog previously, you'll know that the blogs have been sparse in recent weeks.  No blogs, no cooking, no reading.  Just a lot of sitting in the dugout.

The appearance of my flower beds has distressed me for quite a while now, so my plans are to clean and refurbish them.  As soon as the heat dissipates, I'll go at it full force, but for now, the yard work is restricted to cooler morning hours.  My first task is to dig up, stem, root, and branch, a patch of lemon balm that has reproduced itself until the planet earth is in danger of falling out of orbit because of the additional weight. 

Smyth County clay clod
beside a root.
I live right smack dab in the middle of numerous farms, but I, for the life of me, do not know how people grow anything around here.  The soil of Smyth County is a solid clay that, when dried in temperatures over 90 degrees for a period of two-three weeks, takes on a quaint brick-like quality.  I've been using a shovel to dig out the roots, but I'm thinking I could do better at this, if I had an old-fashioned mattock to crack open the ground.

This morning when I had worked my way back under the cherry tree, I dug up the plant tag for the original lemon balm plants.  This tag has been under that tree for nearly 20 years, another piece of proof that plastic never decomposes.  It calls lemon balm a perennial, but I can tell you that it is not a perennial.  It's a weed.

I'm over half-way finished digging up the lemon balm.
"Fresh, lemon-mint fragrance," the tag reads.  "Use fresh in teas, summer drinks."  Oh, yeah.  I'm always having mint tea from this patch of flotsam.  The tag goes on to tell how to grow lemon balm, but it doesn't say how to get rid of the stuff after it's taken on the characteristics of Frankenstein. 

I once had some bee balm in this bed, a fragrant, minty plant with a red flower that attracts humming birds and butterflies.  But it died out.  The lemon balm probably killed it in its sleep. 

When I dig up a root, I pull at it, tug on it, yank it up, bringing out the tentacles (with new sprouts on it, no less) with big bricks of dried clay attached to it.  It's impossible to remove every cell of every root, and I know that even one molecule of lemon balm root left behind will no doubt spring to life with its fresh, lemon-mint fragrance.  Not to worry.  I have a jug of Roundup in the garage.