LUSH LIFE, APPALACHIA – West Virginia & Pennsylvania
I know little of Appalachia - certainly not enough to offer anything more than the observations of an outsider. As a child I used to travel every summer from Maine to West Virginia in an old Plymouth without air conditioning for a week’s vacation with my family. We’d visit with our distant relatives but I don’t remember anyone ever using the term Appalachia or referring to it in any way. I guess we were so close to it no one needed to speak the obvious.
I do remember getting off the highway once in rural Pennsylvania because of snarled traffic on the turnpike and continuing on local roads. We weren’t the only ones to make that detour as all the cars crawled together down the main drag of some small town like an early evening parade. And like a parade all the residents were watching. I think what they were really doing was escaping the heat after a day of work. Neighbors must have been especially intimate as the houses were positioned next to each other like books on a shelf and everyone sat on their narrow porches just above the sidewalk, probably hoping for a breeze. Somehow I knew we were in coal country; my dad likely told me so.
My early takeaway was all those little porches and the way that main street rolled down with its blocks of businesses and homes. And then outside of town you would find this landscape of lushness threatening to overtake anything that wasn’t maintained.
About a month ago, decades past that childhood, I had reason for a 3000-mile road trip for business that would take me through the region again. As is my practice, I left time in the schedule to get off the highway to snap some pictures. The porches and the overgrown landscape were again familiar, but on this trip the takeaways were the abundant display of religion and Dollar General stores. Also the empty businesses, the gutted motels and the abandoned houses. If those were there back in the 1970s I hadn’t noticed. Somehow it dimmed none of the beauty; somehow I already knew they’d be there.
I can’t wait to go back to that lush life.
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Guide to the Northeast Brett Klein lives in Connecticut and works in New York, but prefers small town life and his home state of Maine. Any chance to get rural is a mental vacation. He curated The American Guide’s first zine, Rural Life. Follow Klein on Tumblr at The Coast is Clear. His curatorial collection of Americana, rural life, other artists and ephemera can be seen on Tumblr at Tons of Land.
It is serious.