When The Inter-Mountain issued a call for new community columnists recently, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. A brief meeting with the editor convinced me that it would be enjoyable and worth doing. I hope to contribute to a productive discussion of issues that affect us all, locally and nationally. That includes politics, of course, but I don't want to limit myself to that. Also on my list are education, public events and other topics as they come to me.
I'm not someone who is out to convince others to see everything my way, in politics or anything else. For one thing, I'm not always as certain about things as I was in my younger days. Just when I think I've learned enough about an issue to feel like I'm well informed, I find out - sometimes from an unexpected source - that there's an aspect to the issue that I had never considered. The problems we face as a society are extremely complex, more so all the time. Perhaps some of them won't really have any solution, per se, and the best we can hope for is to manage them effectively. If others can be solved, the solutions are likely to come from a rational discussion among people of different backgrounds and viewpoints. Shouting at each other won't help; listening to each other will help a lot. If nothing else, I'd like this column to have the effect of getting more people to listen to each other.
For those who don't know me, my wife, Ellen, and I moved here when we took early retirement nearly 18 years ago. I was a part-time faculty member at D&E for a few years, then I moved on to other things. I'm a woodturner and was a member of Artists At Work for awhile, and I'm an old-time musician. I find myself busier in retirement than I've ever been, and more satisfied. We've made many friends here and love the small-town life. No place is perfect, of course, but Elkins has a lot in its favor.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, and lived most of my adult life in the Washington, D.C., area before moving here. Cities have a lot to offer that we don't have here: lots of restaurants, theaters and other amenities. I confess to missing some of those things at times, but not nearly enough to get me to move back. Cities also offer high crime rates, traffic (those of you who think Randolph Avenue traffic is bad should try the Washington Beltway sometime), and lots of people taking themselves way too seriously. Not all of the stereotypes you've heard about life in the D.C. area are true, but some are. For me, it just got to the point where the good aspects of urban life were outweighed by the bad.
During my years in Washington, I came to know a lot about West Virginia. It started sometime in the 1980s with whitewater trips down the Gauley River. That was an exhilarating experience, and the Gauley River gorge in autumn is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. It was a time when there were only a couple of raft companies operating, and we'd encounter very few other people in a day on the river. We made that trip annually for about eight years, finally calling it quits after the time I flipped out of the raft and went down one set of rapids (Lost Paddle) on my back. After that near-death experience, we decided we'd had as much whitewater fun as we could stand.
We also skied often at Snowshoe during those years, and learned the joys of navigating Pocahontas County roads in the winter. In the mid-1980s, when I began playing old-time music, I started coming to Elkins every summer for the Augusta workshops, usually for a couple of weeks. I met other musicians from here and elsewhere in the state, and got to know them well enough that Elkins began to feel like - well, like home. When the time came to pull up the roots in Washington, we considered a couple of other places but none had the appeal of West Virginia and of Elkins.
So, here I am. Elkins is my first experience with small-town life, and I love it. I cannot imagine living any other way. I love the slow pace, the down-to-earth feel of the place, and the friendliness of the people. When folks from somewhere else ask me what it's like here, I often tell them that it's a place where, despite their differences, people are still pretty kind to each other.
I'll be putting in an appearance on these pages on a more-or-less monthly basis, covering a range of topics.
I expect to enjoy it and I hope you will, too.