by guest blogger Laura Ruetz
Three Autumn Views of High Falls Trail, West Virginia
When Leah asked me to guest blog on the importance of place, she suggested that I might want to write about West Virginia. Why? Because I talk about it so fondly and she knows that while it is not where I live, or have ever lived, it is a place that is important to me.
I was born and raised in sunny Southern California by the beach. While I've moved out of state twice, I always come back home to the coast. However, from the age of around six to about fifteen, my grandmother and I would spend several weeks every summer in West Virginia visiting family.
Over the years, it felt like a home away from home. I looked forward to every visit back. West Virginia has a special place in my heart, not only because of how beautiful it is, but because of how it makes me feel when there with my family. As an adult, I was able to go back with my mom a few times, but our last visit was 2006. Each time, it was like going back home. It was like a balm to the soul, going back there.
There is a huge difference from the suburbs of Southern California and West Virginia. Out by the beach, we have citrus trees and palm trees. We get the occasional tree that loses leaves in the fall, but for the most part, things stay green (depending on the drought of course). Planned parks and national forests are about the only undeveloped areas along the coast. We are a region of development and concrete but yet in less than two hours I could be in the mountains of California with their tall pine trees or among the skyscrapers and concrete of Los Angeles.
Going to West Virginia in the summer is like going to another world. It is lush and green and the air is fresh. You will find gentle hills with pastures, large lawns, streams, lakes and ponds all interspaced with the beautiful trees that are everywhere. I think every place has beauty, from the beach to the deserts but West Virginia is breathtakingly beautiful.
While I spent my summers in the lush greenness of summer; it was fall when I visited as an adult one year. The fall colors, while I've always thought pretty in photos, are hard to put into words when you see it. As somebody who grew up with palms and citrus, fall was always something that happened in other places, not at home. The depth and variety of colors of the fall are striking and photos can't even do it justice. I was wholly captivated.
You do not realize how noisy living in a city is until you are no longer in that environment. The constant noise of cars fades to a distant memory. My great Aunt lives at the top of a hill. There is a pasture to one side and the forest is behind the house. It is serene and deer are often seen in the morning and in the evening. I remember being absolutely captivated by fireflies and to this day feel that they are magical in some way.
At home, I get excited if I see a possum, that and the occasional squirrel is the extent of our wildlife other than birds. Wildlife is abundant and I never ceased to be excited at every creature I would spot; except for the spiders.
I've been to many of the states in the U.S. but without a doubt, West Virginia is my favorite state. While it is the natural beauty of the state that really draws me in, it is my family that makes it my home away from home.
My family is in a small town. Everybody knows each other and smiles are freely handed out. There is a strong sense of community. If you asked me to identify the people who live on my street currently at home, I can name about six of the twenty-four families only.
No matter what the gap between visits was, going back was like going home. My great Aunt's house is the hub of all activity for the family. As an introvert with social anxiety, it felt welcoming to me, even though I was extremely shy as a kid but it just felt like home. There was always sweet tea and freshly picked produce. I even picked some of it. I have memories of picking blueberries (I probably ate as many as I picked though), potatoes, peas and green beans. I also have a few memories that involve me having a major freak out about bugs and as an adult, I can say with confidence that I would have those same freak outs now.
You do not have to live someplace for it to feel like home. You only have to have a strong connection, and that is what I have with West Virginia. Home truly has nothing to do with your current location and 100% what you feel in your heart.
Laura's capsule bio: "I'm an avid reader with an out of control to read pile (s). While I typically work a 9-5 job, writing has always been a passion. I'm owned by three cats. One of my goals is to travel to every state in the U.S."
Dolly Sods Wilderness • West Virginia Summer • Covered Bridge at Philippi