Monday, October 4, 2010

Wild & Wonderful!


I'm tired of complaining about slow internet as an excuse for lack of blogging, so I'll skip it. You're welcome. :)

Update: Change that. This is my FOURTH attempt at posting this in as many days. Sigh. Just imagine, if it weren't for our miserable excuse for internet service, you'd be reading about what actually happened YESTERDAY, not 2 weeks ago. Oy.

So things are going well here in Chez Hairball, except we all miss Noel. He's still working his butt off in Utah, learning the importance of warm clothing in climates with huge temperature fluctuations, and the value of lotion in a low-humidity environment.

Here in NC, meanwhile, the kitties and I are enjoying the first crisp days of autumn. The leaves haven't turned yet, but I promise to take (and post!) pictures when they do!

2 weekends ago, my mom and I drove up to West Virginia to visit my dear grandmother and 2 of my aunts and their husbands. Now, some people give West Virginia a hard time, whipping out the duelling banjos song from Deliverance (although that movie was in Georgia, heh), and thinking generally it's full of...well...not much.

I heartily disagree. I have traveled much of this country (at this point 39 of the 50 states), and can say that West Virginia is unequivocally one of the most beautiful. Granted, I haven't seen North or South Dakota, Iowa, or Wisconsin. But barring the evil influences of cheese, I can't imagine they look anywhere near as stunning as WV.

I say this because (1) I encourage those of you who've never been there to drive through there one day, and (2) to make up for my photos, which are...dark and, well, really a bit colorless. It was a gray day for photos, very overcast, and these just don't do the state justice.

The motto for West Virginia is Wild, Wonderful. And they're right! You can drive through areas where there are no people. NO PEOPLE. No walmarts! No strip malls! No traffic jams! Just gorgeous indigenous forests festooning the rolling mountains as far as they eye can see.

We had a fantastic visit with family up there. So much so that I forgot to take out my camera. Oops! Thankfully my Uncle Jim loves to take pictures, and he promised to send me a CD with the ones he took. Then I'll pirate his pictures to put up here. (You can take 50% of royalties, Jim. That'll be about....$0. Sorry).

One fun thing about going to WV is that you have to go through 2 big tunnels to get there (at least the way we went). When my sister and I were kids, we would hold our breath through any tunnel we went through, because if you can hold your breath to the other side, you get a wish.

These tunnels make breath-holding a serious Olympian-sized challenge. These tunnels go through an entire mountain.

One is just under, and the other just over, 1 mile long. Impressive!

Also there's a buckwheat festival in the town where my grandmother lives. No, not the Little Rascal, the grain. They have rides, parades, and yummy buckwheat pancakes at the fire house to raise money. We missed the buckwheat festival by 1 weekend. Sigh. Mom was happy because there would be no traffic. I was devastated, because honestly? How often do you have firemen cook breakfast for you?

In addition to the impressively huge tunnels, West Virginians also boast the Western Hemisphere's longest single arch bridge! Bet you didn't know that! (Now you're ready go to on Jeopardy). It's called the New River Gorge Bridge, and it's impressive. Mom and I went to the scenic overlook to try to get a good view of it.

We walked toward the pedestrian walkway to the overlook:

Oooooooohhhh!!! Autumny!!! This will be a lovely little relaxing stroll through the woods.

Oh wait.

We sucked it up and went anyway, and the view was lovely! Here's the bridge:

And way down there is the little old bridge that the new one made obsolete.

Apparently it used to take people a long time to drive down into the gorge and back out again, and the new bridge has cut that time to just about 40 seconds. Here's a graph to show how tall the new bridge is:

You know it's big when your currency is National Monuments. :)

The scenery was really pretty from up there though. The leaves weren't really changing much there either, so at least my pictures weren't a total disaster.

We finished with our photo taking and saw something really scary:

The walk back up.

But we made it, throbbing thigh muscles intact. At least there was pretty scenery to look at!

We went to the visitors center too, and they had some quilts hanging up from the ceiling. Yay Team Quilting! So I took a few photos of them.

Then we saw this on the wall, and I thought y'all might appreciate. Enlarge if necessary, but I'll type what it says:

"Quilts made by slaves, free blacks, and Abolitionists were used as a means of secret communication on the Underground Railroad. Messages were hidden in plain view hanging from fences, clotheslines, and windows. Quilt patterns - including the use of specific colors, stitches, and pattern sequences - signaled escape, help, and safety.

The Monkey Wrench [top left corner] was displayed when an escape was being planned.

The Tumbling Blocks [top center] appeared when it was time to escape.

The Bear Paw [top right] signaled a proposed safe trail through the Appalachian Mountains.

The Shoo Fly [left middle row] signified a place to find clean clothing and take a bath. [Kelli: who says even abolitionist quilters didn't have a sense of humor?]

The Bow Tie [center middle row] meant there was a safe church in the area.

The Flying Geese [right middle row] pointed the direction to travel with a solid color band.

The Log Cabin pattern [lower left corner] with a black center block signified a safe house.

Drunkard's Path [lower center - my favorite quilt pattern] told runaways to zigzag and double back.

It is believed that in order to memorize the whole code, a sampler quilt was used. The sampler would include all the patterns arranged in the order the codes would appear.

Stitches and knots also played a role in the code. Stitches were placed to represent maps, and knots indicated a scale in miles.

The messages remained hidden in plain view until everyone planning to escape had completed the signaled task."

From: Hidden in Plain View - A Secret Story of Quilts & the Underground Railroad by J. L. Tobin & R. G. Dobard, PhD.

How incredible is that? I adore the idea of something so humble, so easily overlooked, as a handmade quilt thrown over a fence, being the beacon of hope that some poor soul was desperate to see to guide his or her way to freedom.

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