West Virginia (capital: Charleston)
State bird: cardinal. State flower: rhododendron. State insect: honey bee.
Working on this 50 States of Generosity project has taught me that most states have a nickname. West Virginia’s is The Mountain State, and the name corresponds to its official state motto: Montani Semper Liberi (Latin for “Mountaineers are Always Free”). After football and basketball games at West Virginia University (mascot: the Mountaineers), the band plays the unofficial state song, John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads.
I’ve been thinking about West Virginia while reading Laura Boggess’ new novel Mildred’s Garden, in which her home state — The Mountain State— is a character.
“Our hills are very old, and West Virginians have deep connection to the land,” Boggess said. “People out West might snicker because our mountains are not nearly so grand, but the old mountains have been shaped and pounded down by time.”
And those old mountains are drawing tourists. People are coming to hike, mountain bike, rock climb, and enjoy other outdoorsy activities in a place where it isn’t hard to find space.
“The tourist industry is starting to boom, especially during the pandemic. There’s so much traffic in and out of our mountain towns,” Boggess said. “It’s a beautiful place to visit, especially in the fall, when the hills are covered in color. We call it ‘wild, wonderful West Virginia!’ Not long after fall color ends, ski season begins, so the B&Bs book quickly.”
West Virginia is the only state entirely located in the region known as Appalachia, a swath of over 200,000 square miles stretching across thirteen states. Appalachia has tended to have more poverty, less education, and greater struggles with addictions, especially, in recent years, opioids. But it also is a place where people feel strong ties to the land and to their families. It’s a state that broke away from Virginia and was admitted to the Union during the Civil War, in 1863. It’s a place in transition, where once-profitable coal mining is in decline and environmental issues are coming to the forefront.
“The poverty, beauty, addictions, celebrations, health issues, heartiness, lost hope, gained hope — all of it is magnified in these hills,” Boggess said.
When people describe the kind of place they want to live, they often mention scenic beauty, a place where people know and care about each other, a place where they can feel like they belong. They might not realize they’re describing The Mountain State. Still free.
Blue and old gold wave
in the October morning—
Come and fall in love
Poetry Prompt: West Virginia Generosities
Use any of the things you learned about West Virginia (research more, if you want!), and put one or more of them into a poem. If you like, weave in a little generosity. Share in the comments.
More About West Virginia: Poets & Writers + Landmarks
Appalachian Trail, a 2,000-mile footpath that crosses West Virginia
Pearl S. Buck, Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning author
George Henry Crumb, Pulitzer prize-winning composer
Henry Louis Gates Jr., history professor, critic, filmmaker
Marc Harshman, state poet laureate
Homer Hickam Jr., author of Rocket Boys, which was made into the movie October Sky
Grave Creek Mound Archeological Complex, largest burial mound of the Adena people, circa 200 BCE
Harpers Ferry, National Historic Park
Mountain Stage, music festival, prominently featured in Mildred’s Garden
Cynthia Rylant, Newbery award-winning author
Browse more 50 States of Generosity
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro