Montani Semper Liber ... Mountaineers Are Always Free

These words adorn the state flag of the Great State of West Virginia. Yes, that state, the one that continually comes in last in every statistic kept by the federal government. We're last (or next to last) in just about every failing of humankind ... obesity, tobacco use, high school graduation rate, teen pregnancy. You name it, we're number one - or number fifty, depending upon your perspective.

West Virginia is one of the poorest states in America. Our median income wouldn't buy a cheeseburger, fries, and a coke in New York City. Our elected politicians are, by and large, good ole boys. We're the butt of many a joke around the country. The largest employer in the state IS the state.

The largest single city in West Virginia barely has 50,000 people. We're mostly known for coal mining, yet the lion's share of dollars from mining leaves the state, and ends up in the hands of the land barons living elsewhere. No United States Presidents were born in West Virginia. I don't even believe any Vice Presidents were born here; but we are the home of Senator Robert C. Byrd.

West Virginia doesn't have a professional sports team. We're not big enough. We don't have any major TV markets that would be attractive to any owners. We don't have any national monuments ... no Grand Canyon, or Mount Rushmore, or even a Disney World; no NASCAR tracks, no Great Lakes, no international airports, no Opryland, no sky needles, no eight lane highways, no beaches, no Ivy League colleges.

We don't have any rodeos, or any skyscrapers, or world famous vacations spots, or motion picture studios, or amber waves of grain; no subways, no Emmy Awards, no Mardi Gras, and no Rose Bowl Parade.

With all of the things West Virginia doesn't have, why would anyone bother living here, you ask?

Well ... West Virginia has some things that a person doesn't realize they wanted until they were here.

West Virginia has mountains. The Appalachian Mountains extend from New York to Georgia, but in no state are they more majestic, or part of the renown, than in West Virginia. The highest point in West Virginia is Spruce Knob, one mile above sea level. Yes, there are higher points in America, but none more breathtaking. Because of our mountains, we have rivers.

The oldest river in the western hemisphere, the New River (quite appropriately named, don't you think) ends in West Virginia. We have the Gauley river which, along with the New, offers tremendous recreational opportunities. We have the Kanawha river, formed from the Gauley and the New rivers in a magnificent cascade, which flows through the center of the state, and directly through the capital city of Charleston, the largest city in West Virginia.

The tallest building in Charleston is barely 25 floors tall, which, if you think about it, is a plus; how could you possibly build a skyscraper more beautiful than a mountain? The capital city stretches throughout the long river valley, encompassing both hill and dale. Our airport, the largest in the state, sits on top of a mountain.

The crime rate in Charleston, including the entire population of the Kanawha Valley (around 200,000), reflects that of the entire state ... the lowest in America. No more than a handful of murders are committed each year. Charleston has no subway systems, but, truth be known, you can get from one end of town to the other, even in rush hour traffic, in less than ten minutes.

There are three major interstate systems going through Charleston, the smallest city in America to make such a claim. The entire state has six different interstate systems, meaning, from Charleston, you can reach Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Louisville or Charlotte in four hours or less.

Ah, but, once you leave the interstate, the drive becomes a thing of wonder. Two lane roads, winding up and down the mountains, offer amazing views and historic places ... small towns, poor in wealth but rich in history.

West Virginia is the birthplace of Mother's Day, in Grafton. We have the oldest covered bridge still in use. We have walnut festivals and strawberry festivals and apple festivals and pumpkin festivals and arts and crafts fairs and stern wheel regattas and ramp dinners. We have Bridge Day, on the New River Gorge bridge, over 800 feet above the New river; the only standing structure in the United States that, one day a year, allows parachuting and bungee jumping.

We have college basketball, and minor league baseball and hockey, and, just like all of America, Friday night high school football. We have white water rafting, and skiing, and hiking, and caves, and waterfalls, and camping in every direction. We have Sundays where a leisurely drive in the car can take eight hours, and only cover 100 miles.

We have bed and breakfasts, and resorts, and golf courses, and museums, and the Greenbrier. West Virginia has more natural beauty and wonder than any person could ever imagine.

We have all of this, and yet ... our greatest asset is our people. West Virginians are good people.

We care about each other. We talk to our neighbors over the backyard fence. We grow tomatoes for the entire neighborhood. We turn around in each other's driveways, and yell howdy when we do. We sit on the porch on warm summer evenings, listening to crickets, and watching kids catch fireflies.

We loan a hammer, or a cup of sugar. We don't take two hour lunches, but we do spend a few minutes each day with a cup of coffee, and our feet up on our desk, shooting the breeze. We rarely get in a hurry.

We have relatives just down the street. We don't just loan someone a socket wrench, we help them fix their car. We share recipes, and gardening tips, and our last beer. We baby sit each other's kids, we house sit for each other's dogs while we're on vacation, and we loan each other our cars if we have to get to the drug store.

We ask each other if we need anything as we're going to the market. We celebrate each other's accomplishments, and we cry over each other's disappointments.

We are a friendly folk. We are West Virginians. Mountaineers are always free. Free to take the time to enjoy life, and hold each moment in our hearts, forever!!!

Author Unknown

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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