Dark and Dusty, Painted on the Sky

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home. Andrew is the host of Heard Tell podcast.

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13 Responses

  1. Chip Daniels says:

    This is beautifully written.

    It has occurred to me, how new and unfamiliar this sort of change is for us Americans. I recall reading essays similar in spirit to this about California, where someone laments the passing of the age, maybe like when Los Angeles was the sunny smoggy home of movie stars and the Beach Boys.

    Where once everything was new- the coal mines were new, the movie studios were new, freeways new, suburbs and cities all bursting with promise and newness.

    That sort of spirit where people could say things like the “House of Tomorrow” without irony.

    Unlike say, the Europeans who have the ancestral memories of empires rising and falling, the passing away of ages is something I don’t think we really have a firm grasp on.
    In retrospect, is shouldn’t have surprised us how places West Virginia and Youngstown became a flash point in the discussion of the evolving nature of the American economy.

    Your essay has a refreshing lack of anger or bitterness, even as it has sadness and melancholy.

    I think about this also, the passing of things, as I grow older. Maybe the most difficult thing to do in older age is finding delight in newness and surprise. Letting go of things that seemed so comforting and accepting the pain of change.

    Maybe the next great age in America will be a national maturity that accepts the passing of the American Century and gracefully finds new ways to define our national self.Report

    • Thank you Chip that means a lot, appreciate it.

      You mention California, and oddly enough Cali has helped me view WV. I have family all over, but a branch that has been on the west coast since the 50s. My great uncle was a marine and was KIA in Korea, his family remained there. His children and my parents were same generation and very close but obviously grew up in different worlds from 60s “old” California and 60s WV. My folks and them have visited each other every few years. As a kid the “California cousins” coming was a big deal, and going out there even more so. But the bay area where they settled (South San Francisco in Stonegate to be specific) I’ve seen change only visit sporadically so very much in my lifetime, and my home changes so little. It’s a prism worth considering, and how different things could be.Report

    • J_A in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Unlike say, the Europeans who have the ancestral memories of empires rising and falling, the passing away of ages is something I don’t think we really have a firm grasp on.

      Though you are absolutely right, I have the very anecdotal feeling that this regret about the passing of an age is also a relatively new thing. XIX Century America was an era of permanent change, with as many losers as there were winners, but impermanence was accepted as normal.

      I think it all changed after WW2, when America was the only prosperous place on earth. (Most) People became used to being on top of whatever hierarchy you could think of. Change, of any kind, threatens the established order and jeopardizes those who are on top, even if plus ça change, plus ça est la même chose.Report

  2. J_A says:

    Andrew, thank you for this very interesting post. As you are probably fed up of seeing, @jaybird and I frequently argue about what, besides empathy, is the best answer we outsiders should stand behind.

    I ask because I really don’t know. I understand the emotional drain the collapse of the economy represents. I think that the U-haul Option libertarians push is mostly nonsense. Whatever little social and family capital and support networks people have are in their communities. Leaving those support structures behind is a massive cost that few people can pay. Cultural change, too, is a matter of generations.

    My preferred solution, early retirement with full SS payments to those who have lost not just their jobs but their way of life, put some money in the families and communities, which is not nothing, but it’s also not giving people their dignity back.

    And that’s were I get stuck. I can’t think of things that can actually help materially that do not have a negative spiritual impact. And I think the inner city back communities were destroyed by destroying their dignity. How do we avoid the same mistake again?Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

      but it’s also not giving people their dignity back.

      Dignity, like honor, is intrinsic to a person. It’s not something you can give or take from a person, it’s something they have to find or lose.

      We can’t give them their dignity back, but we can do things such that perhaps they don’t lose it, even as the world shifts under their feet. And failing that, perhaps we can set things up so that they have an opportunity to find it again, through some other avenue.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Very good writing.

        I wouldn’t say dignity is a factor, as we have that in spades. But we also have a lot of condescending outsiders who show up, pander or pass judgement, and leave. Always have.

        Yet I also can’t think of many particular industries suited for Appalachia that wouldn’t be better located somewhere else, based on either available land, transportation, or other factors. I spent quite a few years puzzling it over and didn’t have any great ideas.

        Hills would make for a pretty good distribution center by using all gravity conveyors and sorters. Put the unloading docs (the input) at the top of the hill and the loading docks at the bottom, so as to shift the normal cost of running hundreds of electric motors over to the trucking companies’ diesel bill. But then you have the problem of a multi-tiered floor and stairs running everywhere, and no way to freely run fork trucks.

        As for other pursuits, farming is much more difficult (at least in the deeper Appalachians), major facilities are hemmed in down in the valleys, and hills often put hard limits on expansions. The road network has to wind through the mountains, and unlike flatland forests, large areas are really only accessible by foot due to the steep terrain.

        All that works against forming a critical mass of business and industry that would cross some size or economic threshold and become a self-driving force as found in so many other parts of the US. Much of Appalachia, stretching from north Georgia through western Maine, is somewhat like the mountains around Los Angeles that will still be relatively undeveloped a century from now, simply due to terrain.

        Where you have stretches of flatland abutting the Appalachians, often just a few miles to one side of a major mountain range, there’s plenty of industry and economic activity, and people from the adjacent mountainous area commute there to work.

        The same is found in almost any heavily forested mountainous area, such as the central highlands of Vietnam. The Hmong weren’t “backwards” because they were Hmong, but because they lived deep in the hills, which is very different from living along the plains and coastal areas.Report

        • Philip H in reply to George Turner says:

          So then what is the answer economically? The current administration pay slip service to “bringing back coal” but with China dropping its imports something like 40% over night the market has tanked and isn’t likely to recover. Even with the numerous rideglines, you have told me elsewhere that wind farms aren’t a solution, and with the limits to agriculture you describe, it seems farming or other agri-business is not likely to succeed.Report

  3. Oscar Gordon says:

    Good post Andrew. Don’t let anyone bust your chops over your writing, you are doing fine.Report

  4. North says:

    This is a beautifully written post. It reminds me of home (Nova Scotia).Report

  5. Chip Daniels says:

    West Virginia is still waiting on a game-changing $84 billion investment from China that was promised in 2017


  6. Mike Dwyer says:

    I certainly don’t have the answer for all of WV’s economic woes, but I know that there is some opportunity through outdoor recreation. You all are coming a bit late to the elk-reintroduction game but it’s happening now. At the same time, you have amazing white water opportunities and I have some friends that make regular pilgrimages east to spend the weekend riding four-wheelers on West Virginia trails. I am told by them that many of the towns have really embraced the four-wheelers and allow them to drive right down Main Street on their way to a pizza joint or other establishment. There is also skiing and mountain biking and I suspect a wide-range of other opportunities if pursued. Again, none of these are silver bullets and there is a danger that they will only drive a service economy, but that can be leveraged in a lot of other ways.Report