Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Garden update and the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

It’s raining here in the panhandle. And it’s been raining. The mourning doves are cooing their sad song.

Shortly after we got the potatoes in the ground on Sunday evening, the sky let loose and it’s been coming down pitchforks and hammer handles ever since. While rain is certainly welcome, it doesn’t bode well for said potatoes. Their tuberific-ness may just mold in the ground with so much rain.
In front of the garden fence, we’ve got the holes dug and properly acidified for our blueberry and honeyberry plants. Michael also turned up a patch for thornless blackberry plants that have taken up temporary residence on our front porch. I’m very excited about having our own berries close at hand.

Recently, an aging cousin of my husband’s has come to live with his mother up in the farmhouse (yeah, um, it’s complicated) and has uprooted or otherwise relocated the black raspberry bushes that populate one side of the Guz land. To us, this is sad and unnecessary. Usually, around Fourth of July, Michael and I wade into Lick Run Creek and travel up the hillside to gather these black raspberries—plants which do have thorns--and more than once I’ve gone to teach my summer classes looking like I’ve narrowly missed a fatal attack by felines in estrus.
Anyway, it’s a nice annual ritual, wading in the creek, the cold water splashing over my boots, disturbing little pools of minnows that lay along the shallows. It’s cool there, a soft breeze usually blows its way through the gulf between the hillside and the bank that looks out onto Lick Run Road. This moves the foliage on either side, and it causes the leaves to make noise that sounds a little like whispering. You can hide down there in the creek, and no one on the bank would see you, it’s hewn a chasm so deep. Sometimes, when the water is lower, it moves across the rocks so loudly, Michael and I can’t hear each other over the noise. Once, we found that someone dumped fish they’d filleted along the creek side, and these dead things lay there, their glassy eyes staring upward as flies landed and took off from them. Their remaining flesh and bones were bursting with wriggling maggots. And the smell. Oh my gosh, the smell. A kind of horror all its own. Anyway, when it isn't defiled by people trashing poor gutted fish, there's a kind of magic in that creek, maybe from the soothing energy that comes from nature's slower, more natural pace. It's actually where my idea for The Memory River came from. (There's more about this Memory River in The Davidian Odyssey, which I'm revising...)

Our grapes, which looked deader than doornails after all the snow and the repeated frosts, appear to be coming back, which we’re grateful for. But since they appear to be progressing slowly, and some of them are shooting out from the plant base and not from established vines, I’m not sure we’ll have grapes this year either. We’ll see.

I submitted the story I mentioned before, “The Fascinator”, to Michael Knost and Eugene Johnson’s Appalachian Folklore anthology. Hopefully, it will find a home within the anthology's pages. Here’s a little excerpt:

The baby squirmed in the man’s arms, but not with any sense of distress. In fact, the boy settled down quite comfortably. The man seemed to know how to handle him, holding him close, bouncing him against his chest gently, while also swaying slowly to and fro. Lorraine sat down in the chair beside her mother, as if she had none of her own will. She, like her mother, gazed with a bemused expression at the stained luncheon cloth, repeatedly smoothing it with her hands like someone from the Weston State Hospital.

“Ain’t this weather we’re havin’ something?” asked Buella of no one in particular. She finally folded her hands. Neither she nor Lorraine was considering the baby any longer.

“I’ll say,” said Lorraine, not looking at her mother. “It’s never been this sunny so many days in a row in April.”

“Is it April?” asked Buella.

“Actually, ladies, it’s July,” said the man, still bouncing the baby soothingly and looking down into his tiny, pink face.

“Imagine that,” said Buella, spellbound, “July already.”

The calendar on the wall beside the screen door read May 1942.

Now, I include this because I found a very interesting state tidbit: the Weston State Hospital, a.k.a. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, which ceased operation in 1994. It’s an actual place, located in Weston, WV, built around the same time as the Moundsville State Penitentiary.

Now, I have a great fascination with the paranormal, and was intrigued with Floria Sigismondi’s disturbing location portraits (a book I have and still dig looking at), with the painting peeling from the sandstone walls in great sheets. (Also, because it's bizarre and beautiful, watch, watch, watch Sigismondi's video for Martina Topley Bird's song "Anything." So weirdly lovely and haunting. Flies, glitter, crows, twisted branches that recede in space like a cloud of pestulence, and a black formfitting body bag. One of my favorites.) Okay, yeah, maybe I need counseling, huh? Well, really, its beautiful.
Anyway, I’m not so much interested in the gothic aesthetic of haunted places, but rather, the vestiges of human life that people were forced to relinquish there. What causes people to leave a part of their psyches behind? Why do people get ‘stuck’ somewhere? Certainly, it has to do with trauma or obsession, but in terms of science, of actual physics, what locks the energy in place, so that it replays and replays and disturbs or stimulates the atomic structure of the living?
Maybe I’m thinking too hard about this—maybe it is more neurological or emotional than a physical phenomenon that can be measured or quantified. But if perception is reality, why do we perceive this sensory stimulation and can it be charted in space and time? Does it exist in a parallel or intersecting dimension? Things to ponder, things to ponder.

In the meantime, check out the photos here. Incredibly and beautifully creepy. There are many stories here. Michael says it's 3 hours away, but while I don't want to go to Moundsville prison--Michael already told me it's definitely haunted because he felt it, I somehow have a fascination with Weston. What delusions lived within these walls? What stories might come from them? I suspect they're even more vivid than anything a lucid human could tell.

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