Coasting down the backside of a curving mountain road in to West Virginia, our car fell quiet. “It’s so beautiful…” someone muttered, almost surprised. The mountains here, older that the Rockies by roughly 400 million years, jut up sharply from the road, covered in lush dark foliage and looking almost jungle-like. A wild wide river rushes to our right. It is beautiful and… perhaps… we are surprised.
West Virginia is a place that many are quick to judge. ‘Poor’, ‘backwoods’, ‘gun nuts’, ‘hillbillies’, ecological disaster. The truth is, there is much more to the people who call this place home. Appalachia is a place steeped in tradition, it is more diverse than you might think, it is hard working, it is stubborn, it is friendly. And, many feel it is getting left behind.
While the world turns on, and the coal seams that built this state shrink smaller, West Virginia remains desperate to find a way to stay economically relevant and keep moving forward. People here seem to live in contradiction: a deep love for home on the one hand, and a pull to leave in frustration on the other.
As part of the Emory nurse practitioner program, our group of 12 students will be working and learning in the Cabin Creek Health System, a network of rural primary care clinics. We are tasked to enter this rotation as listeners. Primary care is more than just vaccinations and check ups–it’s an opportunity to check our preconceptions at the door and hear our patient’s stories. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be exploring this incredibly unique culture and place, and reporting on the beauty and the flaws that make up West Virginian life.
We are excited to be in the mountains. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” has already been belted out at least 3 times since we’ve pulled in (all of five hours ago). We can’t wait to see what this wild and wonderful place has to teach us.
West Virginian word of the day!
Holler (n.): Version of the word “hollow”, meaning valley, in the Appalachian dialect.