Our New Neurotic, Basket-case of a Farm Dog

According to Ian, he’s never really liked dogs. He finds them big and slobbery and dog poop almost makes him gag. Even when he practically lived at my house this past summer he all but ignored my family’s elkhound mutt, Meikah. So the last thing I expected was for him to suggest that we adopt a puppy. Just when you think you know someone, they challenge everything by wanting to adopt a dog. However, a failed attempt by Ian to adopt a “stray” puppy that had a loving home caused us to reconsider, so we tabled the idea for a while (a week) and tried to talk about other things.

But the internet and free time are a dangerous thing. I spent a large chunk of my day on Thursday mentally checked out from the high school agriculture class I was aiding. In my defense I was struggling through an intense head cold that was going to keep me in a heavy fog no matter what I did. So the day was spent on Craigslist and Petfinder. Sadly, considering how many stray dogs roam the mountain roads around here, there weren’t many dog postings closer than 3 hours away. But that didn’t take the fun away from searching. Every time I found an interesting dog I emailed the link to Ian, with a subject line like “!!!!”. In his typically fashion, he ignored every one of my emails except the very last one, the one titled “I think I’m in love”.

This last dog was a little different. Named after one of Santa’s reindeer for his holiday arrival last year, Donner wasn’t a puppy and he wasn’t from Craigslist. He was a long time resident of an animal shelter in Louisa, KY, and he had just about the sweetest face I had ever seen. One look at that speckled muzzle was enough to activate my imaginings about what kind of amazing farm dog this Australian Shepherd/Cattle dog mutt could be. I imagined us romping through the woods together (him perfectly trained), running together, and being guard dog to our home and soon to be resident chickens while we were at school. And he had a sob story. Poor guy had a genetic skin condition that took a year of treatment and had caused him to spend almost his whole life at the pound. It was love at first profile read, and I guess Ian felt the same way because his simple response to my gushing email was “let’s go get him!”

And so we did. At our earliest convenience on Friday we hopped in the car and drove an hour to Lousia, Kentucky. I was a nervous mess. Here we were, falling in love with an online profile of a dog we’d never met. Sure Donner sounded great, but what if we were actually incompatible? What if our real life meeting went as badly as many a Tinder date!? I might not recover from the disappointment.

What a face. Who could resist?

We made it to the shelter and wandered around the outside cages waiting for a staff person to arrive. The noise was deafening. Dog after dog jumped on their fences and almost on top of us in either a desperate bid for our attention or as a warning in case we came too close. Even though we were there only to meet Donner, it took two full walks around the cages to even find him. He was easy to miss, being the only dog in the whole pound that cowered in a corner of his cage and visibly shook as we got closer.

We had read he was timid, but we didn’t know he was THAT timid. In one fell swoop, all my dreams of a boisterous farm dog came crashing down. When we took him for a walk up the pound driveway he was so nervous that the staff woman had to carry him outside his crate and he flinched at every attempt from us to get closer. Even the leaves and shadows terrified him. It was a short, unsuccessful attempt at walking and bonding. The staff lady seemed pleased at his response though, telling us “he’s never been on a walk out there before!” One full year in the pound and he had never gone the fifty feet to his own driveway. That’s the sad reality about how overcrowded and understaffed many rural shelters are. But the walk did accomplish one thing. It triggered Ian’s compassion and desire to fix pain and brokenness. One look at him and I knew there wasn’t a chance that Donner was going to spend another night in the shelter. The staff woman’s obvious affection for him and her promise that he would be a different dog once he adjusted to us and left the stress of the shelter solidified Ian’s resolve. Leaving him there wasn’t going to be an option. Since Donner had been at the shelter longer than any dog, he was going to be moved on the next day to a rescue group. If we wanted him, this was our only chance. Good thing the two of us are good at making quick decisions. Within minutes the adoption process had begun, and faster than I expected we were driving away with our new dog, filled with the gleeful recklessness that comes from making a major life decision without nearly enough thought.

The timing was unfortunate. The weekend we adopted him was also the weekend that we were hosting 11 Americorps team members from Cincinnati. We were moving the poor guy from a kennel of dogs to one of humans. But it couldn’t be helped. He definitely suffered. For the first 12 hours or so he was hunched in a corner, too paralyzed even to fully lay down or go into his crate. After he finally went in, he flinched at every noise and cowered from every set of eyes. Nothing but endless patience and a few sauce covered meatballs could convince him to come out in the morning, but soon after a short walk he returned to his cowering posture near his crate. The poor guy is a year old, but he has the life experience of a two month old puppy. Every smell and sight up here is a new experience for him, and his default response is a trembling fear. Even wood floors are a challenge to be conquered. The only thing that doesn’t seem to scare him are the cats; no matter how much they hiss and spit and run away he always looks at them with wide-eyed interest.

But we think our neurotic puppy is going to do just fine. We’ve named him Wendell, after Wendell Berry. He’s warmed up to me surprisingly fast. I think it’s because only females worked at the shelter, so he finds me more familiar than Ian. Walks are going great, and we learned today that he’s a chewer. Since we didn’t think to buy him any bones he has to entertain himself with pieces of kindling. His shepherd lineage should make him relatively easy to train, and I doubt he will be violent towards chickens. With a little luck, lots of patience and probably a few chewed up shoes, we might just turn little Wendell into a farm dog after all.

He is named after Wendell Berry, because we got him in Kentucky and he’s going to live on a farm!
Poor little guy. So scared to be out of the kennel.
Happy dog. Happier husband.
Number one priority is going to be buying him some chew toys.
Pretty pretty puppy! 🙂

noyes family work weekend

Noyes Family Work Weekend

When the family comes to visit, you put them to work! At least, that is what happened to the poor Noyes family this weekend. But secretly, I think they enjoyed it.

Number one priority was to refresh our sad kitchen. The before photo: clean, but dark and dingy looking. The yellow was washed out and very streaked.
Terry attacked the grimy ceiling, coated with bacon grease from years of cooking.
The guys took on the yellow walls while Terry and I focused on whitewashing the ceiling
A little paint turned a dark, oppressive ceiling into a focal point of the room.
It was Terry’s idea to try out some stencils around the room. Super scary at this stage!
But totally worth it.
A weekend service group gave us some much needed help in constructing the rest of our garden fence. Here, Ian gets some help installing the garden gate.
After! Brighter, cleaner, blue accents on the shelves and a lighter ceiling to help define the space.
The dry, unfinished ceiling boards greedily sucked up two coats of paint without even trying.
The next step for the chicken coop has been to make a reinforced yard space. We buried “slab” (waste) boards in the thick clay to prevent predators from digging their way into the coop.
Some tree roots were too thick to dig through, so we poured concrete in the crack instead
ready for the next step- chicken wire!
Assessing the situation.
Exhausted from a long day of painting, I’m sure
Puffy eyed Ian got a little too close to poison ivy while working on the chicken yard  and woke up with a swollen face and red itchy arms. But instead of heading to the hospital right away like a sane person, he opted for a hair cut instead…and THEN went to the hospital. That’s not normal.
There is always time on a lazy Sunday for some good old-fashioned earthing.
Druid Chris took time to enjoy the natural light
A wonderful discovery this weekend was the earthen oven behind our house. None of us knew it was functional, but Sister Gretchen gave us the green light to try it out to see how it worked.
A small fire is built in the opening and allowed to burn for 1-3 hours, depending on how hot you want the initial temperature of the oven to be.
After the oven has reached the desired temperature, the leftover embers and ashes are shoveled out and the opening is gently cleaned with a wash cloth. (Lots of steam will be produced!)
“How do we know the pizza won’t burn up?” “Those cracks in the oven were there already,…right!?”
While the oven was heating up, Terry, Lisa and I were hard at work kneading dough and cutting toppings for homemade pizza
It worked! And it was incredible! The high temperature of the oven seemed to caramelize the dough in a unique way compared to most homemade pizza. It was only our first attempt, but everyone agreed the results were truly delicious.
Terry’s face says it all. Family weekends are the absolute best.

the wheeling jesuits

The Wheeling Jesuits

October is a busy busy time here at Big Laurel. Consequently my school days have been very limited, of which I am not complaining. One two week period where I was expected to go to school eight days turned into about 2.1 after a bomb threat, shortage of hands at Big Laurel, and an absent teacher caused me to either not go, leave early, or sit in a dark classroom by myself for eight hours. It’s definitely frustrating to feel so underutilized and even wasted when I spend so much of my actual school days just sitting in a desk watching kids use their laptops. More and more, my time at Big Laurel is feeling to be my “real job”, and right now that job is just about at peek busyness. Last weekend we had a college group from Wheeling Jesuit University come for their fall break. Wheeling has been coming to Big Laurel for years, and their weekend is an opportunity to chop all the wood needed for heating in the winter. Seeing as Ian and my Knob house is notoriously drafty, I was more than enthusiastic about this. The week before they came was spent with big mountain men and seemingly bigger chainsaws as they felled tree after tree, sectioned them up and hauled them out to the small bunk house at Big Laurel. The pile grew massive in a remarkably short time, and Ian took advantage of his knowledge about the impending bad weather to rig up a giant tarp over the work space. We were ready for the forces.

And come they did. Big, boisterous college kids filled the Big Laurel dining room to its max with both their bodies and booming voices. After weeks of being almost isolated up here, the influx of energy was both overwhelming and intoxicating. As old and mature as Ian and I obviously sound, we only left college in May. The group was heavy with seniors so many people were less than a year younger than us. Peers! Friends from the outside world! People with knowledge on current world events!! (There is a hurricane on the coast of South Carolina?! Trump STILL hasn’t imploded?? Maybe it’s better not to know…) And best of all- as long as we fed them they would chop all our firewood for us.

The workday began in true sufferfest fashion. Driving rain and cold wind encouraged everyone to keep moving, and Ian’s tarp proved to have been a stroke of genius when it provided the only weatherproof place to use the heavy log splitters. With plenty of college studs more than willing to show off their prowess at swinging an ax (often with minimal clothing on) our pile began to shrink down. In fact, it only took a day and a half to cut through the wood, so Ian and I got to bring a crew over to our house for a few hours to help us set up the garden terracing and sink in the posts for the chicken yard.

Loadin up the lumber
the tarp made a great work space
muddy, mucky yard

It’s very strange to be on the receiving end of service projects. How many short term mission trips have I been on? How many “exposurer” projects have I heard about? My education has made me naturally skeptical of them. It always seemed that the work accomplished could be done better with local labor and that it creates a “savior” complex between the workers and the workees. Imagine my surprise when my first experience being served was simple, powerful and honestly delightful. There are a few reasons why I think this was. 1. I, an outsider to the community of central Appalachia, was being helped by other outsiders. Not saying this is great or should be replicated by other organizations, but it did make everyone feel immediately comfortable. 2. The work was the sort that the local community could absolutely have done itself, but the cost in both money and time was unrealistic for Big Laurel. Having twenty some extra people was an almost unmeasurable benefit and will allow Ian and I to do other things with our fall than chop wood. 3. The work was straightforward and allowed everyone to instantly be involved in one or more aspects of the process. If you weren’t comfortable with an ax, you could use the log splitter, stack the wood, or haul it to a neighbors. This created a sense of community and camaraderie, especially as the weather deteriorated farther. In all, Big Laurel absolutely lived up to its mission of being a place of community and a retreat from the chaos of the rest of the world. I was very proud of the team that I work with here, and I’m incredibly grateful for everything that Wheeling Jesuit did for all of us. Thank you!

I am soooo glad I wasn’t the only help Ian had to install those heavy posts.
we have gotten massive amounts of free scrap lumber from the local lumber yard and it is invaluable for various projects, like re-terracing the garden.
Turns out Peak is an excellent chipmunk hunter
One project was to deconstruct this snake-infested wood box
No one ever complains about getting to use a sledgehammer
IMG_4196IMG_4198IMG_4202 Everyone cut a little loose at the Del Barton Dance on Saturday night


Food, Glorious Food

Before we were married, whenever I told people Ian and I were planning on moving to an isolated mountain top, they would inevitably respond in the same way. They would say something along the lines of,

“…oh that sounds very interesting! But I would have hated it at your age.
I always wanted to be in the middle of things and the isolation would have killed me!”

Unsurprisingly, I never knew how to respond to this. Should I apologize that our early married life choices differ from theirs? Or agree that odds were good we would be lonely and regret moving out here? I could have made some joking remark about how our only plan for surviving winter together was to hibernate…or turn into cannibals. But in all honesty it was a little offensive to have to constantly justify our life choices and try to convince dubious people that we didn’t feel we were missing out on our youth by choosing to live in West Virginia. It’s true that we can’t go out to eat more than once a month or so, and that we have yet to find any local people that actually want to be our friends. But everything has a trade off, and one thing we have gained by coming out here is TIME.

The two of us have never been out of school. We barely know how to structure an evening without piles of homework to fill a few hours. But living without internet, tv and working cell phones has caused us to be creative with our evenings, especially in regards to cooking. It’s been a huge joy to spend a couple hours at a time prepping and preparing food together. The long travel distance to grocery stores necessitates that we plan out our meals well in advance, and the encroaching Autumn weather has provided us with plenty of ripe fruit from the trees in our yard to process. I can’t imagine taking the time in my more normal life to stir a batch of apple butter on the stove for hours on end, but here, I can. It’s a blessing I hope we don’t tire of anytime soon.

Besides, if we don’t keep the oven going regularly, it will take a lot more effort to heat our big drafty house this winter!

Ian has discovered his inner domestic goddess and can now make incredibly tasty oatmeal bread
#artsy angle
Our little peach tree is suffering and will probably die soon. But that didn’t prevent us from harvesting a bowlful of its fruit.
One bag of frozen peach slices for smoothies later
Three pear trees comprise the “orchard” at the base of our garden.
A much better harvest than the peach tree.
Blanching and then dehydrating a potful of pears led to a depressingly pitiful result
Same with our apple butter experiments- all day stirring resulted in one canned pint jar of butter.
one measly sandwich bag!
Our pear chutney was a success though. Savory and pungent, I think it will remind us of warmer times this winter.
Boom. That’s a way better quantity.
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The Catholic Committee of Appalachia

Sometimes the most unexpected things in life can prove to be the refreshment you need to keep going. For Ian and me, we found the community we have been missing one weekend in the middle of September through an annual meeting with a group of liberal Catholics.

My education and exposure to the Catholic faith has been pretty lacking until this point. Besides Pope Francis, I didn’t know such a thing as a liberal Catholic existed. Most likely because the media loves to focus on birth control and homosexuality. But exist they do, and they showed up in legions this weekend to attend the Catholic Committee of Appalachia’s annual meeting, held in Charleston WV this year. The mission: to celebrate the 40 year anniversary of the Appalachian Bishops’s pastoral letter, and to study the local and global water crisis.

What was so wonderful was how familiar everything about the conference felt to us. Being an International Development and Environmental Studies graduate, I am very used to being in the company of passionate, social justice-minded people and have been to my fair share of conferences advocating for awareness and activism. Leaving a relatively liberal Christian college and moving to Bible Belt West Virginia has been a culture shock, to say the least. No longer can I assume that the students and teachers I interact with believe in climate change or evolution, and if I dare to claim that coal is bad for the region I risk being ostracized. Leaving that world and spending time at the CCA conference felt like a breath of fresh air, and in many ways, like “home.”

As I mentioned before, I am an International Development Studies graduate so I consider myself to be relatively informed about the humanitarian crises happening throughout the world. However, this conference blew apart my confidence that I could even understand what was happening in my own back yard. The drought in California is well known, and I expect global water wars to define much of my adult life; but until this conference I had never given any thought to water issues in the eastern US. Dr. Ben Stout is a professor of Stream Ecology at Wheeling Jesuit University, and he opened the conference with a presentation about ‘Big Coal’s’ effects on the Appalachian water system. His career had been relatively research-focused until he was called to court in order to testify against the work being done to “reclaim” mountain top removal sites. To his shock, the coal company lawyers vehemently denied that the streams Ben had been researching for decades even existed. Seeing the ways that companies could twist the truth so deliberately caused Dr. Stout to take the results of his research into the real world.

Though Appalachia is a water-wealthy region, this water supply is threatened. Algae blooms from chemical fertilizers are becoming larger and more frequent, and underground wells are continuously contaminated by mining. In 2014, massive chemical spill from a containment tank used to clean coal slurry contaminated the Charleston water supply for days. 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol is a nonpolar molecule that doesn’t dissolve in water and can’t be removed by flushing out tanks. This causes this hard-to-detect toxin to linger in the water supply virtually forever. Dr. Stout declared that everyone in Charleston was risking their health unless they fully replaced their water heaters; the city government only suggested throwing out plastic dishes.

Professor Laura Diener of Marshall University spoke at the conference about the 2014 chemical spill in terms of poverty and inequality, indicating that income is a driving factor of safety when faced with contaminated water. Her field research and in-person interviews told a shocking story about accessibility. During the spill, most affluent residents were able to simply buy bottled water, leave the region for a few days, or drive to various emergency tanks of safe water throughout the city. However, those without cars had difficulty getting to these tanks, and many were forced to drink from their taps anyways. Some of the tanks in the poorest neighborhoods were illegally filled with the contaminated water, and in some cases inmates weren’t given access to safe water until their families protested for days. And this was toxic water. Showering with it caused many to break out in rashes, and ingesting it caused nausea and lingering sickness. Over 700 were stricken, and 16 were hospitalized. Yet some people were still forced by lack of options to use it in their baby’s formula.

This was no natural disaster, no act of God. This chemical spill was directly caused by inept safety measures by Freedom Industries and the coal industry as a whole. But this isn’t an isolated problem. Spills like this happen a lot, and many regions of Appalachia are permanently cut off from their ground water supply due to chemical contamination. Why was the Charleston spill different? Why did it make national, international news? Because, for once, it affected an urban area. In the words of one of Professor Diener’s interviewees,

“It’s a good things this spill happened to rich white people too- otherwise no one would pay attention.”

Sadly, this lack of attention to the sufferings of the rural poor is a common story in Appalachia. Shannon Bell, PhD, a Sociology at the University of Kentucky, took part in an interactive conversation at the conference about how her research revealed the ways industries were polluting rural communities. In so many ways, the roots of communities and families run incredibly deep in this region. Yet, these roots are being torn up as families become stymied in their attempts to stay and thrive in their home communities due to the poverty caused by the coal companies. She has collected story after story of women suffering from the ecological impacts of the industry. In one instance, a broken containment pond caused massive flooding in a holler and almost carried away a woman’s house with her children in it. Now, her children have nightmares every time it rains and their home has lost all resale value. In another case, coal dust from a processing plant settles so thickly on the homes in the nearby community that some homes have depreciated in value from $144,000 to less than $12,000. That loss is incredible enough, but it is made worse because living in such close proximity to coal factories dramatically raises one’s risk of cancer. When the value of a home can depreciate almost 92%, what chance does a non-affluent family have to sell and move somewhere safer? More importantly, why should they have to? That is a loss of power. Without their consent, without their voices being heard, the people of Central Appalachia are being sacrificed for the energy needs of the rest of the world. And every time I turn on the hot water I am contributing to their suffering.

This isn’t a far away problem. This is happening right here in America. It’s affecting the lives of the students I work with. It’s defined the lives of their parents and has limited the options the next generation has in life. The least we can do is to try to understand.

Shannon Bell has written a book on her research. It’s called Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed: Appalachian Woman and the Fight for Environmental Justice. I haven’t gotten hold of a copy yet, but it looks fabulous. If you want more information about it, you can find that here. (Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed). After all, being informed is the first step to lasting change.

   Early morning devotional outside by the pond.
 The next generation of the CCA found plenty of ways to entertain themselves
  Second best part of Catholic conventions? They have a happy hour!! Maybe the CRC should try it out? 🙂
And the best part? The fabulous bumper stickers in the parking lot.
Too good.


  A celebration of Fiestaware  at the home of our lovely host for the weekend.
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