For the Love of Natural Beauty by Lisa Lewis Smith

(Read yesterday’s post for Lisa’s introductory writing, For the Love of Lewisburg.)

For the Love of Natural Beauty

Lewisburg and Smithover are where I developed my powerful inner connection with beautiful and unique outdoor environments.  Imagine lush green, gently rolling land with karst topography and an awe-inspiring view of the Allegheny Mountains and White Sulphur gap.

This was our television, our big screen TV, our childhood backdrop.

The writer's children at Smithover

The woods and open fields, as well as the nearby Greenbrier River, were my playgrounds.  They helped mold me into a lover of the great outdoors, into someone who embraces each of the four seasons with vigor, someone who appreciates the raw beauty of sunsets and clear starry nights, all of which I carry with me today as a mother of two little people.

I had a passion for the woods.  In Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” the two paths that diverged in the woods, in my mind, have always been the two “roads” that lead from our open field into the woods and property of my Dad’s brothers, Chris and Bill.  When you stood at the divergence, one was well-traveled and the shortest distance to the cabin in the woods.  The other was “grassy and wanted wear.”  You could look down one and see “where it bent in the undergrowth.”

Both are lovely, but the one less traveled provides a lengthier and meditative stroll.

The writer's son, Greenbrier River

The open fields are peppered with giant oak, maple and elm trees.  When I was a child, the trees looked like giants waving down at me with their many branches.  Sometimes I would even pretend to shake one of their hands.  It reminds me of the endearing and imaginative children’s book, When Giants Come to Play, which portrays imaginary giant friends that play hide-and-seek, toss marbles, and drink tea with a young child.   The thing is, these trees are not imaginary.  You could actually hide in one of their pockets or pick flowers with them. My dad affixed wire, a tramway of sorts, between the Big Oak and the Old Elm.  It was like being gently tossed back and forth between two giant friends.

The Greenbrier River was our recreational oasis.  We swam and sunbathed at Cat Rock and conquered our fears jumping from Anvil Rock, which was shockingly high.  We mastered walking on slippery snail-laden river stone, porting canoes and fishing poles at places like Anthony Creek, Caldwell, and Ronceverte.  I learned early how to bait my own hook.

The river also served as a science laboratory.  We studied the physics of skipping rocks, the biology of crawdads, and the identity of mountain water lilies. We cautiously avoided water moccasins.

When the day slipped into night, something spiritual and magical took place. Sunsets transformed me.  They were my quiet obsession, and still are today.  I wanted to bottle up every moment when the sun went down and twilight appeared.  The air got lighter.  I carried the peace and tranquility of dusk into my dreams at night.  I would stare westward, surrounded by mountain air, and drink in the fiery colors of the setting sun over the open field. I continue to value and soak up this spiritual golden hour, and use it as a meditative tool or a moment to fall in love again with the astonishing beauty of life.

The writer's son, Lewisburg

Nighttime at Smithover is exceptionally spectacular as well.  Stargazing on moonless nights is also transforming.  Walking through the wet grass at night, you might think darkness is eating you whole, until you look up.  The heavens glow. Your giant friends might wave down at you again with a star dazzled backdrop….and all the stress and anxiety of life just melts away.

You feel closer to God in the country; where the air is fresh, the sunsets are miraculous and the stars…oh man…the stars on a clear cool night…they are stunning!  This is why we called it “God’s Country” growing up.

Tomorrow:  For the Love of Family

For the Love of Lewisburg by Lisa Lewis Smith

A native of Charleston, Lisa was born on June 9, 1973 (the day Secretariat won the Triple Crown).   She received her B.S. in Biology and minor in Environmental Studies from the College of Charleston in South Carolina.  She worked as a fisheries and wetland biologist in Washington, Alaska, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia before transitioning in 2002 from environmental consulting to outreach and education.  She currently serves on the board of the WV Land Trust and is an elder and lifelong member of Kanawha United Presbyterian Church.  Lisa grew up spending her summers and weekends at her family home in Lewisburg, West Virginia where she developed an early connection with beautiful and unique outdoor environments.

I am very pleased to share her 6-part reflection on the many elements of her childhood that made her who she is today.  I have known Lisa on and off since we were middle schoolers, and with increasing depth in adulthood as neighbors, community volunteers together, and raising our children.  I hope you will take the time to enjoy her stories of Lewisburg, Family, Food, Marriage, Music, and Natural Beauty.

You may think you know The Smiths, but I am confident you will learn something new as you read.  For example, I just learned that the cousins would make wagers as to which boyfriends or girlfriends would actually come back to another family dinner after their first.  I have new admiration for their spouses!  These are all fun.  Enjoy, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone.

For the Love of Lewisburg

I grew up spending many weekends and large portions of my summers at my family’s home in Lewisburg, West Virginia.  Sometimes we were just passing through on our way to and from other places, but it was a focal point for our family, a central location.  It was a familiar place that taught me a lot about the important things in life.

The writer with her 3 brothers on "Paw's" tractor in Lewisburg

In the 1920’s, my great grandmother Elizabeth Dana Smith, or “Grandma Dana,” inherited what had been the Lipps Family Farm, about two hundred acres southeast of what is now downtown Lewisburg.  It eventually became the summer stomping ground for her sixteen grandchildren known as the “sweet sixteen” cousins, one of whom is my dad.  They named the property Smithover.

My grandfather “Smut” or “Paw”, who I never met, flipped a coin with his brother Dana.  Uncle Dana acquired the lovely white home on the ridge, while Smut obtained much of the land along the ridge line, splitting that land into five parcels for his five children.

My dad and his bride built early in the 1970’s with the help of my mother’s father. Grandaddy Botts was concerned about some of the wild and consistent revelry that was taking place among young friends in Charleston. He insisted on helping to pave a driveway to his daughter’s new building site, sooner rather than later.  He wanted to help pave a more wholesome way of life for our family.  My parents finished their beloved A-frame home overlooking the Allegheny Mountains two years before I was born.  They had my three older brothers and enjoyed the feeling of being under roof in a place that they loved.

Ever since I can remember, we drove old Route 60 on Friday afternoons from Charleston to Lewisburg, in several versions of the wood-paneled “woody” station wagon.  It was two and a half hours of rough mountain road…but we persisted, always.

I would walk home from Fernbank elementary school often to find my Dad already home and loading up the car.  “Come on baby girl…we’ve got some grass to mow!”  I’d grab a couple of select pieces from my stuffed mama-and-baby animal collection, and off we’d go.

Through rain, snow, darkness or light….we drove on.  Sometimes my dad would be giving up the cigarettes.  When he did, he usually had nicotine gum behind his ear. Sometimes we’d stop at the Traveler’s Inn for a good hot meal (named for General Robert Lee’s horse Traveler that apparently stopped in that spot often to be watered down during the Civil War).

The writer's children in Lewisburg

One particular memory I have was traveling one morning on that part of Route 60 in a snowstorm with my mother and my youngest brother.  I was in first grade.  The bare tree limbs were covered and hugged each other above the road as we drove.  We stopped to let our new puppy, Muskin, out to relieve herself on the side of the road.  (We named her Muskin because we thought it was “a good American Indian word.”  My brother was “Wolf”, his best friend “Coyote.”  I was “Moccasin.”) There was not a soul around.  It was so quiet and peaceful in that moment…so weird and wonderful at the same time.  We were on our way to Lewisburg, once again.

This particular drive is etched in my memory.

Tomorrow:  For the Love of Natural Beauty