A Hallelujah Chorus in Leaf Mulch

I love windows.

I love windows.

It did my evil little heart good to get outside in the garden today.

I hadn’t attended to any of the leaves until today because of the cataract surgery. When one lives in a forest, this is, perhaps, not a good idea. I am not exaggerating – I had fallen, unraked leaves that accumulated on their own into 1’ and 2’ piles in the fenced area of the garden.

I did a lot in the garden this past spring. Doug was recently discharged from the hospital and not well enough to be left alone for several weeks. That time period coincided with a streak of beyond-gorgeous weather that makes a body’s heart hurt.

I’m reading a book by Julia Keller titled A Killing in the Hills that is set in West Virginia. I’m not very far into the book, but she astounded me on pages 27-28 with her description of an Appalachia spring. I’ve spent years trying to develop a concise, accurate description that could be conveyed in writing without accompanying photographs.

Keller wrote:

It was a beautiful place, especially in the late spring and throughout the long summer, when the hawks wrote slow, wordless stories across the pale blue parchment of the sky, when the tree-lined valleys exploded in a green so vivid and yet so predictable that it was like a hallelujah shout at a tent revival. You always knew it was coming, but it could still knock you clean off your feet.

leavesImagine if you will that the acres surrounding my barn exploded into a lengthy mountain music version of the Hallelujah chorus. That was this past spring. Imagine now, piles of leaves waist high being mulched with a lawn mower. Can you hear the closing strains of those Hallelujahs as they shelter the plants for the winter under a blanket of leaf mulch. Yes, the wheel turns.

Gardening and writing keep me sane. Last spring, my sanity was hanging by a thread. Some would argue the thread broke. That stretch of spring, with its soaring melody, kept me grounded. Since Doug slept a lot, I spent a lot of time outside – often working by lantern light.

My long-time readers know that my garden is a work in progress – one that began with acres of packed gravel inches deep in unblastable clay. In the beginning, to plant a daffodil required a pick axe and sometimes an auger. After 22 years or so of waging battle against bad dirt, I was sure this year was going to be The Year My Garden Landed on the Cover of Southern Living.

a lot of work

During the 2013 Garden Palooza

By my standards, I poured a ton of money into the ground out back. I painted lawn furniture, bought new cushions, planted a dozen or so shrubs and bushes, and planted flats and flats of petunias and impatiens. I babied a patch of Irish moss, let lavender roam free, and lost all sense of prudence when I bought the fountain and the super-duper-big planter to hold a tropical, vining plant. This was going to be the year.

And then the rains came. The news described them as “scattered storms.” Every one of those scattered storms stalled over the top of my piece of heaven and monsooned. I joked and quipped and carried on about building a lotus pond combo moat to try and keep my barn from sliding off its foundation in a mudslide.

I measured daily rains in inches. Really. If memory serves, we had one of the wettest Mays and Junes of all time and I got more of those scattered storms than most.

Marine Corps Veterans - Daddy and his Good Officer's Wife

Marine Corps Veterans – Daddy and his Good Officer’s Wife

And then Doug went into the hospital for the last time. As I moved into my role as psychopomp, the garden boiled in the wet heat. And then it was overrun with weeds. And then the lawnmower broke. And then I was grieving.

The garden is a mess. A passerby (if I had passerbys) would swear it’s been neglected for decades.

I’m hoping the weather holds for the rest of this Veteran’s Day weekend. I could do some serious cleanup, weeding, this-and-that’s and have a garden ready for frolicking come March. Last year was the first spring I was able to just leap into planting mode without having to spend on weeks on winter clean up. I’m hoping for a repeat.

petunias in november

Petunias in November!

It’s been abnormally warm.  I found blooming petunias today as well as a climbing hydrangea with buds. It’s too much to hope that this weather will hold for long, but I’m enjoying it.  My serotonin levels are enjoying it and I’m pretty sure my Vitamin D got topped off today.

Four months.  I can hang on until then.  Happy Veteran’s Day Weekend, y’all.

Guillotines, I tell you.

I’m not kidding.

While I sometimes do not agree with the way we use our Armed Forces troops, I support the troops.  Similarly, I’m whole-heartedly appreciative of and grateful to the workers of Appalachian Power who’ve had a hell of a couple of weeks getting (most of us) back up and running after the Derecho and subsequent storms, however. . .

HOWEVER.

Since corporations are people (and possibly boards, commissions, etc. etc., are too) and today is Bastille Day, it’s time for guillotines.

Appalachian Power’s customers have seen a rate increase of 50% over the past four years.  That increase might be more palatable to me if the reliability of my service was not declining more and more with each rate increase.  Significantly.  For the month prior to the Derecho, my service went out long enough EVERY DAY to necessitate the re-setting of clocks.  It’s become a routine, I return home and, starting in the kitchen, begin setting clocks.  Over the course of the past four years, a routine rain storm will leave me without power overnight or for several hours during the day about once a month.  Every day, several times a day, day in and day out, my power flickers.  I have lost many appliances, small and not so small, to the frequent flickerings/outages resulting in power surges.

The Derecho was historic and I appreciate that.  However, the U.S. Department of Energy has noted that, on average, it takes Appalachian Power four times longer to repair outages in West Virginia than the national average.  On the surface of things, one would attribute the difference to our state’s terrain and rural nature.  Well, Donald E. Walker, a technical analyst for the PSC looked into that factor.  He noted in a report that in comparison to areas of New York with similar terrain and similar instances of power outages, the reliability factor in West Virginia was below the norm.  Specifically, he said, “Other states with comparable operating conditions to those found in West Virginia reflect similar statistics found in the New York performance report,” Walker wrote. “It is therefore reasonable to expect utilities in our state to achieve the more stringent reliability index targets recommended by staff.”

However, Appalachian Power’s and the other utilities’ proposals for increasing the reliability of service in our state didn’t impress.  Ken Ward, Jr. wrote:

Officials from the PSC staff and the Consumer Advocate Division are concerned that plans proposed by the industry will do little to improve the reliability of West Virginia’s electrical system.

Last month, PSC staff warned commissioners that utility proposals would simply require companies “to complete work which was neglected for the past 10 years.”

Appalachian Power is not the first utility, nor do I suspect it to be the last, to rape and pillage West Virginia.  (And I don’t use those loaded words lightly.)

Verizon’s neglect of the communication system left West Virginia with sub-par telephone service and even worse broadband.  Frontier bought a pig in a poke and I won’t be surprised when they throw their hands up in the air and close shop.  After my hissy fit with good, old Ken, my phone service is stellar which proves it can be done (and could have been done), if more people had more hissy fits.  Guillotines, I tell you.

During my 6 days without power following a storm which followed the Derecho, I had a lot of time to cogitate and bitch.  I absolutely out did myself.  I did not bitch about the power outage, per se, I bitched about what I was reading all over the web.  I can’t prove it, so it’s anecdotal at best, but the citizenry of West Virginia in online forums, media comment sections, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites were reporting that the out-of-state electrical workers that rode in here on their white horses to help restore us our normal state of unreliability expressed surprise at how poorly the lines and the right-aways were maintained.  I’m not surprised, are you? If West Virginia were anywhere near the national norm, I would have been 2 days without power, not 6.

And for this privilege, I’m paying 50% more than I was 4 years ago and 4 years ago I was paying more than I was in the four year period prior to that and on and on and on.  My service continues to degrade.

Even Senator Manchin, who I really don’t like, managed to get his head out of his, ahem, long enough to speechify about how the U.S. should not be spending money on the electrical infrastructure in Afghanistan when West Virginia is falling apart at the seams.  We’ll leave for another time my thoughts on what part Manchin and the rest of the  coal-crazy robber baron politicians have played in the not-so-benign neglect of West Virginia’s infrastructure.

In another peachy editorial in the Charleston Gazette, I learned that last fall Appalachian Power’s parent company gave $1 million to a “social welfare organization” that denies being a lobbying organization.  Take a gander:

What is it called when AEP seeks limited government for its subsidiaries? Limits on the government that enacts and enforces environmental regulations? The government that reviews and enforces workplace safety? The government that evaluates rate increase requests? The government that reviews how companies respond during power outages?

If AEP is concerned about our social welfare, is it not reasonable to expect they’d want the people of West Virginia to be up and running after a power outage at least as soon as the folks in upstate New York?  They’re not concerned about our social welfare, you say?  I’d say your right.  And to that, I say, “Guillotines, damn it.”

And with any luck I’ll be able to post this before my power goes out again.  It’s been up and down like a yo-yo today. For no apparent reason — just like all the days before the Derecho.  I’m a little crazed these days.  There’s been way too much life happening and it’s not going to take much for my transformer to blow.  If you read or hear about some hillbilly woman with a homemade guillotine taking hostages, I’d appreciate a bail fund as the Derecho pretty much left me without much in the way of surplus funds.

So, before I could publish this, AEP came rambling up my hill to respond to my earlier service ticket.  I had quite a talk with the cutie driving the truck.  I told him my power woes.  He assured me he’d heard it all before.  He assessed the problem.  The right-away needs serious work.  He was dubious that a work order would ever be placed.  He said, “I’m not telling you this, but you need to file a complaint with the Public Service Commission.”  I told him that I routinely file complaints and to-date it’s not done one jot of good.  We talked some more, he allowed as to how there were some forms and whatnot he could submit that might get them moving.  Old Ken at Frontier surprised me, so maybe I’m wrong in not feeling optimistic that this will be repaired any time soon.