As a West Virginian who still lives on the farm that has been in her family for eight generations, I deeply understand the mysterious and sometimes contradictory love Appalachians have for their land. The readings and class discussions we had in Dr. Ann Pancake’s class about Appalachian’s love of nature, as well as the environmental, physical, and emotional effects of natural resource extraction validated my experiences as an Appalachian and challenged me to think deeper about what these experiences mean to me and also to the future of Appalachia. More than that, it inspired me to find ways to explore these stories and their connection to Place through music as an expression of this love, grief, and hope we share as Appalachians.
My song “Louise” was inspired by WV Poet Laureate Louise McNeill’s memoir The Milkweed Ladies which we read in class. In it, I came across the “Milkweed Ladies” rhyme that Louise made up as a child pretending to have a tea party in the woods, and—struck by the musicality of the rhyme—I wondered how it would sound in a song. The “Milkweed Ladies” rhyme is so simple and yet so encompassing of an experience of Place–a place where milkweed, columbine, and thimbleberry grow. A place where imagination is abundant and creativity stems from the natural world. I feel like this is why McNeill titled her memoirs after this childhood experience, and this is why this rhyme became the center and grounding point of my song: the chorus. The verses were similarly prompted by lines in The Milkweed Ladies and other events in McNeill’s life recounted in her memoir. They explore the love of land, the hardship of nostalgia and solastalgia–and in the final verse, this love of the land returns in the flower and the phrase “life everlasting,” bringing hope for healing and renewal of the homeplace.
My second song “Red Like the Thunder” was inspired by a reading we did in class called Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed: Appalachian Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice by Shannon Elizabeth Bell. “Red Like the Thunder” tries to capture the essence of the stories told by the women featured in this book who stood up against MTR in southern West Virginia in the early 2000s. Its somber melody reflects the heaviness of the situation that weighed upon these women as they fought for justice for their land and families and intertwines with the rawness of the lyrics to honor the embodied determination they have to hope for a better future for their homes, culture, and future generations.
Mary Linscheid is a native of Harmony Grove—just outside of Morgantown, WV. An English Creative Writing major with Appalachian Studies and Appalachian Music minors, she enjoys writing poetry, prose, and music that explores the connection Appalachians have to their homeland, traditions, and community. As a musician she has performed with several bands such as the WVU Bluegrass & Oldtime Ensembles and The Honeysuckle Vines, releasing her first solo EP in 2022 called “A Place To Grow Old”. Her poetry has been published in WVU’s undergraduate literary journal Calliope and won WVU SpeakWrite’s “Writing Appalachia” contest in 2021. In her free time, she can often be found playing fiddle in local old-time jams, exploring old graveyards, or wildcrafting herbs on her family farm.