Summer has gotten ahead of me this year. We have been traveling a lot for work and pleasure. So I have a back log of stories about the people, places, and events which, I have been enjoying. Needless to say, I love the people of my state. I have met some really wonderful people this summer like LeJay and Hellen Ann Graiffious, director and caretakers at Old Hemlock Foundation.
On the other hand, I am about to say good-bye to some absolutely wonderful AmeriCorps volunteers. It is August and it is the end of their year term, so things are very hectic as some leave and some join the program. So, I wanted share one of the many stories that could be written about another AmeriCorps Site, Old Hemlock Foundation in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, where I did some hiking this summer.
Tucked away in some of the most beautiful old growth forest property in North Central West Virginia is the Old Hemlock Foundation, the home of George Bird Evans and his wife, Kay. Known internationally as an author, an artist, a husband and dog breeder of profound influence, George called a rural 230 acres in Preston County home. His life could be defined as a Renaissance Man of the last century, a man who lived life on his own terms. Yet, this post today is more about the writings of George and his wife, Kay, the property the foundation cares for and the DOGS. Oh my, the beautiful dogs!
The relationship we have with dogs can be profound. At the Old Hemlock Foundation a guest enjoys hearing the story of how and why George began the Old Hemlock line of English Setters, about his love of upland game bird hunting, and the land that he called home. You experience their lives in a personal and inmate way surrounded by their belongings and dogs. The entire visit felt as if George and his wife, Kay, had just stepped out for a trip to town and left my family with the two dogs and neighbors for company. The opportunity to explore their home, enjoy their writings, see their artwork and spend time with their dogs immerses you in the experience unlike most museums or art gallery exhibits. You begin to feel their presence as you walk the pathways to the house and walk into the woods they saved from timbering.
The home of George Bird and Kay Harris Evans, built-in 1815 was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 and is still the location of many of family’s personal belongings. Seeing where this talented man spent his hours reading, writing and drawing was enlightening. To be able to write professionally at the small desk by a north window of their home was impressive. George was dedicated to sharing his stories and helping people understand his life in the field hunting for grouse and working his dogs. It is apparent to me now that the house and desk were merely vessels that George used to get his message out into the universe. His life, home and books will be a source of inspiration for years to come, as I continue to aspire to be a writer.
When you see the photos of the family with their beloved dogs displayed proudly on the walls you begin to understand the family’s connection with the English Setters. With no children of their own the dogs were a constant source of love, affection, laughter, and respect. George writes about his dogs, not in an anthropomorphic way, but in a transcendental mystic way, making his relationship with the animals a spiritual connection. A relationship built on shared respect and the joy.
The joy that he experienced with his dogs is shared with guests still today. LeJay and Helen Ann Graffious live with two Old Hemlock Setters on the property. So in the tradition of George and Kay there is never an un-dog related pleasant moment. Willow and Laurel, registered Old Hemlock English Setters, make each and every person feel at home and welcome on the property. The speckled coated dogs( known as belton coats) attend every hike, every meal and class that is given on the property. They are magical animals … and I see why George spent a life time writing about the deep love he had for the Old Hemlock breed line.
George began journaling his hunting outings in 1932.With these as his foundation, in the 1950’s he wrote magazine articles about his dogs and hunting adventures. in 1971 he published his first of 21 upland game hunting books. His well known hunting books and a hundred articles are still regarded as some of the best outdoor publications. He shared his deep respect for the game he hunted, the dogs he raised and the connection he shared with nature. His romantic style of writing that painted vivid images for readers and is unique in the genre. It is easy to understand why his expert writings are still studied, and revered some 19 years after his death. He still has much to share with anyone who wants to learn about upland game hunting, nature and training dogs….. or is it “how dogs train us”?
While at the property we spent a large portion of our time walking the trails that surround the welcome center and log home. With dogs and kids running and playing in front of us we explored some of the old growth Hemlock trees of which the property is named. I regret deeply that I cannot convey to you the awe that I experienced when we entered the deep dark Hemlock forest. It was something like a fantasy movie set or a church… Yet, none of these words comes close to relating how startling it is to leave the lush green sunny forest of the hardwood canopy and enter a tall stand of climax Hemlock trees. Everything changes in an instant. The light dims as it tries to shine through the conifer bows. The colors change, there is no bright greens or yellows, just deep rich greens and grays. The height is different, there are no branches that droop and hang low. The Hemlocks stand 80 feet high with broken stumps of branches reaching out to you. Even the ground is transformed, with only gray rocks, deep brown dirt and the lush green of moss and ferns under foot.
As our group forged ahead of me into the darkness of the thick Hemlocks, I entered the stand alone and last. With Helen Ann with in hearing distance of me, I actually let out an audible exhale, one loud enough to be heard several feet away. I then continued with an “Oh My” and heard from ahead on the trail Helen’s reply, “This is why they refer to Hemlock forests as Cathedrals”… (Also look up Cathedral State Park in West Virginia for other stands of old growth Hemlocks).It is so impressive, that I now crave to see these kinds of woods again and again. I am so thankful that George and Kay found this property and chose to save the Hemlocks from the sawyer. It is another magical part of the Old Hemlock Foundation that should not be missed.
After our two-day stay, we packed up to leave the foundation’s property, I knew I had found a place where kindred spirits had lived. We share a love for nature, dogs, writing, art and a passion for sharing what we love most. Thank you to the foundation for allowing us to be part of your education outreach program and for inviting my family back to explore more of the wonders of Wild Wonderful West Virginia.
For more information about the Old Hemlock Foundation, educational programs, history and the dogs, follow the above link to their website or follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OldHemlockFoundation/.