At the moment, I’m driving my pickup truck through the Appalachian Mountains to the home of an Amish farmer who’s building me a chicken coop with built-in WiFi.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Seven years ago, I was living in the bustling metropolis of Atlanta, commuting downtown to work each day on the city’s infamously traffic-clogged 14-lane highway.
Today, I work from a home that sits on five acres in the middle of the woods. My neighbor is a dairy farmer with 200 acres. The only traffic on our street — which is actually just a dirt road — is the cows.
I’ve spent the past seven years living in the mountains of West Virginia. Seven years in a town so small the major thoroughfare is named after Don Knotts of Mayberry fame. The comedic actor was born here in 1924. Our town’s most famous export nowadays? Hota Kotb. To get to the closest major airport, I have to drive 75 miles north of the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania.
Atlanta, that warm blanket of a city where I spent most of my life, is home to many things. Millions of people, multiple universities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — what most people call the CDC. Corporate home to Delta, Home Depot, UPS. It’s the birthplace of Coca-Cola. The Olympics were there. And now I’m in West Virginia, the state with the world’s largest tea kettle.
Don’t get me wrong. Of all the places to move to in West Virginia, we chose a college town. We have a Best Buy and a Target and a Barnes & Noble and a Regal Hollywood Cinemas with 12 movie theaters and stadium seating. We have multiple Starbucks. Although, I should point out, the closest store to our home is the gun and ice cream shop. It sells exactly what you think it does: rifles on one side, Rocky Road on the other.
Morgantown’s population is an interesting mix: There are about 30,000 of us “townies” who live here full-time. There are another 30,000 students who spend the school year here at West Virginia University. And in the fall, on football game days, another 30,000 bus in for the big event, swelling the town to 90,000. (Don’t even think about running errands before kickoff.)
My wife’s job as a professor brought us here. A twist of fate, and life plans got altered. What was once unimaginable has somehow, inexplicably, become the status quo. One life packed up and another started. There was a fork in the road and I, well, I somehow chose the one less traveled.
To West Virginia.
A proverbial gefilte fish out of water.
Seven years in, I can safely say that the move has been great. I quickly found things to like. The sheer majesty of the nature here is a sight to behold. When family and friends come to visit, which they often do now, we have the usual spots we take them. Coopers Rock State Forest has grand views, and a boat ride on Cheat Lake is a relaxing way to spend the day with my sister and her family, as you can see in this video:
There are mountains everywhere you look, and four distinct seasons, each with its own charm.
In Atlanta, where the heat and humidity was stifling, I rarely spent time outdoors. Here, I go on peaceful walks on a regular basis. About 80% of the state is covered in woods. West Virginia has 1 million acres of national forest land — 12,000 of which are right near my house. My blood pressure has dropped so much that my doctor took me off medication.
And working from home certainly has its perks. No commute, a panoply of pajamas being upgraded into work clothes. I sometimes realize I haven’t left the house in days. And being a homebody, I’m perfectly fine with that.
Sure, there’s not much human interaction. Each day, usually around 1 p.m., I can count on Rick the Mailman coming down our driveway and dropping off boxes at our front door. (Yes, thank God for Amazon deliveries.) I try to position myself nearby, in the living room, when this happens. On days I’m lucky, I open the door and catch Rick before he walks away.
Something silly about the weather. Yada, yada, yada. And before I know it, Rick’s gone, delivering a Tractor Supply Company catalog to the farmer next door.
The property where we live came with a pickup truck, a riding lawnmower and a chainsaw. Saying I didn’t know how to use any of these things is an understatement. I didn’t know how to shift gears in the truck. I got the lawnmower stuck on more than one occasion. As for the chainsaw, I had to find a local to teach me how to use it, as you can see in this video below:
And now, our grass is never tall because I can ride my Cub Cadet zero-turn radius lawnmower like a pro.
In his famous song “Country Roads,” an anthem here in Appalachia, John Denver proclaims West Virginia “almost heaven.” To me, it rings true. The people are friendly, the weather is gorgeous, the endless mountain ranges, the lakes, the rivers, are all indeed spectacular. The endless emptiness provides peace and quiet.
And now, my wife informs me, we’re getting chickens. Stay tuned…
“Atlanta to Appalachia” is part of an occasional series about life in the wilds of West Virginia through the eyes of a man who never dreamed he’d love it there.
Atlanta to Appalachia: My unlikely journey from urban gridlock to serene country living
How embracing a serene, rural lifestyle has taught me to use a chainsaw, ride a pickup and get off my blood pressure medication.