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A Break From Coronavirus News: Inside Appalachia Explores The Power Of Connecting With Loved Ones

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Kara Lofton/ WVPB
Reporter Kara Lofton's three dogs explore a private farm in Virginia.

 

On this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we are taking a much-needed break from the news. We’ll explore ways we can continue to stay connected with each other, even when we’re self-isolating for health reasons. We hear from students in Wales and West Virginia who have been exchanging audio diaries about their lives. And because fresh air and being in the forest is so good for our health, we’ll explore some fantastic places right here in our own backyard. Also we’ll learn why compassion and meditation can help us deal with anxiety.

In This Episode:

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Credit Kara Lofton/ WVPB
Friends Becka, Holly and Katie during a backpacking trip in the Dolly Sods Wilderness

If we've learned anything in this strange new world of coronavirus, it's that connecting with other human beings is vital to our mental health and wellbeing. But how do we maintain our connections with each other, when we can't speak face to face? And how do we take care of ourselves, and not stress about things beyond our control?

 

Audio Pen Pals With Students In Wales

 

How do we connect with each other in this age of “social distancing?” That’s a question on a lot of minds right now. For the past few months, we've been mentoring two groups of high school kids. One group is in Lincoln County, West Virginia, and the other is in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. The students in Wales have been producing audio diaries and exchanging them with students West Virginia. It's part of a collaborative reporting initiative with the Inside Appalachia folkways project.

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Credit Glynis Board/ WVPB
Students in Wales and their teacher have been producing audio diaries, and exchanging them with students in Lincoln County, W.Va. It's part of a collaborative reporting initiative with the Inside Appalachia folkways project.

 

Our Inside Appalachia team had also been planning a reporting trip to Wales later this year. That is obviously on hold at the moment, but we hope to meet some of these students from Wales when we are able to travel. For now, we plan to keep this collaboration going remotely. After all, young people have some of the most unique ways of understanding our culture and folkways. This week, we listen to some of the messages these two groups of students have been exchanging with each other. 

 

From The West Indies To West Virginia

 

A few years ago, West Virginia Public Broadcasting producer Russ Barbour started chatting with a very tall and jovial gentleman who was bagging groceries named Anderson Charles. In this episode, we’ll listen back to his remarkable story, originally from 2018. We’ll hear Charles share his observations about the similarities and differences between his birthplace of Grenada, and his adopted home of Appalachia. For example, Charles recalls that in Grenada, neighbors often pitched in to help raise each other’s kids and take care of people when they’re sick. 

 

“I was raised in a village, so we had that village atmosphere. If you have to go to work, you don't have to go get somebody to babysit, you tell a neighbor [to] watch your kids. If somebody's sick, we go in and take care of them. If somebody doesn't have food, we would cook and bring food to the house,” Charles said.

 

He published a story of his life in a memoir called “I am a Dirty Immigrant”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piPHATCpI-U&feature=emb_title

 

The Importance of Folk Knowledge

 

Although we can’t gather together for live music shows right now, there are so many fantastic musical performances that we can listen to online. Our friends at Mountain Stage have a great podcast, for example. 

 

This week’s show features some of our favorite recordings of fiddle music from West Virginia.

 

We’ll also hear an excerpt from a documentary from West Virginia Public Broadcasting called “In Tune”, produced by Russ Barbour. The hour-long film is about the old-time music community in West Virginia, and its influence on country music. You can watch it online for free. In the film, old time fiddler John D. Morris talks about the importance of learning music from people in his community. He didn’t learn to play by reading a book. He learned by watching at informal jams and gatherings. 

 

“What I liked about old time music the most was the people, the old people that I had so much fun with. They were so much a part of my life,” Morris said.

 

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Credit WVPB
A scene from the film In Tune, which features film shot in 1975, photos and drawings of old-time music being played in West Virginia.

For the past several years, Morris has been teaching a young fiddler, named Jen Iskow, the tunes he’s learned over the years, through an apprenticeship with the West Virginia Humanties Council’s Folklife Program. 

 

“The deeper I go into learning to play the fiddle, not just learning to play the instrument but the stories behind the tunes, it becomes less about myself and the disattachment that we have around us from our phones and the screens and connects you to something bigger, to the past, to something universal, these universal truths that have withstood the test of time,” Iskow said.“And it’s just really nice to get outside the hustle and bustle and just like sit down and listen for awhile. I don’t think we do that enough anymore.”

 

Need A Break? Get Outside, And Bring A Dog 

 

As part of a series called “Outside In Appalachia,” health reporter and dog lover Kara Lofton explores how to safely enjoy outdoor recreation and why it may be so beneficial for our mental and physical health.

 

Mental Health And Nature

 

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Credit Adobe Stock

Research has shown that going outside has huge health benefits. Increased physical activity and vitamin D levels, improved concentration, you’re more likely to feel happier and you may even heal faster.

 

Kids And Parks

 

Many national parks across the country are closed, due to health concerns. But many state and city parks remain open, and these could be good places for you to explore in the weeks ahead. And parents who manage to get their kids outdoors are bucking a national trend.

 

About 10 years ago, the National Park Service noticed that fewer kids and families were using the parks, and they wanted to change that. In 2009, they partnered with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation to launch an initiative to help families unplug, get outside and connect with local natural resources. Kara Lofton reports that the initiative called “Kids in the Park” soon expanded to include pediatricians who are trying to combat childhood obesity, diabetes and excess screen time by writing “scripts” for kids to go outside. 

 

Look At The Night Sky

 

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Credit Adobe Stock

 

If you live someplace where you can see stars, it can be therapeutic to take a step outside. For the final part in our series about getting outside, Kara Lofton reports that restoring healthy sleep patterns — which turns out is pretty critical to health — may begin with getting outside at night

 

De-Stressing

 

As the world grapples with the coronavirus, many of us are out of our routines. Maybe we’re trying to answer email with kids at home or working late to accommodate their at-home schedules. Maybe we’re worried about loved ones or our financial wellbeing in this uncertain time.

 

West Virginia University assistant research professor Julie Brefczynski-Lewis says one way to deal with that anxiety is with compassion and meditation. While many of us are practicing social distancing to help slow the spread of the virus, tapping into our compassion for others may help manage coronavirus anxiety.

 

And if you want, you can listen to a 10 minute guided meditation, led by Julie Brefczynski-Lewis:

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from Appalachia Health News, a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center, and Mountain Stage.

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music in today’s show was provided by Melvin Wine, John Morris and Jen Iskow.

Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Glynis Board. She also edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi helps promote our show. You can find us online on Twitter @InAppalachia.

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Roxy Todd is a reporter and producer for Inside Appalachia and has been a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2014. Her stories have aired on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Marketplace. She’s won several awards, including a regional AP Award for best feature radio story, and also two regional Edward R. Murrow awards for Best Use of Sound and Best Writing for her stories about Appalachian food and culture.
Eric is a native of Kanawha County and graduated from Marshall University with a degree in Journalism. He has written for newspapers and magazines throughout his career. After completing the certificate program with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, he began producing documentaries including Russia: Coming of Age, For Cheap Lobster and West Virginia Voices of War.