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Montani Semper Liberi

West Virginia-inspired

30 x 24"

acrylic on canvas

Monsoon Gallery, Bethlehem, PA


“Montani Semper Liberi,” Latin for “Mountaineers are always free,” is West Virginia’s state motto. We originally visited this odd-shaped state during the week between Christmas and New Year. Since most everyone was on holiday, it was practically impossible to find a gallery or even a store that was open. Therefore, we planned our return to display the Ohio-inspired painting, and connect West Virginia to the rest of the states. It is a new season but I vividly remember our first visit.

In January of 2006 (almost a year now), we entered a land full of nature’s frozen mysteries. Autumn leaves lay trapped in time within iced lakes and pine trees sagged with the overbearing weight of snow. Yet, beneath a frozen surface life thrived, waiting to crack through its shell and be exposed to this world. I was surprised at how unique and resplendent the land is. I have never considered West Virginia a vacation spot, and knew little about what was hidden here. One of those secrets is a “Lost River,” that even with a map, we were unable to find. What we did find were several amazing sights that lay right off the roadside. Seneca Rocks was one of them, leaving Alfonso and me in awe of nature’s creation. 

Driving through the Monongahela National Forest, we looked up to see a jagged wall of rock. Near the center, it appears as if someone has taken a bite out of the steep cliff. While in the area, we discovered a native legend that surrounds the masterpiece. It is of a Seneca princess named “Snow Bird,” the only Indian to ascend the vertical bluffs. She challenged seven men, in search of her hand in marriage, to follow her in the climb. The one that was successful would become her husband. We didn’t climb the cliff, but admired it from afar before ascending up to the highest point in the state. Our tires slipped and spun in the snow, and Alfonso had his first experience digging a car out of a ditch. 

At Blackwater Falls, we ventured out onto the frozen lake and skated around in our sneakers. Through mittened hands, I peeled an orange for a snack and we encountered a couple people crazy enough to drive the unplowed mountain roads. Since there was only one path of tire tracks, the road was narrowed to one way, and passing meant an attempt to clear a foot of pristine snow. 

In each little town, we talked with West Virginians, but always felt as if they were keeping something from us. They were all cordial enough, but a bit mysterious. I began to feel as if the residents considered West Virginia their personal playground and didn’t want to let us “outsiders” in. 

We now return to West Virginia, where the people are just as we remembered. We drive into Morgantown and visit Appalachian Gallery. Here, we meet two very nice women who share our love for travel, art and adventure. After talking with them for a bit, we realize that they two have a very quiet, almost humble, disposition. We still find it difficult to crack the mystery of West Virginia.