A Good Read

A Good Read

Sometime back a friend of mine and fellow hillbilly, Chris Ellis, asked me to write the Introduction to his first book. I considered it an honor; one I did not take lightly. A first book is very important to the author and it deserves an Introduction worthy of the content and the friendship.

I’m not sure I succeeded, but apparently it was good enough for Chris, or at least the price – free – was right. The point of all this is I would strongly recommend this book to any West Virginian, any hillbilly, or anyone else who wishes they were a West Virginian or a hillbilly. The stories are engaging and interesting, but most importantly, they are true.

Richard Mann with Chris Ellis in New Zealand (2013)

Here is the Introduction I wrote, and I hope it inspires you to spend the measly sum of $12.95 for this book, which I consider worth way more than that. The stories are short and impactful. Keep it by the throne or beside your bed for a little dose of hillbilly each day.

There’s no sound like a coal train moving up a river valley. The rumble, as the 100-car train struggles to pull the grade, gives you the impression the mountains are mourning the erosion that birthed them. There’s no sound like the lonesome bawl of a hound splitting the darkness as he trails a raccoon along ragged ridge. And, there’s no sound that can compare to the words of a grandfather explaining how to bait a hook or call in a turkey.

Sunrise in the West Virginia hills.

The Scots-Irish who settled the Allegheny Mountains were hardy, independent, clannish, family-loving immigrants, who birthed the hillbilly—mountain-folk—lifestyle that’s eternally linked to the Mountain State. West Virginians don’t just live in the hills, we’re part of ‘em. We’re an integral piece of a temperate forest habitat within an alpine/montane ecosystem, where fishing, hunting, stringing beans with Grandma, and learning the outdoors from Grandpa, are everyday life.

You can’t imagine the life of a hillbilly and understand his relationship with the outdoors. You can’t watch a documentary and grasp his fundamental, spiritual-like connection to the wilderness he lives in. And, until now, you could not read a book and learn how vital the interaction with nature is to the spirit of a born and raised West Virginian.

Chris Ellis: West Virginian, hillbilly, outdoorsman, author.

Hunting, Fishing and Family, From the Hills of West Virginia is a collection of short newspaper articles written by a hillbilly who is one of the most complete outdoorsmen I know. Chris Ellis and I have shared outside adventures across West Virginia and the world; he can skin a buck and run a trot-line, and he can read a river with the skillful devotion of a reverend reciting a sermon. But most importantly, Chris Ellis can tell stories, stories that reflect the hillbilly that’s inside him and thousands like him. Hunting, Fishing and Family, From the Hills of West Virginia will give you a glimpse—a lick of the spoon if you will—of the emotional connection true hillbillies have to everything that’s wild and wonderful

Chris Ellis organizing a deer drive.

My father, another hillbilly outdoorsman who now treads hunting grounds and wades streams on a much higher plane, used to call me every Sunday. After asking about the kids, the garden, and the dogs, he’d say, “I read Chris’s story in the newspaper today. It reminded me of…” and he’d go on to tell me about some outdoor experience from his or my youth. And that is the mark of a truly good story; it’s brings back a memory or drives you to create new one.

I don’t fish much anymore, I gave up coon-hunting for a normal family life, and Grandpa’s words were spoken to me nearly a half-century ago. But train whistles, hound dogs, and this book help keep those memories—memories that are hooked to something deep and running hard—as crisp, refreshing, and vital to my well-being, as is a drink from a cool mountain stream.