Laura Dean Bennett
Our own home-grown philosopher and word- smith Ken Springer, whose well-crafted essays on a wide-range of topics have kept readers of The Pocahontas Times informed and entertained since 2019, is moving.
Don’t worry, he’s not leaving Pocahontas County.
In fact, he loves Pocahontas County so much, he’s vowed to never leave.
Not to be too grisly, but Springer has plans for his earthly remains, and they’re not leaving either.
“When the time comes, I want to be cremated and have my ashes spread near the Greenbrier River, somewhere in Watoga State Park,” Springer said.
But before that time, Springer’s relocation is just going to be from Seebert to Caesar Mountain.
Moving is kind of Springer’s thing.
He’s moved a lot in his lifetime.
He’s lived in about 40 different places – in a number of different states – over the years.
As a foster child, Springer was uprooted many times, living for two-to-six months with one foster family before being re-assigned.
He says his rough start in life may have influenced his personal philosophy.
“I’ve tried different styles of living to see if it would change my perspective on things,” Springer said.
A park ranger, law enforcement officer, educator, DNR and OSHA regulations manager, and the many other arrows in his quiver make Ken Springer a fascinating fellow.
In addition to a variety of jobs, he has also tried many different styles of living.
“It seems to me, where material things are concerned, when one door closes, another one opens,” he said. “I want to have more time to appreciate things outside my house – for instance, nature.”
Springer is a serious runner.
“I started running in the 1970s when I was diagnosed with COPD,” he said. “In my advanced years and having osteoporosis to boot, my runs are more like brisk walks now than true runs.
“I cover four to five miles each and every morning.”
Springer started sharing his weekly column in The Pocahontas Times in 2019.
At first it was the Watoga Trail Report, but more recently, the column’s been called For Your Consideration.
“The best thing about writing for The Pocahontas Times is working with the wonderful staff of this treasure of a newspaper,” Springer said.
“And then there are the interesting, and I might add, colorful, people who make Pocahontas County the special place it is,” he added.
Springer’s column quickly became a must read favorite. The column serves as an outlet for Springer’s intellectual curiosity and his deft writing style.
He usually explores some interesting scientific or sociological topic, but every once in a while he treats readers to a report from the fictional town of Mudwallow, Ohio, and those reports are laugh-out-loud funny.
“Mudwallow is loosely based upon several small towns I lived in as a child,” Springer explains.
The hilarious cast of characters who populate Mudwallow are also loosely drawn from reality.
“They’re based on people I’ve been privileged to know,” he said. “Some are still alive and others have passed on.
“These are people, like many here in Pocahontas County, who give so much color and humor to life,” he added.
Springer’s column generates quite a bit of feedback from readers.
“I do hear from readers sometimes,” Springer said.
“Some from as far away as Europe and for some reason, I’ve heard from several readers in an American expatriate community in the Philippines.
“Most comments have to do with the readers sharing their own stories that often mirror the article.
“I ran into two friends on the Greenbrier River Trail just this morning. They had read the piece on Jeremiah Johnson and shared their own Mountain Men (and women) stories for a good twenty minutes.
“Those are the kind of responses that keep me charged up and doing my research,” Springer said with a smile.
While Springer may write about Pocahontas County as though he’s been here all his life, in reality, he only arrived in 2012.
But in those 10 years, he’s traveled the back roads, become well acquainted with the locals, volunteered and pitched in wherever he was needed and immersed himself in all things Pocahontas County.
“I chose to live in West Virginia because I love it here,” Springer said. “It’s the beauty of the place and the people who live here who make it so special.
“There’s a slower, more relaxed pace of life here and a strong sense of community.
“I was living in Nicholas County back in about 2010 when I led a motorcycle tour from Pittsburgh through Pocahontas County. We stopped in Watoga and I just fell in love with it.
“In 2011, I camped in Watoga with some friends from Beckley and attended the Wild Edibles Festival, which I really enjoyed.”
And that was it. His mind was made up.
“I decided then and there to move here,” he said. “A year later I’d bought a house in Seebert and moved in.
“I’ve never regretted my move to West Virginia, not for one moment.”
His home in Seebert is a post and beam house cut from native trees (Mary Dawson calls it the Tree House), perched on the side of a steep hill looking out onto the tops of Virginia Pines with Watoga State Park in the distance.
While it’s not a huge home, at just a little over 1,000 sq. ft. with a full basement and a loft, it’s a far cry from the 610 sq. ft. cabin he is outfitting for this next chapter in his life.
Springer is in the process of yet another living experiment – he’s looking to liberate himself from excess baggage and distractions.
“A few years ago, I saw a documentary about tiny houses,” he recalled. “It got me thinking about what benefits I might derive from taking a minimalist approach to the way I live.”
“It’s about what you really need to live.”
He purchased the tiny cabin on Caesar Mountain in September 2021.
It was finished on the outside, but needed to be built out inside – work that Springer says is almost finished.
But why does he want to live so far away from folks when he is such a gregarious guy?
“I do enjoy being with friends and socializing,” Springer said. “But I don’t deny being a bit of a recluse – there is that aspect of my personality.”
When asked why he’s moving to a remote – and tiny – cabin on top of Caesar Mountain, Springer referred to a entry in March 6, 1897 Bicentennial column in The Pocahontas Times.
It made mention of a mysterious Swede named Henry Massenburg who moved here in the 19th century, made a home for himself near where Springer will be living, and enthusiastically espoused the principles of the Swedenborgian faith.
Springer says his reasons for moving to Caesar Mountain echo those of Massenberg.
The chance to pursue his personal spiritual quest.
The opportunity to study and reflect in a quiet, uninterrupted environment.
And maybe it’s because Springer has some Swedish in him – his Swedish relatives settled in Morgantown in the 18th century.
“Living in a tiny house like this may be liberating – freeing me from the maintenance, the time, energy and expense of keeping up a home,” Springer explained.
“I may love it, or, after a year of living like this, I may say ‘I hate this,’ Springer said, laughing.
Which is why he’s not ready to give up the beautiful home in Seebert.
It will be waiting for him if he changes his mind.
As a ranger, a recovery diver, a park enforcement officer, and a lifelong nature-lover, springer has lived in a number of cabins over the years.
There was the park cabin in Cuyahoga State Park in Ohio, a small cedar cabin in the woods in southeast Ohio, and a log home at Summersville Lake, just before he made the decision to toss his life upside down and move to Pocahontas County.
When he gets finished with it, the little cabin will be a well-planned and well-appointed abode, if a bit on the small side.
It will be just big enough for Springer and his two West Highland White Terriers, Bongo and Daisy.
But it can’t be called a “retirement home.”
Retirement hasn’t worked out too well for Springer.
His first retirement was from government work with the DNR and OSHA in 1999.
But it didn’t take.
“I was listening to NPR one day and heard this story about the ‘invisible people,’ the service people who work around us every day but are invisible to most of us, most of the time.
“I’d never been ignored or invisible in my jobs.
“I’d never done that kind of work – the kind of jobs that so many people do all their lives. I wanted to know what it was like to do that kind of work and to be ignored,” Springer said.
“So, for a period of time, I took those kinds of jobs because I wanted to gain appreciation for the people doing those jobs.”
He worked as a baggage handler and cleaned restrooms.
“Some people might have considered it a step down for me, after all, I had just left a professional position of authority for a low-paying, menial job.
“But I enjoyed that work. It taught me a lot.”
Springer’s life has been a series of these kinds of experiments and a series of footloose adventures.
He’s traveled extensively and alternately immersed himself in the worlds of food, exercise, meditation, work and volunteer work.
His second retirement came after 10 years of corporate work as a Health and Safety Director for a national corporation.
That didn’t take either.
He traveled extensively for this job and taught courses at the OSHA Institute in Chicago on hypothermia, frostbite, heat stress and hazards of UV radiation.
After working all those years in government, Springer wanted to see things from the other side of the desk and see if it changed his view of the regulations.
It didn’t diminish my view that we need to protect all workers.
I retired from that job in 2011, bought a tiny camper and, with his two West Highland Terriers, headed out on an extensive exploratory food junket – on the evolutionary trail of the tamale, to be exact.
That took him up and down the west coast of the United States, up into Canada and down into Mexico, and culminated in Pie Town, New Mexico.
Springer readily concedes that one of his strongest traits is his curiosity.
“And it’s gotten me into trouble on several occasions in my life,” he laughed.
This time, he’s planning some scientific study at the Arthur Findley College, a college of Spiritualism and psychic sciences in Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex, England.
Living in a tiny cabin may free up some time to investigate other aspects of life.
“I want to use what time I have left, writing, studying, learning about myself and researching more about nature,” he said.
“And I expect I might be doing a little traveling – most of which will be right here in West Virginia.”
“I’ve traveled extensively in my life. I’ve seen enough faraway places. I want to explore West Virginia a little more.”
“As long as my editor and my readers still want me, I don’t have any plans to discontinue writing my column.
“I’ll keep writing, whether it’s from my tiny cabin or from the road.”