A lot of people still farm part-time here in the Cheat River Valley near the Maryland border because farming is what their fathers did, because farming is a life style and a habit, and because it is what they know.
"You can't measure it in dollars and cents," said Fred Loughry, 39, a third-generation farmer in Hannahsville, just north of here. "It's something you like to do. It's part of you."
Now it is missing. A month after this state's worst flood, the destruction and its aftermath have so eroded the land that many of the farmers are on the brink of despair. They are stunned by the suddenness and magnitude of their losses, soured by the federal relief agencies whose regulations they call too restrictive and whose aid they deem insufficient, and daunted at the prospect of trying to rebuild with little cash and no insurance.
Some are giving up and many are troubled about the future.
"It's just a nightmare for all of us," said Loughry, 39, whose house was reduced by the flood to a pile of red bricks and whose 24-acre farm was ruined. "You can build your heart out day and night and skimp and mise, and in two seconds it's just like you never existed."
"You work for a lifetime, and the water comes up and takes it all," said Leah Pearl Minear, 72, whose husband's family has owned and farmed land in St. George since Colonial days.
The land in the valley is fertile and loamy, productive soil for hay, corn and wheat. When the shrouds of mist lift from the Appalachian Mountains, it is picturesque, a postcard view of the "Wild and Wonderful West Virginia" that brings tourists to the state. Or it was until Nov. 4.
Now, hundreds of acres of farmland lie badly scarred, a victim of what farmers, Red Cross volunteers, insurance adjusters and state and federal relief workers say is a cruel and violent act of nature.
Gullies deep as canals wend their way across what used to be cornfields. Beds of flat rock have replaced rolling meadows that were carved away by the churning waters. On some property, sand dunes, often taller than an adult, cover the earth. In sections where the river takes a turn but the flood waters refused to comply, chunks of land were simply torn away.
"I have what used to be a showplace," said Dewey Wilfong, a businessman and farmer whose land was devastated by the flood.
Debris remains everywhere on the farms. Cars, carried off and discarded by the high waters, look like helpless insects deposited legs up in the fields. Twisted combines and tractors are embedded in the mud.
On one lush front lawn, a TV satellite dish is crumpled like a Dixie cup, its concrete footing uprooted. Picking through the rubble of flooding that claimed 39 lives in the state, a visitor feels a faint sense of dread; the bodies of 10 presumed victims of the flood have not been found.
"I can find you most anything you want on my land," said Wilfong, whose fields are littered with downed trees, wrecked farm machinery and pieces of buildings. "I just can't guarantee it in good condition."
Officials estimate the loss of agricultural land and property along the Cheat River in the millions of dollars. That includes the loss of livestock, which in some cases was substantial.
Wilfong, a blunt-spoken man who owns a trucking and construction business upriver in the town of Parsons, has one of the biggest farms in the valley, a 150-acre island on the Cheat River. "That's my domain," he said in an interview. "It's my retreat."
But on a farm that had 10 buildings, only a badly damaged barn and two silos were left standing after the flood. The rest -- toolsheds, corncribs and pump houses -- are strewn downriver, upended and pulverized.
Wilfong lost about half of his 104 head of cattle. Like many farmers in the valley, he plans to sell what livestock he has left. Water ruined the winter feed for his animals and washed away the fences that used to contain them.
Wilfong guessed it would take at least $350,000 to put his farm back in order, and he said he cannot afford it. He is wrestling with the idea of selling some of the property he loves.
Leah Pearl Minear can look out the picture window of her son's house, where she now lives, at the ruins of the house she and her husband built 40 years ago. All that is left is the basement.
"Not a stick of furniture was found," she said. "Nothing." All her kitchen appliances were washed away. The only item she managed to recover from the kitchen was an old cookbook, now illegible.
The Minears farmed about 200 acres along the river, growing corn, oats and hay. They had stored thousands of bushels of shelled corn in a grain bin, which was nearly submerged in the flood and now "smells like a brewery where they make moonshine," Minear said.
Her husband Bill was widely admired as the best farmer in the valley. Nine days after the flood washed away their house, he died of a stroke.
"You might as well say the flood killed him," said Bob Jones, a voluble farmer who runs the Best Place Inc., a general store across the river from St. George.
Jones sells caps and T-shirts that proclaim, "I survived the flood of 1985," but he acknowledges that the sentiment may be premature.
"What's going to be bad is when winter comes," said Jones, "and people sit back with no jobs and a ruined farm and start thinking. Then it's going to hit them."
Many farmers who have sought aid from federal agencies say they are frustrated by red tape and the web of regulations governing the programs. According to these farmers, federal officials say they make either too much or too little money to qualify for the low-interest disaster loans and grants the government has advertised.
Although thousands in West Virginia have applied for federal aid, many farmers say that even when the federal programs are available they seem picayune compared to their financial needs. Most homeowner insurance policies do not cover flooding, and few farmers had flood insurance.
The eruption of Colombia's Nevado del Ruiz volcano, which killed 25,000 people just nine days after the flood here, has prompted many farmers to ask why the United States government was so quick to send aid to Colombia and so reluctant to help strapped West Virginia farmers.
"Our Bible says charity begins at home," said a caller to a radio talk show here. "And I do believe that our government ought to begin helping people at home and not abroad."
"I am very worried about the middle class who lost so much," said state Sen. Jae Spears, who represents Preston County, just north of St. George.
Federal officials say frustration with the system is common in disaster areas, and they say they are doing their best. They say the huge losses inevitably bring such complaints. "There are certainly going to be cases where [federal aid] is inadequate," said Howard M. Lester, chief of farmer programs for the federal Farmers Home Administration in West Virginia. "There are going to be some who fall between the cracks. I don't see any way around it." CAPTION: Picture 1 through 3, Chuck White surveys the destruction on the farm owned by his employer, Dewey Wilfong. Wilfong estimates it will cost at least $350,000 to repair flood damage; Dewey Wilfong . . . his land and buildings devastated; Leah Pearl Minear gestures toward ruined fields; Map, West Virginia. The Washington Post