From the outside looking in, this year was a hectic one in Appalachia. From the fight for water quality to the midterm elections, activism to opioids, 2018 showed us how—for better or worse—Appalachia serves as a bellwether for how the rest of the nation deals with its politics and problems among its most marginalized groups of citizens.

But our coverage this year at 100 Days in Appalachia shed light on the intricacies of actually living in this place. The stories that mattered to our readers went far beyond polarized politics and sensationalized tragedy. Instead, these stories highlight the living dualities of the current climate in a place so often misrepresented to the rest of the world. Bridging these divides, and navigating these conflicts, is what we do best.

Here is a look back at our best original stories of 2018, decided by your views, shares and comments.

1: Anthony Bourdain’s Loss Hits Home in Appalachian Kitchens, Mike Costello

“When Bourdain visited Lost Creek Farm, I knew who he was. It took his tragic death for me to understand why he truly mattered.”

When Anthony Bourdain came to West Virginia last September, he tweeted during his time on 100 Days’ food and culture editor Mike Costello’s farm: “This place moves me like very, very few other places. And I [have] been everywhere.”

Anthony Bourdain visited Mike Costello’s Lost Creek Farm during a 2017 episode of his show Parts Unknown. Photo: Screenshot from Parts Unknown, CNN

Following his tragic death, Costello was bombarded with text messages relaying the unexpected news that Bourdain—new-found hero of Almost Heaven, and the subject of endless conversation in his own life for several months prior—had taken his own life.

“Is there someone out there who can fill the void Bourdain leaves behind? Of course,” Costello writes. “There are millions of us. What Bourdain did best wasn’t necessarily extraordinary — at least it shouldn’t have been.”

2: Appalachian Whiteness: A History that Never Existed, Timothy Pratt

“Just as Trump’s pretense toward ending birthright citizenship has incited reexaminations of the Constitution, so should the ‘fetishization’ of Appalachia’s supposed racial and ethnic purity by those supporting the proposal cause us to take another look at the region’s real past and present.”

While euro-centric histories often chronicle a misrepresented “whitened archetype of Appalachia,” other observers have noted that in recent years, states in the region occupy top 10 lists of those with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations.

A rich history of diversity, though often overlooked by those on the outside, is important in shaping our perceptions of the region today and the circumstances that have carved out Appalachia’s specific role in American society.

Pratt argues that the over-representation of a stark white Appalachia in history books has only grown in appeal to those who strive to “make America as white as it never was,” through such measures as President Trump’s announced intention to do away with the right to citizenship that the 14th Amendment confers upon all who are born on U.S. soil.

3: I was Arrested for Protesting Kavanaugh. This is Why I Did It, Karan Ireland

“One forgets, though, how exhausting it can be to stand up for something– to add something to our already overflowing plates, regardless of how important or meaningful. It’s like forgetting the pain of childbirth.”

Karan Ireland is escorted from Senator Joe Manchin’s campaign headquarters in Charleston, West Virginia, by a Charleston police officer. Ireland and eight other women were arrested after occupying the senator’s office for ten hours, demanding he pledge to vote no on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo: Roger May

In the midst of the Judge Kavanaugh hearings this year, Karan Ireland and 20 other women in her West Virginia community decided to march into Sen. Joe Manchin’s campaign office in the capital city of Charleston and ask him to pledge that he would vote no on the appointment. They decided ahead of time only to leave after coaxing that response from him and, while the group had talked about the possibility of arrest, Ireland wrote that was never the end goal. Manchin remained the lone Democrat to cast a vote in favor of the newly confirmed Supreme Court justice.

“I was feeling the effects of cultural misogyny: the overwhelm, the exhaustion, the despair that some things would just never change,” Ireland writes. “But by Saturday, after spending the day with two solid and caring men working on a project close to my heart, I was rejuvenated and ready to act.”

4: Homegrown Black Metal Smashes Stereotypical Appalachian Narratives, Elizabeth Price

“These stories and traditions have been persistently erased for centuries. Just like the destruction of the natural landscape, and subsequently, the life that inhabits it, the ongoing and systemic historical erasure of indigenous histories is violence.”

This story was a staff favorite of the year and touches on the tensions and freedoms that arise in popular culture at the point where modern histories meet the omnipresent unforgiving landscape of Appalachia. Elizabeth Price met with Aaron Carey of the Apalači folk metal band Nechochwen—in the woods—to talk about his work as a musician and his life as a resident of West Virginia and the greater Ohio Valley.

“You won’t see our mountain-metal darlings adorned in corpse paint, like their Norwegian predecessors,” Price writes. “But you will catch them growing and canning their own food, just like their grandmothers taught them.”

5: Looking at Appalachia: 13 States in 39 Photographs, Roger May

“One of the most incredible results of the project has been the community and network of photographers we’ve established since its creation. We’ve been able to share some of Appalachia’s diversity: geographically, socioeconomically, and culturally while complicating the longstanding narrative of Appalachia’s homogeneity.”

Members of the Dix Fork Old Regular Baptist Church pray after baptizing Ruth Vanhoose, 84, of Chattaroy, West Virginia. She was baptized in Big Creek, Pike County, Kentucky, where members have been baptized for decades. Photo: Roger May/Looking at Appalachia

The crowd-sourced photo series Looking at Appalachia was launched in February 2014 as a way to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the War on Poverty and establish a visual counterpoint to the pictures produced in that era. Today, the project encompasses nearly 600 photographs from more than 100 photographers.

Roger May is an Appalachian photographer and director of the project. In September, we published a selection of images from the series meant to show the full range of the project’s submissions.

“From a college student from North Carolina interning for the New York Times to a retired coal miner in eastern Kentucky, the work we share represents all walks of life, skill and ability,” May writes.

The selections are beautiful, haunting, diverse, and unifying in their portrayal of ordinary—and not-so-ordinary—Appalachian life.