Mar 7, 2009

mountain mama

It's deliciously warm and I'm sitting on my porch looking at the mountains. It'd be devastating to the area if these mountains were developed (which is always in discussion). Worse, of course, much worse, would be if these mountains were mined. There is a depressing little drive along the back of them where cement factories have already scarred the landscape dramatically.

But that's just what's going to happen to the mountain that my father grew up on in West Virginia. It's been chosen for a mountaintop removal site. They'll be mining coal, as has always been the case in poor, incredibly beautiful West Virginia.
MTR, mountaintop removal mining, is an extreme form of mining, causing dramatic and irreversible topographical and ecological changes. The top 1,000 feet of a mountain is removed to expose veins of coal. The "waste" is dumped in the nearest valley, creating flat land where mountains were. No vegetation survives, but a lot of waste does, and this sludge is stored in open dams. A "benefit" (besides energy) that is touted for MTR is the creation of flat land where none was before.

If anyone talked to the hill people living there, they'd know that "flatlanders" is a mocking term, not a compliment. But no one is asking the residents. They don't think they have to, because these people are poor. Very poor. They'll be grateful for a temporary mine job, right?
With all the garbage about clean coal" floating around the news these days, people who know nothing of the Appalachians might actually believe it is something that exists. People who've lived near mines and have worked in mines know better. Mortality rates are already higher than the rest of the country in rural West Virginia, but studies show that the rate is due as much to coal mining as to smoking and lack of access to health care. This week's big D.C. demo tried to bring the facts to light.

Rural, mountainous West Virginia may be poor, but it is incredibly lush. When I visited Clay Country as a pre-teen, I tried to declare the whole area a national park. The people who live there have a fierce loyalty to the land, their home, their way of life, and the mountains. My father moved away more than fifty years ago, and still gets the county newspaper. He visited the site of his childhood home this past summer, knowing it might be the last time he saw his mountain intact.
Outsiders like to think that these poor, mountain people are backwards. But they sure do like to look at pictures of them, read about their troubles, listen to their banjo music, and romanticize what it would be like to live in the deep country.

Among my grad school regrets are that I didn't take a colleague up on the offer to join her on a trip to visit with various W.V. artists she worked with. I may never see my father's mountain again, either.

Clay Country newspaper from my dad.
"Three generation of Holcombs" photo by Shelby Lee Adams.
Demonstration photo from Coal River Mountain Watch.
Bird house by Charley Wise.

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