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So many children are being raised without any real identity to guide them. Sure, we all must search for self, but it is always a benefit to know from where you were born. It is one of the most important reasons that John and I chose to move back to the mountains to raise our girls. We had to submerse ourselves in the cultural heritage that has sustained the mountain people from the time they settled here, Native Americans and Europeans alike, in order to parent from a place of comfort and safety. Appalachian is who we are, and who our girls are, and though they may find things of interest in other cultures (which I’m sure they will as I have) in order to understand themselves, they must know the history from which they came. Plus, having spent most of our own lives in the mountains, it is what we know.
Industrialization has brought with it a resentment for hard work, for things handmade, and for the time it takes to wait for a good result. I can’t fire off on this topic and say that I don’t enjoy some things that industrialization has brought to us. Nothing is all bad, but it is the way in which it’s handled that is the detriment. I see it trickling now into my mountains with the issue of mountaintop removal.
This issue is setting up a battleground that is similar to a civil war amongst the people of the mountains. It is being fought with a seriousness like nothing I’ve ever seen, and it is beginning to make me nervous. On one hand, those fighting against mountaintop removal are seen as somewhat of a threat to the livelihoods of the mountain men employed by the coal industry. On the other, mountaintop removal is a threat to life as we know it in the mountains of Appalachia. It’s what they call a conundrum, and the sides are taken. It’s hard to fall in the middle.
This effect of the disease of industrialization began with the introduction of coal mining to the mountains by elitist outsiders that touted saving a people from the drudgery of making a living by subduing the earth and depending on the good hand of nature for their well being. Really what this industry did was give people too little money for their land, and put them to work as indentured servants in one of the most dangerous jobs in the history of mankind. Men risked their lives with no time for working a garden and things such as that, to fill the pockets of the already rich men of the coal industry, as they watched their women and children grow weaker from a life of worry and even greater toil. The mountain people rose up and fought for fair treatment. We won some of those battles and lost some.
In the present day, I believe as a mountain culture we have lost so much of ourselves that we have dropped the ball in teaching our children the struggles from which they came. We only half know the stories, like hearing them in passing, and rather than remember the rich traditions and work that grew our people, we have started fighting for the right to be enslaved by capitalism. It saddens me to see stickers on the windshields of our able bodied, commonsensical, mountain men that read, “Save a Coal Miner. Kill a Tree Hugger”. I’m not sorry because I embrace the outsiders coming into our mountains pretending to know enough about our culture to try to save us from ourselves, but because our own people don’t realize that it goes way beyond a simple love for nature. Those fighting for a better way, those fighting to save the mountains, and those that are doing it from within the mountains are also fighting to save the men that work in the industry. There is no easy way. No one should lose their job, but their job should be transformed and made fair. It might be that until the answers are apparent that we might have to go back to a more subsistent way of living, and be content with that. There is no shame in it. We need to embrace who we are and why our ancestors settled this region in the first place.
I have heard some mountain folks comment that our land is worthless unless we mine the coal and make flat spaces for the sprawl of strip malls, Wal-Mart, and fancy housing. They have even went as far as saying that that is the reason the mountains are here. That is the biggest crock of lies I’ve ever heard. It is nonsense. It is cop-out. You take our mountains made by a force bigger than ourselves, and flatten them and replace their structure with man made commodities and you’ll have nothing but trouble. Our call is to subdue the earth, not to transform it (Genesis 1:28). Our ancestors moved into this region to set themselves apart from the debauchery they saw taking place in the large cities of the coast. They wanted to sustain a way of life that in some sense remained pure. They wanted to live by their own code. So many of us have forgotten that, or never have been told. Our people weren’t the mainstream and didn’t want to be.
What we are doing today is affecting the lives of our children. I don’t want my children to be at the beckon call of a fake culture that makes the rich richer and poor poorer. I think we all deserve a choice. If you are in the mountains and you want the same conveniences of the big cities, move to the big cities. Give those of us who want to maintain a way of life that embraces the landscape and utilizes it’s resources in a sustainable way the room to do so without a fight. This isn’t the city and it never will be. It shouldn’t be, and trying to make it such will be a disaster. I was raised on coal money from generations involved in mining, and I am not against the coal miner. I just believe that there are right and wrong ways of doing things. I believe we must work together to find a way of sustaining and building up our way of life. Those outside of here demanding cheap electricity provided by a non-renewable resource are obviously in the dark as to what it takes and the sacrifices people make to pull it from the ground. Let’s not continue to blind ourselves for a dream planted in our heads by those who use us for their gain.
Okay, sorry folks. I’ve written an essay. This is one of those times when I get carried away with words. However, I’m not just blowing wind or trying to stir the current. I want our people to come together with those interested parties to establish viable solutions to the environmental and economic questions before us. It isn’t an issue that is black and white. Read more about coal mining and the true impact it has on the state economy here.
Read my other posts on the issues surrounding coal mining in the Kentucky mountains and our future – Coal Mining Unconscious, Gravesite Relocation and Strip Mining, and Spotlight Appalachia – 20/20 and Bill O’Reilly.
As always, I welcome comments and constructive discussion.