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We’ve had wonderful weather this weekend.  It’s been reminiscent of autumns past and autmun to come.  I got to spend some time at Wiley’s Last Resort for MARS Fest.  It was a family friendly event, so the girls got to go too.  I spent quite a bit of time there as a kid as it was the home of a good friend then.  The house he lived in has burnt down and it has changed a lot, but it is just as much a lovely place.  I am happy that I got to share it with the girls.

Here is a video tour of the place.

The girls loved it.  Ivy roamed and I followed.  Deladis played in the sand.  We enjoyed looking at art and hearing some pretty good music, but mostly the air and the mountain.  Pine Mountain, where the resort is located, is the second highest mountain in Kentucky.  It rests in Letcher County closest to the countyseat of Whitesburg where I grew up.  The highest mountain in Kentucky, Black Mountain, can be seen from Pine Mountain.  It rests in Harlan County.

A while ago, the state allowed a coal company to begin a strip mining job on top of Black Mountain.  I got to see the results of that while I visited the resort this weekend.  Looking out over the landscape I couldn’t help but turn my head at the barren top of Black Mountain.  Sure it will be reclaimed in some form or fashion, but forever changed.  I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how a state can allow for a landmark like its tallest mountain to be stripped, essentially knocked off.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is an activist group that produced this video.  I like the perspectives in this series of videos they have made and posted.  I do very much believe, however, that the solutions to the issues like coal that face the Appalachian people will have to be found within the mountain people.  We are a stubborn sort and often resistent to change.   That quality serves us well at times and hinders us at others. It is very unlikely that we will listen to folks from outside of our area when they are trying to tell us our problems and how to fix them, even if they are other Kentuckians.

I pray that we will take back our culture and stop trying to blend in with mainstream America.  I hope that we will remember the battles of our ancestors and how they were nearly enslaved to the industry once it was allowed in.  I wish that we would open our eyes and realize what our assets are, and learn to utilize them, before more tragedies like Black Mountain take place.  Because, like it or not, coal is not a renewable resource.  It will run out.  Then, what?  A middle ground needs to be found, and a nation wide change in priorities has to take place.

I hope if you are a Kentucky resident or live nearby, that you will take the time to visit the mountains of eastern Kentucky.  We have so much to offer.  I think we also have so much to show that will teach you about the path our country has taken, and how cultures are being lost everyday.

I enjoyed my time on the mountain.  It was time to just be.  I think of all the men and women who are worrying, and can’t just be because they work in the coal industry and their jobs are on the line.  They wonder what will happen to them if the coal industry leaves the mountains.  I think it is time to start creating the answers to those questions.

*The following is the first part of a two part post dealing with the degradation of culture equating in the degradation of the quality of life.  This first section is about food.  Part Two is about mountaintop removal.  Both of these issues are extremely important to me, but the issue of mountaintop removal has been the hardest to address because of the weight it carries in my east Kentucky home at the present.  Please, leave your thoughts in the comments section of these posts.  Good, respectful discussion is the key to finding answers.

The most informative blog (for my needs) that I have found so far is Nourished Kitchen.  Jenny blogs about “real” food and the ways of traditional food preparation.  She writes from a place of well researched thoughts, and a recent post she made added some flame to thoughts I had been having recently.  Prisoners in the Illinois prison system are being fed a soy-based diet where they are eating upwards of 100 grams of soy daily.  This isn’t normal for any person of any culture.  What makes it even worse is Illinois has started a pilot program of this sort as lunches for children.  What is so horrible about that?

Watch this 4 part video on the dangers of soy from the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation – Sally Fallon.

Get it straight from a world renown doctor – Dr. Joesph Mercola.

As if that wasn’t enough… Have you incorporated soy as part of a low fat diet?  Do you have thyroid issues?  Read this.

All this cheap, fake food is lining the pockets of big food corporations and the Illinois governor, making the rich richer at the expense of people in need of rehabilitation and our children!  Some of you may be of the mind set that prisoners are being punished, so why not feed them as cheaply as possible.  Not every man or woman in the prison  system is there because they consciously chose to commit a  crime.  We also must think that the majority of prisoners will be released one day.  Do we not want them on the road to rehabilitation?  John and I watched this Frontline two part documentary about that subject recently.  About the children – for goodness sake they are growing beings making physical and mental leaps and bounds on a daily basis.  They should be fed the best food possible to insure their future health.  That is our responsibility as their caregivers.  It’s not our lives we are taking in our hands, but the life of another.

I could write a book of ranting on the issue of food alone, but I think this is one symptom in the disease of America and other industrialized nations.  It is the disease of the industrialization of culture.  It’s embracing the easy road like there is some kind of prestige in a life that contains too much leisure.  It is the replacing of the “real” with manufactured impressions.  It is a sad state, and it is deteriorating any joy, love, and meaningfulness that we can glean from life on earth.

We can see the symptoms all too clearly when we take into consideration the lives our children lead and the things they contend with today via the media.  Think back on your childhood and the images that filled your days.  We are quickly becoming a nation void of culture that is outside of the culture that popular industry would have us adopt.  Traditions are being lost and replaced with those that perpetuate capitalist ideas and goals.  For example, the after Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza.  What is the need, really?  Who are you benefiting by putting yourself in debt or spending your money on frivolous things?  How long will that feeling of joy last, if you even obtain it at all?

We are a nation that puts to much faith the system of gaining and utilizing monetary wealth.  We listen to what industry tells us are the quick fixes to all our problems from our looks to the food we eat.  It is not a wonder that we are becoming the most obese nation with the myriad of health and emotional  problems that come with that.  It is unnerving the many ways this diease affects our lives and the way we have become dissensitized to the effects.

Please check back tomorrow for Industrialization of Culture – Part Two (Coal).

Ro wanted to see the elk. Knott County is the elk capital of the world, or something like that. The elk tours in Knott County are conducted off of a reclaimed strip mine that has been stocked with a breed of elk that are not native to Kentucky. We had tried to take her twice before and didn’t see anything.

We had been visiting with my dad who is an environmental engineer and works with coal companies to reclaim strip mines and keep all mines within environmental regulations. He depends on coal for a paycheck just like many hardworking Appalachian men and women. We rode all over the reclaimed job in his new work truck. I could tell he loved riding where cars and trucks don’t go on a typical day. He was bound and determined to let his grandbaby see some elk. “I look out over all that grass and expect to see Indians chasing buffalo,” he said. I can understand what he’s saying, but find it ironic that he is talking about the life of a plains Indian on the top of an eastern Kentucky mountaintop. “I’d love to own all this land. It reminds me of Montana or South Dakota.” He was proud of the job they had done, I could tell, though this wasn’t one of his sites.

We round a corner and over a little embankment nestled in a patch of some trees was an old cemetery. All around where this family had buried around seventy of their loved ones, the ridge lines were blasted off to get at the seams of coal underneath. At times, this cemetery would have been unable to be visited by family without permission from the coal company. Surrounding the final resting place of these people would have been piles of dirt, mud, a sludge pond, heavy machinery, dynamite blasts, and coal. Fortunately, those graves were located in a place where they would not slide off the hillside from erosion. They were not buried by mounds of dirt and forgotten. They weren’t relocated to a site deemed appropriate by the coal company. They were left, and are now dotted with flowers in the middle of horse trails, ATV trails, and elk tours.

I was reminded of seeing this little cemetery when I heard Rich Kirby read “The Week in Coal” on WMMT 88.7 FM. (www.appalshop.org and he reported on a story released by the Associated Press about a man named Walter Young. Young is sixty-three and recently went to check on his great-grandmother’s grave when he heard there was mining surrounding her burial site. He went, and the grave wasn’t there. The coal company could not tell him where the grave had been relocated or if it was. ( The piece continued mentioning an area that rests under a cemetery that hadn’t been used for seventy years. This area contains approximately $5.2 million dollars worth of coal. This would require moving the graves to a place with perpetual care. Eight of the twelve families have given permission.

I am a coal miner’s daughter. I was raised on the money that was brought forth from coal. My family history finds my great-grandmother Golda Ruth Steven Johnson raised in a coal camp in Burdine. It finds my great-grandfather John Thomas Hansel and his father working the underground mines in Harlan. My great-great grandfather was in the area during the time it was called Bloody Harlan when the union and the coal thugs battled it out over wages, living conditions, and workplace safety. I can’t say that I was raised here without the need of coal money. I can say that I firmly believe that many of us would have been better off if it had never been found in these hills.

mine located on Hwy 15 btwn. Isom and Dry Fork

mine located on Hwy 15 btwn. Isom and Dry Fork

So, when I think of a wrongdoing such as that of the coal company against Walter Young, and others who have lost gravesites, or had to endure their loved ones being dug from the ground and moved off family land, it furthers my hope that someday mountaintop removal (strip mining) will not plague our area anymore. I wonder at what point have we as an American people (this isn’t an isolated problem) come to value money over the hearts of people and respect for the dead. I wonder why those outside this area who protest strip mining don’t see how they are as much a part of the problem as the coal companies pulling it from the ground at the lowest cost to them. You too demand cheap electricity, and love the city lights.

I am not in anyway saying that there is currently a solution that justifies taking the jobs of those employed by strip mines, nor am I saying that these miners aren’t to be fully respected and appreciated for the job they do. Doing away with their jobs without a replacement for them would be just as wrong as disturbing those laid to rest. What I am saying is that in order for this region to heal, we need to find viable solutions to the problems we have. One of those is that strip mines (though pulling a vital God-given resource) are tearing up our landscape, causing water pollution, and leaving scars on our psyche. Those in the industry argue that it provides flat land for development and housing. I’m not sure that the mountains need the kind of development that it brings. Do we want shopping malls? Large golf courses? Up-scale housing? Sure, some of you would read this and say, of course. However, I don’t believe our future as mountain dwellers is in blending in with the larger American society. I believe our future is in embracing our cultural heritage, our landscape, and the fact that we were blessed to be born here. We should not seek to lose ourselves in commercialism, but in our own uniqueness. That should be a big part of where our future economy lies.

mine located on Hwy 15 btwn. Wolfpen and Isom

mine located on Hwy 15 btwn. Wolfpen and Isom

I sincerely hope that Walter Young finds his grandmother and can see that her remains are properly taken care of. I hope the coal company pays for mishandling the gravesite. I hope that at some point in the near future our people can find a way to exist with coal, the use of manpower instead of large machinery to pull it from the ground, the possibility of alternative energies in the area (please no wind turbines – those are a nightmare for the wildlife and way too noisy), and a renewal of pride in our rich history of art, music, storytelling, literature, woodworking, cooking, and so much more.

*For more extensive photographs on strip mining in various stages please Google “strip mining” or “mountaintop removal”.  These photographs are the best I could do myself through snowy weather yesterday.  These mines are starting to be reclaimed.


About Me

An Appalachian woman born and raised, mothering two little girls in a place that is non-existent to AT&T or UPS. Happily working toward a sustainable lifestyle and writing on the demand of a loud muse.

March 2023

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