"The Appalachian Mountains inspire wonder, reverence and awe. Many of the nation's magnificent rivers flow from them, providing millions of Americans with clean drinking water. Their majestic vistas nourish our spirits and connect us with nature. It's no wonder that these crown jewels have inspired musicians for generations, whether they're playing bluegrass, country or rock-and-roll...." -- Music Saves Mountains
"Topless mountains are obscene." -- MTM bumper sticker
"I come to this the largest ever global conference facing the greatest global challenge of our time to appeal to you to summon up the highest level of ambition and will.... And I say to this conference: informed by science, moved by conscience, inspired by common purpose we, the leaders of this fragile world, must affirm: we will not condemn millions to injustice without remedy, to sorrow without hope, to deprivation without end.... Let us demonstrate a strength of resolve equal to the greatness of our cause. And let us prove today and tomorrow the enduring truth that is more telling than any passing setback: that what we can achieve together is far greater than whatever we can achieve unilaterally and alone. In these few days in Copenhagen, which will be blessed or blamed for generations to come, we cannot permit the politics of narrow interest to prevent a policy for human survival. Because for all of us and for our children there is no greater national interest than the common future of this planet." -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, 12/17/09, Copenhagen Climate Summit
And I’ve come back to you,
Mountain Earth —
Come to laugh
And sing —
To dig my songs up
From your soil
And spin a melody
Of corn blades,
And a clean-plowed furrow.
I’ve come to sing and grope —
With a people who know
Who stumble up
A long crooked road....
I’ve come because
Your great silent agony
And the weary foot-steps
Of my old Dad
Still sound upon the mountain
Where his sweat dripped down
To water your dirt....
If you've never seen a lovely, healthy mountain top denuded and destroyed, the film below is a sad introduction to its innards exposed and wrenched away.
(Blaring noises are Massey Energy's attempt to bring MTR protestors off the site.)
Click for historical background and similar videos.
"... The Upper Big Branch Mine [WV] that suffered the most serious mining disaster since 1984 on Monday has received the most serious citations from the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in 2009 of all Massey Energy-owned mines in West Virginia. Data collected from MSHA shows that over the course of the last year, the Upper Big Branch Mine received 48 'unwarrantable failure orders,' far exceeding Massey Energy’s number two recipient of serious citations in West Virginia. On Monday [April 5, 2010], 25 miners were killed and left four others trapped underground at the Upper Big Branch Mine. It is the worst mining disaster in the United States since 1984 and, if the four trapped miners are not rescued, would become the worst since 1970. The Washington Post reports, '[t]he cause of Monday’s explosion has not been determined, but a buildup of methane or coal dust was considered the likeliest culprit.' The Upper Big Branch mine received 39 violations in 2009 citing a failure to plan for ventilation to extract methane and other chemicals. Fifteen of these were considered 'significant and substantial.' In July of 2009, the mine received its largest monetary fine of the year ($66,142) for allowing the accumulation of combustible materials in working spaces. Upper Big Branch received 34 similar violations citing accumulation of combustible materials, 20 of which were determined to be 'significant and substantial.' Massey Energy has contested nearly all major citations issued against the Upper Big Branch Mine in 2009 and has paid less than 20% of the fines levied against them. Of the top 100 fines levied against the Upper Big Branch Mine in 2009, Massey Energy has contested or are delinquent in paying 85% of them. Upper Big Branch was also cited for 202 violations that were considered 'significant and substantial.' Seventy-six percent of those have either been contested or Massey Energy is delinquent in paying them...." -- digby in Teabagger CEO, AlterNet 4/7/10
Appalachia is an area traditionally restricted economically and by some isolation from broadly accessible physical and, increasingly, environmental wholesomeness. That historical reality is exacerbated now by an effectual unemployment rate of around 17 percent and many underemployed and minimally paid without employer-provided insurance benefits.
Some recent articles and broadcasts nationwide expressing a fear of "death panels" in proposed federal health care legislation fail to acknowledge that, just because a procedure or test isn't approved by an insurance carrier, that doesn't mean the individual can't acquire it on his or her own, if so chosen as necessary or urgent and personal resources are available for it. Tens of millions of uninsured Americans -- and Appalachia is a prime example of this -- have been facing "death panels" of hard choices between, for instance, food and a doctor's visit or medication for decades, centuries really. Perhaps a little empathy for the circumstances they've lived in and dealt with daily for themselves and their children is in order now in considering possibilities that might benefit all of our citizens, not just ones economically advantaged at any particular moment or era. Most of us have ups and downs in that arena and today's business manager and owner can be tomorrow's homeless person sleeping in a car or shelter, perhaps with a family of small children also, and visa versa.
The more we depend, however, on pharmaceuticals and mainstream medical practice, the more we become dependent upon them until we see, obviously, no alternative or choice but to proceed in that direction. That isn't true, though. Most bodies have pretty formidable systems, if healthy and encouraged, for building and having defenses against various biological threats. They become overwhelmed and increasingly inoperable, unfortunately, under a withering deluge of foreign, manmade chemicals where elements natural to our environment and bodies might be more appropriately helpful in keeping us physically strong and up-to-date in resistences. Doing our intelligent and educated best, as our foreparents did and had to do, in practical care -- a situation taken for granted by prior generations as necessary and efficacious -- is a favor we can do for ourselves in accepting as much responsibility as possible for our own health and those personal choices and decisions.
There are many books, magazines, websites and wholistic shops, seminars and commercial therapies readily available and easily accessible in cutting back on mainstream medical expense personally and nationally. Through advertising and extraordinarily well-funded lobbying we have become nearly addicted to one version and view of health care that provides exorbitant profits in some cases for its purveyors -- who do prey on fear and raising fright, "scare tactics" -- that might better be addressed initially by independent study, research and tried-and-true "home remedies," including honest prayer for ourselves and others experiencing extreme discomfort, pain, distention, anxiety and confoundment mental and physical from those in our relatively rich nation to others abandoned en masse in the wilds from desert to jungle worldwide without hope of relief or release except by God.
Happy holy days. -- jH
Video below records a populous West Virginia citizen protest -- complete with native speakers, bluegrass musicians and Uncle Sam on stilts -- against coal mining practices that harm the environmental health of eloquently brave and afflicted residents.
(Click for related videos.)
Jewell Ridge Coal (Jeni & Billy) perform -- for instance to an attentive and enthusiastic crowd during Jonesborough TN's 2009 MOTS season -- oustandingly and evocatively excellent tunes about Appalachia and coal, particularly (e.g. Tar Paper Shack) that "will draw you into captivating narratives of heartache and hard living, of true life blues and unexpected grace. Images of coal & crowns, trash & trailers, and glass and gasoline recur, and Jesus and the Great Speckled Bird are never far off."
"Oh, Mother Earth/
I wonder what's gonna happen/
to Mother Earth/
Ah... ah... ah... Mother Earth/
We better have a little mercy/
On Mother Earth/
When Mother Earth is talkin'/
Better listen carefully/
She say she's so disheartened/
'Bout the things she sees/
She says it's all so crazy/
Just so much misery/
She says I can't help but wonder/
Wonder the reason why/
You've poisoned my waters/
and blackened my sky/
Put a hole in my soul/
You sho nuff tryin' to drain me dry/
You done took me for granted/
Ah you took me in vain/
Yes you took my good nature/
for your fortune and fame/
You sho nuff took me wrong/
There's no one but yourself to blame/
Don't like your double talk/
You call it your liberty/
Then you tear away my cover/
My Garden of Eden/
And all my greenery/
You beached all my birds/
And bagged all my bees/
You beat my poor buffalo/
Right on down to his knees/
You gave 'em no mercy/
I gave you amnesty/
Now I'm feelin' mighty angry/
Used and abused/
Battered and bruised/
So people get ready/
Best be on your P's and Q's/
Cause I'm gon' rain on and thunder/
Gon' put mud in the streets/
Gon' be huffin' and puffin'/
You gon' be catchin my heat/
Rumblin' and tumblin'/
Right on up under yo feet/
Now there won't be no prologue/
This act it won't be televised/
No it won't be mistaken/
As an exercise/
I'm gon' be kickin' up a storm/
It's truly gon' be electrifying"
-- Chic Street Man, popular teller/musician at Jonesborough's International Storytelling Center and annual festival, in What It's Worth from Mother Earth on the CD beau-ti-ful
Video above Jeni and Billy with the sacred harp (human voice) song "Panting for Heaven"
"... For centuries the magic and mystery of Appalachia's landscape has inspired artists and authors. The deep greens and heavy mists of the mountains lend themselves to breaktaking descriptions, expressed in words, paints and ... in cinematography...." -- Julie Johnson, Appalachian Voice 10-11/09
"Only 4 percent of old growth forests in Southern Appalachia are left." -- Chris Joyell, Communications Director, Wild South
"... Tennessee State Parks alone average 25 million annual visitors. North Carolina has about 15.4 million visitors; West Virginia attracts about 7.5 million visitors each year; and Virginia brings in about 7 million annual visitors. Parks and public lands are fundamental to state economies and to the parks' bordering communities. Ecotourism generates millions of dollars annually.... North Carolina's state parks generate $289 million in revenue in addition to $120 million in local residents' income.... In addition, the increase in programs creates more jobs for the local communities.... 'Nature provides significant health benefits, one being stress reduction,' said Michael Kirschman in his article Know Your Audience, Speak Their Language, and Get The Support You Need, published in Legacy in July. 'Since over 100 studies find that spending time in nature reduces stress, it can be argued nature preserves and their facilities have a positive impact on the health of our residents.'..." -- Maureen Halsema in The True Value of State Parks, Appalachian Voice 10-11/09
"... try and imagine a person whose greed and ambition were so great they could justify the destruction of such beauty...." -- Sarah Vig in Serena, Appalachian Voice 10-11/09
"... Less than 25 percent of miners in the central and southern Appalachian coalfields are currently unionized. Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy -- one of the largest coal mining companies in central Appalachia -- has led the movement against unionization.... He likens living in a capitalist society to a jungle. 'It's survival of the fittest. In the long term it's going to be the most productive people who benefit.'..." -- Sandra Diaz in Bloodshed and Coercion in the Coalfields: From Columbia to Appalachia, Appalachian Voice 10-11/09
"We believe the forest service should focus on repairing past problems, past legacies, before we create new problems, and continue a legacy of mismanagement." -- Ben Prater, Associate Director, Wild South
"In West Virginia's Potomac River, widespread populations of 'intersex' fish have been found. In June 2009, a study spear-headed by the U.S. Geological Study found that endocrine-blocking chemicals, present in pesticides, plastics, flame retardants and personal-care products, are causing abnormalities in fish, such as egg production in males...." -- Across Appalachia: Environmental News, Appalachian Voice 10-11/09
"... In another dark time, British prime minister Winston Churchill once asked the impossible of his small population: 'Let us... brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that... (in) a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'..." -- Appalachian Voices Editorial, Appalachian Voice 10-11/09
NPR Audio Stream Below: Ben Sollee and Michael Martin Moore music benefit for Appalachian Voices and a healthy Mountain Empire ecology
Graphic below: Forest Path, watercolor by Vera Tracy, Jonesborough TN
Walk The Land
People who don't spend much time amidst the natural world by choice, time or location tend to think of it as pretty static, like a landscape painting or a snapshot. In fact, to the contrary it's ever-changing in myriad ways and on tiny to grand scales. Scents in the air blown by blooms and animals on the soft waves of warm breeze to fierce wind raging in from storm arriving or past meander and weave through each other. Leaves and grasses are not green but shades in between brown and near-blue of form straightly slender to mottled and chunky. They're seldom still, perhaps line dancing in some semblance of symmetry, brushed by birds or ground and tree fur, dewed by the moon, chilled by night. Waters in pools rarely left stagnant, creeks in the narrow thrush and rush of travel to widening rivers, rivulets running and meeting to join with the sea change similarly in shape, shade and temperance, fed by our sky canopy of dynamic currents calmly colliding or conflicting to sudden stark cracks of electrons mid-air to ground, zigzagged and intermittent unpredicatably. Earth and her waters resound, rebound to all, resplendently shining or drowned temporarily, as do her creatures caught or hidden in sense of tumult unbidden on every hand. Beings fortunate to live or visit lands unmarred marvel and delight where her mysteries abound, bright and fog-strewn, for wondrous knowing to be shared or not as secrets may be with those who choose more seemingly safe, reliable and sedentary modes of leisure and life. But you have to be there, open to her whispers and chants, shouts and gleamings to glean the full meaning personally. She speaks differently to each one from the lull of early evening to the sun's mighty roar at rising. From small sheltered park to daunting wilderness vastly, any of us of any age and ability can grasp a glimpse at least of her mildness, her fury, her wildness, her messaging. Snow and ice can't stop or delay her movings and mournings, her moments of heaving, churning, and her creatures burrowed or borne away by ancient instinct till the alluring array and cheer of spring. We are made by our Creator to walk on the land and know it as well as the divine hand, however we're able and can. Visit a tree or a brook on some lonely, abandoned stand and you'll hear The Word in a spray of foam from rock, the breeze that leaves too suddenly, a hint of eternal home, and maybe the cookie-crumb path leading and leaning to it, how to survive the gales and wails on our way that fit us for the journey. Because it's true: Only the fittest survive to find and stay in New Jerusalem spiritually and spatially. We're not natural beasts but God's own: wo/men with sentient minds, hearts, spirits and souls -- and free will to choose in our time here which way we will go. -- jH
Graphic below: Photograph of Elizabethton TN's Doe River and its 19th century Covered Bridge still used and celebrated with festivities
"On Tuesday, Duke Energy and the North Carolina Utility Commission reached a preliminary settlement on Duke’s request for a substantial rate increase on residential and commercial utilities. The proposed agreement would cut Duke’s original request of a 13% residential rate increase to around 7%, a hike which would phase in over a two year period, starting with a 4.3% increase in January, 2010. The proposed agreement would reduce Duke’s expected profit increase from $496 million to $315 million.... Just the day before, the Utilities Commission held the last in a string of public hearings in which Duke Energy customers were able to make public comments concerning the hike. According to Commission Chairman Edward Finley, Jr., thousands of emails, phone calls and letters had also poured in opposing the increase. During yesterday’s hearing, over a dozen residents spoke out against the rate hike, citing health concerns, economy, and the lack of need for the Cliffside coal-fired power plant expansion. Several speakers chastised Duke Energy for its failure to move towards more renewable energy. Elizabeth Goyer, a UNC Asheville environmental studies student, noted that while the utility claims to be pushing for more renewable sources, only about 3% of Duke’s electricity comes from alternates to coal.... Zell McGee, a North Carolina native and a medical expert who taught for years in Utah, testified about known health effects of coal-fired power plants. 'Healthcare costs are translated to the customers,' he said, further increasing their financial burden beyond the rate increase. He compared rate payers to prey and Duke Energy to predators, and said that the Commission needed to work harder to 'encourage harmony between utility companies and their customers.' A representative of the North Carolina Conservation Network delivered a petition signed by over 1500 citizens asking that the rate hike request be rejected, and an attorney with the North Carolina Justice Center, testified on behalf of the disadvantaged residents of the state, noting that of the 1.3 million poor people currently living in North Carolina, none of them could afford to pay for the increase, either monetarily or physically. 'One thing that has not been mentioned today,' Ripley said, 'is the extensive research that has been done to show correlations between energy costs and the health of our children and of our poor elderly people in this state.' Ripley elaborated by explaining that increased external costs means less money to spend on food, which leads to malnutrition and poor health...." -- Jamie in Appalachian Voices
"... According to Bloomberg, JP Morgan Chase maintains ongoing financial relationships with 5 of the top 10 corporate producers of mountaintop removal coal. These 5 companies: Massey Energy, International Coal Group, Arch Coal, CONSOL Energy, and TECO Energy were responsible for mountaintop removal mining nearly 38 million tons of coal in 2008 – the most recent year with complete data.... The U.S. government’s lawsuit against Massey, which resulted in the $20 million settlement, alleged more than 60,000 days of violations over a six-year period, or about 10,000 days of violations per year.... With 19 Appalachian mining operations valued at $2.6 billion in 2008, parent company Massey had demonstrated a merciless coveting for coal at any expense. In a haunting parallel to the Tennessee coal ash disaster, a Massey subsidiary in eastern Kentucky had been responsible for the largest coal slurry spill in 2000, leaking over 300 million gallons of toxic sludge into the area’s waterways and aquifers.... By 2008, it had been forced to pay $20 million in penalties for dumping toxic mine waste into the region’s waterways; before the year was out, Massey shelled out a record $4.2 million for civil and criminal fines in the death of two coal miners in West Virginia...." -- American Book Award-winner, journalist and cultural historian Jeff Biggers in Crime in Appalachia, AlterNet, 2/18/10
Ruminations and Ramifications
If you destroy mountaintops forever, pollute streams and aquifers, poison humans and fish and mammals, spew rubble over tender living land, are you "productive" in the true sense and meaning of the word? For all that, you have to show blind allegiance to the dwindling and dirty resource of coal, hard cash, and your arse in the face of the future, the children left shaking and shorn wishing perhaps that you and they had never been born to see and know the wake of tremulous terror victim and predator face. Our race and all lifeforms depend on a healthily nurtured Earth and its biosystems. We can't live in space. It's here or nowhere and now or never. And, as ever, it's up to us -- the highest link in the food chain -- to save ourselves and the rest or die in a mass grave amidst a populous sky, unknown and unremarked, unremembered, unmissed. And perhaps some far-off entity one aeon will hiss, "Ack. They weren't really sentient like us, you know -- just moles, maggots, and beasts." And a few telepathics may at last engrave the names of a desecrated planet's Crowded Execution Officials, its CEOs, rotted and rotten in the dust. This is how it was. -- jH