I am planning to go to the last two days of this event - going for a training session on Friday and the march up the mountain and rally on Saturday. In preparation, I have been reading the 2008 Silas House/Jason Howard book - Something's Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal - through interviews with and stories of many mountain people, I am learning and remembering a lot.
My brothers and sisters and I used to spend some weeks each summer in Lynch, KY, the site of the highest mountain in KY - Big Black Mountain - where my parents grew up and my grandparents lived. Half of Big Black Mountain is in Lynch, KY and half is in VA. The half that is in VA has been decimated by mountain top removal. The people of Lynch and nearby Cumberland and Benham are fighting the forces of A and G coal to preserve their part of Big Black Mountain.
I think about Lynch a lot. I remember the smell of coal dust - not unpleasant, but what did I know? - and the rattling sound of coal-carrying trains, and the sights of the miners clomping up the road in their heavy boots at the end of a shift, white eyes in coal-darkened faces, some as young as 14 or 15. I also remember, back in the mid-late 1960s, seeing the separate bath houses labeled for "colored" and "white" miners.
Although my older brother and I were born in Lynch, our family moved away from Harlan County when my father entered the University of KY to study engineering, funded by the GI Bill. Lexington was a big city compared to Lynch. I often wonder what this change was like for my mom - who eventually was the mother of five children. I wonder what it was like for her to move from such a small town, far away from her home, friends (who are close friends to this day), and parents - to a city with bluegrass and softly rolling hills, a city that was so different in culture and topography than her mountainous home.
In my childhood, the only way to get back to Lynch for a visit was over twisty mountain roads, torture for this little girl who was prone to car-sickness (particularly when adults smoked cigarettes and cigars - oh, how times have changed! no seat belts then either - all five of us climbing back and forth over seats, elbowing and stepping on one another).
In college, I came across Yesterday's People: Life in Contemporary Appalachia (1965), by Jack Weller. This was written about Appalachia pre-cable TV -- actually, probably, pre-access to much TV at all - the signals just couldn't come in. This was written when many people actually did live up in the hollers. It was fascinating to read Weller's ideas about tendencies of children in the mountains to express stress and anxiety psycho-somatically - through tummy aches and headaches - particularly when the worry was about separation from home and family.
Makes sense when you think that many of the people had not ever traveled much outside of their small community or county. I could certainly identify with that. Our homes, where we have grown from deeply-planted roots, really shape who we are.
Makes me wonder about what it would be like NOT to have deep roots in a particular place. Do you then root yourself into something that is different, that you can carry with you wherever you go? What or where would that be?
Oops - off track here! I am really looking forward to my trip later this week, and I will let you know how it goes. Hope to have stories and pictures to share.