I met a guy from Cumberland, KY yesterday while swimming on top of Pine Mountain. He worked for Arch Minerals for 32 years and had 4 different bouts of cancer, all stemming from his lungs. The company wouldn’t pay his medical bills, saying that it had nothing to do with working underground (if only this was the only time this happened) but he said that Arch is doing him a favor now— they’ve gotten a “re-permit” to mine 400 yards from his house, going 200 ft deeper than their original 400 ft. dig. They were really “kind” and came in and photographed his home’s foundation and inner structures to document the house’s condition before the horrific blasting they’ll be doing.  He’s lived in Harlan County all his life, worked for Arch, and raised a family here. But he said he’s moving away with his son this fall when they start blasting and he  can’t resell his home. He’s probably just going to walk away from it…
Now, admittedly, this guy kept using vile racial language to talk about his neighbors that were in the same boat. He talked about loving the Lord Jesus with one breath and hating %$#$%s with the rest. He wasn’t a perfect guy by any stretch, but he was a person. He was off four-wheeling for the day, carrying two pistols that he was shooting until we walked up, which I thought was pretty cool myself, but kind of freaked out my friends that were with me (and live in the city). I’ve gotten pretty used to cool people who might appear “scary” to city-folk who don’t know any folks that ride four wheelers and shoot guns for fun, who end up being really really cool and will sit and talk to you for hours about whatever, not rushing off to go somewhere…
But here’s a person that has lived underneath the thumb coal industry his entire life. He’s not perfect. His racist hate-spewing language helped dispel that possibility pretty quickly. But it was a good reminder that there is good and bad in all of us, and yet we deserve justice all the same. It’s nice to think of all the allies we have and that we are fighting for justice with them, but I think it’s important that we fight for justice for folks like this guy too. (and of course, his neighbors that he hates so bad) and not get caught up in this idea of a “noble and deserving” Appalachian people. Appalachia has seen this concept of the “noble poor” drawing in martyrs to serve here for decades (a type I never want to be), but it would be best not to repeat that trend when coming to work and/or organize here. It’s no fun to be disillusioned like that, accepting someone to be “perfect” and meet the romanticized ideals that you project on them… It does nobody any good, you or them. It’s a detterent for real conversation, real exchange, or growth.
People here are people. Just like everyone else. Some good, some rotten, some lovely, some not. But they all deserve clean water and intact mountains with some kind of hope for providing for their families…. even child molesters, wife-beaters, crooked preachers and crooked politicians.
The guy’s racist spewing sure made it harder to find the good in him, but I know it’s there. There is good in all of us.
It’s so easy to walk away from people spewing hate like that, but I’d encourage myself and anyone else to just plow on through it, as long as you don’t feel like you are in enminent danger. We didn’t try to change his mind (Which was SO hard to not try to do) but rather express that we didn’t really understand what he meant because we had had different experiences, and then just let him keep talking. I learned a lot from him yesterday, and I am glad we met him.
I guess I learned some tolerance for a racist, because I know that his life wasn’t easy, that his community is struggling, and he is enduring environmental racism that’s directed towards mountain whites (and of course mountain black communities too).
I think it’s why I respect my friend Chris, who’s a public defender and represents the worst kinds of people, because he believes they should have a chance too.
So I hate this system that nurtures racism and hate. It’s hard to encourage someone to see beyond color of people’s skins when the mountains are being blasted away all around him.


Dave Cooper at the Zeb Mountain Rally

Dave Cooper at the Zeb Mountain Rally

Sunday, I hopped in the car with Paco and drove to Elk Valley, Tennessee, for the march on Zeb Mountain. I was greeted by about 100 other activists and concerned citizens that are upset about the state of affairs with mountain top removal mining (ahem, i mean surface mining in TN, since they deny that they do MTR) and want to make a statement to the corporations, local government, and really, the world about how stupid it is for us to be destroying the watersheds and forests of Appalachia. Watersheds that we drink from, and need to drink from in the future.


Root Digger and woman extraordinaire, Carol Judy from Eagan, TN

Root Digger and woman extraordinaire, Carol Judy from Eagan, TN

I was humbled by the voices of so many other coalfield residents like myself (a new-to-the-coalfields but generations-long appalachian person) who are angry about what’s being done to their communities. Carol Judy is one of these that humbles me, encourages me, and fills me with peace, knowing that there are so many respectable, kind, loving, and intelligent people fighting mountain top removal. Being around people like Carol and our friend Vicki, who also showed up with her granddaughter (granddaughter below)


Vickis Granddaughters Brilliant Sign

Vicki's Granddaughter's Brilliant Sign

I too, am an appalachian, not a rich activist (I think a “Rich activist” would need to make above 30k a year, but who am I to know?), but would say that I am an activist. Too many meetings and rallys and protests under my belt to say otherwise.

As a rally, this one was good. The cops were nice, (isn’t that strange to write) the sun was shining, and those that were arrested were arrested by choice/conscience. Shouldn’t they all go that way? Here’s a lil’ ole video clip from the action…

today, i’ve seen:

  • a barred owl
  • approximately 40 elk, 4 of which were sparring males
  • 6 wild turkeys
  • 7 deer
  • sign of beaver
  • 1 happy happy dog traipsing through the beaver pond
  • 1 loving face, (Paco)
  • 1 happy cat

today, i’ve heard:

  • the amazing chorus of frogs at the beaver pond
  • my own voice as i serenade the herd of male elk
  • the swishing noise of graham’s tail wagging furiously when i offered a walk
  • bird after bird after bird calling and chirping 

I am the most blessed woman on earth.To see some photos of today’s miracle of a day, check out:http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinemountaincass/Love to all. This is an amazing world.


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Paco and I are doing good. it’s a little crazy that we don’t have high speed internet, cell phone service, cable, or even a home phone at the present, but we’ve been spending a lot more time together, walking the dog twice a day, playing in the woods, and avoiding unpacking all of our house.We are five miles short of receiving DSL. Hopefully they’ll drag those cables just a bit further, but if not, we’ll be okay. Dial up at workis not as slow as I had thought, though you do have to let someone know that you’re getting on so that they get off…crazy how much i took that T1 connection for granted back at Mars Hill!The house is great. It’s more than great, it’s fabulous!!! I love it. It has a porch swing, neat interior, and a cute kitchen. We’ve had fungetting it squared away.My sewing room is fabulous as well. I ‘ll post pics of the house once we get it cleaned up and unpacked…The best part is being so close the woods. We can walk out our kitchen door and in two minutes be out in the forest. We hiked up to these big limestone boulders the other day and played there. Graham loves this place!And there are elk! Big Furry Elk! All over the place.Mom, Dad, Jason, Jill, Fox, my cousin Elizabeth, our friend Joe, Paco’s brother Ryan, and me and Paco all moved us in. It was great to have everyone here for our move and right before our birthday. It made all the difference.I’m not used to being off the matrix, but can see good in it. seems like things are a little slower here. Paco and i went hiking and played outside, only to find that it was 2 o’clock when we got back. we had done so much already throughout the day, and it was only 2 o’clock!!!crazy.i bought myself a wristwatch for my birthday. it’s the first watch i’ve had in 4 years, since i didn’t have a cellphone to keep time for me!i think i like my job. it’s a little too soon to know exactly what i’ll be doing, but i think it will go well. i like my boss and my coworkers, and the environment is great!my email is the same. Paco has a cell we can use off the mountain down in harlan.

Okay, I’m leaving my job. I’m leaving my family. I’m leaving HOME. I’m leaving this monstrosity of a life that I have here in Aville, and trading it in for some hopes and ideas and anticipation for life in the Kentucky coal fields.

And I think that I’m okay with this. In fact, I am pretty sure that I am purt-near excited.

PM is an amazing place. There are great people that work there, and great people that have worked there in the past. It’s in a totally different place than my blue ridge mountain home of generations (spanning centuries), but it’s in a place that warrants attention and energy.

I guess one of the harder things about all of this is that I am genuinely sad to leave my work at the Hill. There are so many projects that will be left unfinished, so many ideas and dreams that I had about things here left unfufilled. I never really thought that I would leave, I never thought that I would follow through with my desires for wandering or exploring other places, I was convinced that I wanted to be HOME, where I could have a family, be with my family, and raise our future kid in consistency and comfort in our ancestral homelands. I had not thought that I could be enticed enough to leave that for anything.

However, the PM is an amazing place. The opportunity to do meaningful work with my sweetheart cannot be undervalued. The opportunity to work under a capable and wise director cannot be underated. The gift of working in a place with wonderful forests to explore cannot be disregarded. H County is an amazing place chock full of real life examples of the complicated relationship between land and people, energy companies and local residents, and the many hardships for people and their environment because of the extraction of natural gas and coal mining, especially mountain top removal. I am excited about going to PM and meeting people in the community as well as the school— people who have interesting stories and struggles to share and people that I know we can really learn from.

Children at the Log House, Pine Mountain Settlement School, between 1919-1921I don’t want to go up there with some convoluted “do-gooder” attitude that several people have tried to pawn off on me when I’ve shared the news about our move. I know what roles (both the good and bad) that outsiders play in a community. I don’t have grandious plans of “fixing” H County. I don’t want people there to lump me in that category of furriner/do-gooder. I know that it’s probably inevitable that that will happen, but my intention is to go and participate. I am excited to share anything that I know that is of value to folks or that can create more efficiency, but I am also really excited to learn various things from the great people that live up there.

Outside of Caretta, WV, I met a wonderful woman at the Muncy Cabin who I plan to meet back up with this spring to learn more edible/medicinal plants that she knew. There are numerous musicians and ballad singers that I want to sit knee to knee with and talk/learn about their music. I am excited about the quilters that get together at PM. I am eager to meet the school children that come, and excited to learn from all the staff there.