A friend, knowing my next novel is set in rural Appalachia, sent me this article a few weeks ago.This friend has also had a huge amount of emotional and circumstantial upheaval in her life. She said she was feeling strip mined.
Growing up, my family visited Boone, North Carolina every year—my parents are both North Carolinians, and the mountains are in our blood. From the time we were very young, my brother displayed a magical ability to catch fish. It’s still his greatest passion. I will never forget the time he stood in front of a glacial water lake in Switzerland, leaned over, and caught a fish with his bare hands.
I think he noticed it first—and this was way before mountaintop removal was in the news for its damaging environmental effects—he was still young, maybe ten or eleven, but he would whip his head around as we drove through the Blue Ridge mountains, and notice a piece of mountain was missing that had been there the year before. “That sucks for the fish,” he instinctively said. “What do you mean?” I asked. “All that stuff has nowhere to go but into the water. They’ll all die.”
The act of mountaintop removal, literally cutting the tops off mountains, in order to get to the coal beneath it, not only changes the landscape of our country forever (can you imagine not having mountains?), but it also buries everything in the valley in a heap of toxic rubble. The chances of anything growing beneath, or above the destroyed mountain are very slim.
I know this is how my friend was feeling emotionally. That a whole piece of her life had been violently removed, left a heap of shit for her to try to sift through, and that perhaps nothing good could ever flourish in her again.
I don’t know what the answers are environmentally or emotionally for these circumstances. What I cling to over and over is “there is a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in” (Leonard Cohen, though someone might have said it before him, but I love me some Leonard). Maybe instead of looking at the whole huge mass of destruction that sometimes steamrolls our lives, we have to start slowly at the bottom, at the edges, where we can still see some ground beneath the crap. And we can sift, and sort through the rocks, one at a time, and maybe—just maybe there will be some glittering gems in there that we never would have seen before. And then, gathering up these small glittering stones, and gaining the strength to climb the pile a little higher, we gain a little more perspective. And perhaps, just perhaps, one day—we make it to the top of the heap, we look over at our neighboring mountains, and we will know how to gird them and protect them. Or if we can’t protect, at least we’ve learned how to dig. And knowing how to dig gives us sharper vision, tougher hands, and softer hearts.