Home Place Under Siege

An excerpt from my work in progress, Damned Yankee Buttons: Essays and Short Stories

Our home place is now under siege by a blight on the land. Bull Creek is empty of people, hardwood trees, ginseng, yellow root, and most all other native plant and animal species. The mountains above it have been strip mined. The rocks and dirt that used to be the mountain top have buried Bull Creek, along with my memories of Uncle Kin’s cabin and huckleberry picking.

Ashford ridge, running from Ashford to Bull Creek, is scalped by mountain top removal strip mining. Behind our home place and just over the mountain on Fork Creek, mountain top removal strip mining is closing in on us.

It is probably too much hope to expect that the mountain across the river that our cousins sold to a coal company, will not be destroyed like Ashford Ridge and Bull Creek.

When Truman and I are gone, I hope the heirs love the home place like we do and resist the coal companies when they come with offers of money, in exchange for Grandma’s farm.

I hope they follow the example of our progenitor Isaac Barker, when he told that man, named Skinner, who was buying up mineral rights on Coal River: You are Skinner by name and skinner by trade but you will not skin old Isaac Barker. Isaac spoke truth to power and refused to sell his mineral rights.

Coal River, what a portentous name. Sounds like it might eventually be burned, and take the whole world with it. Coal is a nasty substance, full of cancer causing compounds that once released by the magic of fire, distributes poisons throughout the earth. Coal blocks out the sun. It pours out carbon dioxide that holds in infrared radiation, a fancy name for heat. Smoke from black gold, burning in West Virginia, has sterilized lakes in New York and Canada. I tried to fish in one of those lakes in Ontario until I realized there were no fish or other wildlife in the water.

When coal’s original connections are altered, it lets go of the sunshine that created it millions of years ago. Plastic and steel and asphalt are made by rearranging the connections conjured up by giant ferns. The root of all evil keeps the process going, in spite of the suicidal side effects. Coal left alone isn’t nasty, but the love of money is a nasty, perverse, and abusive love.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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