Last weekend I went home to celebrate a major milestone in the lives of my parents–their 60th wedding anniversary! Can you imagine being with one person that long? My brother Jim,  HK and I had planned a private little celebration up at their lake house with good food and champagne.

“Home” to me was Harlan, Ky. , a tiny little town of just over 2000 people. It is nestled in a valley surrounded by the Appalachian mountains, and as a child I spent a lot of time discovering and experiencing all that nature had to offer.  We lived in a quiet neighborhood just on the outskirts of town, with easy access to creeks to splash in and cliffs to climb. When I was 10, Dad built a vacation cabin and a lake on top of Pine Mountain,  about a 30-minute drive from our house.  It was an idyllic setting in which to grow up, riding my pony, hiking all over the mountains and swimming in the cold, stream-fed lake.  One of my favorite places on Pine Mountain was an outcropping of granite that had long before been dubbed “Scenic View”, for it looked far out onto the hills of neighboring Virginia, and on a clear day, you could (I am told), also see North Carolina. I could sit on that rock, legs dangling, for what seemed like hours, taking in the tranquility of the beauty that surrounded me.

Scenic View from Pine Mountain-Before

As the years went by, I went away to school and college in different states,  but often brought friends and boyfriends back home to enjoy our little refuge on the mountain.  Eventually, my trips became fewer and farther apart, until now I find myself only going home once a year, at most. My closest childhood friends have long since moved away, and, quite honestly, after 2 or 3 days there, I find myself bored to tears. I do, however, always make the effort to get back up on the mountain to take a hike and swim.

So last week, HK and I took a hike back in my old stomping grounds. So many memories came rushing back to me. That’s where I got stung by a bunch of hornets. That’s where mom blasted a big old rattlesnake with a shotgun. This is where I used to take my pony swimming… it was a hike down memory lane, and I’m sure i was boring poor HK with all my tales.

As we proceeded down the old dirt road, we came to Scenic View, and hiked to the end of the overhanging boulders.  But we weren’t met with scenic views of neighboring states surrounded by the glory of the Appalachians.  No. What I saw broke my heart. The mountains, my mountains, had been literally raped by mountain top removal. Instead of meandering old-growth forest, we stared out onto naked plateaus where wildlife once took refuge. Now, instead of black bears and deer, there was gigantic machinery and massive scarring.  I’ve known about this dirty mountaintop removal for some time, now, but didn’t really realize how it would impact me personally. As we turned to descend off the rocks, I silently bid adieu to what I prefer to remember as pristine perfection.

As we left Harlan to drive back to my now-home in Atlanta, I was faced with miles of more evidence that what I once took for granted was now changed forever.  It seemed that every mountain was standing helplessly naked, robbed of it’s dignity for the greed of it’s citizens. And I thought to myself, you really can’t go home again. Not to the “home” you remember as a carefree child, the home, that in your eyes will forever remain unchanged and innocent. I won’t go back to that spot on the rocks anymore. It hurts my heart too much.  I’ll try to remember the beauty that I assumed I would never forget.

"Scenic" View-After

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 When I lived in Tennessee, I used to get a group of a dozen or so friends and head up to West Virginia for some whitewater rafting.  The New River is rated class II-IV and is a wonderful family adventure. (Rivers are classed from I-easy, flat-to VI-unnavigable).  We always rode the waves of  the nearby Upper Gauley River.  The Gauley is a world-class whitewater run, rated as class V.  It has over 100 rapids and drops 670 feet in 30 miles. It’s truly the Mutha of rivers here in the East.  We always went in November, when the dam was released and the water was fast and furious. Wet suits were required, and it’s a good thing, because the last time we went, it snowed on us and our hair froze. OHMYGOD that was sooooo cold, and you can bet your ass that I wasn’t about to peel-off my wetsuit to take a pee. Nope–just peed right in it, and let me tell you, I warmed right up. Did it twice on that trip, in fact. Problem was, when I took off my wetsuit, it (and I) stunk so bad that the outfitter GAVE me the wetsuit. (hmmmm.. I guess it really wasn’t a problem then, huh?

The New River Gorge  in West Virginia is truly God’s country. It is the epicenter of outdoor recreation in the East.   Along with rafting, tens of thousands of adventurers come to the area each year for mountain biking, rock climbing and base jumping.  The New River bridge is the site of  Bridge Day, a huge festival held every October. It is the one day when the bridge is open to pedestrians who come from all over the world to base-jump and rappelle from the 3,030 feet long,  876 foot tall structure.

Ok, sounds cool. So what? Well, this weekend, H.K. and I were looking through an outdoor magazine, and I was horrified to read an article about the plan to begin mountaintop removal to mine coal-dirty, filthy, smelly coal, on Gauley Mountain. In fact, the Powellton Mining Co. has already stripped out the trees and built access roads for the trucks and equipment. Oh, I’m sick of this shit. I’m from rural Appalachia, and I don’t even recognize my mountains anymore. They’re bald. They’re scarred and ugly. And for what? 15 or 20 years to suck them of their resources then just let them sit there, a reminder of our greed and stupidity, not to mention lack of imagination to utilize the wind and sun, which will nevr run out.So please, go to this site and sign the petition to stop mountain top removal on the Gauley.  Then go to ilovemountains.org and learn how you can get involved.  Mo’s Blog  has additional info on this, too.

In the meantime, Love your Mother.

New River Bridge

New River