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.
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.