Morning is my favorite time to hike. Our trail runs along the edge of our ridge going North-South, so as the sun comes up it begins peeking through the trees, and even through the grasses, like a forest fire.
The world starts in black and white, and color spreads out as the light hits it, like Oz has come without the storm. I can see the light move its way through the grasses, climb the trunks of trees, and call out the autumn colors like Bob Ross. The hickories are golden.
The trees throw long shadows into my path, across the carpet of fallen leaves. I can feel alternating spots of light and dark on my shoulder as I go: warm, cool, warm, cool.
In the fall with some of the leaves down—or for that matter in the spring before all the leaves are up—that sense of walking through a strobe is even stronger.
And when there’s a breeze, even the small, pallid locust leaves catch patches of sunlight and are transformed into showers of shimmering confetti as they fall.
Seeing that, my dog Reggie performs a series of goofy leaps and pounces, jumping at the leaves, and then chasing after their shadows. After some moments of doggie confusion at their lack of substance, he finally flops over on his back and rolls back and forth until I catch up to him. Then he rights himself, leaving a flopsy ear askew and aiming a grin at me.
That’s how it was yesterday morning. And I needed those moments of beauty, since there was to be another public meeting last night regarding the fracking jeopardy our state is facing—this one in Jackson’s Mill. We’re being threatened with two more pipelines here n West Virginia. It’s not clear there’s even a need for them.
I had committed to speak at the meeting, but there’s just too much to say. I hardly know where to begin.
How can I make beautiful days like these understandable to people who judge the value of something based solely on how much of it they can transform into cash?
The stress of living in Frackistan is making it difficult to sleep, I’ll be honest. I’ve been up since 2am.
At least we still have our forest, our trails. Some people here have lost that already. But our winding creek is still intact.
It’s filled with silvery fingerlings, and occasionally those same waterbugs that used to fascinate me as a kid playing in Jackson Creek in Vienna. I know what time of year to go down to the creek see the blooming trilliums, and what time to gather morels. I know where our box turtles like to lay their eggs.
There are crawdads. And we have a couple little wetlands, not bigger than ponds, with newts and frogs and toads.
I’m lucky. We still have our creek. For now.
But with the thought of the creek on this beautiful day, and with my dog of a mind to play, I head all the way down to the holler in a series of south and east zig-zags.
It’s maybe a 20 minute descent. Once you get down the last part of the narrow path, it opens, with the caves directly in front, up a steep slope on the opposite bank
Reggie is all wags, and plunges into deep spots while I dip my toes in and keep my eyes peeled for arrowheads. Leaves fall, and I brush them out of my hair. The dog splashes, and eventually sits beside me on the bank and presses against my arm until I wrap it around him.
It’s a beautiful day.
He’s happy and exhausted when we finally get back to the house. I’m calm… but the lack of sleep is wearing. Still, it’s time to go to the meeting.
My husband will be home in a little bit. I find my notes, grab my cards. He made me cards, bless him.
So I clean up, change into my suit and kiss Reggie goodbye. Then I head out.
There are many presenters, and the facts are depressing.
When it comes time for me to speak, I talk about some of the things I’ve talked about here before. West Virginia’s Resource Curse–how extraction activities target impoverished areas, and bring more poverty. I have all the data on the website here, but West Virginians all know extraction doesn’t help regular people. If that were true, coal mining communities would be dripping with wealth, and that’s just never been the case. But it’s not just financial wealth it drains, that’s the really tragic thing.
We know that in McDowell county, for example, residents are literally paying those socialized costs with their lives. Profits are private. The average life expectancy there, due to coal extraction, is far lower than average. Each person pays an average of a decade or more. Wealth pours up; it doesn’t trickle down. Extraction execs pocket their sacrifice in the form of profit.
It’s as if there is some monstrous thing living in the hills exacting a ghastly toll on the whole county, every man, woman, and child. It creeps into homes at night, hovers over them as they sleep, and feeds on bits of their souls, sucking up the days until 10 years are gone for every one of them. It’s eating them bit by bit… and we’ve been doing such a good job of feeding that ravening beast with Appalachian coal, that it’s coming for our gas and oil now, too.
Resource Barons are essentially transforming those lost years into cash for themselves. They pocket it and go without a second thought, leaving their victims bleeding out. And our politicians are allowing, even encouraging it… because, campaign contributions.
That’s what is coming here to frack-impacted counties. I have the stress that will kill me early, enough foreboding for a series of horror flicks.
It’s hard to sleep, because I see monsters when I close my eyes.
That’s why I hike… and it’s why I have so much horror and sympathy for the people who have already had their peace of mind stolen or destroyed by companies like Antero. FERC is not there to help regular people. The threatened Mountain Valley Pipeline, one of the proposed lines discussed at the meeting, would socialize a huge cost on the people who live along its path. They would be paying 8 billion dollars.
Not all of it in money: much will be in years.
And we know that both proposed pipelines are not even needed, since existing pipelines are sufficient. Not only that, the study concludes that they “would be financially beneficial to utility companies and investors while burdening customers with higher bills to cover the cost of the unnecessary construction.”
That’s why I write, why I share my photos. It’s because I care about this life; I care about this West Virginia. I care about OUR West Virginia.
It’s still ours, but we have to fight for it.
If I do run for office in 2018, I’ll do my best to change the conversation. Win or lose, I have to communicate what is being lost, because many folks in Charleston—or who want to be there—really don’t remember. Or care. Or something. Otherwise how could they allow this slow death for us?
Writing is a way to fight the monster, keep it at bay. Because if I can remind our representatives that there’s more to value here than what’s in their pockets and on their resumes—so much more—maybe we can vanquish that greedy thing and make this a prosperous place for all of us.
If you love West Virginia, too, raise your voice. Let your representatives know. Don’t give up. We’re fighting for our lives.
Holler from the hollers.