Pan Appalachian Defender

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Connecting at the Roots

Nable Wallin
Coming into southwestern Virginia, I’m struck with a sense of awe that can’t be explained solely by the gorgeous mountain vistas and picturesque landscapes. Everything about the place speaks to me, from the endless variety of flora and fauna deep in the lush forest groves, to the unexpected kindness from strangers and acquaintances, their lifestyles laden with mountain tradition.
I’ve worked here on a rural farm tucked snugly into a mountain hollow, using hundred-year-old agrarian skills and sleeping under the stars. I’ve pushed my way through slicks of rhododendron just to see what’s on the other side, a stream to follow or a forgotten stand of old growth oak. It’s hard to think of a place I’d rather be.
There’s a catch. Someone, long ago, came to this place of glory and bounty, and saw not the land that had been supporting abundant life, human and non-human, for thousands of years, but a source of wealth to pillage and exploit. More than a century later, coal extraction has been drawn to its logical conclusion, or final solution --mountaintop removal mining.
Like open wounds left to fester on a living body, these scars will never heal completely. For a resident and lover of southern Appalachia, looking at mountaintop removal is akin to having my heart ripped out of my chest, and then looking at it.
I’ve been called an outsider, coming here to work on mining issues, and to some extent I can accept that; the mountain culture that I admire so much is not mine, and I was not brought up here. But I do live in southern Appalachia, and we breathe the same air and drink the same water.
It is our mountains that are being ravaged. And as I get to know people here, making friends and finding allies, I know also that we feel the same pain, and we fight the same fight.
Nable Wallin lives outside of Asheville, NC, and spent the summer of 2006 living in Big Stone Gap, VA.


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