The Fiddler's Wish A fiddler on the road gave pause. Riddle me that, a shadowy cat. His fiddle clutched within his claws. Oh, what a riddle, a golden fiddle. The shadow's fiddle made of oak. Riddle me old, that fiddle of gold. And he all shrouded in his cloak. Riddle me young, a song he sung. His voice, it was as whispers soft. Riddle me quiet, the song was silent. His voice, the wind had borne aloft. Riddle me here, a song of fear. From the trees, another one came. Riddle me this, a matching of wits. Queen of Sidhe, Nicnevin by name. Riddle me wild, a true Faerie child. The fiddler met her bravely there. Riddle me how, he never would cow. She drew a new fiddle from thin air. Riddle me fast, this fiddle of glass. She lifted her fiddle, a bow took to it. Riddle me now, that fearsome sound. All its beauty passed right through it. Riddle me foul, this glass fiddle's howl. As she played, the devils danced. Riddle me where, danced in the air. Above her head, the devils pranced. Riddle me then, that dancing is sin. And in the ground, the fiddle rang. Riddle me when, she played Tammlin. And as she played, Nicnevin sang. An old time riddle, on old time fiddle. But though she played an hour more. Riddle me fine, from eight until nine. The fiddler stood as brave as before. Riddle me back, that fiddler in black. And then Nicnevin dropped her bow. Riddle me one, her turn was done. And bade the fiddler, put on a show. Riddle and rhyme, the fiddler's time. The fiddler lifted his fiddle of gold. Riddle me broke, that fiddle of oak. Its varnish shone, its sound was bold. Answered her riddle, upon his fiddle. His tune was of the trees and sky. Riddle me then, a sound on the wind. Beloved to those who live and die. Riddle me this, the fiddler's wish. It wasn't to win his fiddle of gold. Never a riddle could steal such a fiddle. It was to win the right to grow old. Riddle of yore, immortal no more. They say the fiddler played his soul. Riddle me why the fiddler should die. His heart from him, a mortal stole. Riddles enough, he played for love. Nicnevin took his song as her pay. Riddle me here, she took his years. Sent the mortal fiddler on his way. Riddle me time, his lover to find. For comfort on his journey long. Riddle me this, the fiddler's wish. She played that fiddler a song. Of fiddler Bluff, and his mortal love.
One boy in the stars. His brain is a map. When his eyes are shut, he sees everything mapped out on a grid. A million thin lines that each lead him to different places behind his eyelids. The world in his head is why he’s not home. You knock on the door but no one answers. That is not to say it’s not beautiful to see him thinking. Hours spent watching him. He spins simple thoughts into threads of wonder. And his face contorts, knowledge fills the gaps. Some people live here, the material world. Others live in space, alive between lines. He is one of those, the visible ghosts. Intangible boy who never speaks out. You want to tell him thoughts are not actions. He can dream the world but nothing changes. It takes an effort to make things happen. You can’t just sit there and hope for the best. There is one step left. Take your mind and soul and shape the new world, visible or not.
This is What Justice Looks Like: Blocking the Haul Road on Kayford Mountain
By: Rachel Parsons
Mountain Justice Summer Camp 2012 was held just up the road from my mother’s house this year. It’s been two years since the camp was held here at the Appalachian South Folklife Center. The last time, in 2009, was the first time I was introduced to the people in Appalachia fighting against the destructive practice of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining. That week, three years ago now, I heard activist Judy Bonds speak about MTR and she was angry. She was inspiring. After I heard Judy speak, I got involved. I went to a couple of actions, such as the one where my grandfather was arrested. My involvement has been limited, particularly since I’ve been attending East Tennessee State University and chose to focus on my studies for the time being.
This May I graduated from East Tennessee State University, commonly known as ETSU, with a degree in English. To celebrate this small victory in my own life, I went with my brothers to attend one of the two actions planned for Mountain Justice Summer Camp. These actions were planned at camp during the week for Thursday, May 24th. One action involved protestors locking down to a coal barge in Charleston, West Virginia. The second action, the one my brothers and I attended, along with most of the people from camp, was held at Kayford Mountain near Whitesville, West Virginia. A large banner was made that read “Stop Extraction, Invest in a Healthy Future.” This banner was stretched across a haul road traveled by coal trucks to and from the MTR mine site on Kayford.
For an hour and a half, we all blocked that haul road, preventing nine coal trucks from making their deliveries on time. We chanted and sang as we stood there, equipped with a megaphone. My youngest brother, Matthew Parsons, sang “Dark as a Dungeon” and “Paradise,” two songs lamenting the consequences of coal mining in Appalachia. When we chanted, the coal trucks would occasionally honk to drown our voices out. When my brother sang, none of the coal truck drivers honked their horns and I believe that this was out of respect for the songs. Whatever the coal industry might do to create a divide between the people of Appalachia, there are still moments when people realize that we are all the same people with the same songs.
Larry Gibson, who still lives on what little is left of Kayford Mountain, has been fighting Mountaintop Removal through his foundation Keeper of the Mountains. He has been the victim of over 150 acts of violence as a result. His cabin has been shot at, his property has been stolen, and his dogs have been killed. In April, his home was vandalized and thousands of dollars worth of equipment was stolen. Cameras caught a blurry image of one of the men responsible. Police did not investigate the incident. So, on the 24th of May, when police did come to address our group’s blocking the haul road, Larry went over to them to ask why no one had come to investigate the recent act of vandalism and theft on his property. He was told by an officer that his home was “in no man’s land.”
Our intention that day was not to get arrested. We were there to make a statement and we made it, so we moved when the police told us that we had to. We all traveled up to Larry’s place on Kayford, where we had the good fortune of running into DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) officials, who were visiting Kayford “unofficially.” In other words, the DEP, well known for siding with the coal industry or looking the other way, had made an attempt to show EPA officials around Larry’s property without telling Larry. I’m sure they had no idea that we would be there holding our sign, chanting and singing. Had they known, they doubtless would have picked another day. But Larry and those who love him and his cause were able to intersect. Larry insisted on speaking to the EPA officials. He told them his story while they listened in silence. And he told them that if the DEP was doing its job, they would not be there that day.
When the EPA and the DEP took their leave, we all walked to the place Larry calls “Hell’s Gate.” From that spot, a person can see the destruction that has been wreaked upon Kayford. Over 500 acres of Larry’s family’s home, destroyed. We all stood and listened to Larry speak. It was not the first or even the second time I had gone to Hell’s Gate and looked out with Larry. Of course, the site was no less horrific than the last time I had been there. I joked that they’d build a Walmart on the remnants but it wouldn’t do them any good to have a Walmart in No Man’s Land. Hell, anybody could rob that Walmart blind and the law just wouldn’t be able to do anything. Perhaps that joke foreshadowed the event that followed.
After our solemn gathering at Hell’s Gate, we returned to Larry’s shelter to relax for a time. Some people were planning to stay on Kayford a while and help Larry with some upkeep of his property. My brothers and I were planning to return home once everyone had regrouped. However, to everyone’s surprise, three cop cars came up the mountain to Larry’s property. The police got out of their cars and began photographing the license plates of all the cars parked at Larry’s home. When asked why they were photographing our license plates, they informed us that they had a “right to investigate” because there had been a “recent act of vandalism on the property.”
Not long after the police left, a fellow activist drove up the mountain and let us all know that there were police waiting at the bottom of the mountain. No doubt they were hoping to fabricate some reason for arresting some of us. We all decided to wait them out. So we spent another hour or so on Kayford before any of us started leaving, and we left one or two cars at a time. By the time my brothers and I left, there were no police in sight. I’m sure they got bored and went home after a while. After all, there wasn’t much chance they’d even be able to make up a reason to stop any of us.
In truth, it was a relatively small action. The real action happened in Charleston, where activists were arrested for locking down on that coal barge. Still, I believe that it was an important action and that we all stood in solidarity with Larry Gibson that day. Larry told us all that he will likely face more torment as a result of that action, but that he is willing to face that torment because he believes in this movement and he believes that blocking that haul road meant something. I believe it too. It wasn’t the biggest or the grandest action that I have ever been to but it had heart. We stirred things up a little bit. In this fight, every little bit helps.
I don’t attend these sorts of actions because I particularly enjoy them. The truth is that I’m a very reclusive person. If I had my way, I’d be happy to stay home by myself most of the time, interacting with the outside world by way of my computer and little else. However, while there is injustice in the world, I cannot help but join the fight. The truth of the matter is that Mountaintop Removal and other atrocities committed against nature, particularly the Appalachian Mountains, does not just affect the people in my region. Sure, we feel the results sooner. We have higher cancer rates, poisoned drinking water, and piles of rubble to look at where mountains once were. But eventually, the poisoned water will flow into every part of this country. As nature dies, people will die with it. It’s not just my fight, no, it’s everybody’s fight. We’re all in this together, whether we like it or not.
Every mountain leveled is another priceless treasure lost to us. Even so, this is not just about the mountains. It’s about the world as a whole, because the world cannot be whole when we allow it to be dismantled and destroyed, piece by piece. Each part of the puzzle makes up the picture. Don’t we all deserve to live in a beautiful and healthy world? We could have Paradise here, if we’d just stop letting the coal trains haul it away. That’s why Mountain Justice blocked that haul road. For a short period of time, we stopped them. It wasn’t enough, nothing will be enough until MTR is abolished, but it was something.
Yesterday morning, I woke up at noon. I had been dreaming but I suppose I got to the point where I had too much control over my own dreams because I simply woke up with no outside influence at all. Technically, this was not the start of my day because it was a couple more hours before I took any notion of getting up. Finally, at about two in the afternoon, I decided I was hungry. I got out of bed and went to check on my younger brother, Matt, as I hadn’t heard a peep out of him since I woke up. Turned out that he was playing his old Gameboy SP very intently. And this boy is eighteen years old. Anyway, I told him that I’d make him breakfast if he came downstairs, even though it was lunch time, and then I changed into day clothes, choosing my Batgirl t-shirt to show that I was really serious about this breakfast business.
To say that I’m not much of a cook is an understatement, but I’m always making Matt cook things for me because he’s actually good at it, and I just didn’t feel like it was fair to do that again. So I made breakfast while he sat at the table playing Fire Emblem on his Gameboy. I made us each a cup of herbal tea, fried eggs and bacon, toasted hot dog buns, and made instant oatmeal in the microwave. I was proud of all of these accomplishments (aside from the tea, I’ve been capable of fixing tea for a couple of years now). Then Matt and I watched a couple episodes of How I Met Your Mother before I went upstairs to clean my room some more.
The room is still a mess but I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress. I moved some things around so that now I have more floor space and I finally have the rats in a bigger cage, which they seem to love.
Speaking of the rats, I suppose I should update about that vet visit. It turns out that I’m just paranoid, though the vet assured me that Sherlock and Watson are lucky to “have such an attentive mommy,” ha ha. She also told me that they’re indeed both male, which I never had any doubt about (it’s REALLY easy to tell that they’re male). Visit cost me $65, which is not bad at all, except that it turned out that they didn’t really need to go. Better safe than sorry.
I got a third rat (because I need my head examined, I guess). He’s a tiny little chocolate colored fellow with white socks and a white belly. I call him Merlin. So far, he’s a lot more skittish than Sher and Watson were when I first got them, but he’s gradually getting better. Because he’s so little and also because the big boys don’t know him yet, I have him separate from them in the little cage, but I’m hoping to move him into the big one as soon as he gets big enough not to fit through the bars.
Herriot, my spoiled dog, is terribly jealous of the rats. She always gets selfish when I bring a new creature home. I can’t really blame her for being insecure because truthfully, she’s turned just like me. It’s hard to be a creature who’s always worried about whether or not your favorite people really like you. Nonetheless, she did try to get into Merlin’s cage this evening and scared the poor baby half to death. She knew it was wrong too. There’s a look she gets when she’s disobeyed me – I can just see her and know she’s done something bad. I was really angry with her but after scolding her, I decided to let it go and snuggle with her for a while. All she wants is my attention, and I suppose it’s really the least I can do.
I love all of my critters, even when they behave badly. Herriot is such a good, clever girl most of the time, even if she has insecurities. The best way to discipline a dog, I think, is to be firm about it for a bit and then give them some love. A dog is a creature that loves more than any other that I’ve ever met. Still, even love must be closely watched. All beings are capable of doing foolish things in the name of love.