A Book Can Be a Friend

A Book Can Be a Friend: A Girl Who Loved Tolkien and Her Favorite Book

By: Rachel Parsons

December, 2012

When I was eleven, in the year 2001, I saw advertisements for the first of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. I remember standing in line at the movie theater, though I don’t remember which movie I was there to see, and I saw the big cardboard standups advertising The Fellowship of the Ring. I recognized the name from the fantasy cartoons I’d grown up on. There were three animated films my brothers and I had watched over and over again, those being The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Return of the King.

I was ecstatic at the time because the animated films were some of my favorite movies. The hobbits, in particular, were characters very dear to me. I mentioned it to my mother. She, being a librarian, was quick to inform me that there were books that the films were based on and my mother has always believed in reading the book before seeing the movie. Posthaste, I checked out The Fellowship of the Ring from our local library, where my mother worked, and so began my fascination and adoration of anything written by Tolkien.

All of the books were dear to me and I finished them before The Two Towers came out in theaters, meaning I was then able to anticipate the final movie along with every other Tolkien fan at the tender age of thirteen. I was so enthralled in those books that I took them everywhere I went, just so I’d be able to read them. I huddled under a blanket and umbrella with the library’s paperback copy of The Two Towers at my little brothers’ baseball game while it was lightly raining on me, determined to read my book for as long as possible. There was nothing more important in my life at the time. Even Harry Potter didn’t measure up.

My mother was happy to indulge my Tolkien addiction. She bought me a copy of The Hobbit, which I read out of order but adored all the same. I even tried to read The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, but at thirteen the material was far too dense for me to comprehend. At fifteen, my father took me to a bookstore to pick out my own books for Christmas and I bought myself a copy of The Silmarillion, which I have not read to this day. Out of every Tokien book I read or tried to read, however, I had a favorite. It wasn’t just one title, mind you. It was a very specific copy of one book in particular.

While I had checked out worn paperback copes of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers when I rented them from the library, I was and am the sort of person who prefers a hardback book. My library had a hardback copy of The Return of the King that I adored. It was an older copy, well-worn before I ever came along to find it in the back corner of the fiction shelves. It was red and the front of the dust jacket had been cut out and glued to the front many years ago. This book, unassuming as it might have appeared, was more than just a book to me. It was a dear friend.

I suppose I should mention that during this period of my life, my parents got a divorce. It was not an easy thing for me to understand at the time and instead of trying to comprehend what was happening to my family, I spent all of my time reading about Middle-Earth. I checked out The Return of the King many times. I took it with me when I went places with my dad, and for fun I talked my little brothers into acting out scenes from the book, which we were all terrible at, being quite small at the time.

Sometimes, when I went to work with my mother and needed a place to hide, I would go to the corner of the library where they kept the Tolkien books. It was hidden behind another shelf and I often curled up there with my book and read my favorite scenes over and over again. Once or twice, I used the book as a pillow and fell asleep in that corner. But I don’t think anyone knew how much that book really meant to me.

I asked once if, should the book ever be discarded, they would give it to me. I was going on sixteen at the time and my book was falling apart. The head librarian took it and carefully repaired the damage, as per my instruction, but promised that it wasn’t going to be discarded any time soon. All the same, I told her, I wanted this book when it did get discarded. I knew it would happen sooner or later. That copy had probably been there since the seventies and it had seen better days. One day, I knew the library would have to update it.

On my sixteenth birthday, the employees at the library gave me a present. It was a brand new and quite beautiful copy of The Return of the King, which they knew was my favorite book. I was not sure what to say. It was a nice present and I didn’t have the book, so of course I appreciated it. But it wasn’t my book. It wasn’t the book I’d fallen asleep with and taken on travels with me. It didn’t look or feel or smell the same. Still, I didn’t tell them that they’d given me the wrong book. I thanked them profusely and told them that I loved it.

My book remained on the shelf and I checked in on it now and then, just to see if it was still around. It was always there when I went back to the corner for it, and it was the only book I ever considered stealing from the library. I didn’t do that, of course. I held out some hope that when it came time for my book’s retirement, the librarians would remember me and they would hold it back. Years passed and still, my book remained on the shelf.

My mother quit her job and set about getting her Master’s degree in Library Science. We had long since moved to another part of the county and after my mother quit, we rarely visited that library. The library was later moved into a much nicer building. I would think about my book occasionally but was now convinced that it could never be mine. The head librarian retired and a new librarian took her place. I was preoccupied with college and had little time to worry about one book that was never meant to be mine.

The thing is, I went back yesterday. I had to see if my book was still there. I had been thinking about it a lot, what with The Hobbit being made into a new movie, and I wondered if my book was still in circulation. If not, I wondered if anyone knew where it was. Holding my breath, I went to the new corner that houses the Tolkien books and I searched. My book was not present amongst the others. Biting my lip, I returned to the main desk to ask if perhaps it had been checked out. Someone checked for me, but reported back that there were no hardback copies of The Return of the King, only paperbacks.

I’m not upset with anyone over it. No one knew it was my book. I never knew how to explain it to anyone, and besides, they are not the same employees who were there when I fell asleep with it in the corner. No one could tell me what had happened to it, but I’m sure it was taken to the book sale and some lucky person picked it up for a dollar or less. I wish it had been me that found it and took it home. I cried about it when I got back out to the car. There are so many memories I have attached to that book. It saw me through so many things but in the end, it never belonged to me.

Whoever has it now, I hope they appreciate it. When I got home, I looked online for a copy like it and found one for sale that had a dust jacket like mine did; only this dust jacket was still intact and not glued to the book. I bought it and sent a message to the seller, telling them how happy I was to have found this copy, how it was like mine, and that I’d cried earlier in the day when I discovered my copy was gone. The seller was very sweet, told me how much they loved Tolkien too and how they were glad my book had found me.

I think I will be happy when it arrives in the mail. When I take it out and hold it in my hands, I think it will feel something like my book felt. Maybe it will smell the same too, musty and antique like old books often smell, though it can never completely look the part unless I break the spine and mutilate the dust jacket. In truth, like the seller, I am glad that this copy found me. I want to have this one so I can move on and put my book to rest. It lived a very long shelf life and probably brought happiness to a lot of people. I can honestly say that I don’t think anyone loved it more than I did. Sometimes a book is a good friend when you need one the most.

One Step Up

Photo courtesy of Wendy Johnston

One Step Up: Keeping Larry’s Legacy

By: Rachel Parsons

In loving memory of Larry Gibson, 1946 – 2012

I’ve been involved in the movement to stop mountaintop removal for over three years now, which is a relatively small period of time when I think about the many people who’ve been involved for much longer. Fighting big coal has come to define me to such an extent that it feels like a lifetime since I first heard Judy Bonds and Larry Gibson speak. Judy and Larry were two coalfield residents whose words were more than just genuine; they were passionate and empowering.

Larry Gibson was a spunky little man who talked big, and it was not difficult to believe every word he said. I always believed that he would fight for the mountains until he took his last breath. People like Larry don’t just stop fighting for something when the fight gets too hard. Larry’s fight was always hard. Throwing his lot in with the “tree huggers” and refusing to sell the last remnants of his home on Kayford Mountain to the coal company meant that Larry made a lot of enemies.

People shot at his house, vandalized his property, poisoned and shot his dogs and threatened his life. The police ignored Larry’s problems, claiming that Larry lived in “No Man’s Land” on Kayford Mountain and that there was nothing they could do to help him. Despite this, Larry was not deterred. He never claimed to be a saint or anything of the sort, just a man who owed his life to Kayford Mountain, but there must have been some part of him with divine patience. How many people can claim that all those things, or even of those things, wouldn’t scare them away from their home?

If anyone wonders how bad the harassment of Larry Gibson really was, well, let me tell you a little story. It’s about a nineteen year old girl who went with her family to spend the Fourth of July with Larry and a large group of mountaintop removal protestors on Kayford Mountain for Larry’s annual Fourth of July festival. That nineteen year old girl was me and I was brand new to the movement. I’d met Larry a couple of times before but didn’t know him well. He welcomed my family – my mother, my brothers, my grandparents, and me – with open arms, like he’d known us forever.

Not much for crowds, I retired to my tent early on to write. Larry had warned us all earlier that day that there could be some disturbance from locals who didn’t like what Larry stood for. While I was squirreled away in my tent, some of those locals showed up. I could hear raised voices from inside the tent and, afraid of getting involved in something potentially dangerous, I stayed where I was while our group was verbally assaulted by several locals. One of them was a large man who decided to express his disdain for us by eating several of the hotdogs we’d grilled while a female friend of his poured tomato juice all over our picnic area. They shouted vicious things at our group and at Larry, prompting my grandfather to place himself protectively in front of Larry. My grandfather told me later that he put himself in the line of fire hoping that one of them would hit him, so he’d have a real complaint to take to the police, since they wouldn’t listen to anything else.

When I emerged from my tent, the troublemakers had gone and we all tried to go about our celebration and pretend that nothing had happened. As Larry explained, it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened, which was of little comfort to us when it began to rain. My mother, my brothers and I were huddled together in a tent that leaked, none of us getting much sleep while locals roared their cars and four-wheelers past our camp all night long and shouted expletives and threats at us. After that night, I never doubted any claim Larry made of violence against him and his property and family.

Larry lived on what little remained of Kayford Mountain, which was his family’s ancestral home. He placed his fifty acres in a land trust that prevents it from ever being strip-mined, though underground mining still takes place. That fifty acres is all that’s left of over 500 acres owned by Larry’s family, most of which has been taken and destroyed by a mining company by way of a broad form deed that sold the mineral rights to the property, signed with an “X” by one of Larry’s ancestors. Larry would take all of his visitors to a place called “Hell’s Gate,” a point where you could look out at the destruction of Kayford Mountain.

The first time Larry took my family to Hell’s Gate, I was shell-shocked. There are no words to describe the site. People tried to describe the horror of it to me before I went, but nothing that anyone said could have prepared me for the sight of a mountain that had been nearly leveled. They don’t call it mountaintop removal for nothing. Kayford’s mountaintop is gone. Even worse was when Larry pointed out a patch of green that resembled an island, raised above the rubble and waste. He explained that it was his family’s cemetery, which the company was not allowed to destroy, but was now incredibly difficult to reach. Larry’s ancestors are buried in that “protected” cemetery.

It made me sick to my stomach and I knew I had to find a way to join the fight. Every time I saw Larry, he smiled and hugged me and encouraged me to stay involved. He was very concerned about getting young people to join the movement, because he said that we were the ones who would have to carry on the fight after he was gone. It never really occurred to me that one day we wouldn’t have Larry to lead the charge. He was such a powerful personality that it made me believe Larry would always have my back in this fight.

Now I’m twenty-two and still fighting. A little over a year ago, one of my heroes, Judy Bonds, passed away from cancer. Her death had a huge impact on the movement. I had only just escaped the melancholy that settled on me on the anniversary of her passing. With one powerful person gone, I know the vast majority of people in the movement looked to Larry for inspiration and guidance. I don’t use the word “hero” lightly. Larry fit the word in every sense. If a person grew weary of the fight, they only needed to go to Larry to get that metaphorical fire lit under their ass. Larry didn’t just ask you to fight, he told you flat out that it was your responsibility to fight and to fight hard.

I was not expecting to come home Sunday evening to news of Larry’s passing. In fact, I had no reason to expect that he would leave us any time soon. At sixty-six years old, he was lively and loud, though I was not under the illusion that he was in prime health. My mother and I pulled into the driveway of our home after a trip to the grocery store and we were met by my stepfather, who broke the news to us. My mother broke down in tears. For me, the news was so out of the blue that I wasn’t sure how to react.

The first thing I did was rush to my computer to uncover the facts about the situation. I found out that Larry had indeed passed away. He’d had a heart attack while working on his beloved mountain. I suppose he would have wanted to die up there but I’m sure he wasn’t planning on it happening so soon. He still had work to do, the responsibility for which has now been thrust upon his family and friends.

Activist and photographer Paul Corbit Brown took a video of Larry a few days before his death, in which Larry spoke of his love for Kayford Mountain. Kayford was not quite heaven, he said, but up there, he was one step up – one step closer to heaven. That’s testament to how much he loved that place, considering that most of it was already gone. Larry must have remembered Kayford the way she used to be, wild and rich with life. I can’t say what happens after this life, if we continue to another life or return to the earth, but one way or another, I hope that Larry was reunited with Kayford.

There’s so much to say about him. Physically, he was a small person and had an unassuming appearance. If it wasn’t for the neon green shirt and hat that he wore everywhere, he would have been an easy person to overlook. It was the fighting passion inside him that made him such a memorable person. He wanted to fight for Kayford, for every mountain in Appalachia, and he poured his heart and soul into it. He made sure that no one ignored him, going out on the road to speak all around the country and spread the word of the threat of strip-mining in Appalachia.

People said he looked like a highlighter out in public, clearly visible in his trademark green, which he said he chose because it caught peoples’ attention. The shirt and hat, now owned by many of us in the movement, bear the information for Larry’s foundation, The Keepers of the Mountains. “Love ’em or leave ’em, just don’t destroy ’em,” he said. He wanted to win the fight against big coal and see a stop put to mountaintop removal more than anything. It makes me hurt and angry to know that he won’t get to see the final chapter of the story. He won’t be there when mountaintop removal is finally abolished.

It will feel so strange to celebrate that victory without him or Judy Bonds to get up in front of us all and tell us that we did it; we won against all odds. That’s all the more reason to keep fighting. If I count Larry as a dear friend, which I do, I know that I can’t throw in the towel now. It’s time to step up and carry the torch onwards, to make sure that our voice is not lessened just because Larry’s not here to clear the way in highlighter green.

All that being said, I miss Larry and it hurts so much to know that I’ll never see him again. He’ll never give me another hug, or tell my mother what a pretty daughter she has. Larry was special to me and my family. We counted ourselves as his people, people from Appalachia who were tired of being quiet, and it is like losing a family member now that he is gone. I thought I would get to see him soon in DC and I was looking forward to it. I feel hollow knowing that he won’t be here to lead us anymore.

Larry’s passing only strengthens my resolve. I want the world to hear his story and know the true cost of coal. I want everyone to hear about the suffering of the Appalachian people and our beloved mountains. Larry’s home was destroyed. The forests he explored as a child were demolished, his mountain was leveled, and yet our government thinks that this is okay. Worse than that, this has happened to over five hundred mountains in Appalachia, and more all of the time.

In Larry Gibson’s honor, I refuse to back down and allow the greedy rich to have their way. As Larry would say, it’s my job and it’s your job to see this through. It doesn’t matter if you live here or you don’t, if you’re a transplant or a native, or if you live on the other side of the world. Everyone should care about this, and everyone should want to preserve and protect the Appalachian Mountains.

I know what Larry meant when he said that being on Kayford was “one step up.” There is something divine about these mountains, about the land I have loved since I was a small child, and I have felt that strong connection to it that Larry had. Imagine the most important thing to you in this world, the one thing that you keep in your soul, so deeply ingrained in your being that it defines you. Then you will understand what it is like for me and for Larry, to love this place. Maybe then you’ll want to join us and carry on Larry’s legacy, to move us ever closer to a world where these mountains are protected for future generations.

This is an invitation. If you’re not already involved, stop wondering whether or not this is your fight and jump into the fray. It is not an easy fight. People will try to hold you back every step of the way. They’ll call you a liar and many less pleasant names, they’ll try to label you as an outsider who has no right to speak up, but no matter where you live, you are not an outsider. Larry would have wanted you with us. Join us and help us keep the mountains.

Almost Heaven, Video of Larry Gibson by Paul Corbit Brown

West Virginia: The Third World

West Virginia: The Third World
If they hurt you, should you back down?
By: Rachel Parsons

It’s Saturday, July 28, and there’s something big happening. I’ve known about it for months. People are going to get arrested today, lots of people, to make a statement. Everything has been planned meticulously, most people in the movement – the movement to end mountaintop removal and strip mining in Appalachia – don’t even know where it’s all going to go down, but we know it’s going to happen. A lot of people sign up to go. The action is called “Mountain Mobilization,” and it is organized by RAMPS, or Radical Action for Mountain Peoples’ Survival, one of many groups protesting coal in the mountains of Appalachia.

Some people, myself included, don’t go. For me, it’s because I don’t want to get arrested right now, although I believe strongly in the importance of it. There are many personal things I’m dealing with that make me stay home. My mother and I go to an antique auction to take our minds off the action, worried about our friends who are going with the intent of getting arrested. We are miserable and cranky the whole time. When we get home, we make a beeline for our computers, hoping for good news.

Instead we get bad news. 20 people were arrested on Hobet Mine in southern West Virginia. That’s not the bad part. We had planned on getting lots of people arrested to make a statement and draw attention to West Virginia’s plight, all the poisoned water and polluted air and mountains reduced to rubble. The bad news is that the other 30 people who were on the mine were sent on a 15 mile walk by police officers who refused to let the shuttle cars meant to pick them up drive down the small road to the mine. However, the police did let pro-coal supporters down the road and the anti-coal protesters were forced to walk almost four hours through a gauntlet of hate until they reached the rest of their party and were picked up. The cars carrying our protesters were then harassed on the way home, with coal supporters in big trucks trying to run them off the road.

Democracy Now: Protesters Shut Down West Virginia Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine

Mountain Mobilization shuts down largest mountaintop removal mine in U.S.

It’s Sunday, July 29, and we get news that at least one of the arrested protesters, Dustin Steele, has been severely beaten while in police custody and has been denied medical treatment. A cry of outrage goes out across the web. Dustin will be 21 on August 1, a year younger than myself. I know this guy. Someone I know has been beaten by the police and refused treatment. Any lingering delusions I might have had of living in the land of the free? Well, those are gone, if they were ever there. Home of the brave, on the other hand, well, maybe we can still claim that title. The next few days will show.

The bond for each of the 20 arrested protesters is set at $25,000 in West Virginia property. That adds up to $500,000 dollars with of property in exchange for the release of 20 people who were arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges. Naturally, we all think this is outrageous.

A pro-coal group online has found several of our Facebook pages, including Ramps Campaign. The page where we have all been watching for news of our comrades is bombarded with comments from the other side. Our opposition tells us “dirty, tree-hugging hippies” to “go back where we came from.” A large number of protesters, including myself and Dustin Steele, the arrested protester who was beaten, are West Virginia natives. We say so. We regret engaging any of our assailants in conversation as we are swept away in a sea of hate. Someone says the arrested protesters should be hung from trees. Someone else tells the arrested protesters “not to drop the soap.” They think these comments are funny. Well, they’re not.

Monday, July 30, I drive to my grandparents’ house to spend a couple of days with them. My plan is to relax and distract myself by helping on their farm. Instead, the three of us compulsively check Facebook for news. We’re worried and outraged for Dustin. We have no idea how the movement could possibly post bond for Dustin and the others, and Dustin still has not seen a doctor. Fingers crossed, we share articles on Facebook, trying to spread the word if we can do nothing else. Donations for the legal defense fund for the arrested protesters are still asked for, in hopes that cash will eventually be accepted by police.

Mountain Mobilization organizer discusses police crackdown following historic action.

Mining protesters accuse police of mistreatment.

That night, I am stressed and have trouble going to sleep. My anxiety issues hit me full force. On Tuesday, July 31, I wake up tired. The news is dreary at best and so is the weather. It rains and all I can think about is Dustin and how I don’t even really know how hurt he is. It’s not like I’ve ever been close to Dustin, but I know this kid. He could have been me if I’d been a little bit braver. And he had a right to protest and to stand up for what he believes in. I’m so angry that the police, who are supposed to keep citizens safe, would do this to 21 year-old kid who had no way of defending himself.

Ramps Campaign reports that the other arrested protesters witnessed the brutality against Dustin. More bad news, the Environmental Protection Agency loses a court case about water pollution restrictions in regards to coal mining. It’s not looking like a good day for the movement.

Jeff Biggers: Besieged Coalfield Residents Denounce Court Decision Against EPA Rules on Mountaintop Removal

All the hate people are spewing everywhere is too much. It hurts to hear Governor Tomblin on the news say that the decision against the EPA is a “victory for West Virginia.” It’s not a victory. Coal is going to kill this state and I’m miserable and think that maybe I made a mistake by coming back here instead of staying in Tennessee after I graduated. More and more bad news. I have a negative confrontation with a supposed “friend” and it just blows everything sky high for me. I call my mom in tears and tell her I’m moving to Canada. She tells me I’m going to stay here and fight.

I call my Dad and explain everything that has happened over the last few days. I cry some more. He says, “Write about this. You are a great writer. Don’t be upset because the opposition has finally recognized that you are a force to be contended with. You should feel empowered by it. Congratulations.”

Wednesday, August 1, I wake up feeling better. It’s Dustin’s birthday, and it’s the birthday of Mother Jones, a historic figure in our movement. It’s also the anniversary of the death of Sid Hatfield. Such a day can’t be anything but powerful. News from Ramps says that they’ve finally convinced authorities to allow them to pay bond with cash, and I have high hopes that Dustin will soon be released.

There are two petitions circulating, one demanding justice for Dustin and the other demanding that the bail be reduced for the “Hobet 20” as the arrested protesters are called. I sign them both and watch with high hopes as more and more signatures are added.

Petition: Reduce the bail for the Hobet 20!

Petition: Senators Manchin & Rockefeller: Get Dustin Steele medical treatment and investigate his abuse.

Word from Ramps that Dustin’s bail has been paid and he is finally safe with friends. The fight’s not over. There are still 19 more of the Hobet 20 to get released. Dustin’s abuse cannot be allowed to go unpunished. But I am feeling more empowered now. So I write about it, because writing is what I do and I will never be afraid to write about what’s important, no matter who threatens to hang me from a tree or put me through a wood chipper.

I am home and I am here to stay.

“The earth is not dying, it is being killed. And the people who are killing it have names and addresses.” – Utah Phillips

Blocking the Haul Road on Kayford Mountain

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.

Letter to the Editor, by Shey Dillon

To preface this post, let me say that I am posting a letter written by a very dear friend of mine on a topic that is very important to both of us. Shey has been my friend since we were preteens and she and I both identify as atheists. We both have younger siblings who are also atheists. Shey graduated from PikeView High School, and her little sister will be graduating this year. Both of my brothers attended PikeView High School for a time and another friend of ours graduated from PikeView, also an atheist. Unfortunately, PikeView has been ignoring our rights as U.S. citizens by holding the PikeView graduation ceremony in a church, complete with Christian prayers, completely ignoring that many of their students are of different faiths or do not have a faith. Shey wrote this letter to the Princeton Times addressing the matter. However, we are afraid that the letter will simply be ignored, so I am posting her letter here in hopes of getting a few more people to read it.

Update: Shey just received an email from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph telling her that they will be publishing her letter. I am hoping sincerely that this will result in a change being made.

Update 2: Looks like the Princeton Times is also publishing this! Hoorah! Shey, you are very brave for doing this and I am SO PROUD OF YOU.

Dear Editor,

I graduated from PikeView High School in 2009 as a member of the National Honor Society, Geography Quiz Bowl team, Model UN team, Environmental Club, as a first chair West Virginia All-State Band musician and Class of 2009 Homecoming Queen. As these achievements may suggest, I took my high school education very seriously and contributed all that I could to the PikeView High School community. So, it was with great displeasure that I discovered my high school graduation ceremony would be held at the Princeton Church of God. I am not a Christian, and had always been subject to ridicule (by faculty and students alike) in school for this. As a child in the second grade, for example, I was told by my teacher that my name wasn’t special because it wasn’t a Bible name; in the eighth grade, my health teacher told me in front of the entire class that I would “burn in hell.”

I decided, however, to bite my tongue and make no complaints about the graduation location. I did not want to be the victim of any more abuse, nor did I want to spoil what I hoped would be a pleasant and important day; I was wrong to think it could turn out this way.  If holding the ceremony in the church did not make me uncomfortable enough, there were also several “prayers” scheduled into the graduation program. I had to pretend to pray to a god I do not believe in, just to feel like I belonged at my own graduation—my own graduation from a public high school.

Several weeks ago, it was brought to my attention that not only is this practice still in effect, but also that the Americans United for Separation of Church and State have asked the Mercer County Board of Education to change the graduation location and remove the prayers from the ceremony, and the BOE has refused. I find this completely appalling. Other students like myself will be made to feel as bad as I did on their graduation, when this is something that could be so easily avoided.  I know that those students who are not Christians are certainly the minority at PikeView High School, and in Mercer County. But, in America, and especially in public schools, the rights of minorities are just as important as those of the majority, and all students, no matter what their faith, deserve to feel equally accomplished and celebrated at their high school graduation.

Use of the Princeton Church of God is not “free” as was presented by the BOE, as it has come to light that monetary gifts of an undisclosed amount have been made to the church.  There are other options available beyond the Princeton Church of God.  Many students in America graduate from high school on the football field, with a move to the gymnasium in the event of rain.  The limit of only one guest per student were the graduation to be held in the school gym seems to be an exaggeration given that the gym hosts well more than that number during important basketball games.   We have a public university with several venues located 3 miles from the school.  We have a beautiful state of the art performing arts center in Princeton.  All of these options are preferable to a public school graduation being held in a church in a country where separation of church and state is a founding principle.

Respectfully,

S. Dillon

Link to Shey’s letter on Facebook

Strawberry Jam: A Lesson from My Nana

Strawberry Jam: A Lesson from My Nana

Strawberry Jam: A Lesson from My Nana

By Rachel Parsons

The art of preserving food has been a vital skill for humankind. In the past, humans relied on their own ability to create a store of food for the winter, when no crops could be grown, to get them through. An extension of this ability is the making of jellies and jams. In my family, this skill has been passed down from generation to generation, and I chose to learn the skill from my grandmother, Dana Pearman Moye, who has perfected the art. Over the course of this project, I have discovered how she leaned the skill, I learned the basics of it myself, and came to realize the importance that such knowledge still holds for humanity.

Click above link to read full article.

In honor of my dear Nana’s 63rd birthday. Happy birthday, Nana!

Eat What You Are: Community Supported Agriculture at Oakwyn Farms

Eat What You Are

“Eat What You Are”: Community Supported Agriculture at Oakwyn Farms

By Rachel Parsons

First Printed in Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine, Volume 27, Number 2, “Serving Appalachia”

The land of the Appalachian region is fertile farmland, ideal for many staple crops. Once, all who lived in this region were farmers, or part of a community that raised its own food. Everyone has to eat, and as they say, you are what you eat. However, the food you buy in the grocery store today brings with it many questions. What kinds of chemicals were used to produce it? What health risks are associated with certain preservatives? How diverse are the ingredients of the assortment of processed foods that are available?  It can be overwhelming to try and keep up with all the facts. Luckily, in some places there is an alternative. At my family’s farm, Oakwyn Farms, my mother and grandparents saw the need to provide a safer way for people to eat. They started what is known as a CSA – a Community Supported Agriculture program. Through this program, we provide fresh, homegrown vegetables for many of our fellow community members for a weekly fee.

Click above link to read complete article.