Book Review: “Shine” by Lauren Myracle

Settle For Nothing Less Than the Truth: A Review of Lauren Myracle’s “Shine”

By: Rachel Parsons

            As a young Appalachian woman, I find myself constantly in pursuit of good literature about my region. As I am also a
fan of Young Adult literature, it is a special treat when I come across a Young Adult novel set in Appalachia that’s about more than raising chickens and catching crawdads. One such novel is “Shine,” by Lauren Myracle.

Settle For Nothing Less Than the Truth: A Review of Lauren Myracle’s “Shine”

(Click the above link for full text.)

Peace is Impossible

The leader sees people
but not individuals.
The lesser of evils
becomes ancient ritual.

The captain leads soldiers
with army field manuals.
His missions from folders,
the violence is mutual.

The person sees mirrors
and fails to be clinical.
There’s losers and winners,
both always criminal.

If the greed inside man
is always unstoppable,
there’s no Utopian land
and peace is impossible.

Peace is Impossible

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

Disbelief

Larry Gibson is gone. I think I am in shock. It doesn’t seem real.

I don’t think I can write about this yet. I’m too disturbed by it and my mind has not yet accepted it. Maybe when I’ve had the time to think about it.

I love you, Larry, and I’m sorry you didn’t get to see the fight through to the finish. You were so wonderful. I will miss your hugs.

Today, for Judy.

I am a lot of things, both appealing and offensive. Similarly, I do many things, mostly offensive and sometimes, hopefully, appealing. For instance, free writing on my blog might turn out to be splendidly appealing or horribly offensive (or just plain boring, but perish the thought, I could never be boring).

There are things I should be doing, like writing more articles, and things I am doing, like writing more fanfiction. There’s the person I should be, who is always confident and kind and composed, and the person I actually am, who takes everything to heart and loses her temper and, like an elephant, never forgets. In all honesty, it’s harder to try and change yourself, even when it seems like it’s for the better, and being yourself cannot be anything but positive in the long run. If you are yourself, you’ll reduce a large amount of secrets you have to keep from people.

As for doing things, people talk about how we have little time to do the things we should. Logically, I believe that, but to me it seems that life goes on and on and never lets me rest. Screw doing stuff, most of the time I just want to sleep.

I’ve been encouraged to write a book, possibly, about living in Appalachia and fighting the destruction here. It strikes me as funny that something I do everyday – i.e. “live here” – would be appealing enough in book form to actually sell. That being said, I’m sure I’ll do it eventually. Probably next year for NaNoWriMo. But what’s wrong with inspirational stories about boy robots who want to save the world and understand love? So the next book, which I’ll be writing for NaNo this year, is the third book in the Jonah series.

Actually, I haven’t even tried to get Jonah published. I haven’t sent it anywhere at all, so I don’t even know if it would be rejected or if I’m just paranoid. It seems like a crazy thought, that I could really publish a book. I used to tell people that my ultimate goal was to get at least one book published. If I got published now, at 22, it would be so strange. I would, however, consider myself highly successful for my age. That would sum up what I’ve been working for my whole life. Maybe it would be peaceful or maybe it wouldn’t be peaceful at all. I’d probably sleep more, and that really can’t be a good thing.

But today is a special day. Today is the birthday of activist Judy Bonds, who inspired me like no one else ever could in the fight against mountaintop removal. I miss Judy. For her, life was too short, just like everyone always says it will be. But if there was ever a person who spent every day being herself for everyone in the world to see, it was Judy. The world is full of people who hide behind all sorts of different masks but Judy didn’t hide. She was, and continues to be, a character that overwhelms every room full of stereotypes and cop-outs with her sheer individuality and persistence.

I prefaced that small paragraph about Judy with a lot of stuff about myself because I didn’t know what I wanted to write, I guess, to mark this important day. What can I say about Judy that hasn’t already been said a million times over by everyone who loved her? What right do I have to say anything at all? I was just some random girl who listened to her speak and loved the things she said and the way she held herself, not above the people, but above the lies and fear and hate.

Maybe she was nothing like I imagined her to be. I never got to sit and have coffee with her or share stories and get to know her. Still, I think that when someone is as real as Judy was, it makes them shine somehow. When I saw Judy speak or on the front lines at actions, I always knew that I liked her – loved her – in a world full of people who never quite measure up. And all she had to do was be herself. But that’s harder than you might think, when being yourself and speaking the truth puts you in harm’s way, when the safest path to take would be to duck your head down and pretend you can’t do anything. I’m sure that there were days when she was afraid but she kept going.

I don’t want to glorify her beyond what she really was – and I don’t think she would have wanted that either. She was a person, just like you and me. We all have an opportunity to be that real, that solid, and Judy took that opportunity. I guess the reason why I had to talk about myself before I could talk about Judy is that when I think about Judy, I think about myself too. I think about all of the things I’m capable of doing that I haven’t done yet, for whatever reason. I think about how it’s so hard to hide my real self from the world, but it’s even harder to be honest and take the criticism from others that comes with it. Maybe Judy was like me and she just couldn’t keep herself locked up and boxed away. Whatever the reason, I was honored to meet her. I would have been honored to know her. Most of all, I am grateful to her for fighting until the end. There’s a lesson there I still haven’t quite learned but I think Judy gave me the answer to a question I’ve always had.

When you’re a kid and you dream about going down in history books, you don’t think about what that means. To be remembered like that, you have to leave something behind in peoples’ hearts. You have to work hard, bust your ass, and never, ever take shit from anybody, but you also have to have compassion and love. When you get up in front of a crowd, you have to let them know that you’re not going to back down and that you still love the world, no matter how much pain it puts you through. The people who see that about you and are inspired by you will keep you alive in their thoughts. You will never be forgotten. It’s a brave thing to do with your life because you won’t be around to see the impact you have. You have to have blind faith in the world and give as much as you can while you have the chance. It’s not about personal glory, being remembered. I guess I don’t really know what it’s about, except that Judy didn’t fight so people would remember her. People remember her because she fought for something real.

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.