Jan 12, 6:00 PM. First things first. We forgot to wish Trey Hancock a happy birthday! Our hosts' son last night turned 4 yesterday. We like to think that we were his best birthday present.
We're sitting at Terry and Wilma Steele's house in Meador, WV, and we just saw a picture of Donnie Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy. It's a picture from Terry's high school yearbook. Terry says that when Blankenship was just an accountant for Massey, some miners would make fun of him because he didn't know anything about mining. He said, "Joke all you want. I may not know anything about mining, but I know numbers. And if the numbers aren't right, you don't have a job."
And that's been the story here. Missy and I passed a billboard today that read, "Massey Energy: Do the Math." Massey and company have reduced an entire region and way of life to numbers, and numbers have no moral obligations attached to them. The coal leaves on trains, and the local economies boom, but then it's gone, and what's left? Nothing that will bring people here. Meanwhile, people here are hurting. We saw a man today stop on the side of the road to pull coal from a seam in a roadcut and load it into his truck. He wanted it to heat his house.
Terry worked in the coal mines for 26yr, then a back injury led him out and he never looked back. Wilma, Terry and their grandson Dustin are pretty much the only people on the Titanic that can see the 'iceberg' and are screaming at the people on board to notice, but no one is listening. (That's Dustin's analogy.) They may be the only people in Meador who consider themselves environmentalists. Dustin goes to school and listens to other kids make fun of him. They say, "Mountain top removal is good...it prevents forest fires!" Dustin laughs, but you it can't be easy for him. His school had a field trip to a MTR mine for Earth Day. He opted to stay home. Later, he asked his teacher if they could visit a KKK rally for Martin Luther King Jr, Day. Kudos to him for not conforming. Go Dustin! Wilma writes poetry and collects old mining memorabilia and tree fossils she finds on old mining areas. Terry and Wilma continue to fight the King of Coal. We are so thankful to have met the Steeles, who have educated us about MTR mining in and around Meador, WV, with a rare kindness and hospitality.
It was a good day, though. There were some pretty serious climbs, but we made it ahead of schedule to Meador. We needed a good day today, because tomorrow looks grim. It's 75 miles to Sundial, and we'll have the snow/rain chasing us all the way. Several big climbs, and one BIG climb.
Here's a piece that Wilma wrote:
White Flame: The Struggle For Survival
I am not the sculptor of this piece: God is -- I am only the person with an eye for beauty. I looked at the destruction left by another hundred year rain and saw this tree root sticking out of the mud. I saw the rocks embedded in the body of this tree root and thought of the struggle it had had to survive.
It has never been easy to live on these Appalachian Mountains. The tree root had grown into and around solid rock. The rock had given it the strength to stand tall against strong winds. The root seems to embody the spirit of the old mountaineers -- my ancestors. They too had anchored to solid rock to live on this mountain. Their faith in god gave them the strength to grow and survive. The songs, stories, hard work, connections with past and with each other made them strong.
These traditions had been preserved for hundreds of years by the mountaineers. Outsiders found a link to their own past right here in Appalachia. This mountain range is one of the oldest in the world. In its breast is preserved an even older history of prehistoric ages. The coal, fossils, and energy that companies seek, are the skeletons of the ancient ones.
Our technology and our greed have made it possible to blast away the whole mountain and take the energy there. What will be left then: Unanchored trees and people and a way of life taht is gone wti the winds of destruction and greed.
- Wilma Lee Steele