"Letcher County Reflection
As I began reading “A Tale of the Future,” it hit me that the very first word was “imagine.” The words that follow describe a sort of utopia, a land better than what we now know and certainly better than we could hope for in the aftermath of mountaintop removal mining. They describe a sustainable and resilient community, conscious of their environment and of their actions. So why is this an “imaginary” idea? Perhaps because as of now, very few people understand what mountaintop removal is-except for the fact that it gets them the resources they need. It isn’t commonly accepted knowledge that energy-hungry consumers are destroying land in order to get fossil fuels and in turn also destroying the atmosphere. Consumers of fossil fuels are in denial that without major efforts on everyone’s part, we the people will never see “fields of waving grasses, grains, and pastures that reflect in their colors the diversity of the farms below.” No, instead we will be saddled with “a moonscape, devoid of both life and of people”-and wondering how it got that way.
These are the thoughts that came to mind as I was riding over the scarred, carved land in a terrifyingly small plane.
At first I was solely focusing on that plane, how small it was and the sounds I heard as it rattled against early morning winds. Then I started looking out the window and saw the steam and fog rising from the valleys. I was amazed at how “pretty” it looked, until we flew further and I saw plains and mountains once green that had been utterly stripped of life. Not nearly so pretty-if anything, it was terrifying. Being from Louisville, I was born and raised on one extreme end of the spectrum. I never saw the mountaintop removal, I never saw beautiful valleys ruined by machinery and backhoes and explosives. Instead I grew up in one of the cities in Kentucky that consumed most of those resources. Massive
buildings and heavy vehicle traffic was the norm, as was the resulting thick cloud of pollution that made it nearly impossible to breathe some days. My parents would drive off to work in the morning, contributing to the pollution that made air quality advisories the norm in my life-and I would sit at home knowing nothing about what we were really doing to our environment.
In some ways, although I am more informed as an adult, I don’t think it really clicked what we were doing until that flyover sort of pushed it in my face. As our hosts put it, when you see things like that “you can realize how fragile things
I was still thinking about that as we continued driving to get to where we were staying. I had almost nodded off when we had to get out-the mountain hills were so steep we had to help the van make its way up the mountain. The first thing I noticed was the air-it smelled so much cleaner than what I am used to in Louisville, definitely. As I looked around and tried to stay out of the way I noticed all the vegetation that was around-also something very foreign to me. As we walked up the hill laughing about how good it was to finally be there, I noticed somewhat of a growing sense of camaraderie among my classmates. Taking us out of our “city” and putting us in an unfamiliar environment was already showing results-moving us in the direction that resilient community members would hope for.
In all honesty, I expected to be bored off my rear end. I was pleasantly surprised to not be. I watched soap being made as men far wiser than us described the farmer’s almanac. I watched older men and women sit around an already crackling campfire and play music, talking about the environment that they had made their home in. The land they had made their home and their living from-not the city they lived in, or the car they drove-but instead the crops they were raising, and the food they preserved for their families. I sat and laughed with my classmates in a circle as we watched a chair being completed, and smiled at the happy blush on Jenn’s face when she got to keep it. I sat on the porch with Sean and Rachael, laughing at the fact that none of us “city kids” could string beans terribly well-and some people couldn’t even thread the needle to do so!
I think I can speak for everyone when I say dinner was amazing. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of good food after a busy day of working, traveling, learning, and experiencing. Even better was the fact that the food was home cooked-and natural. Shoveling down bowls of potato soup and cornbread with fried apple pies to wash it down provided an entirely different mealtime experience than say, eating a triple whopper at Burger King. The sense of community was still there-how different it was to see how different we were living from how we could and should be living. Even in Berea, which is far more advanced than many communities in terms of sustainability and resilience, we still depend on many outside corporations and businesses to “get by.” These people were living how we should-in the aftermath and continued destruction of mountaintop removal and coal pollution; they were growing their food from the land and conserving their resources.
My favorite memory from this trip, however, was the time spent by the fire singing songs and telling stories. Our hosts also told us that “These hills are full of stories,” but they’re the type of stories you don’t realize exist until you’ve heard them and even seen them for yourself. As the adults retired to either warmth or sleep, the rest of the class continued
incinerating marshmallows and flicking embers at each other. We sat and talked until late at night-our lives back home, our experiences growing up, and what we thought of what we had seen that day. Even once we cuddled up in the tents to try and stay warm, we were still laughing hysterically about jokes we had told or remembering songs that had been sung around the fire.
Overall, I think I learned a lot more from this trip than I expected to. For me, I was simply lucky that I wasn’t really sure what to expect and therefore kept somewhat of an open mind. Being receptive to the new ideas that were coming forward made it much easier to appreciate those ideas."