Friday, April 10, 2009

Evening With The Mountain Keepers

(Edited to add: this piece was published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday, April 13, 2009)

After almost backing out due to anxiety (and all those of you with social anxiety know what I mean), my daughter and I attended UK's presentation of "An Evening With the Mountain Keepers." I had really been looking forward to this program, mainly, at first, because of Silas House, but after the program I left with an awareness and passion for the elimination of mountaintop removal.

(Photo by Vivian Stockman - is a picture of Kayford Mountain located 35 miles from Charleston, West Virginia, the State Capitol.)

This program was to bring awareness of the destruction - not only to mountains and property, but to personal lives and families - of coal retrival by mountaintop removal. Growing up in the Bluegrass region, I've read many books, essays and papers on the problems facing Appalachia, but I've always thought of it as a problem for others to worry about. I could not have been more wrong!

Erik Reece was the MC for the evening and he began by reading a brief passage from Lost Mountain, a book showing a year in the vanishing wilderness of radical strip mining the the devastation left in Appalachia. He highlighted ways engaged citizen writers have worked for decades to make disturbing environmental and social justice a forefront to the public eye.

Frank X Walker - founder and editor of Pluck! the Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, a magazine whose mission is to continue extolling the Affrilachian aesthetic, “making the invisible visible” - read one of his poems, touching the true heart of Appalachia. Judy Sizemore read her original poem, "The Badlands of Kentucky" and George Ella Lyon (another favorite of mine) and Anne Shelby both read some of their original poetry.

(Photo from The Mountaintop Removal Road Show )

Dave Cooper brought us his Mountaintop Removal Road Show - a slide show highlighting the impacts of mountaintop removal on coalfield residents, communities and the environment, and features traditional Appalachian mountain music and shocking aerial photos of decapitated Appalachian mountains.

Public Outcry! - an anti-Mountaintop Removal acoustical artistic collaboration bringing together music, words and images to educate people about this extreme coal mining method - performed several songs.

(Photo by Herschel McKinley)

This group includes: Silas House, Jason Howard, Jessie Lynn Keltner, Kate Larken, George Ella Lyon and Anne Shelby. The name of there group was taken from a phrase by a congressional supporter of mountaintop removal, after killing a "Stream Killer Bill" for several years in a row. To paraphrase what this Congressman said, "This is not an important topic; there is no public outcry."

Something's Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal is a wonderful new educational book by Silas House and Jason Howard, and they both read excerpts from the books, with Silas being the last speaker of the night.

(Photo by Herschel McKinley)

I bought this book before the program started, mainly because of Silas House, but after hearing these men speak, I was moved to tears. I read three chapters before nodding off to sleep last night.

There were several special moments of the night for me: meeting Silas House and Jason Howard (and having them sign my book), meeting Frank X Walker, Anne Shelby, and George Ella Lyon, and having Gurney Norman (KY's new Poet Laureate) sit right in front of me!

But the highlight of the night for me was a man I knew nothing about before last night. Larry Gibson is a West Virginia activist who has been fighting coal and mountaintop removal for the majority of his life.

(Photo by Herschel McKinley)

He has been featured on CNN, Nightline, and People Magazine and he travels all over the United States trying to educate people about the devastation coal removal brings to communities, lives, nature and wildlife. Keeper of the Mountains Foundation was created to help fund Larry's efforts to preserve and foster the values of mountain culture. I could have listened to this man talk all night, he was that powerful. I was moved to laughter and I was moved to tears, but most importantly I was moved to action.

Do you still think the "little people" don't have a voice concerning mountaintop removal? These folk are here to provide otherwise. Call your congressmen and women, call your legislators, call the governors of Appalachia, call President Obama. As a point of reference, since taking office in January 2009, the Obama administration has already launched a crackdown on mountaintop removal by moving to delay or block mining permits damaging Appalachian communities and ecosystems.


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