Different Colors of Green
July 9, 2002
When I return home to the mountains, I travel down Interstate
75 through the bluegrass and horse country of Kentucky. At
Corbin, I turn off to old 25E, the Wilderness Road, and head
towards Cumberland Gap. About 40 miles into the mountains,
there is a two- lane highway about 5 miles from Pineville
-- Highway 92. Driving past Magnet Hollow and East Jellico
-- and another 5 miles down this winding road -- lies a deserted
and unmarked dirt road that was once called Pine Ridge Camp.
There are no houses and no signs that would indicate that
it was once a thriving mining camp. There are only trees and
bushes and overgrowth where once several families lived and
survived on the coal buried deep in the breasts of her mountains.
There's a sense of sadness in pondering one's birthplace --
especially when there is nothing there to indicate a beginning.
I fear that future generations will forget that little "camp"
by the side of the road. Perhaps, they have already forgotten?
As I survey the mountains around Pine Ridge, I can still
see the remnants of the dirt roads and mudslides from the
mining of sixty years ago. I wonder to myself, "Was it worth
it? What did we get for our mountains?" In all my travels,
I have yet to see mountains as beautiful and endearing as
the hills of home. It is sad to see the damage that has been
done to these jewels.
However, as a son of a coal miner, I understand the necessity
of those times. Many children would have gone hungry if those
brave miners had not ventured down into those dark dungeons.
With picks and shovels and carbide lamps, they marched each
morning --as if by ritual-- into those dark holes in the mountainside.
There was no machinery. There was no "strip-mining." If they
were lucky, they could find a mule to help pull the coal cars
out of the mine.
Sometimes, the miners would be paid with "real" money and
sometimes they would be paid with "scrip." This "scrip" could
be traded to the mine operator for groceries and other goods
-- usually for flour, cornmeal, pinto beans, salt, and lard.
Otherwise, it was worthless. This was before the mines were
unionized or mechanized.
Nowadays, there are not as many miners in our hills. One
machine can do the work of hundreds of men. They can cut away
the entire mountaintop in a matter of days. But what do we
gain? What price must we pay to see our only treasures stripped
and carried away? What price can be put on our streams and
rivers as they are polluted by the mud and residue that always
end up at the lowest elevations of the valleys?
As I stand at Pine Ridge and look around at the dogwoods,
redbuds, oaks, hickorys, maples, and poplars, I see a hundred
shades of green. Each of these "greens" will turn another
glorious color this fall. The only green missing is the color
of money. Who amongst us can put a price on such a blessing?