To Heal the World (Day 2 in Appalachia)

posted by Josh Ran

This morning, we were lucky enough to go on a flyover of mountaintop removal (MTR) sites. The good folks at Southwings Aviation offer these trips as a way to help publicize to the outside world what’s really happening in Appalachia, and our pilot/tour guide Tom was a fountain of knowledge about the issue. Branden got the front seat, because the front window opens and he’s the guy with the good camera. Me and Sue sat in back and took lesser pictures with our lesser cameras through the window.

The first thing that you notice: It is truly beautiful here. Appalachia is green and lush and mountainous and it seems like it goes on forever. And then… it doesn’t. What we couldn’t see from the roadway was apparent from the air. Mountaintop removal coal mining is tearing a hole in the heart of this beautiful forest. In fact, it’s tearing lots of holes. Everywhere we looked, we saw another ugly sore on the landscape – coal mining operations or areas that have been blasted out that aren’t even being mined yet.

MTR site in Appalachia
MTR sites in Appalachia
While we were flying, one phrase kept going through my mind. “Tikkun Olam” – it’s Hebrew for “to heal (or repair) the world” and it means that we all have an obligation to help restore the world and its inhabitants to a state of wholeness. It’s a concept that often gives meaning to my activism, but nowhere have I felt it more profoundly than here in Appalachia. We were given a region so beautiful that (we learned today) its name comes from a Native American word for “endless mountain forest.” And what do we do? We blast the tops right off of those mountains, trash the trees, and poison the rivers! We’ve got a lot of healing work to do here.

In the afternoon, we had a wonderful visit with Judy Bonds from Coal River Mountain Watch . She told us how she was the eighth generation of her family to live in Appalachia and about how Appalachians have always been connected to the landscape and cared for the commons – until the coal companies came in and laid claim to all of the commons. She had so many important things to say and stories to tell, and if Branden doesn’t write about it, I’ll tell you some of it tomorrow. Now it’s after midnight and we’re meeting with Goldman Prize-winner Maria Gunnoe in the morning, so I’d better call it a day.

Oh, by the way, we stopped by Climate Ground Zero and heard that the tree-sitters’ bail was reduced from $25,000 each to $1000, and the two of them were on their way over to the Climate Ground Zero house this evening after spending a night enjoying the relative peace and quiet of their jail cell.