Beanery Online Literary Magazine

December 12, 2010

Wintry Mix



Joe F. Stierheim

     I survived the “Wintry Mix”—the disagreeable mixture of snow, sleet, rain and ice that came through as weather during the first week in December, 2010—weather you wish you didn’t have to acknowledge. At least I think it came through. I didn’t really see it. I heard there was ice on the mountain but I’m really not sure of the extent of that. I didn’t travel there to find out. In fact, I didn’t go anywhere, didn’t even venture outside. I stayed home. I can do that, being the noncontributing member of society that I am.

     I stayed home and read a book, a book entitled Lost Mountain by Erik Reece. It deals with mountain top removal mining in Appalachia. It’s about a lot of other non-contributing members of society who live in Kentucky, West Virginia and other Appalachian states. They are noncontributing because many of them are poor, undereducated, and unemployed, and therefore do not contribute to the wealth of the nation. Because they do not do this, they are deemed to be of little worth to society. And because of this, the contributing members of society are free do as they wish about and with them.

     What they wish to do is keep them in the condition they are in. The country, at least the laws of the country and its states, and the officials of the country and those states, appear to contribute to that.

     The coal in the mountains is more valuable than the people who live there. It is more valuable than the mountains, more valuable, it seems, than the country and that which is in the earth is more valuable than the earth itself.

     And the country as a whole pays little notice. Conditions in the affected areas, aside from destruction of the mountains, range from being disagreeable to deadly. In 1972, a break at the Buffalo Creek pond in West Virginia, a containment pond for waste water from the coal cleaning process, killed 125 people and destroyed 4000 homes. In 1998 in McRoberts, Kentucky, vegetation was sheared from an area prone to flooding. Three so-called 100-year floods occurred there in ten days. In 2000 a sludge pond broke through an underground mine shaft in Inez, Kentucky. That spill was thirty times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster.

     None of these incidents are considered noteworthy. We remember Exxon Valdez but none of the above. Though these conditions are as near as one state away from us, we have found that a sufficient distance. We are told that coal is necessary for our comfort and well being, that there is no alternative. Without asking any questions, we accept this.

     Now, the situation has changed. The quest for energy resources has broadened to accessing natural gas in Marcellus shale and this technology has come to Pennsylvania. It is now our turn to face the prospect of danger to our well being, our natural resources and our health. The experience of residents of other states such as Oklahoma, Wyoming and Alabama should be sufficient to give us cause to question this form of gas drilling.

     But will it be?

      The combination of our own ignorance, indifference and greed may be sufficient to counteract any value that experience has to offer.

     The Gross National Product (GNP) is the measure of this country’s economic wealth. For a long time the monies required to fight wars and recover from disasters have been included in this figure, assumedly because these activities contribute to our well being. Now added to it are monies earned by the short-sighted policies of mountain top removal and Marcellus shale drilling. The more wars and disasters we have, the more mountains we destroy, and the more areas of the country to which we cause distress, the better it will be for the economy.

     I’m afraid the season of the wintry mix is not over. That season may last for a long, long time.





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1 Comment »

  1. Many people feel that they are only one person and can’t fight the government and big corporations — that is why they get away with destroying the land. And what is with all the birds dying and falling from the sky.

    Comment by Jan McLaughlin — January 19, 2011 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

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