My eyes are closed as I stand smiling, focusing in on my other senses, ones I often take for granted. I smell the fresh air, cool and crisp on this November day. I hear the wind shuffle the tufts of grass and then I hear the laughs of my children as they play around, finding even the most benign thing enjoyable. I open my eyes once again and cannot help but wonder if I am dreaming. I see nothing but the endless beauty that is the Appalachian Mountains from atop this magnificent peak. “It’s amazing isn’t it?” My wife smiles and takes my hand as I nod in agreement.
Our trip to Roan Mountain was a spur of the moment decision. We wanted to spend some time together as a family by getting away from the coalfields for a day. We did as most people from our area do and took off to the Tri-Cities. On the drive down my wife and I had both been thinking of doing something more than walking through a mall full clothing stores. The sun was shining and the temperature was warm, to do anything but spend time outside would have been a crime. As we approached Johnson City I turned to her and asked, “Why don’t we go to Roan Mountain?” and so we did.
My wife and I hadn’t been to Round Bald above Carver’s Gap since before we were married. Now, a little more than a decade later, we have brought our children to see this part of Appalachia left untouched by the coal industry. The longer we peered out over the serenity of the mountain landscape the more I felt I we were at home, a strange notion since the mountains I grew up in feel exactly the opposite since the coal companies decided to strip mine everything around us.
=I asked my son, “Can you tell a difference between what you see here and what we have at home?” He said, “Yup, these mountains haven’t been torn down yet.” I was glad to find he was able to realize the contrast. Then he asked, “Dad? Will they ever stop mining around home?” I really didn’t know what to say to him. I thought of the people who couldn’t afford to stop mining, some who brought debt upon themselves, and those that didn’t, but then I looked around to see all of the unscathed mountains around me. What is right and wrong anymore? In the end all I could tell him was, “I hope so son, I hope so.”
Daniel Hawkins is a former coal miner from Virginia. Having finally gotten fed up with current labor practices and environmental destruction within today’s Appalachian coal mines, he has left the mines in search of a better future for his family. In this series, he looks into Appalachia’s past and possibilities for the future. You can find his full series on his own blog, http://thoughtfulcoalminer.blogspot.com/. This post originally appeared on Daniel’s blog on Sunday, November 14, 2010.