Posted October 27th 2010 at 11:00 am by
in Kentucky, The Thoughtful Coal Miner

Coal Miner to Environmentalist. What Happened? (Part II: Nature)

“I became trapped, as I realized no other job within my area could pay nearly as well. I started saving money and began to spend less and less. I paid off all our debts but still felt I could not quit and place my family at a financial risk.”

– Daniel Hawkins

Part II of III: Nature

I have always had an admiration for nature in all of its forms. I respect life and what it has taken to create it, almost religiously. I am uncertain as to where I came by these ideals and have pondered it often. Was it through the influence of various teachers in school? I do not believe so, because I cannot recall a particular teacher or lesson that could have developed such sentiments. Perhaps I gained it through heredity since my forbears respected the mountains in a somewhat similar way as the Native Americans.

I believe this land belongs to the flora and fauna that have been here millennia upon millennia before us. What right do we have to destroy it outside of maintaining our most basic needs? To eradicate nature on such a monolithic scale only for the purpose of monetary gain is blasphemous to a degree for which I believe no word yet exists.

These beliefs have set me apart within a region where the majority of the population has a mindset egregiously different from my own. If I were to express these feelings I would be derogatorily referred to as a tree hugger. It is a sad notion that so many people within the Appalachian Mountains have become connected more with money and self indulgence than with the lands their forbears respected. The materialistic consumer-driven society in which we now live brings us to a point that places even our own survival into question. Getting people to realize this, especially with their stereotyping of people and practices that are environmentally friendly, seems an insurmountable task. I fear it will take a catalyst of instantaneous massive suffering to awaken people from this monetary slumber.

As I mentioned in my first blog post, I myself succumbed to this materialistic coma. After  enduring years of living paycheck-to-paycheck trying to support my family by working other non-coal mining jobs in my community I eventually faltered. I wanted to have things, bigger things, and better things as I became increasingly unsatisfied with what I did have. My happiness became selfishly centered on material things. With a bleak financial future and no hopes of retirement with my current job, I applied for all the higher paying jobs in the area, from railroads and utility companies to natural gas companies and state positions, all to no avail.

After so many failed attempts I began thinking about the coal mines. I became willing to suffer the life of a coal miner, willing to renounce my dislike for the coal industry and trade it for pride, to even going so far as to supress my love of nature. I was willing to do all of these things in order to secure a means of monetary happiness.

After struggling for more than a year to get a job as a red hat my wish was granted and I almost immediately regretted the decision. I became trapped, as I realized no other job within my area could pay nearly as well. I quickly realized my mistake and began to save money, spend less, and pay off debts in hopes of escape. I did many of these things within the first year but still felt as if I could not quit and place my family at financial risk. As I tore myself from monetary addiction, my pessimism of leaving the mines and finding other employment kept me working in the darkness. I spiraled into a depression that fueled my distaste for the Appalachian status quo. I just needed the proper kick in the ass to do something about it and stop my whining.

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, This post originally appeared on Daniel’s blog on Monday, October 11, 2010.

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