Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Between Berea, KY and Jeffersonville, IN

Uranium Glass in an antique shop near Berea, KY...also found a monkey clanging a pair of cymbals, a set of unusually sized wood checkers, and a couple of blackened saws that didn't quite resonate.

Tobacco Drying. Most of the barns we've seen tobacco in are painted black--possibly to absorb the sun, creating a hot house for drying.

Dried up riverbed--Kentucky is living through the largest drought in its history.

Lancaster, KY Church and water tower. Lancaster...City of the Golden Lion!

A typical stone wall that walled in the pastures on the way to Perryville KY, the Civil war battlefield where we slept.

Log Cabin for my Dad (Paul Menneg)

Modernist Building in front of the Queen of America steamer ship. We tried unsuccessfully to sing our way on.

Terry's beautiful Victorian house, which he has been restoring for the last 20 years.

Louisville, KY and on...

It's hard to decide to stay or go. We find ourselves rolling into a nice town, big newly renovated library, eat some good hot food, and the rain starts pouring down and we wonder... stay? go?

For a moment we will stay and see if the rain will at least slowdown. There is a little girl wearing a headband with a battery pack and her grandmother is tugging her around by the arm like she was a sock monkey. Gracey-Joe is 3 and doesn't talk much but she likes dancing with us.

We decided to take a break from the rural bible belt and head north to Louisville, KY for a little urban revival...We called our first Warm Showers contact, Zach, and stayed for two nights in a lovely part of town, with music and good pizza. Katie, Zach's partner, gave us back rubs- AMAZING- and Emilie finally slept, pretty well. I made a huge batch of granola with oats, sesame, raw pumpkin and flax seeds, raisins, almonds, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, ginger, and nutritional yeast. We sent a bunch of it ahead to Kansas City which is where we hope to be in ten days to meet up with Emilie's mom and a bust of her late grand-daddy. We are trying to convince Blake to come out and join us, but he is reluctant, thinks that he'll throw off our gender issues.

This morning we woke, beside a man made waterfall and a high levee with railroad on top to find that we had been sleeping in poison ivy. The train rolled through all night long and Emilie was excited, like waving her arms and jumping out of bed every time. I cut my hair some more. It's almost there...almost gone...

So we tried to catch a ride on the river boat Queen, a fancy schmancy steam boat that was paddling on to St. Louis and we were nearly accepted as deck-hands but they chickened out at the last minute, protocol. So we went across the river and state line to Jeffersonville, IN where we met this wonderful man Terry who directed us to the American Barge Company where we were directed to the Vice-President who told us that we couldn't ride on a barge due to liability. Protocol. Liability. Everywhere we go we run into people who follow. But every now and again, the systems break open and you can collect a bunch of chestnuts under a tree, meet a sweet man with a mind for soliloquy and nearly convince him to leave behind his normal routine for a few days and head west with two young women as happy and full of life as himself. That's Terry. He lives in a great Victorian home with a pool house, carriage house and herb garden. He's a mason and has been fixing up this old place for the past 20 years. It is a really beautiful house, with a player piano and a baby grand, lots of windows and space. His family grew up and moved out and now he lives in two of the nine or more rooms. We drank energy drink and super greens and headed out to see the fossil beds of the Falls of the Ohio. We swam in the warm river waters and had our brains eaten out by diving vultures.

As we go on I start to wonder about this country, how people got to think the way they do. Like we're living in some dangerous, drug infested, wild human-eating animal place? Everywhere we've been people have showered us with kindness and hospitality, and still they say how dangerous it is to be travelling "alone" in this country. First of all, its funny that two women together= alone. Simple math friends, Emilie + Kate = not alone. I like challenging this notion that women are weak and can't take care of themselves, and I like challenging the idea that we need to be afraid. Where is this fear from? Do these people know other people that they fear as much as the people that they imagine that we should fear? And how much does this fear debilitate the people who behold it?

We are working on a new theatre piece dealing with the Constitution of the United States of America, checkers, and cake. I found an accordion in Berea and have been learning to play it as well as learning to juggle coal from the mountain top removal site. Emilie is getting notes on her saw now, and we're heading west to find an Abby that we heard about, 45 mile on our way. The rain has calmed down and we're off! Thanks for reading, Kate

Monday, September 24, 2007

Every Mine Has a Dog

“Coal is a curse…mining is the most dangerous job in the world.” --Jim Webb

“Reclamation is like putting lipstick on a corpse.” Harry Caudill

CAM (Central Appalachia Mining) 3 Mile Job
Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining (MRCM)

We ride our bicycles up a steep rocky road next to a river bed. Eventually we are in the middle of a dry canyon surrounded by dense conifer trees. A lone Pepsi vending machine is perched on an outcropping, bright blue and red against the sandstone.

A white truck covered in hardened cracked mud plows down the road. When the dust settles, we ask Johnny Sexton if we could go up over the flattened hilltops to look at the mine. Unfortunately we can't because everyday at 4:30 the mine is scheduled to blast. It is 4:15. A series of hefty trucks appear on the horizon of the hill, tearing towards us like a herd of spooked cattle. “You see everyone is leaving for the blast…we had a guy killed here last week, rock came out of the sky landed on the other side of the ridge-line; hit him on the head. It was terrible. Nothing like that has happened in five years.” Johnny cracks the door, and spits at the ground, a black puddle of tobacco sludge. “Just terrible, I was called to a supina, had to testify in court, was held responsible for a freak accident...I’ve seen a lot of people die, in Vietnam in car crashes... I am an emergency technician, when this guy went down, I grabbed my bag and ran towards him, but it was too late.”

Johnny concedes that mountaintop removal damages the ecosystem. “How could it not? Here we are busting up solid rock. It messes up the entire water table.” He says that because of increased levels of toxins and sulfur in the ground water most small towns in Kentucky that had previously run off of well water are now on a city reviser. On the other hand, he loves the adrenaline rush. “You think you get high when you get speed...try blowing up a mountain! We work all day, set up, make sure every things in place and then I get to push the button. We’ve got systems now where you can be a mile away and still cause the blast."

Sirens blare over the intercom in his truck. It’s hot and I can smell gasoline burning—I’m thinking about what it’s like to blow up an ancient mountain. “Siren means, all clear, set to blast in one minute.” He turns the engine of his car off and we wait in the silence for the sound. Kate says "It’s like waiting for the world to end." All three of us hold our breaths. But we hear nothing. “Well, that’s it. I bet you girls can head up and get a look around."

Every mine has a dog. CAM 3 Mile Job has two dogs. A brown and white dog called Killer Bobby, and a fierce looking black dog named Susie. We met Greg, the night shift foreman who’s worked at this mine for 16 years. He, like the majority of miners we’ve talked to, has been in the business for 30. He works 4--14 hour shifts a week on a yearly salary. Although he's been in the industry for over half of his life, he still does not have the power to decide what gets blasted. He said a lot of big businesses like Wexford Holding Company in NJ own and operate these mines deep in Kentucky.

He wanted to be an accountant, but his wife had to have a hysterectomy at 28 and options changed. He drives us up the mountains, deeper into the mine. Over his intercom we hear something about "copperhead and pigtails," a statement undoubtedly referring to the two of us girlies riding in his truck. We laugh and tease him about how lucky he is to be showing us around. He says he'll probably get a lot of shit for it tonight.

Three mile job is extensive. First we pass through a series of partially reclaimed mountain tops. Perfectly curved flattop hills covered in native grasses and a few sections of reforested Locus. When asked if he remembers what the mountains use to look like on this site he replies, yes of course. We drive over the ridge line into an arid moonscape of pillars of cracked rock and deep craters. An army of massive trucks, with wheels twice the size of human beings, stand ready to battle the stars.

Greg believes that Surface Mining and Control Reclamation Act (SMCRA) is a good thing. After coming down a steep chute, we approach a series of artificial ponds which are used as part of SMCRA to catch the water and sediment from the mine. I asked if the ponds held toxic material and he replied that they didn't. He disagreed with Johnny saying that the MRCM did not directly destroy the drinking water in the area. He reiterated that if MRCM is done mindfully it is a safe a reliable way of extracting coal.

The explosive is comprised of 94% Ammonium Nitrate and 6% Diesel. He says that the process of clearing the shot rocks is very efficient. A front-end loader relocates all of the rock debris. The revealed seam of coal is collected and loaded onto trucks and taken to trains where it is shipped to the highest bidder, usually ending up in a power plant blast furnace. We drive on top of the newly revealed coal seam which is 6-18 inches thick. The next seam of coal below this one is an estimated 26-28 feet underground; it is a 4 foot deep seam. We examine several revealed seams, the dense black is filled with waves of a rustier color. Greg explains that the rust is sulfur, but that the coal in this job is relatively low sulfur. This coal has a high British Thermal Unite (BTU). The area that was blasted today is a typical size: 51 feet of mountaintop were blasted off in a 90' by 90' area. Before blasting, 40 holes, spaced approximately 16 ft apart, were drilled in a grid pattern across the 90' square surface. The mostly sandstone and shale shelf is drilled with a 6 ¾” or 7 7/8” diameter rotary drill all the way to the top of the desired coal seam, in this case 51 feet deep. Each of the holes is filled with 40 lb. of explosives--ANFO. The top 8 feet of the hole is filled with drill cuttings.

Greg projects another 100 years of coal in these mountains. As we ride out of the mine we all imagine that a long time ago all of these mountains were covered in seaweed at the bottom of the ocean.