A SMALL WORD OF WARNING(This is my opinion, , you may not agree with it, as a matter of fact, I know MANY of you won't agree with it. That's OK, that's what the comments section at the bottom is for. This is solely my opinion and does not reflect the views of anyone who may contribute to The Concrete Year in the future. This started as simply me writing a lil article to explain why I started to take pictures, and try my hand at photography, it ended up being a long rambling rant against MTR, Republicans in general, and why Ky seams to get the short end of the stick ALL THE TIME. PLEASE share, and comment, like if you agree, troll if you don't just keep the profanity to a minimum. I mean for this post to possibly be a catalyst for open and honest debate and discussion, because unless we all get together, and maybe compromise a little ON EACH SIDE..........nothing will ever change. And we'll have 30 more years of the same crap we've had the last 30. )
As many of you already know, I live in a small backwater of Eastern Kentucky called Knott County (the K is silent). Its the setting for Drop Dead Love, and the extreme ups and downs of fate that I call a life. Lately , a lot of those swings of fate have been more in the downward direction, leading to depression and a lot of soul searching on my part. I am sorry to say, that search still continues. While I have been dealing with a lot of personal issues, I've been struggling to find ways of expressing myself. Writers block has all but made my hands useless, and the racing thoughts which plague my mind have made what I could manage to write a jumbled mess, not worthy of even an amateur, unpublished, hack of a writers blog.
I have taken to walking in the evenings, a way to burn off some of the nervous energy that go along with these periodic mental breakdowns, and one day, I decided.......to take my camera. I always wanted to be a photographers, not a professional but skilled enough to take pictures that can capture a moment, a mood, or even just the simple beauty of nature we stroll by everyday and hardly give a glance too. It surprised me when , after walking just one mile that first day, I had several pics which, while not Hallmark Card quality, showed a side of the holler even I hadn't noticed before.
If you don't know what a diaper tree is, then its hard to describe whats its like to suddenly realize how beautiful this simple, small, community can be. For those who don't know, "diaper trees" come into bloom after the seasonal floods, when all the diapers people have thrown in the creek finally float down on the swollen muddy creek water, and when that water finally subsides, the diapers, Pampers, Huggies, Dollar General Store Brand, all hang on the tree limbs creating a site both funny and tragically sad. Much of this area is being destroyed, if not by industry, bringing sorely needed jobs but at the same time pillaging the land and its natural resources with reckless abandon, then with people raised with no respect for mother nature and the beauty she struggles to provide us with .....despite the horrible odds stacked against her.
So I started taking pictures on my lil sojourns down the holler. Not of the trash, and left over scraps of "progress" which litter the hills and valleys, these can be found in any environmental magazine or video highlighting the rape victim that is Eastern Ky. coal country.
I tried to find some beauty, a few small glimmers of what this place used to be like when I was little and my Papaw would take me for hikes into the mountains and point out all the different types of trees, what you could eat, what would kill you if you tried, the animals, and how to spot signs of their presence. He had been born before the depression, in 1918 to be exact, in a time when patriotism was still so fervent his parents had the nerve to name him George Washington Smith. He had survived the great depression, and while the rest of the country struggled, folks here hardly noticed a change. Times had always been tough here, what you couldn't raise, or hunt, you simply didn't get. Most peoples water came from coal banks, naturally filtered, always cold, and the best tasting water you'll never get to try.....since the few that are left are polluted or forgotten. He worked in the mines, not the mines which are destroying this area in a catch 22 so horrific it turns brother against brother , mother natures own Civil War. It's a hard choice, jobs or mountains. No he worked in deep mines. His legs scared from a roof cave in long before I was ever born. He had fought to get the unions in here. So the companies and mine owners could no longer run a miner into debt so deep in the company store that they would be working the rest of their lives just to pay off the food they purchased to survive and have enough energy to work another day , in the deep dark, horror that was underground mining in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. It was hard work and without the modern day regulations and inspections, it could be, and often was deadly. But unlike strip mining, deep mining takes more man power, and was an honest living for many a brave man.
Now its all about strip mining, using the least amount of people possible, to run gigantic pieces of equipment capable of tearing the entire top of a mountain off to get to coal so low grade, it wouldn't be financially feasible to pay for those strong men of bygone days to dig out. The men operating these bulldozers, rock trucks, scrapers, and other black smoke spewing behemoths are honest men, trying to raise their families the best they can, and doing a job they see as vital to keeping the lights on. Even though the coal mined here for the most part is shipped to China, the one country who's environmental standards are low enough to actually burn it for fuel. When they are done, more times than not, they plant some scrub grass, a few locust trees, call it "reclaim" and move onto the next job.
We have been promised industrial parks, hospitals, new highways, malls, and more pipe dreams than Mario and Luigi could have in a lifetime. We are left with giant patches of nothing, bordered on all sides my remnants of what the hills used to look like, short stubby reminders of the beautiful forests, and valleys that once covered this whole area. All the while the mine owners get rich, the miners get used, and the few people fighting to save this place get discouraged and heartbroken with every new strip job.
I know I got a little off topic there, but I wanted to set the back drop for the area in which I took these pictures. These , like I said, are doing their best to show the beauty that can still struggle and peak threw from time to time, weather it be a sunset, an old fence who's days of actual use as a barrier for one breed of livestock or another is long gone, or a natural spring washing the bedrock clean as it flows out of the mountain in one of the few remaining untouched pieces of Ky. See luckily, one family , one very WEALTHY family owns a very large portion of the holler I live in . The rest is owned by many families in very small parcels ranging from as small as a half an acre, to a hundred or more acres. But one thing everyone in this holler agrees on, even if they work for the mines elsewhere, they do not want them in here. Many of us have wells, which provide us with our water, and children who love to ride their bikes or four wheelers up and down the road in the relative safety that comes with knowing all your neighbors. Its a single lane road, where people still have to be considerate of one another and get over to let people pass, and when they pass hands are still raised in a gesture of greeting.....weather you know the person well, or even like them. But when a coal mine comes in, all that changes, the road becomes dangerous as trucks far too big for such a small strips of blacktop , loaded with coal, driven by drivers who may or may not be higher than the mountains they are helping to tear down fly in and out of the holler. More loads = more money. The road itself becomes cracked and broken , pot holes and slips make it hard to get over and let people pass for fear of the black top breaking, and your car ending up in the creek. The water table is ruined from the toxic run off , and the kids run the risk of being killed if they brave the road on their bicycles.
I am glad I live in a holler where the people said "no" our homes, and children's safety, is not worth it. These are just a few of the pictures I have taken, I am not 100% sure on how to upload them in the exact placement I want, but lets just go with it and keep our fingers crossed. I will, in the future , post some of the Afghanistan look alikes which dot the highways and back roads .... land so desolate, only the hardiest of scrub plants grows there, and so useless and remote that it has no commercial value or use to humans other than a place to take your 4x4 and a case of beer on the weekends, to sneak and grow pot during the spring and summer, or to hide and cook meth in the relative safety of roads so rough only the best of 4 wheel drives dare to go up and down them. But since it seams like EVERYONE shows the bad, I wanted to be slightly different and start off with the good. Just simple pictures all taken within a mile of my home, none altered or doctored. I hope you enjoyed my lil tirade, and like the pictures even more.
I hope you like these pics, if you wish to use them for anything NON COMMERCIAL all I ask is that I be given credit as the photographer. For any commercial use, please contact me, and a very small fee can be worked out. Please, if anyone wishes to comment, state your opinions, but keep it civil. Your not doing yourself any favors by stating your case with nothing but profanity and non-factual opinions. Opinions are welcome, but anyone trying to pass off opinion as fact will be called out more than likely by our resident environmental expert and activist Cari Moore, who knows more about this than I ever will and can pretty much make anyone feel about 2 inches tall when it comes to matters of pollution, the environment, and civil rights. So if you have an argument, I suggest you bring your "A" game, because this woman is a pit bull for mother nature. She is one of , if not the leading crusader in Knott County, and I give her full props for standing up for what she believes is right, no matter how heated the debate can be. I am not claiming anything as gospel in this , it strictly my own point of view, which makes sense this being MY blog and all.
I would just like to add one last thing. Many people in this area are scared. They are scared to speak their mind for fear of being labelled as a "left wing nut" only out to stop honest men from making a living doing honest work. It is truly amazing the amount of people who are against mountain top removal, but remain silent. It is one of the most divisive issues in the Eastern Coal States. Made even more divisive by coal company owners , who went so far as to shut down small operations, and lay off miners before the last presidential election , blaming it all on President Obama, and using the sometimes still antiquated views of race in this area to try and vote him out. As soon as he won, and their cause was lost, these mines opened back up so that the owners wouldn't lose anymore money. They had no problem however laying off miners to build hatred for Obama. Obama IS making it harder to get permits , he IS pushing for cleaner coal restrictions, and safer, more environmentally friendly operating procedures. Are those bad things? No. Do they mean less jobs, because it would cost the owners of the mining companies more money, which they are unwilling to part with, and permits for mining would be harder to obtain? Yes. Its a very delicate situation, men who have done nothing their entire lives but work on strip jobs see nothing wrong with leveling a mountain, making a holler vanish by filling it up with dirt and rock, at the same time destroying peoples drinking water to the point that its undrinkable, not even fit to wash clothes in. They don't think of that, because they are thinking of feeding their families. Which I admit is a noble and valid concern. THIS is the problem we face. No alternative jobs, and a populace so engrained in the culture of coal, that the mere thought of having to learn a new vocation is cause for a riot. Anyone who speaks out against MTR is shouted down and almost labelled an enemy of the people. Reason and logic have no place here, while bigotry and ignorance are spread like wild fire on a hot summer day.
We need jobs horribly in Eastern Ky, and in the rest of the impoverished Appalachian Mountains, a place long forgot by interests groups, and controlled by politicians such as Mitch McConnell, who lie, and propagandize to the point of insanity to hang onto their tax payer funded pay checks. If people would think about it, and ask themselves, "Why doesn't Ky get anything? We have a Democrat President isn't the Democratic Party supposed to be for the poor. God knows we have poverty in abundance here." I will tell you why people, its because of Mitch McConnell and others like him. When your most vocal, pain in the ass opponent, and sway holding republican comes out every day spouting lies and making your life and presidency a living hell, would you do anything for that mans State or District? NO! They would be last on your list of places to worry about, because anything you do that actually improves the quality of life, your enemy would take credit for, and anything that is attempted but fails, would give him more to mouth off about. With progress comes chances, and with chance comes failure sometimes. We aren't even going to get the CHANCE to have a better Ky, until Mitch is finally gone, and that 30 years of drawing a pay check from the labors of Kentuckians, he so proudly brags about, is finally put to an end. If you ask me, he should be exiled from Ky all together, for hindering progress and advancement in favor of playing party politics to such a degree that it was detrimental to the state, the populace, and not in keeping with the oath he took to serve the people. DITCH MITCH!!!!
While I am at it I may as well throw another complete lifetime politician who does nothing for the welfare of actual Kentuckians under the bus. Hal Rogers........ This fat, useless , backwards thinking, conservative, tub of self propaganda actually had the nerve to let them change the Danial Boone Parkway, to the Hal Rogers Parkway. WOW! I mean that's some ego right there. I mean if someone came to me and said " Hey Michael, we want to rename Martin Luther King Blvd after you, your such a great American." I think I would have enough humility, and knowledge of history , to tell them NO! This guy supported PIPA and is still supporting other would be laws that would make it illegal to do something as simple as make a review for a video game or movie on youtube, censorship, and the rights of the rich are all he and his cronies care about. For a state who's drowning in poverty, people such as these two are able to use issues such as gay marriage, and fear of anything nonconformist to get themselves elected , year after year after year, ..and the poor keep getting poorer and multiplying. While the rich just enjoy the ride, confident that they have the "dumb hillbilly's" tricked so well that they will never be voted out of office. Well I have news for them, that generation, who never cared enough to actually research anything that was said to them, who just blindly followed the republican pied pipers, is dying out, and the generation taking their place has access to the ways and means of finding the truth out for themselves, and making their OWN CHOICES. Its not a populace of half illiterate hicks anymore, its a populace of pissed of 20-40 somethings who are tired of being lied to , and treated like they are too stupid to understand the intrigues of government at ALL levels.
Someone who's a better writer than me said it best many years ago when he said."The times they are a changin." and all I can say is not a moment too soon. Thank you for reading this, even if you don't agree, hopefully I made you think about it just a little, even if it was only to get so mad your head almost exploded. That's what makes this country great, we all have the right to say what we think, to express our opinions and try to persuade others. HELL if you disagree with me in some extreme right wing conservative to the max fashion, don't just leave a comment , go start your own blog and say whats on your mind. IF YOU DO AGREE WITH ME, and know others who would too, please send them the link to this page, even if its just someone who may enjoy the pictures, I appreciate anyone and everyone who stops by The Concrete Year. Please share, follow, like, comment, and come back often, you never know what is gonna be posted...........Hell I NEVER KNOW WHATS GONNA BE POSTED lol, its whatever hits my fancy or is on my mind that day. But I am going to try and update it more often, weather its more opinion pieces like this, poetry, fiction, non fiction, or even the works of other writers/artists, I am going to strive to bring you quality pieces , in whatever genre or art form I can. Thanks you my friends. May the flame war......start........NOW! lol