May 20th, 2006

baby

(no subject)

The drive down from our house on the hill The drive down from our house on the hill
The store at the bottom of the hill belonged to the Carletons. It's the store in the 2006 pic.
baby

(no subject)

The drive down from our house on the hill
The store at the bottom of the hill belonged to the Carletons. It's the store in the 2006 pic.
The drive down from our house on the hill
baby

Kentucky 1952 -- 2006

I've (sort of) figured out how to upload photos, and here are two relating to Kentucky, that I promised long ago (you were all waiting, I know.)  I'm sorry the old one is so small -- don't know how to enlarge -- this is LJ's "Large".

For a couple of years in the early 1950s, my father moved our family (five kids ranging in age from 3 to 12) to Northeastern coal-mining Kentucky, Floyd County.  A little Catholic mission hospital in a town of 750 had recruited him to be director.  (We were a Catholic family.)  The town depended on the coal mines, of course, which were losing jobs then; strip mining was beginning. 

I recently went back to the little town, named Martin.  I had been invited to read from my work at the University of Kentucky by Gurney Norman -- you may know his name, a Kentucky writer and the author of "Divine Right's Trip", the novel that appeared sequentially at the bottom of every page of the Whole Earth Catalog in 1967.  He has been a student of Appalachia and its stories since back then, and he volunteered to take me to Martin.  He knew about Martin:  The whole town was being shut down and rebuilt higher up, on the removed and flattened top of a mountain. 

The town had always been prone to flooding, and that's apparently the reason for this plan.  But reaching the little place -- I hadn't seen it since we left (my parents bored and disgusted) in 1953 -- was a shock.  Most of the buildings I remember boarded up and slated for destruction, or already abandoned and falling into ruin.  The hospital gone, moved out of town.  My house -- as far as I could tell, the altered geography was so disorienting -- also gone:  the levelled mountain, bare dirt where the new town will go, was where that house was, looking down on the town.

This process of mountaintop removal and valley filling -- basically cut off the mountain top and heave it into the valley to "recover" the coal (as though the coal had always been yours and you were just getting it back) has been studied and denounced by a UKY writer in Harper's.  It's a dreadful new environmental rape in a land that has seen outsiders controlling its land for a century.  The mountaintop removed in Martin is not for coal:  it's an extension of the process simply to gain more flat land, in this case a state program:  but the dirt fills the hollers and clogs the watershed and destroys habitats just the same.

Seeing those little shabby buildings blinded with plywood; thinking about the very poor place Martin was when we lived there, in a sort of compound remote above the town; thinking about Kentucky kinds of fates; talking with Gurney Norman about Appalachia then -- things I saw but didn't understand:  that's what I'd write about.  (The life my family led there was treated fictionally in a book of mine called Love & Sleep.)