Breaking Ground, Breaking Hearts

Story of Myra Bonhage-Hale reveals that fracking is destructive beyond what we can see

By Michael M. Barrick

ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – Myra Bonhage-Hale was getting hugs from people short, tall, young and old on her farm in Lewis County at her final Lavender Fair on May 9. Situated at the end of a three-mile gravel road connecting with U.S. Rt. 33 about halfway between Weston and Glenville, the remote location could not keep her admirers away. The hugs were part of the collective, extended community “goodbye” to Bonhage-Hale as she leaves the farm she has owned for 35 years to move back to her native Maryland.

At 80, Hale has made countless friends in the Mountain State. Indeed, as she was receiving yet another hug in her kitchen, she said simply, with tears in the corner of her eyes, “I’ve got so many friends.” Yet, she is moving out of the West Virginia hollow she loves so much because of the adverse impacts of the fracking industry.

The dozens of visitors gathering in this secluded hollow expressed their sadness at her departure, but assured her they understood. Nevertheless, conversations among small groups gathered under shade trees inevitably turned to the sadness people held in their hearts – not only for Myra, but also her family, her friends and, indeed, the entire state of West Virginia.

Bonhage-Hale did not make her decision in haste. At a meeting of the Lewis County Commission last Oct. 6, she implored commissioners to act upon their duty to protect the citizens and environment of the county. She said, “When I came to West Virginia as a single parent to the abandoned farm now known as La Paix, I thought of it as ‘Almost Heaven.’” Later, as she concluded her remarks, she said, “As I leave West Virginia, with my 34 years of hard work and love and joy and friendship at La Paix behind me, I think of West Virginia as ‘Almost Hell.’ La Paix is for sale. La Paix means peace. I plan to take it with me. The powers that be will not let me keep it here.” Indeed, sensing that her remarks were falling on deaf ears, she turned from the podium and with a quivering voice said to her son, “I need to get out of here.” While she was talking about the commission meeting room, her words were spoken with such determination that one sensed they had a double meaning. She was alluding, as well, it seemed, to West Virginia.

As word spread over the past several months that Bonhage-Hale was indeed moving, several of her friends asked that she have one more Lavender Fair before leaving. She agreed. She and her guests were greeted with a lovely West Virginia spring day. As each entered the farm, they were welcomed by a sign that reminded them why this hollow is so special – sacred even. The sign includes the name given the farm by Bonhage-Hale, “La Paix,” which is French for “peace.” The long banner includes the same greeting in several languages.

Based on the outpouring of love shown her this day, Bonhage-Hale has succeeded in living out the words that greet each of her visitors. While the steep slopes surrounding her farm house seemingly welcome and embrace the visitor, it is the joyful nature of Bonhage-Hale that creates the atmosphere. It is common for her to use the peace sign as a greeting and close out conversations and emails with the simple word, “Joy!”

It is that nature that seemed to overwhelm one visitor as she watched a screening of an extended trailer of Keely’s film. It includes a segment of Bonhage-Hale on her farm, alluding to the lack of respect by the extraction industry for people and the earth. After watching it, the person had to excuse herself. After composing herself, she explained, “This is so wrong. This is such a beautiful place. Myra is so sweet. She has always opened her home to us. This festival has brought many people together. The energy industry does not care about people. It does not care about land. It just cares about profit, no matter who it hurts. It breaks my heart.”

Later, when Bonhage-Hale was sitting in her kitchen, now quiet after most of the guests had left, she shared some departing thoughts about La Paix. Though the Lavender Fair was held only about 10 years of the 35 that she lived on the farm, Bonhage-Hale noted that it had been reflective of the purpose of La Paix. “The Lavender Fair is a culmination of research, friends, groups, apprentices and gardens into one great spiritual, energetic whole. This place has such magnificent energy because of the energy we’ve put into it. Also, what the earth puts into it. It works both ways.”

Pausing to think back over the 35 years, Bonhage-Hale offered, “Everyone that was here was happy. A lot of things go into the wholeness of La Paix. We’ve had wonderful apprentices, wonderful help and wonderful volunteers. People who come here appreciate the beauty of the land, the beauty of West Virginia.”

However, she concluded, “I don’t think West Virginia is being honored now by the powers that be. I’m not leaving West Virginia. It left me.”

To learn more about the Kickstarter campaign (including paintings donated by Myra Bonhage-Hale as rewards, please visit):

To view the trailer of Myra Bonhage-Hale from “In the Hills and Hollows,” please visit:
Meet Myra Bonhage-Hale

About Keely Kernan
Keely Kernan is an award winning filmmaker and photographer. Her work is dedicated to producing media that enlightens people about relevant social and environmental topics. As a storyteller she is driven by a desire to connect the viewer and inspire conversations that will influence and initiate reform.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project.


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