Rants on relevant stuff by an old coot
LENOIR, N.C. – I try not to write on the weekends. Generally, I don’t. The problem with that, however, is that by Monday I have notes on various topics stuck all over and around my desk. So, I’m trying something new. Every Monday (more or less) I’ll be offering brief musings on a variety of relevant stuff. So, here we go …
Is Critical Thinking on Sabbatical at NPR?
In a story published today on NPR, “The American Dream is Harder to Find in Some Neighborhoods,” writer John Ydstie accepts as fact that the so-called American Dream is something to which we all aspire. In at least two places, he refers to the American Dream without any critical thought. In short, he has assumed that everyone knows what it is (probably, in a vague sense) and aspires to it (wrong!). He also quotes a source that doesn’t critically question the concept of the American Dream.
Maybe it’s because I write about the health care industry, public health and the environment so much that I always look for a root cause to any problem. I certainly do my best to not make assumptions. In this case, Mr. Ydstie has demonstrated that critical thinking is on sabbatical at NPR. If people are no longer able to aspire to the American Dream as reported in the article, perhaps it wasn’t a dream at all. Maybe it’s a nightmare.
I know what is implied with the term American Dream. It boils down to essentially working ourselves to death to stockpile toys and gadgets that we don’t need – and indeed interfere with our interaction with other people and the environment in which we live. That is not my dream. Mine is to live simply, consume only what I need, be self-sufficient, limit my ecological footprint, and live in harmony with others.
It seems to me that our sad state of affairs today – acrimony, incivility and mass shootings just to name a few – would have us at least questioning the root causes of these problems. If we were, we would quickly find that one of the root causes is our obsession with “achieving” the American Dream. As we all reach across the table for our share of the pie, we compete for power and we exclude the most vulnerable – always.
So, is it a dream or is it a nightmare? You will have to answer that for yourself, but NPR should at least be asking the question, as should all journalists. But, as usual, the artists are ahead of elected officials and the so-called “Fourth Estate.” Check out this music video, “American Dream,” by the Christian contemporary rock group, Casting Crowns. Notably, this song was released in 2003 on the group’s self-titled debut album. They got it – 15 years ago!
Trump Insults all Korean War Veterans with His Revolting New Love Affair with Kim Jong Un
Speaking in my home state of West Virginia in the northern panhandle city of Wheeling on Sept. 29, Trump said of North Korean dictator Kim Jun Un, “He wrote me beautiful letters and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”
I don’t know who disgusts me more – Trump or the West Virginians that fall for that line of crap. I suggest they all pay a visit to Charleston, the state capital, and visit the monument to fallen veterans from West Virginia in our 20th Century wars. Among the hundreds of names of those killed in Korea is my Uncle George. He was killed in a delaying action in the first days of the war – as were many West Virginians. You can read about him here.
What you won’t read in that article are the circumstances of my uncle’s death. I’ve never printed them out of respect for my father, who did not want to know the horror of how his brother met his end on the battlefield. Dad died three years ago, so here’s a brief account of my uncle’s murder at the hands of the North Koreans:
Lt. George M. Barrick was reported killed in the Chockiwon area of South Korea on July 12, 1950, while commanding an ammunition and pioneer weapons platoon of Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment. Decades later, R. E. Culbertson, a member of Barrick’s company, recalled that Lt. Wadie Roundtree, also a member of that company, stated that he had seen George lying beside the road. His head was bleeding, and he appeared mortally wounded. Although a prisoner and unable to stop, Lt. Roundtree was able to ask George if the North Koreans were responsible for his injuries. The reply was ‘yes.’ Culbertson later saw Barrick’s body in the same place and reported that he looked as though he had been run over by a tank.” (Source: West Virginia Division of Culture and History).
You say that was a long time ago? Yes, it was. However, we know the regime has not changed its human rights abuses.
North Korea is our enemy. At one time, every red-blooded Mountaineer knew that Communists were our enemies. So, I am stunned. I reckon many of my fellow West Virginians only understand Trumpese Twitter shorthand. So, here’s what you need to know: Communists Bad. Lovers of Communists are traitors. I think you can figure out the rest. Still, I have to ask, what happened to “Mountaineers Are Always Free”?
Lindsey Graham the Poster Child of GOP Hypocrisy
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), said to Democrats during the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, “Y’all want power really bad.”
Good grief, Charlie Brown! That’s exactly what politics is all about, especially in a Republic where we get to choose our representatives. So of course, in a nation of 330 million people and nearly as many tribes, the stakes will always be high. So when one considers that the Republican Party refused to even have hearings for Merrick Garland, Graham’s words ring hollow, self-serving and of course, ironic. Sadly, that is today’s GOP (though Democrats don’t exactly have halos over their heads).
Easier is not Always Better
This little rant is minor in comparison to the other topics, but it is still a systemic problem in our nation, so its relevant. It is rooted (there’s that word again) in our dependence upon the internet. I am constantly refusing to bank or conduct business online. Why? Because billions of dollars have been stolen that way, not to mention personal data. And, I reckon because my writings upset a few people, attempts to hack into my email have occurred several times. In any event, an ongoing exchange with our auto insurer illustrates this conundrum. They want us to do everything online. I refuse. I hear the programmed response from what I think is a real person, but can’t say for sure: “But it’s easier.” I ask in return, “But is it better?” Dead silence.
“Just mail me the bill,” I conclude. “Well, OK, but that will increase your rates.” I didn’t ask the programmed person what immediately came to mind, “What the hell does me not using the internet have to do with my insurance rates?” The only legitimate reason for higher rates is because I’m a lousy driver, not stubborn.
But, such is the life of a curmudgeon. Talk to you again next Monday – but only if I feel like it.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.
In wake of Bishop Michael Bransfield scandal, group calls for ‘specific, achievable actions’
CCA also claims that Archbishop Lori cannot be trusted to be an impartial investigator
By Jeannie Kirkhope and Michael J. Iafrate
WHEELING, W.Va. – As the Roman Catholic Church reels from new revelations of the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse, thousands of Catholics from various corners of the church have loudly demanded the mass resignation and/or dismissal of U.S. bishops in order to “clean house.” In the midst of this turmoil, Bishop Michael Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston offered his resignation to Pope Francis, not as penance, but in the manner customary for bishops who have reached the age of 75. (Bransfield turned 75 on September 8th.)
Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation in a matter of days and appointed Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore as temporary administrator of the Diocese. Further, the Vatican charged Lori with the task of conducting an investigation of Bransfield’s alleged sexual harassment of adults.
The swift acceptance of Bransfield’s resignation and subsequent investigation is not surprising. Abuse allegations have haunted Bransfield, resurfacing most recently during the criminal trial of Catholic priests in Philadelphia in 2012. But more, Bransfield’s lavish lifestyle and flaunted political allegiances marked his episcopacy with signs of clerical privilege and entitlement that are the root cause of abuse by members of the priesthood, including sexual misconduct.
As lay leaders who represent many Catholics in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia, we certainly welcome a full investigation into any alleged sexual harassment of adults by Bransfield, both during and before his time as Bishop. We also urge an investigation into the unresolved allegations of past behavior while working in a Philadelphia high school and into his time serving as a senior cleric in Washington D.C. under the leadership of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, including any knowledge Bransfield had of McCarrick’s abusive behavior.
Nevertheless, we have serious reservations as to whether Archbishop Lori would be an impartial party to head up such an investigation, having been Bransfield’s guest at a “Red Mass” celebrated for lawyers and government officials in January 2017. Ordinary lay Catholics and women religious from the state should be an integral part of any internal church investigation. Most importantly, beyond a church investigation, all files related to allegations against Bransfield must be turned over to the proper civil authorities.
Those familiar with sex abuse in the Catholic Church know that Bransfield’s alleged actions are likely the tip of the iceberg. Last week, Catholics gathered at St. Michael’s Parish in Wheeling to discuss the abuse crisis. Comments given there by diocesan spokespeople (including diocesan attorney James Gardill) signaled deeply entrenched defensiveness, denial, and an accusatory posture toward “the media” as supposed “persecutors” of the Catholic Church. The claim was repeatedly made that this diocese has not been affected by sexual abuse as “other dioceses” have. Claims that minimize abuse have almost always been proven false, most recently in the Diocese of Buffalo where the opening of diocesan secret archives revealed over double the previously self-reported number.
Church and civil investigations must go beyond Bransfield and open the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston itself to deeper scrutiny. In the strongest terms possible, we urge the Diocese to implement the following specific, achievable actions:
- publish the names of credibly accused abuser priests, religious, and lay pastoral workers on the diocesan website (dwc.org);
- willingly open diocesan records related to sex abuse to State and/or Federal authorities before any inevitable forced investigation takes place;
- apologize for the past statements of diocesan spokespeople which accuse secular media of inventing and/or exaggerating the severity of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church;
- denounce the continued scapegoating of gay priests relative to sexual abuse; and,
- establish a permanent system for diocesan staff and clergy to speak up without retaliation.
The legacy Bransfield leaves to West Virginia is uncertain, and ambiguous at best. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s handling of the allegations against Michael Bransfield will shape the church’s legacy as well, speaking volumes about what kind of church we want to be and whether we really want to break with the destructive and abusive clericalism of the past. Together with other concerned Catholics, we raise our voices in faith and in hope for truth, transparency and accountability in the church we love, and for the justice and healing of her abuse survivors.
© Catholic Committee of Appalachia, 2018. Jeannie Kirkhope and Michael J. Iafrate are the Co-Coordinators, Catholic Committee of Appalachia
Deceptively gentle rain, light wind gusts first indicators of monster storm
By Michael M. Barrick
LENOIR, N.C. – The first bands of rain from Tropical Storm Florence began dropping gentle rain and rustling trees with light wind gusts shortly after noon here today.
Still, forecasters at Ray’s Weather Center point out that the likelihood of heavy rain tonight and tomorrow along with life-threatening flash flooding remains. Rainfall amounts could range from 2 to 10 inches, with areas south and east of the Blue Ridge Escarpment most at risk. This includes the northern half of Caldwell County.
Today, however, felt much like a spring rain, so I got out to take a few photos during the “calm before the storm.”
Do not be deceived though. Take all of the precautions that emergency preparedness officials issue. Remember, “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.
Many stories, but one theme – relationships are everything
LENOIR, N.C. – Recently, as I wrote, I had the opportunity to hear Billy Edd Wheeler of Swannanoa, N.C. tell one story after another, many which are straight out of his book, “Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout: A hillbilly’s poet’s journey from Appalachia to Yale to Writing hits for Elvis, Johnny Cash & more.”
The title’s a mouthful, but it’s appropriate, because so is every page; one sometimes wants to take a breath for Mr. Wheeler as he – with the wide-eyed excitement of a child – takes you on his journeys. An excellent story-teller – whether through songs, poetry, plays, books or simply sitting on a stage – Wheeler’s tales and songs have universal appeal. Some for their humor, some for their somber reality, and some because of Wheeler’s genuinely positive outlook on life. It seems he has been determined – whether consciously or not – to learn from every traumatic life event how to survive, even persevere.
From his simple beginnings in the deep hollows of Highcoal, W.Va., to his journeys through Nashville, New York and other places near and far and then settling in Swannanoa, Mr. Wheeler teaches an important lesson – a successful life is relationship-based. Every story Wheeler tells of his next step of success, is also the story of the person(s) that helped make that step possible.
Though clearly a motivated, talented and determined individual, Mr. Wheeler’s story is not one of self-reliance; rather, it is an account of the importance of learning from elders and working to establish and maintain lifelong relationships. There are dozens of stories of his friendships with famous people, perhaps most notably Chet Atkins and Janis Ian. There are far too many too name, but Mr. Wheeler’s view of the Nashville music scene – whether from a golf course or recording studio – provides fascinating insight into how the artist’s work must always be balanced with marketability anxieties. Because of raw talent and a congenial personality, Mr. Wheeler has aptly negotiated both worlds. Hence, his book reads like a textbook for the musician aspiring to write or perform at the highest levels.
It is also simply a narrative of a remarkable life. Mr. Wheeler’s artistic endeavors have often been interspersed with leadership positions with numerous organizations. His endless curiosity has ensured that he had multiple vocational experiences and opportunities. Those, in turn, informed the next steps in his life. In short, he has been a determined steward of his time and talents. He certainly values leisure, especially at 85, but throughout his life has never turned down a challenge.
Those interested in nearly century-old recollections of life in the coalfields of southern West Virginia will value Mr. Wheeler’s tales from his childhood, even the unpleasant ones. The challenge of bouncing from place to place during unstable periods in his childhood, and how he was determined to pave his own path through it all, is inspirational for readers of any age.
At the end, he thanks several people, including his wife Mary, “… for adding humor to the project by telling people I’m writing a book of fiction and calling it a memoir.” I suspect there is truth in both; that’s what makes for a great story-teller. Besides, one of the sweetest – and sometimes orneriest – thread through the book is the story of the lifelong love-affair between Billy Edd and Mary. They wouldn’t still be married after 55 years if either lacked a good sense of humor.
It’s worth a read to decide for yourself whether it’s fiction, a memoir, or something in between. You can get a copy at Black Mountain Books & Cases at 103 Cherry Street in Black Mountain, N.C.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.
It is Duke, Dominion and EQT that are terrorizing people
By Michael M. Barrick
RALEIGH, N.C. – The North Carolina’s surveillance and counter-terrorism unit has conducted a “threat assessment” of opponents to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which is scheduled to be built in eastern North Carolina, according to North Carolina Policy Watch: “State Bureau of Investigation unit prepared “threat assessment” of Atlantic Coast Pipeline protestors.”
According to the article, “The state’s surveillance and counter-terrorism unit, the Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAAC), warned law enforcement officials that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could attract “violent extremists” who are opposed to the natural gas project in North Carolina … .” If approved, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will run more than 170 miles through North Carolina roughly parallel with I-95 east of Raleigh.
The law enforcement analysis could not be more misguided.
There are terrorists involved in fracking and related pipeline development – if that’s the word the law enforcement wishes to use – but they are not the opponents to the pipeline; rather the ones terrorizing people and the environment are the corporations building the pipelines. These include Duke Energy of Charlotte, Dominion Resources of Richmond, and EQT of Pittsburgh. The latter company is the primary developer of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), another controversial pipeline being built through West Virginia and Virginia.
The ISAAC would be well served to listen to this excellent interview of Ellen M. Gilmer, a legal reporter with E&E News by West Virginia Public Radio. Gilmer offers an analysis of the court battles involving both pipelines. One listening to it will see that pipeline opponents don’t have to resort to “terrorism.” Why? They are enjoying many victories in state and federal courts. Victories, in fact, that for now have shut construction of the pipelines down.
Opponents are not wide-eyed radicals and Gilmer knows it. How do I know? In 2015, I gave her a tour of the area in northern West Virginia where both pipelines originate. While living and reporting from there, I was covering construction of the Stonewall Gas Gathering line, a 36” diameter, 55-mile pipeline. Because it did not cross state boundaries, it did not need federal approval. Nevertheless, the pipeline’s builders were terrorizing people along the entire route.
As I took Ms. Gilmer around, I introduced her to the people most impacted by that project and introduced her to others whose land is threatened by the ACP and/or MVP. You’d have to ask her yourself, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t meet anyone that could be construed as a terrorist.
But, this is what she did see (or hear about because of time constraints):
- A farmer in Doddridge County whose crops were destroyed because of improper erosion controls upstream during pipeline construction
- Sick people throughout Doddridge County
- The local newspaper is owned, literally, by gas and oil company owners
- Citizens injured and killed by industry trucks
- Residents leaving the state
These are just but a few examples. There are several more links at the end of this article. However, one moment stands out for me. It was at an event where the fossil fuel industry and law enforcement teamed up to intimidate local citizens simply curious about the pipelines as they were first announced. It was then that I knew the fix was in. The corporations got to the legislators, who then pressured law enforcement. Now it’s happening in North Carolina. It is beyond unnecessary – it is chilling.
What is fracking?
Fracking is a slang word for hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting a fluid consisting of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale. This fractures the rock, releasing natural gas, which is then extracted. In West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania the Marcellus shale, a layer of rock 3,500 – 8,000 feet below the surface, is the object of fracking. The vertical depth of the formation is about 150 feet. Whether recovered or left behind, the frack fluid presents problems. The wastewater contains not only the chemicals added to the water, but also leaving minerals and radioactive materials recovered as part of the extraction process.
Fracking and pipeline construction are inexorably linked. Without fracking, there is no need for a pipeline. With fracking, all the risks associated with pipeline construction serve only to aggravate the impact of the process. So, there are many good reasons (see next section below) for people to oppose the ACP and MVP. The ACP is the longest, at more than 600 miles, terminating in Robeson County, N.C.
The companies seeking approval to build the ACP have harassed land owners wishing to protect their land from the devastation that would be caused by the ACP construction, not to mention the potential danger it poses for those living alongside of it. Having learned of what the people along the proposed ACP route have endured in West Virginia and Virginia, it is clear that the people of North Carolina need political leaders who will defend them, not consider them threats.
Fracking impacts and risks (Or ‘A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking’)
Dead and injured workers (here and here), explosions on fracking pads (here), dead and injured motorists (here and here), destroyed wells and streams (here), dead livestock (here) and sickened residents (here) are just some of the public health and safety risks associated with fracking. Indeed, the list is rather long. The negative by-products of fracking include:
- Public Health Issues
- Water Use and Contamination
- Air Pollution
- Waste Disposal
- Site Development and Well Pad Activity
- Misuse of Eminent Domain
- Climate Change
- Traffic Congestion
- Potential Earthquakes
- Industry Instability
The people experiencing these events and tactics do not sound like terrorists. They sound like people who are being terrorized.
This is not new to the fossil fuel industry. A century ago, during the West Virginia Mine Wars, as the coal companies worked to keep the unions out of the coal fields, they hired Baldwin-Felts detectives to brutalize the miners and their families. The companies also ensured that local law enforcement did their bidding.
Perhaps the most famous of these “lawmen” was Don Chafin, the sheriff of Logan County, W.Va., during the Mine Wars. According to the West Virginia Archives and History website, “In 1921, he mobilized a small army of deputies – later formally organized into the militia by order of the governor – which met the union organizers in skirmishes at Blair Mountain on the Boone – Logan county border and in the Crooked Creek section. Thousands of shots were fired and much blood shed but there were relatively few casualties. Once source says 47 were killed and more than 100 injured.
“Mingo County then the center of organizing activity, was under martial law. Union miners in Kanawha heard rumors that their comrades to the south were being mistreated. That started their march south through Boone and Logan. On their way they planned to break down Chafin’s non-union stronghold. Their favorite marching song was “Hang Don Chafin to a Sour Apple Tree.’”
ISAAC’s snooping proves beyond any doubt that efforts by the fossil fuel industry to get the likes of Don Chafin to do their bidding here and now remains alive and well.
The proper response – A moratorium on fracking
Clearly, despite industry claims, it has much to prove before we can consider fracking and related pipeline development safe. So, the only option is to operate according to the Precautionary Principle. The Science & Environmental Health Network says about the Precautionary Principle: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.”
Based on this definition, the only proper response is a moratorium on fracking. A moratorium remains in place only so long as the burden of proof has not been met. Should the industry, as some point in the future, demonstrate that fracking does not pose a threat to public health and the environment, the moratorium could be lifted.
Add me to the list
I’m a pipeline opponent. I’ve never pretended otherwise. My writing has been focused on holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for the death and destruction it has caused in Appalachia and beyond. But, I’ve never touched a soul, never issued a threat, never trespassed, never polluted streams or any of the other numerous horrors the fracking industry has done.
What I have done is exercise my First Amendment rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Motivated and informed by my understanding of liberation theology, I have spoken and written against fracking and related pipeline development. I’ve been part of demonstrations of assembly. In short, I’ve been one of thousands of pipeline opponents who have legally and appropriately petitioned the Government.
So, if that puts me on a threat assessment watch list, then add me to the list and watch away. I’m quite familiar with the fossil fuel industry’s tactics. The ISAAC list is one I’d be proud to be on. But it won’t stop me or any other pipeline opponents. Why? Because we understand that it is time that the people – not crony capitalists – run our state and nation.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018
Other articles I’ve written about the Fossil Fuel Extraction Industry
Up close and personal with Appalachian legends
Note: This is the seventh installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” Learn more here.
By Michael M. Barrick
BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. – Considering the number of times that our family has seen Kathy Mattea in concert, it is a wonder that she does not have a restraining order against us. We behave, but we are enthusiastic. So, you can appreciate my delight at finding out that Ms. Mattea was going to be in Black Mountain this past Saturday at a legendary listening room, the White Horse Black Mountain.
My wife and I had a rare, impromptu opportunity to scoot out for a date, so I was snooping around on the web (it does have its value) and typed in her name. Up came up an event posting with this sign:
Immediately, I realized this wasn’t “simply” a Kathy Mattea concert; in addition, there was going to be Appalachian story-telling. As the marquee said in shorthand, Ms. Mattea was going to be there to converse with Billy Edd Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler, 85, had written songs that Ms. Mattea used on her album “Coal,” released in 2008. Three of the eleven songs were written by Mr. Wheeler – “Red Winged Blackbird,” “Coal Tattoo,” and “The Coming of the Roads.” The lyrics to Wheelers’ songs (and the others) can be found here. You can listen to Ms. Mattea’s version of “Coal Tattoo.”
Indeed, when that album was released, we saw Ms. Mattea in concert. That is one of the joys of her albums and concerts. They are often thematic, but she doesn’t forget what other songs her fans love. In any event, when I looked at the lineup, I knew we were in for a treat even better than a concert. We were going to hear from Appalachian artistic legends – if I could get tickets.
So, I called and was fortunate enough to score two of the last tickets. Sweet serendipity was in play now, so I was beginning to have a peaceful, anticipatory sense of what awaited us.
My instincts or whatever you care to call them were spot on. Douglas Orr, the president emeritus of Warren Wilson College, moderated a conversation with Mr. Wheeler about his new book, “Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout: A hillbilly poet’s journey from Appalachia to Yale writing hits for Elvis, Johnny Cash & more.”
Mr. Wheeler attended Warren Wilson on his winding path to Yale and a lifetime of writing hits for Appalachian legends. A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Mr. Wheeler has written hits for Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, Neil Young, The Kingston Trio, Kenny Rogers and others.
He now lives in Swannanoa, N.C., but like Ms. Mattea, is a West Virginia native. So, the conversation meandered between the history and music of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Allegheny Plateau that constitutes much of West Virginia. He and Ms. Mattea discussed with compassion and wisdom the complexity of singing about coal mining, alluding to the love/hate relationship that so many mountaineers have with coal. If you’d like more insight on that, read the “Coal” liner notes by Homer Hickam, another West Virginia native who grew up in coal country (Coalwood). He gained fame for his book, “Rocket Boys” about growing up in late 1950s West Virginia. It was made into the movie, “October Sky.”
It was a lovely diversion, much like slowly chugging down a gravel road is from the insanity of interstate driving. In other words, it was a great stop along the Hillbilly Highway. I suspect that if during your travels you happen to run into any of the folks we saw Saturday night, you will understand why I consider being called a hillbilly a compliment and a term of endearment.
Mr. Wheeler was understated – humble – in his responses, but he was also typically blunt, a trait not uncommon to West Virginians. Ms. Mattea, meanwhile also exemplified Mountaineer humility, demonstrating once again why we love her so. She is releasing her newest album, “Pretty Bird” on Sept. 7, though she’ll be previewing it on Mountain State at the closing of the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, W.Va on Aug. 11. She never once mentioned either the album or concert.
It was clear that she cared about one thing – letting the 200-plus folks in attendance know just what Billy Edd Wheeler meant to her and all of Appalachia.
So, all ears were perked as Mr. Wheeler talked about his youth in High Coal (or Highcoal, depending upon who is spelling it). Though now abandoned, it is seen on the map in Boone County, near the junction with Raleigh and Kanawha counties – the heart of the deep, dark coalfields of southern West Virginia. It is near here that the West Virginia Mine Wars occurred a century ago and where Bill Blizzard, Mother Jones and thousands of others risked their lives to unionize the mines.
Between stories, Ms. Mattea and the band Whitewater Bluegrass would play one of Mr. Wheeler’s tunes after he had shared the history of it.
Essentially, it was what was once a typical summer evening in Appalachia. No air conditioning, lots of tall tales, toe-tapping music on the front porch and – at our house anyway – Pabst Blue Ribbon.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.
Note: I have no quotes from last Saturday, because I was there to enjoy time with my wife, listen to story-telling and music, and drink beer. At that, I succeeded. However, I’m not good at multi-tasking, so I couldn’t take notes. So, I will eventually write a review of Mr. Wheeler’s book – between PBRs. Or, if you prefer, you can get a copy at Black Mountain Books & Cases at 103 Cherry Street in Black Mountain.
Environmental groups accuse agency of ‘foot-dragging’
MONTEREY, Va. – The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has learned that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is just now compiling the thousands of emails and other comments citizens submitted during the comment period that ended more than a month ago.
This outrageous foot-dragging fits a pattern DEQ has set for months and heightens the likelihood of further damage to state waters by the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) before the State Water Control Board has the chance to rule on the sufficiency of waterbody crossing reviews. The Board saw a need for this information way back on April 12, based on concerns that a blanket permit from the Corps of Engineers may not be adequate to ensure Virginia’s water quality standards will be met.
On July 3, with no commitment from DEQ as to when the comments would be available to all, DPMC decided to acquire them and provide them online. We filed a records request on July 3, 2018, seeking copies of all comments sent to DEQ. The law requires the agency to provide records within five work-days or explain why it is not “practically possible” to do so in that time period.
That deadline fell on July 11 and that day DEQ told us it would not get us the emails within the required time or tell us when it would be able to do so. They said the emails had not yet been compiled so they could be provided electronically, due to technical difficulties. We then insisted we be allowed to review the emails in person on DEQ’s computers and were told this too was not possible. We reiterated that the law required better and that we would not accept DEQ’s failure to comply.
Suddenly, just two days later on July 13, DEQ gave us more than 7,000 emails. Apparently, the technical difficulties that DEQ claimed may require more than two additional weeks to solve were now solved – but only under pressure from DPMC. Why had those difficulties not been tackled and solved in the three months since the Board ordered the public notice?
We and Wild Virginia will make all of the comments available online and publish a summary within the next week. Where the Department has failed, we will pick up the slack.
We call on the Board to use this information and hold a meeting well before the currently-advertised date of August 21st and on Governor Northam to order DEQ to now move quickly to do its job. The repeated promises of transparency and sound science by administration officials have not been kept. It is now time for our officials to restore integrity to this process.
Kay and Patrick Crouch have taught and inspired thousands of students and others in the region; they are also premier promoters of the music of Caldwell County and Southern Appalachia
By Michael M. Barrick
Note: This is the sixth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” It is an abridged version of an article originally published in 2017. Learn more here.
LENOIR, N.C. – Before we ride the Hillbilly Highway out of Caldwell County for now, our first leg of our tour along the Hillbilly Highway would be incomplete without first acknowledging a couple that have worked tirelessly to preserve and pass along Appalachia’s musical heritage – from Blues to Bluegrass and everything in between.
Handmade & Heartfelt
When I interviewed Kay and Patrick Crouch in 2017, just a few of weeks before the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, they were relaxed – the kind of relaxed that is rooted in two decades of experience – as they discussed preparations for the concert during a visit to their home studio. (The 20th Annual Showcase was held in 2018, and the 21st is already scheduled for March 9, 2019).
Patrick explained the genesis of the theme for 2017, “Handmade & Heartfelt.” He said, “Some years I have the title in my brain and then get the musicians that fit. This year, however, I had this group of people who I love and admire as people and musicians that I’ve been wanting to get on the show. So, it will feature various styles of music – some is original, but all comes from the heart.”
Everybody truly loves music. It is the universal language … .” – Patrick Crouch
The 19th Showcase included eight groups or individuals, including Strictly Clean and Decent, which is Patrick and Kay’s collaboration with Ron Shuffler. The total of musicians performing was about two dozen, in addition to members of the Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians performing traditional string music.
Pointing out that 19 years of experience of preparing and hosting the showcase has made it easier for them, Patrick shared, “Now we have a tradition established. I already know what we’re going to do for the 20th.”
Patrick and Kay acknowledged that not every one of the more than 200 musicians that have appeared in the showcase as of this year are Caldwell County residents, but all have roots to the county. “It’s the traditional music that’s the connection,” offered Kay. She continued, “It’s good to connect with folks from outside Caldwell County. The real value is that these folks see what we’re so proud of.”
Patrick shared, “It is unfathomable to think that more than 200 musicians who live in or have ties to Caldwell County have performed. Our goal was 100. After 10 years, we had reached 128. When we started this, this was our stage that we wanted to share. It is incredible to think about how many musicians we have shared that stage with.” Smiling, and looking at Kay, he added, “It’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have such a community of musicians here. It’s going to just keep growing.”
He continued, “Music flows. It flows from the performer. It’s not something you think about. It’s what we do. The sign of an artist is playing whatever they want.”
That’s exactly what happens at the Showcase. Patrick sends out a schedule to the musicians, tells them how much time they have and how many songs they can play, but does not tell them what to play. He explained why. “Everybody truly loves music. It is the universal language. The audience knows that. The biggest challenge is for the musicians to limit their selections.” He continued, “I don’t give a lot of direction. Early on, we met a lot. Now it’s better to just let things be as they may.”
Besides the quality of musicians that play at the Showcase, Patrick says another reason for its success is how the community of musicians support it. “Those who don’t play in it still come out. Some come during sound check just to see folks they haven’t seen in a while. And, of course, we’ve enjoyed the support of the people of Caldwell County from the beginning.”
Sitting in a room surrounded by CDs, musical memorabilia, instruments and a recording studio, Patrick sat up in his chair and shared, “I stick my chest out when I say I’m from Caldwell County and am talking about our music.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017-2018.
Slow down and seek out a ‘Cool an’ Green an’ Shady’ spot
Note: This is the fifth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” Learn more here.
By Michael M. Barrick
“Find yourself a piece of grassy ground, / Lay down close your eyes. / Find yourself and maybe lose yourself / While your free spirit flies.”
– From “Cool an’ Green an’ Shady” on John Denver’s 1974 “Back Home Again” album.
GLOBE, N.C. – I always find the song above by John Denver soothing. It is largely because of the subject matter. It was also released the year I graduated high school and left my native West Virginia for Charlotte.
Moving to North Carolina was not on my list of options at first. But then the state of West Virginia decided it needed our home to build a bridge. So gone was our home with its many cool, and green and shady spots in the woods of our lower back yard along Elk Creek. Within a few weeks of moving out of that house, I was on my way to North Carolina to work for the Charlotte Ambulance Service.
Fortunately, when I moved to North Carolina, I was immediately introduced to the mountains of Western North Carolina in Caldwell County by my uncle, who moved here in the early 1960s. He knows every back road, especially those adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest.
It was with him that I learned to slow down a bit. Over time, I was slowing him down as we would camp. The silence of the forest, interrupted only by songbirds or the occasional rustle of an unseen but nearby critter, mesmerized me. And it reminded me of my home that no longer existed. I needed it. Badly.
What I have learned over the 44 years since I first left West Virginia – and returned and left, repeat, etc. – is that my favorite places along the Hillbilly Highway are those places that few dare to travel. The trails, paths and old logging roads of the Appalachian forests lead into deep green forests and the mysteries held beyond the next switchback.
But this is also where you will find the places that John Denver called ‘Cool an’ Green an’ Shady.” His lyrics could not be truer for me. “Find yourself and maybe lose yourself /While your free spirit flies,” happens to me every time I venture into the forest. A rock, a stump, the ground, it doesn’t matter. As I sit and listen to the songbirds celebrate the woods, I want to stay among them as did the ancient natives who preceded us, simply sitting against a tree as I dissolve into my essence.
One day, I believe I will.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018
Getting to it is not an easy drive or hike, but it’s worth it
Note: This is the fourth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” Learn more here.
By Michael M. Barrick
MORTIMER, N.C. – Wilson Creek is misnamed. Part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, it starts out small near the top of Grandfather Mountain, but after tumbling thousands of feet through an ever-widening gorge in the Pisgah National Forest, it has the power of a river.
It has been known to wipe out towns and isolate communities for days. Indeed, Wilson Creek has destroyed this and nearby communities twice – in 1916 and 1940. In fact, the second flood forever wiped out the logging industry which drove the region’s commerce so successfully, that despite its isolation in the rugged hills of the northwest section of Caldwell County, it could have become the center of government and commerce in the county.
The 1940 flood, though, took out homes, churches, sawmills, roads and sections of the narrow-gauge railroad that led in and out of this remote, heavily-forested sloped village on the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Now, its 27-mile drop to the Johns River is through remote – rather, inaccessible – areas of the thick and dark Appalachian forest. Only the experienced hiker should venture its steep, rock slopes. Swimmers should beware of deceptively deep, but teasingly appealing pools. Kayakers are common sites in any season. Like me, they seem to prefer weekdays in the spring and fall, though the water is generally higher in the spring.
Wilson Creek earned its designation as a National Wild and Scenic River in August 2000 after community leaders convinced elected officials at the local and federal level to work together – across party lines – to protect and preserve it. It can be viewed by driving along the narrow and dusty Brown Mountain Beach Road, which runs from Adako Road to Rt. 90 in Mortimer. Here, once on Rt. 90, the traveler will be on the only state road in North Carolina not completely paved. There are parking spots along Brown Mountain Beach Road, but the hike down to the creek is strenuous at time, but certainly worth it, especially where the gorge empties into a large pool where the creek abruptly levels out.
There is plenty to see and lots of kind folk to meet in nearby Edgemont and Collettsville. In Edgemont, at the old train depot, decades after the last trail rails were taken up, one can still see the circle of earth made bare where the Roundabout was. With that as a clue, one can venture into the nearby forest and see evidence of the railroad bed. The old station is large with many benches.
Early in the 20th Century, Edgemont was the last stop listed on train schedules in the local newspaper. Beginning in Newton in Catawba County, the train would stop in Hickory, Granite Falls, Lenoir, Mortimer, Edgemont and other small towns, perhaps with only the train station. It clung harrowingly to the steep cliffs into which the rail path had been carved, though it would have been worth it, just for the view of Wilson Creek.
There is a visitor center on Brown Mountain Beach Road and for the adventurous, one can hike along the headwaters. One can access it – and the Appalachian Trail – from a small parking area below the Linn Cove Viaduct of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I have spent hundreds of hours over the past 44 years sitting on my favorite relatively gently sloping cliff of Wilson Creek. In every season. I’ve hiked it at its headwaters and I’ve sloshed through it near its mouth where it empties into the Johns River. I have meditated and never ceased pondering what is around the next rock, over the next log, or just under my next step as I hike it.
For me, it represents what I love about Appalachia, about traveling along the Hillbilly Highway. It is adventure. It’s fun. It’s risky. It is a place to take visitors, whether to look out a car window or put on hiking boots. It is stunningly beautiful and essential for preserving for future generations.
In short, it is rightfully a National Wild and Scenic River. It is also a must stop along the Hillbilly Highway.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018