We Have Learned Nothing from Buffalo Creek

Fossil Fuel industry continues to extract riches from West Virginia as people suffer

LOGAN, W.Va. – Forty-seven years ago today, 125 West Virginians died when the Buffalo Creek Mining Company waste containment pond dam burst at the head of Buffalo Creek, releasing 135 million gallons of water, sludge and mud to form a 30-foot high wall of debris that rushed through the valley below. In addition to the dead, several thousand people were displaced and approximately 1,000 homes destroyed.

While I was only 15 at the time, I remember it well. That is because on the next day, a Sunday, the youngest priest in our parish – Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Clarksburg, W.Va. – did not mince words in his homily. He unapologetically launched into a stinging criticism of the coal industry and state officials, who he considered complicit in the tragedy. His homily drove a wedge not only in the parish, but in many families. As an idealistic teenager, I found myself at odds with my dad, who was not pleased that the priest had used Mass to speak to a current event – especially in Coal Country. He and my mom had quite a donnybrook that afternoon after Mass. That they did was not surprising; dad had a business perspective, mom a social justice point-of-view.

I remained quiet, but it was at that moment that I began to question the propaganda of the coal industry. I don’t question it anymore. I KNOW it is cowpatties.

Six or seven years after the tragedy, Sarah and I were visiting another priest and close family friend who was stationed in Logan at the time. He took us on a “tour” of the area. Evidence of the devastation remained, and old mining houses with families living in abject poverty lined the dirt roads. I recall thinking that once the TV cameras and reporters with their notepads left the scene, the area returned to business as usual.

That is still the case.

The death and destruction resulting from Mountaintop Removal is thoroughly documented here and elsewhere. I have written here about at least a dozen reasons that fracking is bad for all living things. Additionally the rush by energy companies such as Duke Energy, Dominion Resources, Consol Energy and others to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Mountain Valley Pipeline and several others is trampling upon individual rights, threatening endangered species and unspoiled forest land. It also poses a clear and present danger to human life, as there have literally been hundreds of pipeline explosions and other health problems since the turn of the century, such as the child pictured who suffers from nosebleeds and other ailments due to living in the midst of the fracking fields in northern West Virginia.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in all three states are displaying an appalling lack of historical awareness, gutting laws that protect people and the environment from the deadly practices of the industry.

In short, it is business as usual. As we learned from Buffalo Creek, that is a disaster waiting to happen.

© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2015-2019. Buffalo Creek photo credit: James Hagood Collection 2048 05. MTR and child photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.


Appalachia’s Story in Photos

By Michael Mathers Barrick

The story of Appalachia is told best by ts rivers, lakes, streams, hills, mountains, valleys, trees, flowers, birds, wildlife and all else that consists of the natural world which supports our lives.

Nothing, I believe, speaks to the sacredness of Appalachia like the secrets found in its ancient forests. So, we’ve added a Photography page that I hope will cause you to consider our responsibility to be good stewards of the sacred earth which sustains us.

Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis, W.Va.

Water, as we know is the source of life. Below is Blackwater Falls, part of Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, W.Va. It is in a region of the state where the headwaters of at least eight rivers originate.

Taking the time and energy to keep walking as close as allowable provided an opportunity to see this rainbow in the pool below the falls:

A walk along a narrow trail near the state park’s lodge in search of, well, whatever, led to this rhododendron:

And a mountain laurel:

A stunning sunset:

And a quiet, misty dawn in the Blackwater Canyon the next day:

© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2019.

Transition Time

Expanding how I tell Appalachia’s story

At the beginning of 2019, I wrote that I would no longer be doing news reporting. I did warn, however, that I might be back.

Well, I am. To learn what I’m doing now to tell Appalachia’s story, visit the Art, Hillbilly Highway and Hillbilly Highway Chapter pages.

It is my intention to be far down the road of the transition by March 1. In fact, I’ve already begun by the addition of the art page. You can read more below. In any event, I’ve concluded it is time to transition to telling Appalachia’s story through Folk Art, storytelling, poetry and more. Of course, I will write about others doing it, including naturally the incredibly talented musicians that populate Caldwell County, Western North Carolina, and all of Southern and Central Appalachia.

To learn more about my workshops: “Community of Writers” and “Gathering a Family History,” or my story-telling and poetry reading, please contact me at lenoirvoice@gmail.com.

Now, about that art:

The Hillbilly Highway

The Hillbilly Highway

The word “hillbilly” is often used in less than flattering terms. However, as a West Virginia native and life-long Appalachian resident, I consider the Hillbilly as Hero.

To many, the term “Hillbilly Highway” refers to the roads Appalachians once used to leave for the industrial north and now the Sunbelt, looking for work. I, however, takes another view. Born and raised in the heart of the Mountain State, I have traveled tens of thousands of miles along the back roads of Central and Southern Appalachia chronicling the history and stories of Appalachia. This informs my view as the Hillbilly as heroic.

Try traveling it for yourself! Doing so will allow you to slow down, see some of the oldest and most beautiful forests in the world, and make some new friends.

© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2019

Why I Don’t Attend Church

LENOIR, N.C. – If my memory serves me correctly, I managed to stay out of church for all of 2018 with two exceptions – attending the funeral of a family friend and briefly stepping into a church in Chapel Hill to run an errand.

That’s two more times than I planned. I do not attend church.

Not going to church in Caldwell County does not go unnoticed. Neighbors, aware that our car doesn’t leave the driveway on Sunday morning, express concern for my salvation. As a backslidden Catholic living in in the evangelical/fundamental Bible Belt, I am perceived as a heathen bound for hell.

I have no idea what will happen to me after I die because nobody has come back to tell me about it over a cup of coffee. Still, I do have beliefs that guide how I interact with other people and nature while I’m alive. I’m a follower of “The Way.” That is, Jesus. However, I do not claim exclusive entrance to a heavenly afterlife because of that belief. My beliefs simply inform how I live.

Which is why I don’t go to church. It contradicts the teachings of Jesus in two critical ways:

  1. It has forfeited its prophetic voice.
  2. Creeds and doctrines often interfere with loving concern for the poor, marginalized and vulnerable.

That’s it.

Where is the outrage from pulpits across the land over the way we are treating immigrants? And, why do the same people expressing concern for my salvation apparently have no problem with us detaining children and then allowing them to die in our “care”?

Because the church is irrelevant at best. Rather than condemn our government’s cruelty, many Christian leaders have abandoned their prophetic voice in exchange for the power – elusive and as temporary as it is – that comes with their alliance with Donald Trump, a pathological liar and architect of some of this nation’s cruelest policies and statements of my lifetime.

The “shepherds” have led the sheep astray. That is why the same people who express concern for my salvation also express disdain for the immigrants. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Church at Grandfather Mountain

So, my goal for 2019 is to skip church entirely. Even funerals are not reason enough to get me to church anymore. I can’t abide a preacher using the death of a person to terrify people about the flames of hell. In my view, the funeral should be about the deceased.

I know that I’m in the minority. So was Jesus in his time, hence the nailing to the cross. I will do as Jesus said to do. I will try to love my neighbor as I love myself. I will try to do onto others as I would have them do to me. And, I will never abandon my prophetic voice, knowing that we are to have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11).

I do not need to be a member of a church, congregation or denomination to do those things. By abandoning its prophetic voice and allowing man-made creeds to interfere with concern and love for fellow human beings, organized Christianity has lost any claim on me.

In fact, it has my disdain. It is worse than ineffective. It is harmful.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Mountain church Photo by the author.

The #MeToo Movement is Tone Deaf

Demanding ban of Christmas classic is a disturbing display of censorship

Musings from the Curmudgeon-in-Chief
MeToo mihai-surdu-415698-unsplash

LENOIR, N.C. – It was inevitable I suppose. While I generally support the #MeToo movement, I knew it was only a matter of time before the intolerant extremists that are part of it would turn the movement into thought police.

They have. They have proven to be tone deaf in demanding that radio stations ban the Christmas classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” as reported by NPR. The demand is based on the belief that the song encourages date rape. You can listen to a cover of it by James Taylor and Natalie Cole.

I guess you hear what you want to hear.

The censorship must stop here. Before long, classical poems such as Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” (written in 1681) will be banned. Read it. You’ll find it incredibly offensive if this song bugs you.

So, I’ve got to oppose the #MeToo movement on this. Censorship seems totally inconsistent with the movement’s values. Perhaps not, but I am an ally because it is consistent with my values. Decades before the #MeToo movement was born – before most of those involved in it were born! – I was working hard in North Carolina in the second half of the 1970s to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. If the #MeToo movement cares about keeping its allies, it needs to avoid ridiculous debates such as this.

Courting METoo

Finally, I wish to remind the #MeToo movement that there are sometimes attractions between members of the opposite sex and persistence doesn’t always lead to rape; sometimes it leads to a lifetime of commitment and maybe even a family. It’s called courting and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I wouldn’t today. I’d just be a committed bachelor. There was once excitement and joy in courting. If the #MeToo movement has its way, you’ll have to read about it in the history books. Or, you could read Marvell’s poem above. But prepare to be scandalized. It seems that for centuries, this desire has always existed. There is nothing desirable about being metaphorically stiff-armed before you get a chance to say, “Nice to meet you.”

Yes, courting is a delicate dance. But it is a dance. Sometimes, when you dance, you get too close. Other times, you get pulled closer. What do you do then? Keep dancing and take your chances.

Such is the life of a curmudgeon.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Angry are the Peace-makers

Angry are the Peace-makers.

You understand


You have eyes to see;

You have ears to hear;

You have a mind at work.

If you do not understand;

If you are puzzled

By the anger of the peace-makers.

Then you do not comprehend

The Sacred or the Righteous.

You are the Problem.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

Tear-gassing Jesus

Rejecting Immigrants is rejecting Christ

LENOIR, N.C. – The shameful display of evil being perpetrated by the U.S. government on immigrants seeking asylum in the United States is the direct – DIRECT – result of the unholy alliance between evangelical “Christian” conservatives and the Trump administration.

In short, our treatment of immigrants is the result of a hijacking of the faith by false religious leaders. Otherwise, they would not be harming the poor and vulnerable, they would be helping them. Judging from their fruits, evangelicals are many things, but Christian isn’t one of them.

We don’t need to spend much time on this. Let’s recap by comparing a few scripture verses with what is happening on the ground at San Diego.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Our soldiers have attacked immigrants with tear gas. So, we’ve tear-gassed Jesus.

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Ouch. True here too. We also were all once foreigners.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). So, here we can reach only one of two conclusions. Either evangelical Christians in the United States would have no problem with being tear-gassed for simply seeking freedom from tyranny, or they are just simply liars. I’m going with the latter.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). There are many literal orphans and widows, but each immigrant is an orphan in the sense that they are refugees. An opportunity to demonstrate pure faith is missed. Why? The second command in the verse is being ignored. Evangelicals have allowed themselves to be completely polluted by the world as they seek political power.

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). Evangelicals have lost their moral authority because they deny their own faith. We then, must have nothing to do with their sinister deeds, but instead demonstrate the proper response through our own actions. Let us help these fellow humans who are simply looking for a safe life.

You are loved.jpg

Perhaps we could start by encouraging the establishment of a modern Underground Railroad of sanctuary homes right here in Lenoir – the buckle of the Bible Belt! We would then be offering a living Sunday School lesson that is aligned with scripture, not opposed to it. Most importantly, we would be helping people, not harming them.

You know, like Jesus wants.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. All scripture verses from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. ‘You are Loved’ photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

My White. Male. Privileged. Life.

What happened to being judged by the content of our character?

FTR Confederate monumentLENOIR, N.C. – This past weekend, I had a long, enjoyable conversation with a dear friend. We make sort of an odd couple, which I love. We have the same general worldview, but we don’t have similar backgrounds. He is rational; I’m emotional.

So, it helps that he is patient and accepts that I get a bit passionate sometimes.

Like this weekend, when he hit me with all the benefits I enjoy from my White. Male. Privilege.

Confederate raiders in Lenoir

I did not and do not dispute that I am a beneficiary of my birth. I know of instances that I have enjoyed the benefit of the doubt from a police officer that a black person, for instance, would not enjoy.

Still, I will admit to becoming somewhat defensive at his remarks. I simply denied that my birth defined my character.

You can decide for yourself by reading on.

Confederate flagIn November 1998, I was elected to the Caldwell County Board of Education. I was sworn into office sometime in early December. My first act as a school board member was to use the bully pulpit of the Lenoir News-Topic. In that op-ed, I called for a ban of the Confederate flag on school grounds – t-shirts, hats, flags in trucks, it didn’t matter. My reason was simple. I knew that it was generally being used as a symbol of intimidation, if not outright hate.

The reaction to my essay was fast and furious. Had I written it a few days before Election Day, I would not have been elected. I heard the usual arguments – the flag is our heritage. The Civil War was about state’s rights, not slavery. While there are thin slivers of truth to the latter argument, it is not the motivating factor to fly the rebel flag in Caldwell County.

This is how I know. After that column was published in the newspaper, I attended my very first Caldwell County Republican Executive Committee meeting (for being a Republican, I plead temporary insanity). Anyway, the first order of business was for the party to present me with a Confederate flag with black letters emblazoned across it saying, “Hell No I Won’t Come Down.” Though I was initially stunned, I quickly recovered. I replied, “I accept this in the spirit in which it is offered.”

Frankly, I don’t think too many people there got what I meant so let me make it clear now. Hate. That flag was given to me in the spirit of hate.

Confederate flag on house

Then, after two-and-a-half years of sitting on the school board, I realized I was in the wrong place in the school system. I wanted to teach again. Fortunately, it worked out for me and I ended up at South Caldwell High School, where there were about 1,400 white students and one black student. There was also a small population of students from Mexico and Central America (and no, I didn’t check papers for ICE, nor would I ever).

From the first day, I would challenge the students that were wearing rebel flags on t-shirts as they walked into my classroom, asking them why they were doing so. To a person, I got the answer, “It’s our heritage.” So, I immediately peppered them with questions about their “heritage.” I would ask, among other things:

  1. What heritage are you celebrating?
  2. Who were the leaders of that heritage?
  3. What was the objective of that heritage?
  4. Do you know the context of that heritage in relationship to our nation’s founding and economic growth?
  5. Have you considered how that image might affect others in this school that recoil – maybe even in fear – at seeing you wear that shirt?

FTR confederate flag

And on the questions went until they slid into their seat, mute. I might have made them think, but now, as I look around Caldwell County, I kind of doubt it. At the end of the Civil War, Union soldiers called Lenoir “The damedest little rebel town.” I wasn’t here in 1865, but I’d be willing to bet there are as many – if not more – Confederate flags flying in Caldwell County right now, especially when one counts the license plates and bumper stickers.

Now, let me pause and say I believe the First Amendment offers protection to people who wish to fly the rebel flag on private property or affix a rebel flag on their truck bumper.

However, as a school board member and a teacher that wanted a safe classroom, civil discussion, and most importantly – an accurate portrayal of history – allowing that flag to fly in our schools was too much then and it’s too much now. It is an affront to education and terrifying to minority children.

I admit to being born White. Male. Privileged. However, I was raised to overcome that by a whole village of elders, teachers and neighbors.

Now then, how did a White. Privileged. Male. get to this point?

It’s how the hell I was raised. I was born in Harrison County, West Virginia. It was the hotbed of anti-secessionist movements when Virginia seceded from the Union. Eventually, many of West Virginia’s first leaders would come out of Harrison County.

Additionally, my great-great-great-great grandfather established the first Union newspaper in Morgantown in 1862, while it was still part of Virginia. That took gumption. That blood – or should I say ink – runs in my veins.

So, I admit to being born White. Male. Privileged. However, I was raised to overcome that by a whole village of elders, teachers and neighbors.

It is true, that when I was born, I had to be with my mom. She was white, as was my dad.

Martin Luther King JrBut you must also remember that it was Martin Luther King Jr. who challenged us to judge one another by our character. In fact, I developed a week-long study of the life and literature of Dr. King for my sophomore English students. As powerful as his “I Have a Dream” speech was for the students, what really started to challenge their outlook was reading his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Oh, and my wife just reminded me of some writing I did while at the News-Topic as a reporter in the mid-1990s. I met with elders in the black community about the many challenges facing it, and I was surprised to find many within the community critical of it; yes, they talked with hard experience of suffering under white, male, privilege. But they also argued that the generations behind them had to continue the battle to overcome it.

So yes, it’s a long struggle. But I, by my birth, did not contribute to it. I have, however, to the best of my ability, helped how I could through what talents I have, to counter it.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Top photo is part of the inscription on the Confederate Monument in Lenoir. Flags are on home near downtown Lenoir. Historical marker is in downtown Lenoir. Other Confederate flags in the public domain. Martin Luther King Jr. photo in the public domain.

Monday Musings

Views on relevant stuff by the Curmudgeon-in-Chief 

The World Series Returns! Yes!

FTR baseball

LENOIR, N.C. – Well, much madness continues, so it’s time for a diversion – in life and writing. So, let’s spend a little time pondering on what used to be our national pastime before it was replaced with our new national obsession of hating one another.

I am referring, of course, to baseball.

I love baseball for lots of reasons, but the main one is that I love to see people perform at their highest levels, such as happened here in Game 7 of the Dodger-Brewers NLCS series Saturday night. It is inspiring. I expect to see much more of the same as the L.A. Dodges and Boston Red Sox meet in the World Series beginning tomorrow.

Oh, and except for the occasional bench-clearing brawl, it is not a violent sport.

Less violence is good. Sportsmanship is something we could use a great deal more of in every corner of the United States.

Baseball field [Atlanta].jpg

Those are just two reasons why I coached Little League baseball and basketball for a decade. Well, I started because I wanted to coach our son, Allyn, which I did until the last two years, even after he had aged out of the league. I kept coaching for a very simple and selfish reason – it was fun.

Now, my coaching style wasn’t warm and cuddly. If you got it right, I said good job. Not lots of praise for what is expected of you. However, if you got it wrong, I hounded you until you got it right. Now, I like to believe that those boys – who are now men in their 30s – understand my methods. I simply wanted their best. Just as I told my classroom students, “I want to see evidence of a mind at work!”

When coaching, that was my focus – share my knowledge. Trying to develop that hand-eye coordination, learning new rules, meeting new friends, playing against friends, dealing with a coach you don’t know, and learning to become a master of the sport – or at least the position you played – all were effective in moving these fellows to realize just how much they could accomplish, so long as they put their minds to it.

Baseball boys playing

So, I miss coaching and I miss the youngsters.

Now, I’m more passive. I see my games live watching the Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League. I never cease to be amazed that the young men I’m watching are just a few years removed from playing in leagues like where I coached.

It’s also time generally spent alone, as baseball just doesn’t have appeal for anyone else in my family. That, frankly, is just fine with it. They did go to one game last year – to see the Independence Day fireworks. Thank goodness that show was spectacular, because my granddaughter is still trying to figure out why we had to sit through nearly three hours of watching men stand around on the grass and then run back and forth to the dugout every so often.

At least she avoided the temptation to grab a cell phone and capture the fireworks on video like about 75 percent of those around us did. She saw the whole thing. There is just no comparison between watching the whole show and watching a sliver of it through a viewfinder. And that’s another reason I enjoy baseball. A fan that watches like a coach, I scan the whole field between every pitch. In short, I take in the whole view – sights, sounds, smells, and most importantly, strategy.

Baseball Crawdad logoIn any event, except for that annual 4th of July excursion, I don’t have to concern myself with satisfying anyone else. I can enjoy the strategy behind every pitch and at-bat, at the insertion of relief pitchers, the use of sacrifices, bunts, steals, and roster changes without having to explain it. I simply enjoy the game.

Of course, I preferred the wins, but I didn’t go for that. I also didn’t go for fast-paced action. And, I didn’t go because I knew exactly when the game would be over and when I’d be home.

In fact, it is because of the slow pace and because of the uncertainly about when the game will end that I love it so. Very few things in our culture afford such luxuries anymore.

Such is the life of a curmudgeon. 

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Crawdad logo from one of my many hats purchased over the years. All other photos from Unsplash. Baseball by Joey Kyber, baseball stadium by Joshua Peacock, children playing baseball by Eduardo Balderas.




Memo to W.Va. Governor’s Lawyers: Buy a Dictionary

‘Reside’ is not a new word in the English lexicon

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – According to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, “Lawyers for the governor of West Virginia have told the state Supreme Court the meaning of the word ‘reside’ is unclear in a case regarding his residency outside of Charleston.”

Reside definition

From my 1997 copy of Webster’s Universal College Dictionary.

Isaac Sponaugle, a Democratic Delegate who represents parts of Hardy and Pendleton County in the state’s lower eastern panhandle, has asked the court to require Gov. Justice to do as the West Virginia Constitution requires and “reside at the seat of government,” – in the state capital of Charleston. Presently, Justice lives at his resort in Lewisburg.

Webster's DictionaryGood grief, Charlie Brown!

Those who wrote the West Virginia Constitution did not need to define “reside” because they had dictionaries – regular old ones that average people can use. Indeed, “reside” is hardly a new word in the lexicon. It is late Middle English with roots in French and Latin.

My copy of Webster’s Universal College Dictionary” from long ago offers the following definitions:

  1. “To dwell permanently or for a considerable time; live”
  2. “To be present habitually”

The word games the governor’s lawyers are using – and the arrogant taunt to the people to “impeach him” if they don’t like it – is why average people have had it with politicians.

While we’re struggling to live paycheck to paycheck, or on fixed incomes, or affording to have our gallbladders removed or ruptured disc repaired or replace the old tires, mincing words is insulting and pathetically self-serving.

Move the Mission

This is how the poor and vulnerable are greeted in Clarksburg, W.Va. by some merchants.


Jim Justice

So, Governor Justice, if you think the mansion overlooking the Kanawha River is beneath your lifestyle, go visit some of the struggling in the hills and hollows or the homeless in Charleston, Huntington, Clarksburg or Richwood. Then, get back to the “People’s Capitol” and get about their business. It’s what you signed up to do – “To dwell … and be present habitually.” Anyone that can read a dictionary understands that.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018