Sunday, November 23, 2008

slowing down (in the gold country) part 2

i joined the choir at the little unitarian church up here in the mountains.

i've been visiting here for 2 years now, catsitting for my colleagues who live in a gorgeous cohousing development.

while they travel the world about 4 times a year, i get to have this lovely new 3 bedroom condo all to myself so i feel like i have a second vacation home in the woods and that's a pretty special treat!

i get to experience all the pleasures of the four seasons; each day i walk the wild and scenic river or some small unnamed creek, or some winding country road or around some old gold mine diggings. i walk and walk among old growth forest and new. ancient trees, shooting way up high for miles around me. tonight i did yoga under the trees, outside, facing the mountains while i watched the sunset. the sky changed from pinkish yellow and violet to smoky purple and vivid orange.

i could smell fire and see the smoke from a controlled burn in the woods not far away. it is a delicious smell.

one thing i loved about the ashram is that each night, i'd build a fire in the ginormous room they assigned me. (i was the only one in the women's dorm room, a former huge master bedroom.)

each night, i followed the ritual the didi (yogic nun) taught me, and which reminded me of how my father taught me to build a fire.

first you must sweep up last night's ashes. then roll up the newspapers for the first layer. then you gather twigs and place those on top. then you strike a match and light the edges. and you wait. you wait to see if this fire will take off.

it's always astounding to me how you can sometimes have everything flammable, have plenty of oxygen, and a definite source of fuel - a big stack of wood for christ's sake, and sometimes, sometimes, you just can't get that sucker to burn.

that seems to funny to me. how you can have everything right there, all ready and you DESIRE it to burn. but it won't catch. it just sparks a bit and then fizzles.

and then, against all desire, a stranger can start a whole forest burning with a single carelessly tossed cigarette.

so life burns sometimes where you least want it to and it fails to catch fire where you most want it to.

life is just like that!

today i toured an old mine. they always depress the hell out of me. the disparity of the owners and miners lives, their history of child labor, of union oppression, of murder, lying, deceit, manipulation, greed, and poisoning the environment - just so disheartening.

the local paper is full letters to the editor and articles on the current controversy over reopening a mine in this area.

my grandfather was a coal miner. my great uncle discovered coal on the many thousands of acres he inherited from my great great grandfather. uncle willy was the first born SON, though my grandmother was the first born of 11 children. she had no rights of inheritance since she was a girl - it all went to her brother so she ended up a sharecropper on "his" land. and her husband, my grandfather, went down into the mines and worked each day to make a pittance. he got black lung for his trouble. but he kept food on the table through the depression and put his two kids through college even though he'd only gone to school till the third grade.

so i love to tour mines and think about my ancestors. my cousins are very wealthy from the fortune their's made on coal. but i like my grandmother's legacy better. she was a farmer, a mom-and-pop general store owner, and the best oral historian of appalachian ways. i could sit and listen to her stories for hours on end. tales of saving her siblings from bobcats and snakes, of squeaking by through long hard winters, of how to properly can a tomato or how to slop the hogs or how to collect the egg from under the hen. where to find the best blackberries.

i loved to watch my grandfather with his animals. he really loved his bulls and cows. he adored his horses. he got a small check from the government each month - a payment for the hazardous health conditions from being a miner. he'd laugh ironically each time he opened it. i don't think it was for more than 15 dollars.

what price do you put on a man's lungs?

i told the park ranger today about my grandfather's black lung. she said the miners here in norcal got "white lung" due to the gold being buried inside quartz.

i walked down, down, down inside the earth today. down the stairs constructed for tourists to see where miners descended every day of their lives to work for a few dollars from sunup to long after sun down.

it was suffocating. it was frightening. it was dangerous.

wow, my life is sooooooooooooo easy compared to that.

i breathed in especially deep when i got back up.

i walked and walked among the old mining buildings and forested paths and tried to imagine what life was like back then. no one but white men allowed to work at the mines. no life for women outside the home.

the owners of the diggings lived in a huge mansion right by the mine. gloriously landscaped gardens, a sportsmen's club for the mining elite and those they needed to entertain (read: bribe): local politicians, bankers, a visiting president. (herbert hoover was an expert on mining.)

there was a big bible on the expensively carved 19th century table in the owner's mansion.

the pictures of the miners show how poor they were. hard working immigrants, covered in dusty tattered work clothes, roughed up boots, smiles with missing teeth, some of them still children or barely teens.

i wondered again for the thousandth time: how did we end up with such an exploitive capitalism in this country? why didn't we revolt?

howard zinn documents it well: the constant fights against the working man and woman, the threats to labor organizers and union members.

and now they want to reopen a mine.

much of the goldmine state park i toured today was off limits due to the lingering toxicity of the soil, water and air. many trails were closed due to "known carcinogens" including arsenic, lead, mercury.

i thought about the letter to the editor i'd read from a local united methodist minister. she was offering a counter opinion to the many "pro-mine pro-jobs" letters which the paper had published.

she said the real gold was in the beauty of nature here. and we mustn't let renewed greed spoil that.

as i walked under huge maples, on a carpet of yellow leaves, and watched the golden sun set, i had to agree with her.

i hope the environmentalists win. i hope the shortsighted "jobs at any cost" crowd loses.

i hope mother nature wins this round.

1 comment:

Kaiser said...

I love mines and tunnels and such. I'm not sure why. Somethin' about being underground is just so freakin cool.

That is all.