Thursday, May 18, 2006

Strip Pits

I've lived around what I call slate dumps almost all my life. These are a byproduct of strip mining and for many years, mining operators cut the timber, raped the land and left what resembles a moonscape in our little Garden of Eden. They left gouged out holes that over time filled up with rainwater and in some cases served as swimming holes for rambling youths.
Most of the time these swimming holes were fairly clean and safe except for the occasional cottonmouth moccasin that took up residence there but sometimes they were tragedies waiting to happen.
There is no telling how many people have drown in these strip pits. When I was in high school, one of the Jenkins boys dove off a rock on the bank and broke his neck. He didn't drown, but he never walked again.
The only thing that seemed to grow on this land was short gnarly scrub pines and cottonwoods. Top soil was non-existent so the prospects for this infertile land were scant.
Strip mining technology improved and machines as big as buildings were able to dig faster and deeper. The government got involved at one point and passed a law that required mine operators to reclaim land but you can always spot property that has been stripped.
When I started to Jefferson State Community College in the fall of 68, there was a farm near Partridge Crossroads that must have been a thousand acre spread. The old farm house was kept in immaculate condition and they had a white fence that followed the road all the way to Buck-Short Bridge. Inside the fence were cows, horses and mules. The place looked like a picture. Early one morning when I was driving to school a buck deer jumped that fence where it had been feeding with the cattle and almost jumped on the hood of my car. It was a picture perfect moment. I did have to stop down the road and check my pants.
When the old man died, I guess the kids didn't love that place as much as I did so they sold it to a coal company who stripped it bare. It was hard for me to drive by there afterwards.
The tortured land lay in ruins for years until the recent spike in gas prices. Traditionally when gas prices go up, there is renewed interest in coal. With the newer technology and mammoth machines, they were able to dig even more coal that was missed the first go around.
The difference now is that they are required to reclaim the land. I know that it will never be as it once was, but today for the first time you could see it being worked back into rolling hills.
Maybe one day Mother Earth will start her arduous task of converting it back to a garden.

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