FROM THE CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
I don’t want to give up. I told my sons this on a hiking trail called Honeymoon Falls at Pine Mountain State Resort Park this summer.
Parker was 9, James Tucker was 2, and they were dying to get in the pool. It was closed for chemical testing our first day. On day two, the pool was open, but it was raining. After hiking from our cabin , I decided to keep going, past the pool and lodge with its video games, to the hiking trails beyond. I imagined the dense cover of Appalachian flora would act as a giant umbrella. Honeymoon Falls didn’t sound unfriendly to toddler shoes, and hope returned to my boys’ sullen faces.
Never mind that I had never completed a hiking trail. I’d tried, but every horror movie I’d seen, every Animals Gone Wild show I’d watched, every idea that I couldn’t survive my own simple existence took hold 50 yards down the trail, so I would cower to park benches and playgrounds. I took my sons into my own drama about overcoming fears up a mountain trail called Honeymoon Falls.
The wide trail ran next to a creek, with solid wood bridges and plucked back laurel. God, that mountain cast a spell on us. So thick and wet and yet not a drop of rain falling on our shoulders. Parker was our sherpa, holding a stick, pointing out what he called “humongous fungus,” bright red toad stools fit for a fairy queen. He’d stop and caution about a slippery rock or a root that ran across the trail so his little brother wouldn’t fall. James Tucker was sure footed. “I need to watch out, right?” he’d say over and over, and take his brother’s hand. He found a bright orange salamander.
“It’s reminding us to be adaptable,” I pointed out to my children, explaining how it thrives day and night, in water and on land, yet it was so fierce in color that I also understood why our ancestors thought salamanders were birthed in the campfires they scurried from.
We came to the first waterfall, 12 feet high, pouring out over a cove. We stood in the cove a while, letting large beads of water break on our hands. But around a bend, the mountain revealed itself in full glory. Huge millennia-old rock covered in moss pointed to the sky. Thick laurel carpeted the valley below. I could hear Parker gasp when he saw it. The waterfall. A big one.
Then it started to pour.
My sherpa suggested we retrace our steps. I said we had to be closer to the end than the beginning. We rounded another corner and the trail narrowed to less than a foot wide and began a 75 degree incline. I picked up James Tucker. Soon both my children were crying. My legs burned. I put my son down.
“We’re just going to stay here until you all stop crying. I don’t want to give up.” I told them we were building character and would have a great, heroic story to tell, assuring them it would be funny tomorrow. I was already laughing a bit at the idea of a woman who decided to take her toddler on one of the oldest hiking trails in Kentucky alone, in the rain.
Parker spotted an emergency route to the road–civilization–and we really got wet then. We were so soaked, it didn’t seem we’d ever be dry again. The children cried the whole way back to the cabin. My parents were shocked at the sight of us. The boys told them everything. The next morning, my mother offered to take them to the trail that ran by the railroad tracks. Even James Tucker gave an emphatic “No,” shaking his curly little blonde head like a dog climbing out of a lake. We went swimming and played in the arcade.
We’ve all been hiking again since then, empowered by the idea that nothing could be worse. They love Pine Mountain, and we plan to return this fall. Parker wants to hike the trails to see the change in the leaves.
What are irreparably damaged, though, are hundreds of mountains like Pine Mountain by a process called mountaintop removal. Parker and I cry every time we think about someone burying a bomb in the neck of a mountain, with waterfalls and salamanders and humungous fungus, and blowing off its very head. Even the flatlands and wetlands of Western Kentucky suffer intense destruction for their seams of coal. Why does this happen? How many people die and fight and cry for how long and for what? So I can flip a switch and let there be light? Salamanders and streams aren’t the only victims. What about the coal fly ash slurry that erupted in Roane County, Tennessee, a mess bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill? We didn’t see enough of 5.4 million cubic yards buried in toxic waste like we did of ducks in oil in 1989. Are we getting too used to it? Will we remember Roane on the one year anniversary, Dec. 22, 2009? Not so we can give up, just so we don’t forget.
I know people are sick of hearing us cry out for the mountains. Hell, we are probably sick of hearing ourselves. Let’s take a hike, fearlessly uphill. But let’s stop to look at the hemlock and ash and pine that remain. Let’s smile that there’s still some ancient community left in our mountains, and let’s hold onto the hope that, one day, we‘ll have a great story to tell.
Kimberly Ellen Anderson