Twenty five juniors and seniors, six teachers, and a forty-five foot charter bus; this screams trouble, however trouble was the farthest thing from our agenda. My typical summer usually includes days lounging on the beach, spending time with friends, and maintaining a part time job at a local food restaurant, the opportunity to join a month long “Discovery” trip with my high school created a very different summer. Instead of my normal relaxed, no worries mentality, I would drive to California and back with 24 other students. Joining the “Discovery” group was both a joyful and frightening moment; as I was apprehensive about what would happen, and the fifteen days of driving would include a lot of motion-sick, seat time. Would I survive? Would I miss my parents and my friends too much to enjoy this opportunity? And most frightening, what would I learn about myself?
Our first stop was also the stop that impacted me most on this trip. We drove a short six hours to meet the “Keeper of the Mountains”, Larry Gibson. As we adjusted to “bus life” we arrived at Larry Gibson’s small cabin in the heart of the coal mining industry of West Virginia. Larry Gibson was a small, animated man as he passionately described his cause to our group. Larry is against both mountain top removal and the use of coal in general. Larry didn’t have a speech prepared for us, he spilled his compassion for the mountains from his heart. He has been fighting against the coal industry for years as he has lost land and now lives on an “island” of green, with removed mountains and mining sites all around his mountain. Rather than digging tunnels into a mountain, the entire mountain top is slowly removed to expose the coal in strips. The resulting debris and lost top soil is dumped into a nearby valley, polluting streams and changing the topography as well as the habitat and fauna. As five million dollars worth of coal is being shipped out of the Kayford Mountains every day, Larry is speaking. He is speaking against the use of coal and talking about the effects mountain top removal has had on his land. Larry had us sit in silence and listen for what we heard. We heard the roaring of machinery and explosions from the coal companies on a nearby hill, what we didn’t hear was nature, the birds, the families that used to live on this same mountain but had been driven off by disease such as black lung disease and cancer.
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