My family decided to take a walk on Winter Solstice through the woods at our local library. Afterwards we went into the library to check out a couple of movies and new books. A small gray book caught my eye. It was titled "A Thousand Mornings" by Mary Oliver.
As we approach the thousand day mark for almost one thousand families living on bottled water in North Carolina due to coal ash contamination, I could not help but wonder what words of wisdom where awaiting inside. I opened the book to this:
The Moth, The Mountains, The Rivers by Mary Oliver
Who can guess the luna's sadness who lives so briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone longing to be ground down, to be part again of something livelier? Who can imagine in what heaviness the rivers remember their original clarity?
Strange questions, yet I have spent worthwhile time with them. And I suggest them to you also, that your spirit grow in curiosity, that your life be richer than it is, that you bow to the earth as you feel how it is actually is, that we–so clever, and ambitious, and selfish, and unrestrained–are only one design of the moving, the vivacious many.
These questions startled me. In my journey of coal ash advocacy, someone mentioned that we have buried the West Virginia mountains in our midst. This notion haunted me for some time and continues to today.
I grew up living just beyond my very own mountain - the Sauratown Mountains, a mountain chain frequently referred to as "Sorrow Town" Mountains that begins and ends in Stokes County. The Dan River winds throughout the "Three Sisters" and continues beyond their hem downstream into Rockingham County and gently lacing together the borders of Virginia and North Carolina before eventually greeting the ocean. The Dan is known world wide for the Dan River Spill, which happened thirty miles downstream from the Belews Creek Power Station located near our home community and in close proximity to the four corners of Stokes, Forsyth, Rockingham and Guildford Counties in the northern piedmont of North Carolina.
My mountain was almost always in my vantage point, or just beyond a curve, where I would see the familiar face watching over me. Every drive home from school, I pointed her beauty out to my passengers. Today I do the same with my children. One of the most moving moments for me as a mother was to witness my daughter stop in her tracks to take in the mountainous landscape.
Not long ago, I drove into Stokes County from a new direction and, for the first time, saw a different angle, the hanging rock, for which the State Park was named. The mountain's face sharply defied gravity in a way I had never seen before. I gasped in the break of the curve. Our mountain range is a state treasure, which is visited far and wide from people all over the country. While living in Chapel Hill, I would meet people from Florida, who were on there way to visit Hanging Rock.
Yet other states have flattened their mountains. They were ground up to be something more livelier. This includes North Carolina's energy, as I type along in the arctic cold with my heat blaring. Their mountains became my binge Netflix series, a dinner for my family of four, a night at the local baseball stadium, and many more lively events. Yet the remains of their mountains were left unnoticed for decades sitting dangerously close to our rivers, buried in our water tables, lurking into well water and seeping into our bodies.
But we know better now, as Amy Brown, a mother living on bottled water repeats to all who will listen. Let's do better now.
What does doing better mean? How can we start? When will life return to normal for so many families drowning in fatigue?
I feel the collective sorrow from all of the years of loss we have witnessed and experienced. Yet...
I could not imagine the sorrow of losing my mountain.
I could not imagine the sorrow of not being able to use water from my faucet.
I could not imagine the sorrow of not having clean water for my livestock.
I could not imagine the sorrow of living in a home full of bottled water that acts as furniture.
I could not imagine the sorrow of wrestling with thousands of empty water bottles as a way of life.
I could not imagine the sorrow of not knowing when clean water will ever return.
I could not imagine the sorrow of wanting to wake up from the nightmare of water insecurity.
I could not imagine the sorrow of feeling like I have absolutely no control over my life.
Sorrow and strange questions like Mary Oliver's guided me here today. Still there are so many questions that remain unanswered. I trust that just by asking them, wisdom will guide us forward.
May we resurrect the mountains in our midst.
Hear more from Mary Oliver in an NPR interview about A Thousand Mornings.