The biggest testament you can be is action.

Tyler Childers

It’s been an eventful few weeks here in Appalachia. On Sunday, Sept. 22, we went to the Circle of Protection at Bent Mountain, VA, to meet with pipeline fighters from five states. It was a great opportunity to work on building regional solidarity. I got to meet many of the good people from POWHR – Protecting Our Water, Heritage, and Rights, an organization in which I serve as Steering Committee member and one I’m proud to be part of. Bent Mountain was a good, if brief, opportunity for fellowship and checking-in with people from several states who are on the front lines of property rights, cultural attachment, and protecting water.

When you see Maury Johnson, ask him to tell you the story of this WV Water Staff!
I appreciate Maury bearing this artifact dedicated to waters of West Virginia.

A week later, we lost April Pierson-Keating. April was one of my confidantes, and sometimes when I’m half-awake, I’m still thinking about what I can’t wait to tell her when I see her next. I’m holding on to that feeling. April’s family and friends came together to honor her relentless tenacity and loving heart at the Buckhannon Opera House on Oct. 18.

Mara Robbins and MJ Clark, water protectors. Stay tuned in the next few weeks for MJ’s story. She was inspired by April to make this ensemble dedicated to water.

Mara wrote a poem with deep resonance and shared it with us at the ceremony. I share it with you below:

For April Pierson-Keating

Scientists are exploring consciousness
as an alternative to intelligence
when experimenting with communication
between plants. Or a supplement?

The key is water.

Hard to speculate for long, caught between
images or confirmation of whatever it is
you’re doing, through us, so many of us
exploring the option of consciousness

(as if it’s water)

beyond evidence and the evidence of you
beyond the intelligence of assertion that plants
could actually respond in ways we deem responsive…

…and all I can think is water.

We all think “water.”

We all sense the water of your life
coursing through our sore, tired hearts
still lost with the loss of you, yet pounding
with the rhythm of action in the face of grief.

We all feel water.

So forget the citations and the petitions
for a moment, forget the presentations
and the litigation, forget the crucial legislation
and the upcoming election. Forget the system.

We all need water,

a long drink of what you meant to us.
Hands cupped over a sweet spring, dripping
with intimacy and salty with the way
in which these fallible eyes leak into our dreams.

We dream of clean water.

And we will carry your dream like an anchor
over our shoulders into the thick resistance
of one more fracking well, one more pipeline,
one more circumnavigation

with this broken boat

mended by our many hands. Hammer, friends,
and nail. Bring the wood and the warped wisdom.
Bring talk and time and tenacious tactics,
our delicious diversity,

bring our cherished water

into collective containers for our missions
and give us permission to mistake
what we take to be purpose
for our free will to translate into freedom.

May all waters be free.

And may we, your beloved community,
explore your consciousness within our own
as we choose wisely, though your eyes,
though our bodies still flowing with the work

still to be done.

Regional Solidarity: Healing, Sustainability, & Survival in Modern Appalachia

“It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.

Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live

And let’s change the way we treat each other.

You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do

What we gotta do, to survive.”

Tupac Shakur, Changes

This song came on the radio on my way home from The Sustainability Forum at Sweet Springs Resort Park in Monroe County, WV. People from across the Virginias came together Aug. 16-18 for informed discourse and strategic planning. The main objective of the gathering was to establish a Sustainable Corridor Initiative encompassing the mountainous border regions of both states. Notable presenters presented information from a range of fields. I was only able to make it to the Saturday portion, and was thrilled with what I discovered. In the morning, Fritz Boettner of Sprouting Farms sparked a lively discussion detailing the need for equitable food production and distribution in the region. Autumn Crowe of WV Rivers highlighted the necessity and benefits of maintaining high water quality. Allen Johnson spoke to the spiritual side of fighting for what is right, and Bill Wolf of Preserve Craig gave a fantastic account of how cultural attachment to place has been strengthened by MVP’s refusal to acknowledge its existence.

Allen Johnson of Christians for the Mountains provides scriptural guidance on how we can help Earth and each other through unity and collaboration.

This discussion of cultural attachment really resonated with me. The attachment we have to these mountains is what keeps us coming back home, no matter how far we wander. Traditions, practices, and stories, as well as kinship patterns, combine to tether us to the places of our hearts. Seeing the land you love literally get dynamited and the waters which sustain you turning red with sediment changes a person. Being in the blast zone of the pipelines made me realize I’ve got to fight, and I’ve got nothing left to lose. Going to Sweet Springs helped me see I’m not alone.  When MVP first came through, I was emotionally devastated, as I am surrounded by MVP (and Stonewall) in all directions. Being the first person in two generations of my family to own their own home and land, I was proud of what I’d manifested for myself- a beautiful two-story farmhouse deep in the woods of Braxton County. I had to go back to therapy and grieve my house, the rivers, the streams, and the forest. I’m recovering now and building resiliency.

In the evening, Barbara Volk led us in circle to share reciprocity. Barbara is President of the WV Herb Association and a wise woman. Sitting in circle is always beneficial for me, even when I’m just listening to others. I’ve been working with circles for several years, and always relish the experience.

Circle at Sweet Springs. Photo by Maury Johnson. I’m on the left, and Barbara is on the right.

I can see now that resiliency is an integral cornerstone of the future for Appalachia. Feeling power rise from loss instead of despair, being able to turn the corner and keep going are what we have to do to survive. Together. There are numerous small gatherings in the Appalachian region geared toward this, and I’d like to invite you to one: The upcoming Circle of Protection on Bent Mountain in Virginia on Sept. 22. Water protectors from West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina will gather for interfaith blessings, fellowship, and small group strategy campfires. This event is sponsored by many regional organizations, including the Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice. Take your place in the Circle of Protection for the benefit of these mountains and waters we call home. We can’t wait to see you there!