The West Virginia native, two-time Grammy winner and two-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year makes music that unites country, bluegrass, Celtic and folk with a dedication to activism. Her 2008-2009 “Moving Mountains” tour spotlights her newest CD release, “Coal.”
I spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid in West Virginia. I walked the hills, dug for night crawlers, caught lizards, set minnow traps, ran trot lines and caught crawdads to bait brush hooks. I rode horses up to Seneca Rocks, picked huckleberries on Bald Knob, where the spruce trees were so blown by the wind that all their branches grew in one direction, and spelunked in the caves of Greenbrier County with miner’s helmets and carbide lanterns. I have always felt a little bit exposed when the horizon stretches out too far in front of me. Nestling into the hills feels safe and familiar. Being a West Virginian is a fundamental part of who I am.
Recently I discovered an underground war in my beloved home state. A war over aesthetics, economics, politics, justice, priorities and righteousness. A David and Goliath struggle over mountaintop removal: the practice of blowing off the tops of mountains to excavate down to the coal underneath. It is a heartbreaking dilemma, and one that goes back to the age-old question about progress and its price.
I have strong opinions about the beauty and diversity of those mountains, and the injustices that surround this issue. But I also sense an opportunity here, a chance to make a different kind of choice, and resist the urge to add one more strident voice to this raging conflict. I believe we can only begin to save our mountains, our planet and ourselves when we dig deep into our hearts and honestly stop judging one another long enough to understand one another.
Everyone involved here is trying to meet a deep need to preserve a way of life that is central to how they see themselves in the world. It’s a basic human need: stability, safety and security. And I think that’s why it’s so hard to talk about. We’re desperate to stay grounded, to live in a life we recognize, to preserve the heart of what feeds us in our human journey.
Coal operators are doing what they’re supposed to do: find and produce coal, provide jobs and keep their industry going, for the good of all. Environmentalists and activists are doing what they’re supposed to do: protect the environment, stand against injustice and advocate for the beauty and spiritual center of the place they live in and love, for the good of all.
Everyone wants to be heard. But if we want to be heard, we must strive to hear. We must have the discipline to sit in an uncomfortable dialogue and try to keep from blaming or defending when the fear and anger rises up. It’s hard not to walk away from the table when emotions run high. Can we create a safe and frank discussion without a running public commentary? Can we become willing to let the unresolved tensions hang in the air for a bit?
Can we learn to love our “enemies”?
It’s a tall order, for sure. But I believe that Grace lies somewhere in that middle ground, in the heart of that paradox. And I’d relish the chance to be part of that dialogue.