Reflection by Mary Lou Edgar for September 3, 2023.
Recently, my immediate family had the opportunity to visit my extended family on the Virginia/West Virginia border. In other words, in Appalachia.
I remember the first time I realized that this is a poor part of our country. It was when John Kennedy ran for president, and he was the first candidate to visit in West Virginia. Although the mountains were breathtaking, it was astounding for him and his brother, Bobby, to see the amount of poverty that existed there. But to their credit, they dove right in, eating at drive-ins, sitting on steps outside of run-down houses to be close to a family and learn about life in that part of the country.
My family was not poor. We had a business that provided employment for those who did not work in the coal mines. Over time, in addition to the coal disappearing, there was stronger legislation regarding working conditions and ongoing health issues.
The mountains were there and to me, they were everything.
I could hear the animals at night, and they hid during the day. Those mountains made me feel safe. I used to pretend no one could get over them. When we went to my grandmother’s home once a year, we went on a two-lane road through the mountains. My father worked in lumbering, and he knew every tree. One year he found a beautiful walnut tree. It was split and had to come down. He studied it for a long time, finally deciding to make five paper towel holders, one for each of his children. He always planted a tree where he cut down a tree. He believed that the mountains and all they gave us was sacred. We grew up believing that.
When I return to that area, the first thing I see are the mountains.
They stand high and beautiful. This year we arrived to see dirt roads going up the mountains. The trees were being cut and taken away in huge trucks. I could barely get my breath. I asked what was going on and the people (including my family) answered nonchalantly that they were cutting down the trees. The area needed income. People who owned the land could sell the timber and keep the land. They could then replant if they desired. Some would, some wouldn’t. At night, bears roamed neighborhoods looking for food – their homes were being taken away. During the day, we saw many snakes (and they are poisonous) because they had nowhere to stay cool. We were warned not to venture out after dusk as it was dangerous. This is not the life I remember. We ran free, aware of the animals but knowing never to disturb their homes.
When I read the story of Genesis, I think of my mountains and the peace that existed there.
There was so much we didn’t know but so much we appreciated that others didn’t understand. We cared about the land, the trees, the water. We understood they were important. We were not rich in the ways of the world, but we were a community rich in what the world provided. It was not perfect. Many remain hostile to those taking away those resources. But how many of us can walk up to a one-hundred-year-old oak tree that is healthy as can be. How many of us can wade in a creek where the water is so clear, you can see the rocks at the bottom. You can also see the water snakes and wade with them if you want. How many of us depend on not one but three or four gardens to provide for us in the summer and during the rest of the year as well. How many of us can hide high in a tree and read daring a parent to find us.
We must all look at the gift God gave us in this world and cherish our natural surroundings.
People need the solitude of the forest and the ability to see animals living in their habitat. The miracle God created for us is diminishing, we must conserve what we have.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Lou Edgar, MSS, is a clinical social worker who founded A Better Chance for Our Children, an adoption and foster care agency that works to find permanent homes for children in the foster care system. Mary Lou was the Executive Director of ABCFOC, but she is now retired. She graduated from Neumann University and Bryn Mawr School of Social Work and Social Research. She and her husband joined SsAM in 2021.