In Early Spring Forming a tunnel of blossoms along the road to War, West Virginia The Redbud trees burst forth with knots of red, rosy, purple flowers on naked branches, Circling the trunk like the red kerchiefs worn by coal miners who fought on Blair Mountain.
Clinging perilously to mountainsides they make a shrouded gateway to the Billion Dollar Coalfield. But The Billion Dollars left the coalfields. Each spring the red buds tell that story and point to the destruction just over the hill.
The mountains have provided a place of refuge for people, animals, trees and flowers, A homeplace in which to settle, work, live, for a diversity of people, wild flowers and grouse. A sanctuary, a haven for mussels, salamanders, Baptists, wood thrush and pileated woodpeckers. Now scavengers are removing the mountains to dig out the coal– Giant machines turn forested hills to moonscapes Cover streams and valleys with “overburden,” reduce the mountains to rubble.
Holding fast in the arms of the mountains, Wearing their red badge of courage The Redbuds resist their removal and protest the devastation of their living place [End Page 68]
They are also called Judas trees. Named for the Judas who hung himself in shame from a Redbud tree And dangled the blood money from the branches. The Flowering Judases blush with shame. They shout “Shame” to the Judases destroying God’s creation.
As the blossoms fade, the heart shaped leaves wave to passers by, Crying out for the wilderness:
Wake up, the earth is being destroyed. Change your ways of thinking, acting, being You are part of all living creatures. Recognize your kinship, interdependence
Listen—Put your ear to the ground. Listen to the voices from the mountains. Listen to the prophets, the hemlocks, the dogwoods, fish in the streams, the bacteria in the soil, all living things. The mountains have provided a fortress: support and strength to survive, For immigrants, moonshiners, Indians, copperheads, escaped slaves and servants. A safe place—“a place to rest your eyes.”
When the mountains are gone where do we get our strength? Where do we find the rock to hide behind or beneath? Where do we find solace and rest for our eyes?
Put a sign in your yard—Obey the Laws of Nature. [End Page 69]
Helen M. Lewis has been a pioneer in Appalachian Studies as a sociology professor in the Virginia coalfields and as Loyal Jones’s successor at the Berea College Appalachian Center. Her activism included serving as Director of the Highlander Center. She now lives in North Georgia.