Thursday, April 08, 2010

Welcome to 1967

Last Monday night, I was preparing to go to a dinner party at a friend's. (Yes, I finally have friends here.) I heard a teaser on the local evening news: "Hear the latest on the rescue efforts for the West Virginia miners." When you hear that on a station outside of West Virginia, that is not good. I called my sweetie and asked what he knew. He told me the general location. "Don't tell me; let me guess. A Massey mine?" I asked. "How'd you ever know?" he said. "Just a lucky guess."

I was not the best of company at the dinner party. I kept excusing myself to check Facebook and the news to see what was going on. West Virginia is such a small place that even though it was not my area, I knew that friends of friends, at least, were affected. For that story, read Buzzard Billy's account. Later I heard that a sweet little boy that I had babysat did contract work at that mine a few years back. It could have been him.

That's why I was just sick. Today Upper Big Branch, tomorrow Robinson Run (where a friend that was like a big brother to me works) or someplace closer to home. Mining is a dangerous business.

But it doesn't have to be.

All explosions are preventable. When there is an explosion, that is an indication that something went terribly wrong. Those aren't my words: they are the words of Kevin Strickin, MSHA administrator for West Virginia. (They're not in quotes becuase I can't find the exact citation, but I'm pretty sure it's from the Charleston Gazette. Once you see the number of stories there, you'll forgive me.)

Yes, coal mining is a dangerous operation. It's not that the mines are located miles (yes, miles) underground. The very processes that form coal contribute to this danger. Coal and methane, a highly explosive gas, occur in close proximity more often that not. Even if methane does not explode, it is an odorless, colorless gas that can be inhaled but is not breathable. The proverbial canary's function in the coal mine was to warn miners of methane. If the canary passed out, the miners got out ASAP.

An obvious by-product of coal, coal dust,not only gets all over everything (including miners' lungs), but it also is highly volatile. The smallest spark from a mantrip hitting a steel track can spark an explosion. This is not a place for the overly fearful.

But these dangers can be avoided. After the Sago disaster, some rumors began to spread about methane in the area. I asked Dad, who had worked at a mine (not in a mine, which is an important distinction) about methane. The way to avoid a methane-related disaster is to measure methane and pull the miners out until it can be ventilated. That did not happen in this case. Why? Good question. Over the past two years (not even, as this covers 2009 and 2010), Massey was cited for over 61 major violations of MSHA code. On this mine alone. These are not violations such as a wastebasket in the wrong place or a report wasn't signed off on properly. No, these were the-mine-should-have-been-closed violations, including methane buildup, excessive coal dust, and excessive carbon dioxide.

Well, why was the mine not closed, then? One word: the owner. It's Don Blankenship, who is a coal baron in the old-school way. Scroll down past his accomplishments to "criticism," and you'll get some idea. Or better yet, watch this video originally aired on Rachel Maddow.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Rachel gets it as do few others from out of the area. It's all true. But it sounds too incredible to be true.

Which brings me to the title of this post. In November 1968, the Farmington Mine blew. You may remember when I wrote about the 40th anniversary. The only good thing to come out of that disaster was the formation of MSHA and the passage to laws to protect miners' safety. The four miners still in Upper Big Branch, much as I hate to say it, cannot have survived. Which makes this the biggest disaster since Farmington. You know, the disaster they said would be the last.

I hope this has been coherent, at least. I've been sad, worried, and angry in turn since Monday evening. I continue to pray for the miners and their families, but I think it's all done except for the recovery.

There is so much more I'd like to say, but I think I'll give it a few days.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rejected Facebook Status Updates

This past year has been a bit of a tough one, and I try to maintain a positive face in public. Since I have bunches of friends on Facebook, I consider that a public place. However, there are some things in Facebook that I dearly would have loved to have posted but didn't think they were appropriate.

In no particular order:
  • Mountain Laurel really hopes she's around to see when those bastards get what's coming to them.
  • Mountain Laurel now remembers why she broke up with that particular ex.
  • Mountain Laurel will never post another political update as she's getting sick of refereeing among her friends with varying viewpoints.
  • Mountain Laurel really wishes people would just show each other some respect.
  • Mountain Laurel misses home. A lot.
  • Mountain Laurel isn't sure that she can do this.
  • Mountain Laurel thinks the meat she cooked for dinner may have been bad. She's been sitting for a half hour and needs to again!
  • Mountain Laurel wishes that folks would watch Desperate Housewives instead of creating drama at work.
  • Mountain Laurel loves to see karma at work via football.
  • Mountain Laurel found a dead rat outside her back stoop.
  • Mountain Laurel prefers live rats to dead ones.
  • Mountain Laurel has enough drama in real life that she doesn't need it on Facebook.
Again, recall that these are rejected postings, meaning that the positive ones and more appropriate ones made it onto Facebook, and thus aren't here. So don't worry too much about me, folks.

And feel free to add your rejected status updates as well. Even if you don't use Facebook.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Little Big City

As I mentioned in my last post, I've moved to Charm City. Yepper, Baltimore, Maryland, home of the Orioles, Ravens, steamed shrimp as only they can do it, and crabs. I was a little nervous about moving to the Big City, and I didn't quite know what to expect. The first thing that surprised me is how small it is.

Yes, small. You read that right. The city itself is big, 92.1 square miles according to Wikipedia, and they're generally right on target about stuff like that. I expected huge avenues surrounded by skyscrapers. There are some tall buildings around, like the Legg Mason building, in the new Harbor East area, but by and large what I found were miles and miles of charming row houses along narrow streets. Pretty small, when I grew up in a rancher and the folks now live in Grandma's two-story. The houses are narrow, some so narrow that I didn't think I could get my furniture in. (As it is, I have a mattress and box spring in my dining room. Free to a good home as I couldn't get it up my stairs.) It is spacious, though, and for that I'm grateful. When I was looking for a place to live, I bumped my head so many times that I took to putting my hand on top of my head before I went up or down steps. One of the hazards of being tall.

My house is precious, a 1929 rehab with the original oak floors and exposed brick. But it is small. Which leads me to the porch, about 8' by 3', but by city standards it's gigantic. And the yard. Yes, yard. Yards are uncommon in the city, so I feel quite lucky to be able to have a plot of 2 flowerbeds, about 6' by 2' each. I planted flowers in the lower one and plan on growing herbs in the upper one. Herbs don't take a lot of room and have a high yield. Again, small plants for the small plots.

The cars are small too. There are fewer SUV's and more Fits and SmartCars. They need to be small to fit in the parking pads (if you are lucky enough to have one) and the parking spaces. Around here, folks think that bumpers are for bumping, which leads to a lot of what we call "parking by Braille."

The stores and bars are also tiny. Although they tend to be bigger than the houses, they are still tiny by the standards I'm used to.

Even the wildlife is smaller. Back home, I am accustomed to seeing rodents, true, but they tend to be raccoons and possums. The most common form of wildlife (four-legged, not the wildlife at the bar down the street) I've seen is the rat. Currently, the Rat Count is up to four; three living and one dead. They all look like this picture below.

Really, I have a lot of respect for rats. They rid the area of garbage, and the ones around here are shy, running if they hear something coming. That is a welcome change from the raccoon, who will sit and stare at you. I prefer the live ones though. The dead ones don't move, and then you have to take care of them.

The one part of the city that isn't small is the people. Next time I'll talk about the people of this city, who from my experiences so far have quite large hearts.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

What a year!

Inspired by my dear friend Misfitina, here's a list of what 2009 was like.

I did things I never thought I could do:
  • Hosted a baby shower
  • Met a bunch of blog buds IRL
  • Watched a Polar Plunge
  • Got let go from work
  • Moved to Charm City, where I had exactly one friend
  • Lost a dear old friend, the first man that I thought was a cross between Superman and Mr. Rogers
  • Moved several hours away from my honey
  • Neglected this blog miserably.
Yep. Little country girl in the big city.and so far, doing fine. We'll see.

I have found Baltimore to be an interesting place, and not so dissimilar from Appalachia as I had suspected it might be. I plan to write a fw posts about this. I'm also going to link them to GossipDuck, a site founded by my friend.