In my latest post over on No Unsacred Place, I share the heart-wrenching story of one of the lesser known consequences of mountaintop removal coal mining in the Appalachian mountains: the destruction of centuries-old family cemeteries that have been part of the landscape and the small communities of Appalachia for generations.
Many of the small communities scattered throughout Appalachia, where mountaintop-removal mining has done so much damage already, face the destruction of cemeteries that have been part of the wooded wilderness for centuries, left to become overgrown and sometimes forgotten as younger generations leave the area. These grave sites might not be officially registered or marked on any map, leaving them vulnerable to destruction from mining companies that buy up property and indiscriminately strip the landscape bare in an effort to reach the valuable coal deposits underneath. What minimal laws there are protecting cemeteries only apply to registered sites marked off by a fence and regularly maintained by a caretaker, and the historical value of family cemeteries can be difficult to prove, especially in cases where graves are unmarked or headstones have fallen into disrepair.
People like Dustin White and Larry Gibson, whose anti-mining environmental activism in West Virginia centers around the protection of family cemeteries and grave sites, have been marginally successful in protecting some hallowed ground. These cemeteries remain like small islands, grave-studded copses of trees surrounded by acres of bare rock and debris.
Reverence for the dead transcends religious boundaries and connects us not only to our history and our ancestors, but also to each other. How can we transform this shared sense of the sacred into action to protect the earth and her ecosystems from destruction? What would it mean to live our lives as though not only cemeteries and grave sites, but any grove of trees or open meadow were hallowed ground?
You can read the full article here.