SEEDS in West Virginia

Spring Break 2012

Ethan Strickler ’12

The most rewarding aspect of my SEEDS experience was interacting with the local people.The locals’ connection to their land and community was evident from our first group conversation with Marsha in the Big Creek People in Action community center in War. Marsha talked with us about how the consolidation of Big Creek high school in McDowell County resulted in negative effects ranging in scale from longer bus rides for school students to the loss of many Big Creek traditions.

Marsha spoke about her community and family history with such passion and reverence. Many of Marsha’s family members, including her children, still live in the same “holler” where Marsha was born and raised. Everyone we met and spoke with at Big Creek talked about their strong sense of community, their unconditional willingness to help each other in times of need, and their desire to improve their communities.

The people in the communities we visited, both in Big Ugly and Big Creek, had an incredibly strong sense of place. Over the years, these communities have experienced many triumphs and failures. What makes each community strong is that every member of the community has shared in these experiences. For example, the McDowell County floods from 2001 and 2002 were devastating for the Big Creek and War communities, but the mobilization of the community in the wake of the floods was incredible. Although in many ways the community is still recovering, the compassion, positive attitudes, and commitment of the members Big Creek People in Action showed us that the people who still live in the area are both proud and resilient.

The people of McDowell County expressed the deep love and compassion they had for their home through their numerous stories and passionate fellowship. Chester Ball, a famous musician from the area, exemplified the type of people we interacted with in McDowell County. He was so passionate about his music, which included many songs that represent stories and poems about the struggles and successes of the people in McDowell County. Some of the songs talked about coal mining, some about the mountains, and others about the devastating floods. All of his songs and stories carried enough emotion to inspire us all and bring some of us to tears. During this night of fellowship, Chester stressed the importance of friendship, and that, if any of us were ever to visit McDowell County again, we would have a nice place to stay and would be well fed.

In closing I’d like to share some of the lyrics from a favorite song of mine that illustrate the connection the people of Big Creek and Big Ugly have with their mountains, their homes, and their way of life. It is called The Mountain, and it was written by Levon Helm.

I was born on this mountain; this mountain’s my home. She holds me and she keeps me from the worry and the woe. Well, they took everything she gave, she gave and now she’s gone, but I’ll die on this mountain, this mountain’s my home.

I was born on this mountain, but now I am old, and I know every holler, every cool swimming hole. Till one night I laid down, and I woke up to find that my childhood was over, I went back down in the mine.

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