The place where I live is green in summer and brown in winter, splashed with multicolored spring flowers and painted brilliant crimson and gold in fall.
This place was chosen for me 201 years ago when my ancestors first walked through the Sounding Gap. It is the Dark and Bloody Ground that Thomas Walker, Christopher Gist and Daniel Boone knew, and I am as much a part of it as the gray fox that slips unnoticed up the steep gullies or the red-tailed hawk riding thermals along the ridges. It is as much a part of me as the bone-white limestone that lies sideways on Pine Mountain.
I live in Letcher County, Kentucky, as far as you can travel from the bluegrass of the Bluegrass State without hitting Virginia. It is home to the state’s second highest peak, the northern slope of its highest mountain, three rivers, and Bad Branch Nature Preserve, with the state’s largest concentration of rare and endangered species.
Standing atop Pine Mountain, the hills of the Cumberland Plateau roll away like waves on a silent ocean, testament to the contradictions of our history and culture. This is home to cerulean warblers, gray tree frogs, and yellow Caterpillar bulldozers that scalp the mountains to get at the coal and gas underneath.
My home is rich in natural resources, but the people are poor. Our wealth comes from family and friends, from soaring fiddle tunes and twanging banjos and the rhythmic strumming of flattops.
Why do I stay here? Why is this place the place where I live?
Because it is the place I love, in spite of its faults. I choose to see the mountains, the trees, and the fox, not the raw scars and the silted streams.
I choose to find solace in the shady hollows and the breezy mountain peaks, in the songs of the birds and weeping of the bobcats.
I can no more leave than the white oaks can pull their roots from the ground and walk away.