June 06, 2009
Originally published March 11, 2004
I went back to Harlan, Kentucky in 1976 to visit with my cousin, Ernie. We took a trip to Lewellen and climbed the mountain where the old coal mine once operated.
We went up the route where the man-trip used to run. The rails were all gone, but the cross-ties were still in place. It was almost like climbing stairs. We both carried .22 rifles and shot a couple of copperheads on the way up. We also got into some heavy poison ivy, which was a mistake we didn't discover until later.
When we got up to the mineshack, it was still there, covered with dirt and leaves and smelling of old sweat and broken dreams. The mine-shaft was nothing but another part of the mountain, solid rock sealed shut by explosives that my father helped to set.
We found a lot of paperwork and blueprints that were still up there in desk drawers and file cabinets. Many had my father's signature on them. We found a big, wooden wire spool that must have been 3' in diameter. Guess what we did with it? We rolled it down the mountain.
That thing bounced, hopped, skipped and jumped until it tore itself apart. It never made the bottom of the mountain. It ended up in splinters.
We also found two boxes filled with old electrical insulators, the kind made from glass. One set was blue and one set was green. Guess what we did with them? We used them for target practice with our .22s. We broke every got-dam one of those things, and I didn't learn until later in life that those glass insulators were collectible items, worth a lot of money to some people.
The old slate dump was still burning, just as it was when I was a child. I can still remember that smell. I'll bet that it's still burning today. When slate catches on fire, it burns for a long time.
Ernie and I finally came down from the mountain. We both ended up in the doctor's office the next day because of the poison ivy we encountered. I never saw it, but we must have gotten into a thicket of it. I had that shit all over me and so did Ern.
I dreamed about walking up that mountain yesterday.
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