114 Years and Still Smoldering

•April 8, 2010 • 4 Comments

Some hot spots show up when the snow falls on Coal Ridge.

Today’s newspaper reports from Montcoal, West Virginia.   What does that bring to mind?   Me too.  I grew up in a coal mining town.

The headlines scream “Disaster”.  Why in 2010, when we have updated and improved technology; we have so many experts with solutions, this heart-breaking news?

Today 25 are counted as fatalities down deep in the mine.  Now to bring out the bodies.

The mourning has already begun.

Let me tell you a story, really two stories, about the day all the daddies died in my little hometown:

When the town was organized in 1888 coal, that rock that burns, was king.  By 1893 the Consolidated Mine on Ward’s Peak (today known as Burning Mountain) was in full gear, putting out a high grade bituminous coal.  The company that owned it also opened the Vulcan Mine across the Colorado River, then soon closed it when they found it too dangerous to operate.

The Colorado River, New Castle, Colorado.

A railroad company took the risk of starting up  the Vulcan and proclaiming that it could be managed.

On a cold morning, February 18, 1896, forty nine miners ferried across the deep Colorado River, went to work in the Vulcan, and lost their lives.

At noon that day a  thunderous blast blotted out every other sound in the world.  People rushed out of every house.  They knew where to turn their eyes. Black smoke and coal dust  marked tragedy across the river.

John French had decided that very day that he would not return to the Vulcan because of the smell of methane gas. He claimed he knew that it was about to blow.  He was right.

Townspeople and miners from the Consolidated rushed to the rescue. They reached Ed Welch, battered and dying.  He gasped out that he had been blown from about a quarter mile within the mine.  They raced to the mine entrance to find it blocked by collapsed timbers, and the strong smell of gas.

It took nearly a month before the bodies were brought out.  The whole town was in anguish. Many of the dead were the fathers of large families. One family lost all three sons.  Little boys, known as trappers, were victims too.

End of story?  No.  In 1912, a big fuel company. Started the Vulcan up again.   I don’t use the business names of these big companies because they are still dirty words in New Castle.  They put job-hungry miners in a life-threatening position, then gave only a pittance to their survivors.

The town perked  up with the paychecks from the new mine.  The miners were  paid by the ton, forty five cents.  Mining this thick vein gave the miners the opportunity to dig at least ten tons a day.  An unskilled laborer was earning  a dollar a day, so the risk seemed worthwhile. Many never even considered the risk, it just what a man did to take care of his family.

An air vent was dug  completely through the mountain. A ventilation system consisting of a small  fan that pumped fresh air into the mine and a larger fan that pumped gassy fumes out of the mine.  Water was pumped up from the river and the mine was sprinkled every other day to keep the coal dust down. In retrospect this was not nearly adequate.

Then in December 1912, another cold winter day, another Tuesday, disaster struck again.  Three days earlier the water pipes had frozen, even though they had been wrapped and insulated with hay.  The decision was made to reverse the fans, to keep the area warmer.  The smaller fan was now the exhaust, allowing methane gas to build up.

The miners should have been using the new enclosed-flame carbide lamps, but instead they were issued the outdated “naked” carbide lights for their hats.  A formula for death.

The concussion from the resulting blast killed the miners.  It was the flu season and only 37 miners had reported for work that day.  There are many tales about that day.  One wife was giving birth as her husband died.  One miner who was ill asked a high school boy if he’d like to earn his wages that day, so he skipped school and went to his death.

So much grief for a tiny town.  The day their daddies died.

Today the miners’ names are engraved on a monument in the town park and each July residents and former residents celebrate Burning Mountain Days.

Every coal-mining family extends their sympathy, Montcoal, West Virginia.   And those of us who work at much more cushy jobs bow our heads too.


The Naked Truth

•April 1, 2010 • 1 Comment

Then she rode forth, clothed only with chastity:

The deep air listen’d round her as she rode,

And all the low wind hardly breathed for fear.

Alfred Lord Tennyson,  the poem GODIVA, 1842

My  mountain Granny would swaller her chaw of tobacco if this discovery had been made in her lifetime.  She  wouldn’t appreciate a fully-growed female traipsing through town in her birthday suit.

But here it was, thank you Ancestry.com, one of my Grandma Flossie’s  long ago grandmothers was Lady Godifu, wife  of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, commonly referred to as Lady Godiva of Coventry!  This will make me smile for a month.

Her story (or myth as some insist) is the tale of a nagging wife.  Her husband taxed nearly everything the peasants had.  The day he levied a tax on manure, she lit into him about giving the people a break.

Old Leofric. feeling safe that his beautiful, religious wife would not take him up on his offer, proposed that if she would ride  in the altogether through town he would take the taxes off everything but horses.

She asked if she had his permission.  He said “Goeth for it”.   And she did.

It is part of the myth-story that Leofric ordered all people inside with shutters closed as she rode through town.  This one good fellow, Thomas the Tailor, drilled a little peep-hole in the shutters so he could get an eyeful.  Recognize that guy?  Peeping Tom?

Lady Godiva arranged her very long hair like a veil over her body, so that only her legs were revealed.  She was accompanied by two lovely ladies on horses.  Must have been a sight.  But of course, old Tom, was the only one who could tell us. And he didn’t live to tell the tale.

Many artists and story tellers have relished this material.

Since my daughtger is blonde, and now we all can claim Grandma Godiva, I think I favor this painting by Leighton.  The red-haired version by Collier is the most often used to illustrate her story. Whatever.  Isn’t it a kick in the pants!

Here, Fishy, Fishy

•March 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment


Not a trick photo.

Remember the old song “Summertime”: the fish are jumping and the cotton is high? Jumping like this?

Today’s Sacramento Bee newspaper reported that the Supreme Court refused to order the closure of Chicago area shipping locks to prevent these very fish, Asian Carp, from invading the Great Lakes

I needed to know more.  Why should we be worried by a fish invasion?  Martian invasion, yes.  But, fish? Here’s what  I Googled:

Bighead and silver carp are collectively known as Asian carp. These fish are very large, reaching up to 90 pounds. Because Asian carp are filter-feeders, scientists are concerned that the massive fish may deplete the Great Lake zooplankton populations. Zooplankton is the main food source for many native species, including mussels, larval fish, and some adult fish. The Asian carp’s niche may also overlap with salmon and perch, species with high recreational and commercial value, and may out-compete these species and endanger the fishery.

It is thought that the Asian carp escaped from catfish farms in the southern U.S.. They have spread throughout the Mississippi River system in less than a decade, and they have been caught less than 25 miles from the entrance to Lake Michigan in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. If they invade the Great Lakes, they will likely reproduce quickly and have immediate ecologic and economic effects.

Now these are not just your common pan-sized trout.  They can grow up to four feet and can jump into a boat and knock the fisherman over.  Stay-away -from -me.

This reminds me of the Kudzu vine, another escapee into our environment.  It is gorgeous and green, and covers everything in its path.  Trees, old barns, acres upon acres of our Southeast.   Brought here to prevent erosion, and went nuts.

See the house?

Don’t turn your back on this Wild Thing.

Another side to this story:  medical experimentation is testing the plant as cure for migraine headaches, vertigo,   stomach problems, alcohol addiction and even cancer prevention. If even one pans out, we have beaucoup raw material.

And how about the 24 rabbits brought to Australia about 1850 and multiplied to 10 billion, devastating crops and prompting Australians to build that miles-long rabbit-proof fence.

About the same time these bunnies were immigrating to Australia a different species was doing a “California Here I Come”. The snail.  Introduced  from Europe as escargot in the raw, and lived on to be a garden pest.

But back to those carp.

Let’s keep a level head here.

Serve Manna Tonight

•March 21, 2010 • 1 Comment

Remember the TV ad that was so sing-able?  A kid skipping through his neighborhood, hands in his pockets, head to the sky “WE’RE HAVING  BEEF-A-RONI!”   Made you want to dump a package of the stuff in the frying pan and whistle while you work.  It wasn’t bad, but not worth a run through the neighborhood.

Then there was Robert Mitchum telling the world what to cook tonight.  Big, handsome guy with a cowboy persona   drawling in his lazy baritone:  “BEEF.  IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER”.

Most heard around our household was the “OH, I WISH I WERE AN OSCAR MEYER WIENER….” In fact my number one son won a talent contest in the first grade telling a joke with that as a punch line.  Ironic, since I was raising my three as vegetarians. (That changed when they started making their own choices.)

Isn’t it the toughest part of meal preparation, what-to-have?  Some solve that by having a weekly menu that seldom varies. Monday is meatloaf, Tuesday is enchiladas, Wednesday pot roast,  blah, blah, blah. It would have made it easier at the grocery store too, don’t know why I just could not do it that way.   Blame it on my Manna Mentality.  I was always hoping  for that stuff.

Those long-time -travelers -in-circles, the Children of Israel, taking the long way home without provisions were provided that wonderful sustenance daily.  They gathered Manna each morning and it satisfied their hunger, but sometimes not their taste buds. After all they did murmur about the leeks and onions of Egypt.

Ever dream of running outside and gathering up some Manna for the table when you’re too tired to be Martha Stewart?  I have.  A lot.

Good news.  It isn’t in the back yard; it’s on the shelf at Safeway.  Buy it in multiples for those days that you want run through the neighborhood singing whatever song you wanta.  Mine’s:  MY DINNER HAS A FIRST NAME, IT’S M-A-N-N-A!”

On shopping day pick this up:

The recipe is on the box.  Almost no prep time, but the moistened matzo meal has to stay in the refrigerator for about  15 minutes to be the right consistency, and soup needs to simmer about 20 minutes.  About the time it takes to read the daily newspaper.  Aahh.

You’ll need this too. Chicken or vegetable, either is just the right flavor.


Put ‘em together, and what have you got?


And it’s okay to throw in some leeks or onions.

Lovely Spring

•March 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Spring in California and the smell of popcorn fills the air. Once more the season where the populace dines on that movie must-have and not at inflated theatre prices, thank you.  Free. Plentiful popcorn!

Aahh, Land of Plenty!

At the movies the proprietor has no popcorn trees in the parking lot, for obvious reasons.

Back to my ‘hood. The community association declares that these particular blossoms must be kept on a leash.

And if you need  a chain for that Dogwood, in California they grow on trees. Chains, that is.

Enough?  Here’s a little dessert, now in blossom.  Wild sweet crabapples.   Mmm, tart!

Thank you, God.

One for the money, two for the show……

•March 19, 2010 • 1 Comment

I’m always hoping that a new TV series will be watchable, so I tuned into “Justified”.  The billing bragged that the first show was written by Elmore Leonard and that he was an executive producer. Good enough for me, Leonard writes gritty, smart crime novels with the best dialogue ever.  (Think “Get Shorty”) and in his early years wrote what I call cowboy stories.

In Leonard’s fiction the bad guys are usually as smart and interesting as the good guys, and they get their share of the good lines.  Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) is the series hero, and he is perfect for the part.  Don’t you hate it when a fictional character comes to life and he just does not fit your mental image?  This handsome guy stepped right out of Leonard’s “Fire in the Hole”.  To quote Goldilocks, he” is just right”.

With each turn of the plot I reminded myself to tell my brothers, admirers of Leonard and western movies, that they could actually watch this program.  Photoshop Gary Cooper in “High Noon” into modern day Kentucky –style garb and accent and you’ve got Raylan Givens.

I’ll watch it again. Of course it is not number one on my Watch List, but since there is only one other drama listed it can be a Tentative Two.  Nothing on TV can touch the acting and writing on “The Good Wife”.

As sick as I am with present day politics, I find this little slice of life dished up each week in serious style as interesting as a good book.   Julianna Margulies is the woman who stands by her man(Chris  Noth) in public as he confesses to sexual dalliances and is sent to jail for political corruption.

The supporting cast is terrific.  My favorite is Archie Panjabi, who plays Kalinda, a brainy investigator.

And my always-favorite, Christine Baranski.

I have only watched one episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” the one where Emmitt Smith searches for and finds his ancestors.  It was a terrific show.  I plan to watch it again.  I might get a Number Three for my list.

Once Upon a Time

•March 11, 2010 • 2 Comments

The artist, Scott Gustafson, takes old folk tales and turns them into gorgeous visual masterpieces.

It seems that every culture tells the story which we call Red Riding Hood.  In truth, a dark and frightening story that can scare the stuffing out of kids.  Gustafson takes this well-known horror story and turns it into beautiful art.

Take a few moments to look at the attention to detail: the carved grandfather clock, the delicate tea cup on the bedside table, the tapestry-like curtains that are partially opened to let in the warm sunlight,  the paisley shawl on “Grandma”, and my favorite:  the patchwork and embroidered quilt.

The little girl is pure innocence.  And look in her basket of goodies.  Pictures I saw in France always included a bottle of wine in Petite Rouge’s basket. Now we know what Grandma drank in that teacup.

And now let’s visit that cottage for eight.  Don’t you love this room’s design?  The light is lovely and warm, and just look at all the hand carved woodwork.  And the tapestry tablecloth.  And the chairs.  Good food cooking on the hearth, jugs and plates on the mantel and over the door. Mmm, and the aroma of freshly baked bread, still warm on the table. Like the chandelier?

And now his best, in my opinion.   The tapestry in the background…exquisite! The lovely chair, fit for royalty. And has there ever been a more beautiful fairy tale princess? Her plate has real food, she may wear a crown, but she eats her peas like a good daughter.  For the king is at the other end of the table.  How do we know?  Look at his reflection in the serving cover.

And that absurd frog with his far-fetched tale.  What nerve hopping up on the royal table!

Should she kiss him?

Thank you, Scott Gustafson, for making once-upon-a-time beautifully visual.