Big Hog dug until the land was forsaken

Reckonings column by Della Mallette, May 4 Grand Forks Gazette.

A song can tell a story as well as any book, if penned by a good songwriter. Some songs bring environmental and social issues to light, and can at the very least bring an awareness of an issue to music lovers the world over. Paradise by John Prine is such a song.

Paradise is about Muhlenberg County in the State of Kentucky. Muhlenberg has been a major coal-producing region for the United States for many years; during most of the 1970s, Muhlenberg County annually produced more coal than anywhere else in the world.

Paradise is written by Prine for his father, and recorded for his 1971 debut album. Prine also re-recorded the song for a 1986 album, bringing the issue once again to the public consciousness.

The song is about the devastating impact of strip mining for coal, whereby the top layers of soil are blasted off with dynamite to reach the coal seam below.

Prine sang:

“When I was a child my family would travel

Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born

And there’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered

So many times that my memories are worn.

 

“Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel

And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land

Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken

Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.

 

“When I die let my ashes float down the Green River

Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam

I’ll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin’

Just five miles away from wherever I am.”

 

And the melancholy chorus:

 

“And Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County

Down by the Green River where paradise lay

Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking

Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”

The shovel was nicknamed Big Hog. “This shovel weighs as much as a Navy cruiser, stands 20 stories high, and can pick up 300 tons of dirt and rocks, deliver it 450 feet away, and be ready for the next cut in 50 seconds,” wrote columnist Joe Creason in the Courier-Journal Sunday Magazine in 1965.

But paradise could be returning to Muhlenberg! Earlier this month, Peabody Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Some would say having a solid employer is more important than the environment, but that kind of thinking can have catastrophic consequences.

Health concerns from coal mining are well-documented: the potential for injury on the job is almost constant, the risk of respiratory damage a very real threat; hearing loss has been attributed to coal mining; low birth weights have been linked to communities that are located near mining facilities—the list goes on.

The environmental impact on the land is harsh. Wildlife and habitat is easily displaced or destroyed.

Sometimes you have to make choices. It’s now time to embrace a new era in Muhlenberg County.

I reckon I’m going to travel down to Western Kentucky one day, to stand by the Green River—where paradise lays.

Just Posted

MP Cannings’ long-awaited wood-use bill passes in House vote

The private member’s bill is his first to pass the House, a rare feat for rookie MPs in opposition

Flood 2018: What comes next

Most evacuation orders have been rescinded, and residents are starting to return home

PHOTOS: Floodwaters rise and fall in Grand Forks

The flood-ravaged Kootenay-Boundary region begins to heal

VIDEO: Grand Forks shores up defences as floodwaters rise to peak levels

Canadian Forces, volunteers working to protect low-lying areas

UPDATED: Majority of flood evacuees in Kootenay-Boundary allowed to return home

Officials hope to have all 3,000 people back in their homes by Monday night

Police release video on how to ‘run, hide, fight’ if there’s an active shooter

Vancouver police offer video with input from E-Comm, BC EHS, Vancouver Fire and Rescue

Study recommends jurors receive more financial and psychological support

Federal justice committee calls for 11 policy changes to mitigate juror stress

Research needed on impact of microplastics on B.C. shellfish industry: study

SFU’s department of biological sciences recommends deeper look into shellfish ingesting microbeads

B.C. dad pens letter urging overhaul of youth health laws after son’s fatal overdose

The Infants Act currently states children under 19 years old may consent to medical treatment on own

Singh sides with B.C. in hornet’s nest of pipeline politics for the NDP

Singh had called for a more thorough environmental review process on the proposal

VIDEO: Campers leave big mess at rural Vancouver Island campsite

Vehicle parts, garbage, a mattress, lawn chairs, beer cans, and even fecal matter left in the area

VIDEO: B.C. woman gets up-close view of Royal wedding

Kelly Samra won a trip back to her home country to see Prince Harry and Meghan Markle say ‘I do’

30 C in B.C., 30 cm of snow expected for eastern Canada

It might be hot in B.C., but the rest of Canada still dealing with cold

Horgan defends fight to both retain and restrict Alberta oil imports

Alberta says pipeline bottlenecks are kneecapping the industry, costing millions of dollars a day

Most Read