The oddly sunken ground is as warm as my hands, and the grass and mosses is an unusually rich green. The snow doesn’t stick, even though it’s over a quarter inch deep on the other side of the road. Nothing grows within a foot of the fissures – the ground there is too warm for the grasses of the Pennsylvania mountains. Hot smoke puffs from deep inside the earth, the result of fires that we set off a decade ago, and that will one day spread through the interwoven veins of coal around the whole state. That is something that we’ll not need to think about now, though.
The path here led through Tamaqua, and then from Tamaqua it weaves through the mountains, what’s left of them, along Route 54. Mahanoy City lies between the remnants of mountains, strip-mined flat, new mountains of broken shale built up around the town, on either side of the road – anywhere debris can be dumped. Scraggly trees have started growing out of the older piles of shattered rock. These are the fruits of our labors, the seeds of our appetites.
There are more boarded up storefronts here than there are viable businesses. The people who worked, who lived and sweated and died coughing up black phlegm to break this land – there was no profit for them. Their lives, like the land itself, were merely natural resources to be used, exploited, extracted, and discarded.