West Virginia Smiles


So back in the mid-1990s, I did a bunch of bird surveys through the Appalachians and spent a lot of time exploring West Virginia. It was beautiful, except where it wasn’t, and that was where the coal companies were doing “mountaintop removal” mining. Basically, they slice off the top of a mountain, pulverize it, extract any coal that’s exposed, and dump everything left over into the nearest headwater stream “hollow”. Then they plant the mined area to exotic grasses and scrubby locust trees, because little else will grow on the meager soil left behind. So the process destroys the forest on the mountain, the mountain itself, and the headwater stream.

I always told myself that one day I would write something about my experiences in West Virginia – both the lovely people I met and the sad grip that mining culture has over this state. Years later, I wrote a song – most of it in the shower one day – and then after I had learned enough guitar chords to put together a melody, I put the song to music.

The song ended up being too fast for me to play! So I donated it to a fella I knew who was an aspiring musician and very much “into” mining culture and environmental commentary. He took a bunch of the lyrics, added some of his own, and put it to a much prettier melody. That guy is Jay Clark, and you can find him (and hear a snippet of his version of the song) here: http://www.jayclarkmusic.com/. He’s on iTunes as well.

But for the first time anywhere, I thought I’d post the original version here. For you guitar enthusiasts, the chord progression goes like this:

A-D-A
A-D-E7
A-D-A
A-D-E-A

And the lyrics:

West Virginia smiles
warm and wild on an autumn day.
West Virginia smiles
like she wishes you would stay.
West Virginia smiles
and I’m smilin’ too:
broad and wide I cannot hide so glad to be with you.

West Virginia smiles
she’s so proud of her past.
West Virginia smiles
fueled a nation’s furnace blast.
West Virginia smiles
and we smile right back:
forged in bonds unbreakable we’re family to the last.

West Virginia smiles
through the tears of grieving wives.
West Virginia smiles
honors men who gave their lives.
West Virginia smiles
and she opens her arms wide:
so grateful for the chance to meet each new one that arrives.

West Virginia smiles
for how much longer I don’t know.
West Virginia smiles
while we’re raping her for coal.
West Virginia smiles
how can they be so bold?
‘Cause shaven hills and hollow fills must be troubling to her soul.

Fill all the valleys, make the mountains fall.
Isn’t that what ol’ Isaiah said?
But this one sure don’t look to me like no prophet’s call:
with increasing speed they feed their greed
it’s the call of profit instead.

But West Virginia smile
we won’t abandon you to die.
West Virginia smile
let your spruces scratch the sky.
West Virginia smile
wipe that teardrop from your eye.
We don’t know if we’ll win this one but we sure are gonna try

to see West Virginia smile
for ages all to come.
And the mountaineers stand high
while woodpeckers beat the drum.
West Virginia smiles
and it almost strikes me dumb:
so blest to see in her this day a little piece of where she’s from. [end]

If you like it, play it, and spread the word that mountaintop mining is a heinous disturbance on an otherwise beautiful landscape. In 2006, can’t we come up with better ways to make lightbulbs shine?

~tjo

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This entry was posted in birds/nature, editorial, environment, life, music. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to West Virginia Smiles

  1. Pingback: Mountaintop Removal Clearinghouse » West Virginia Smiles, A Song

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