Janet Keating
Apple Grove, WV
2022

Story Info

Story & Experience

Twenty-four years ago, I posed for a victory photo at a site near Apple Grove, WV, with two other wonderful women—friends and colleagues at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (shuttered in February 2022).  In 1998, with the assistance of many allied groups across West Virginia and elsewhere, we defeated what would have been the largest pulp and paper mill in North America planned for that site. Unfazed by the term “done deal,” we persevered for 5 years and beat the mill to a pulp—a victory for the Ohio River, our people, our air, land, and hardwood forests. In February of 2022, ironically, the same day when the board of directors voted to close that effective grassroots organization, the Governor of WV (Jim Justice) announced new plans for a massive steel plant at that very location.

My heart sank upon hearing the news, since my birding friends and I frequently monitor these large farm fields, especially for shorebirds, after a heavy rainfall.  This river bottom land has been planted with either corn or soybeans for several decades now.  While I’m unclear on just how much of these massive fields will be developed for the mill, in a few short months since the first announcement, several access points to the land have been gated and marked “no trespassing.” Large machinery is on site.  The Ohio River, situated to the North, provides drinking water to more than 5 million in our region.

This area has been a place of transformation for several hundred years. From 800 BC to 100 AD, the Adena culture (aka Woodland Indians) resided in the Central Ohio River Valley Ohio Valley, in the current states of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania..  Adena refers to a culture and not a tribe; they were known as mound builders, which they constructed and used for ceremonies and burials.  Tribes in West Virginia included, among others, the Shawnee, Mingo, Cherokee, Delaware, Seneca and Mohawk.

A West Virginia historian recounts that the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774, “eliminated Native Americans as a force on the frontier for the first three years of the American Revolutionary War, clearing the way for peaceful settlement of the region.” As the wild West was settled in the 19th century, the US government forced indigenous people from West Virginia, relocating them on reservations. I can only imagine that this flat river bottom land, largely devoid of its forests and prone to frequent flooding, was ideal for farming as more Europeans settled in the region.

While current farming practices have their own set of issues, that use of the land seems preferable to a steel mill—the reason that I chose this location for my Global Earth Exchange (GEE).  After pulling off the busy state road, I began my GEE by honoring the spirits of the 4 directions and lighting some ceremonial sage.  I brought with me wildflowers and a few symbolic items.  In my silence (despite the passing cars and trucks whizzing past), I thanked this place for all that it has provided people and other life forms.

As I surveyed the piece of ground nearby, a bright green Tiger Beetle made its way across the dry ground. Beetles, some 350,000 described species, symbolizing change—seem somehow appropriate this day.  Carefully, I placed the flowers in a small circle and then placed small objects that represent earth, air, water, and fire. As I concluded making this gift for this wounded earth space, I placed the hand-embroidered RadJoy flag at the center.  A loud, lively, and modern version of “Ode to Joy” blared from my speaker as I watched a Turkey Vulture—another symbol of transformation—soaring above the site.  I soon departed feeling somehow assured that within the grand scheme “all will be well”…

Apple Grove, WV

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