Holly Haworth received the Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism. She was a Jackson Fellow at Hollins University, where she earned an MFA. Her work also appears in Orion, the On Being radio program blog, and Virginia Quarterly Review.
Freshwater bivalves evolved by sending their larvae up rivers in the gills of spawning salmon. Now, like their ocean ancestors, they live out some of the most obscure lives on the planet, clasped in a darkness of their own creation, sometimes for up to a century or more. “Under a firmament of nacre,” wrote the French poet Francis Ponge about the oyster. A firmament, yes, because, like the sky, it is vast and ancient. Because, like the sky, you can get lost in it.
After a long stay in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas, I was going home to my Appalachians, the Blue Ridge of Virginia. I could tell you more about that summer—about loneliness, maybe—but this is not a story about that.
The experimental quality is the thread that stitches all the disparate pieces of the weekend-long event together. The festival combines musical performances with panels and talks, art installations, film screenings, and interactive workshops, pieced together like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster—the creature made of many parts. Big Ears, Knoxville’s monster, might be one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals the world over.
In East Tennessee, just south of the Kentucky border, Carol is known as “the forest granny," and she harvests roots for many people. Yellowroot is her favorite because it’s the most all-purpose medicinal plant in the mountains.
In 2008, a massive retention pond at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired power plant burst open, spilling more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers, burying about 400 acres of land under six feet of ash. The spill was one hundred times greater in volume than the Exxon Valdez spill and by far the largest coal ash disaster in U.S. history. When TVA decided to send the ash by train to a small, poor, rural, mostly black community outside Uniontown, Alabama, the EPA approved the decision. That same day, the first train of eighty cars clicked down the tracks to Alabama.