The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sometimes the mountain talks

It's been a tough week in coal country. People turning on light switches in places other than Carbon and Emery counties probably have no idea how expensive coal was this week. While retreat mining, Elam Jones, continuous miner operator, died when part of the roof collapsed. His partner and friend, Dallen McFarlane, suffered a knee injury, but survived.

It was the Rhino Mine, located up Huntington Canyon in Emery County. It's also not too far from Crandall Canyon, where 6 miners and 3 mine rescue team members died in 2007. Elam had been part of that rescue, so he knew the dangers first hand. All of them do, but they mine coal. It's hard and dirty and at times dangerous. It's also a generational thing around here. Elam was a third generation miner on his father's side, and a fourth generation miner on his mother's side. His mom, Julie, is a city councilwoman in Huntington. We know Julie.

This just hurts. The Rhino Mine is the mine I was allowed to go inside, when I was researching My Loving Vigil Keeping. The surface superintendent is a church friend, and he kindly gave permission. I spent a few hours underground, just getting acquainted with a mine. I assure you that my friend is hurting in the worst possible way right now. MSHA has closed the mine while an investigation is ongoing, but it's a good mine, well-run. These are the risks inherent in digging that electricity out of the ground.

Elam and Dallen were engaged in retreat mining. This is when a section has been successfully "mined out," and it's time to pull the pillars, get that coal out, and let the roof naturally collapse. When I say pillars, I don't mean skinny little faux decorations. These are massive. Retreat mining is a common practice, but it has its dangers, obviously.

It's interesting what happens after a collapse. Mine rescue teams from all over the area converge, and the men go in to get out their buddies. Mike McCandless, economic development director for Emery County, said this is the March 28 Deseret News: "This work binds miners together and that brotherhood means they'll drop whatever they're doing at a moment's notice to find a trapped miner."

Dallen echoed this: "Everybody is your brother. Everybody's got your back." And Dallen added, "Nobody here blames the mine, it was just a bad accident."

Elam leaves behind a wife, Jaqlynn Jones, and two little boys, age 4 and 5. Sadly, they now belong to that miner's club that no one wants to join. But here's the thing: There were more than 1,000 people at Elam's funeral in the Huntington Stake Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These tight-knit communities of miners, family and friends will keep the little Jones family close to them. It's a Welsh thing, it's a mining thing, it's what people do around here.

I just wish it didn't hurt so bad.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Old Mill

My mother was the best kind of mom. She saved important works, including my very first fictional effort, a bit of deathless prose called The Mystery of the Old Mill. I've included the entire work here, so you can enjoy it, too. I was six years old, and plunked out the novel on her Olivetti-Underwood, a beast of a typewriter. H'mm, one incomplete sentence. Like this one. And a run on sentence, or maybe we could call that a comma splice, also a deadly sin.

Intermission here. Years ago, when it was all the rage, I tried to read Jean Auel's best-seller, The Clan of the Cave Bear. I didn't get too far, because the thing was crammed with comma splices. I didn't toss the book, so I can't really call it a wallbanger, but I most definitely stopped reading.

I also committed another deadly sin in my brief attempt at mystery writing; I used the word "very." I got out of that habit quickly in high school, when I came under the tutelage of Jean Dugat, Senior English AP teacher, sophomore English teacher and journalism teacher. I owe my writing career to Miss D, as we called her. She was an overbearing dragon and there were times when I hated her. By the end of my sophomore year, it occurred to me that if I paid attention to what she was teaching me, I'd be a writer.

Miss D loathed and despised the word "very."  I distinctly remember her telling us that it was a useless filler word, and that we might as well write "damn," instead. Since then, I have been sparing in my use of the word. If you're ever supremely bored, just pick up a novel of mine and count the times I use the dread word. Generally, it's never.

All I can say in my defense of the V word in The Mystery of the Old Mill is that I was only six, and wouldn't meet Miss D until I was 14.

As you can tell from the cover, I spent more time drawing the old mill than I did writing. I'm no artist. The text inside has the promise of a story. I suppose I quit writing because I hadn't yet learned how to spin out a yarn. Someone wiser than I am once observed, "Writing fiction is just one damned thing after another." True. I was young and unwise in the ways of the world. Maybe I should have tried again when I was in the second grade. By then, I was more interested in reading, which is also a good thing for a writer.

Mom also saved my favorite book, Ukelele and Her New Doll. It was a Golden Book, published in 1951,and probably cost a quarter. I loved the story of Little Ukelele, who lived in the South Seas in a grass hut. She had a wooden doll her father made her. She could wash her doll in a shell bathtub, and feed her sand cookies.

"One day there came to the island a big, beautiful sailing ship to trade for coconuts," the story goes. One of the men from the ship gives Ukelele a china doll with real hair and blue eyes and lovely clothes. Ukelele loved her new doll, but she discovered that she couldn't wash her in the shell bathtub, because the water was bad for her. She couldn't feed her sand cookies because the sand stuck in her hair. The doll just wasn't a lot of fun. By the end of the day, Ukelele took her dear wooden doll to bed, "and hugged her tight until they were both fast asleep."

Lovely story. One thing about it strikes me: On the cover of that book is a sailing ship, probably a frigate similar to those I have been writing about for years. The navy men bartering for coconuts look like the men of the Royal Navy, another topic well-known to me and well-used in my novels. I have to ask myself: Did I subconsciously store up memories of that ship and those men from the little book I read when I was four?

I still love Ukelele, and I still write about the Royal Navy. In fact, I'm writing a novel about a captain on a lengthy shore leave for the first time in 12 years, now that Napoleon is on Elba. Maybe I'll dedicate this book to Ukelele.