I spent nearly a week in southwestern Pennsylvania for the funeral rites of my grandfather. In an uncanny turn of events, my husband lost his beloved Grandma Veda (she was ninety-five) the day I left. In an even more unsettling situation, my deceased grandfather's last living brother passed away on the day of his funeral; we received word just hours after Tata had been interred. In the midst of all of this emotion, I received word that a painting I had submitted in a juried exhibition three days prior had won first place. The events had an oddly neutralizing effect, and I was grateful. I don't do grief well, as I will continue to mention, thus I cleave to the notion that all is vanity and death is an equalizing force.
The landscape--both social and physical-- has changed in my old stomping grounds, with hydro-fracturing gas extraction seamlessly (pun intended) replacing the old coal mining techniques. The hotels are full to the brim with pipeliners who have no vested interest in the area; crime has gone up; hard drug use (think heroin and meth) has skyrocketed; and there are loud, awful trucks barreling through my small hometown in an unrelenting barrage. There are unprecedented fish kills, tainted water, and aggressive tactics towards those who don't permit drilling on their land. However, something beautiful became increasingly apparent as I drove around the counties I knew so well: the red was back in the changing leaves. For a long time, starting maybe fifteen or twenty years back, something was happening in the atmosphere that robbed the countryside of scarlet trees during lovely October. Later, it seemed to drain some of the deeper oranges as well, leaving a radically limited palette. The environmentalists among us postulated that the increase in mountaintop-removal and vented longwall mining were releasing something sinister. I can't pretend that I have the scientific background to debate this, but anecdotally speaking, the reds are back, engulfing the rolling hillsides, and I'm glad to see them. It gives me hope that maybe someday the trucks will go away and the water will be fishable again.