Editors Note: With West Virginians being warned to eat few fish from its lakes and mountain streams because of their mercury content from the burning of coal to make electric, Cawthon's column from 2001 was prophetic.

Sen. Joe Manchin, doing battle in Washington against the "War on Coal," just voted to reduce the standards on fossil fuel emmissions, which would have allowed more mercury in mountain streams and lakes. The effort was barely defeated in the US Senate.

By Jack Cawthon 2001

Only a few years ago Big Puf was like so many other hollers in rural Appalachia. The people living there were happy with their large extended families but cursed with the usual inbreeding that came from isolation from the outside world.

Four-toed people were fairly common and acceptable. Even when greater malfunctions occurred they were accepted as the will of God, and mortal man dared not question that.

Of course there was poverty, but it affected nearly everyone and was little talked about until the government came around looking for it. By far the greatest social upheaval to affect the region, however, was the issue of color.

It began with a visit one day by what the people thought might be a white knight, but instead of riding in on a white charger he arrived in a black Lincoln. Lester T. Archabald IV, a wealthy coal baron from up north, was there to change the holler and the lives of the people as no one before him had ever done.

He had discovered a rich seam of coal, known as the Lower Beelzebub, which had out-crops along the holler and in no time at all his Fully Degenerated Coal Company had bored into Big Puf Mountain with the Belching Fire No. l mine.

As you might suppose, the Lower Beelzebub was a highly sulfurous vein of coal, and before long the crick took on the orange color that denoted many others in the coal country.

Few of the people were upset by the contamination of the crick, least of all the ones mining the coal. The payroll made a vast difference in the standard of living in the tri-holler community.

There were certain advantages of the orange-colored water. The Baptists, who believed in full immersion, were easily identified by their orange tint, and the Methodists by their splotching. When someone with a decided lack of color happened by the people figured it was one of the back-to-the-landers, or hippies, who shunned water both internally and externally.

So, Big Puf, which had always been white Anglo-Saxon protestant (WASP) became orange Anglo-Saxon protestant (OASP) and an emergence of a new color arose, confusing the government workers with a completely new classification.

As the crick ran orange the fish began dying. Before long the fisheries biologists in Charleston had classified it as lifeless, but the natives knew differently. From time to time, they had seen strange little creatures along the bank. They appeared to be neither fish nor animal. When a few were caught and examined they were found to have little web feet, whiskers on a rounded cat-like face, a central rod-like extension much like a cell phone antenna on a yuppie BMW and by which they seemed to communicate, and, most outstanding, they were colored a bright orange all over their bodies.

The natives dubbed the strange little crick dweller the Orange Roughage Catfish because it seemed to be feeding on the orange sludge which coated the rocks and streambed. As with the panthers roaming the forests, the experts in Charleston referred to it as only a delusion.

Suddenly Archabald's mining came to a standstill. He had encountered a major fault strata and could go no farther. Never one to give up easily, he moved on up higher on the hillside and penetrated the Upper Celestial seam in the multi-seam coal and opened the St. Peter No. 2 mine.

No sooner had he bored into the hillside again than a rush of fresh clear water came pouring out. He had found the perfect coal with no impurities and the water proved it.

The industry appeared saved as environmentalists were clamoring to close the Belching Fire mine anyway in a drive to clean up the tainted waters of Big Puf Crick.

But as everyone cheered the salvation of coal, disaster struck. The little orange catfish began turning belly-up as the clean water flushed away its food supply and environment.

At last the biologists were forced to acknowledge its existence. Moreover, it existed nowhere where else on earth! It was indeed an endangered species and protected by federal law.

Something had to be done fast. Archabald was ordered to suspend mining the Celestial seam and told to reopen the sealed Belching Fire mine and allow the orange water to flow again into the crick. He was faced with enormous fines and jail time if he didn't comply.

The orange outflow didn't prove sufficient and Archabald was ordered to provide greater pollution. He tried pouring other contaminants such as PCBs, mercury and barrels of concentrated acid into the stream-and it worked. The Orange Roughage thrived on any source of major pollution, it seemed, the stronger the better, but best of all it relished out-of-state garbage, especially from New Jersey.

Hugh truckloads arrived daily and were dumped at the head of the holler. The natives, meanwhile, were encouraged to do their own polluting and the outhouses again became continual flush as they were positioned over the water and household refuse was tossed out the doors and windows.

The strain proved too much for poor Archabald. First ordered not to pollute, then forced to pollute, his mind was affected. He began to dress in rags, carry a large sign lettered "unclean," and ringing a tiny bell like an unapproachable leper in the Good Book, he wandered the back roads muttering to himself.

But worse was to come.

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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