By Jack Cawthon 2012
With only extreme effort have I recovered somewhat from the grief of learning that West Virginia had been declared the unhappiest state in the nation. Then, to add to my unhappy state, Gilmer County, the county of my birth and where I reached the age of adulteryhood, has been declared one, if not the most, unhealthy county within that sad state.
Gilmer County unhealthy? Granted, it was a little unhealthy during my youth to proclaim affiliation with the Republican party, but other than that what else could provoke such a distinction?
I believe I have an answer: It's all those environmental rules and regulations now in place.
The year I was born, McCall Drilling Company moved into our holler to drill for gas and oil. We had none of those silly rules back then requiring detailed drilling permits, making a pond for collecting gunk from the well, or a worry about polluting the water or air. Nosiree! Just move right in and start pounding the drill bit into the good ole earth and let nature take its course.
Well, the crick, or run as we called it, went right by our house and that certainly was the most convenient place to get rid of the drilling waste. Everyone knew that when it rained hard all the stuff would wash down the crick anyway through Grass Run to the Little Kanawha and empty into the Ohio at Parkersburg. So, why the heck did we need to worry as we were at the head of the holler?
And it wasn't a bother to anyone, although looking back I always thought the folks in Parkersburg acted a little funny, but I blamed that on the stink from the old Viscose plant. Whew! Smelled like rotten eggs miles out of town! Now, that could do something to the sinuses or the gullet!
As kids we got out and waded in the run. So what if it smelled and looked a little brownish. After the well came in, the company did what we called "baling," and those liquids went straight into the run. What else could you do with it?
I attributed my good health as a kid to growing up in that good environment. My dad worked part time for the drilling company and I would troop around with him as he "blew" the wells by opening a valve and letting it rip. That was to get rid of water and other liquids that could choke off the gas. I can remember seeing and smelling all this come spewing out of the well into the air and then settle down onto the ground.
I got so I loved the smell of that stuff! My unkind critics might speculate that the love of gas turned me into the writer I am today, but let them turn up their noses!
My dad also went around blowing out the "drips," as they were called. These were collection points on the gas lines where liquids would accumulate, which was mostly a raw form of gasoline called "drip gas." I learned to love the smell of that concoction; I have told before of breathing in its fumes until the effects gave me a gaseous feeling of lightness in my head. I never had ill effects from it, except perhaps later, and I never knew whether too much inhaling or "higher" education was the cause.
We kids would wade in the run and catch craw crabs under the oil covered rocks. The first fish I ever caught came from that run and tasted just like crude oil after my grandma fried it up for me. It was only after entering journalism that I heard the expression "oiled to the gills" and felt that it must apply to people who ingested to much oil-tainted fish.
I feel that my growing up in Gilmer County gave me a hearty constitution for later life when I spent five years in the heavy pollution of the Kanawha Valley and the Statehouse in Charleston. And it stood in force for the 20 years I spent within the state's largest mental institution in Morgantown. Some of the people therein possessed stranger mental conditions than any that might have been induced by inhaling drip gas, especially among tenured professors.
I believe all this talk of unhealthy lifestyles came about after the environmentalists took over the lead. Well drillers were forced to build collection ponds and follow all sorts of ridiculous regulations. The good people of Gilmer County, and other counties of drilling activities, are no longer able to wade in crude oil or glory in drip gas or other good stuff from a gas well as I did as a kid and as a result their immune systems have deteriorated.
One other point: The food police are now trying to govern our diets. And all-vegetarian diet will ensure health, some will say. Stay away from red meat, most certainly. I have only to refer to the Bible to prove them wrong. Adam and Eve had enjoyed prime rib until the Devil tempted them into an altered diet and then it all went to, well, disaster. Consider that the next time you decide to eat an apple to keep the doctor away. Better think most seriously about keeping the Devil away!
Big Puf Orange Roughage Catfish
In closing, I will cite as an example an area I know quite well: Big Puf. About three years ago drilling began for Marcellus gas on Big Puf Mountain. The Allegheny Front, militant pacifist guardians of the waters of Big Puf Crick to protect the endangered Big Puf Orange Roughage Catfish habitat, began complaining of both air and water pollution from the drilling.
The numerous Pratlows who lived in the holler were always noted for their six-toed feet. Since the drilling, Pratlows are being born with five toes. Alas, what some folks consider normal, now the Pratlows are being shunned in the holler as freaks of nature. It's all blamed, of course, on pollution from the Marcellus drilling.
I long for the good old days of my youth!