You can always tell what you think of the giver
by how well you take care of his gifts.
-- Rev. Joel Hunter
Commentary by Liza Field
Where do things come from in the United States, these days? China? Jesus?
The free market?
In the surface ruckus of sales, economic numbers and politics, theres little
time for wondering about the underground source of anything eggnog and
greenery, creek water and birds, foxes and hen-houses and hogwash.
In my native Appalachians, though, walking the faded December hills, it's quiet
enough to inquire down into the source of trees and wildlife, pasture and
aquifers that sustain us.
Old carols and preachings in this hilly part of the Bible Belt convey that our
lives are rooted in providence from rainfall to the air we breathe the very
source of our supply.
Each summer, however, politicians visit these mountains to stand high on a
platform at a fiddler's convention and tell us the source of peoples supply is
now supply-side economics.
Money produces life, they figure the largest collections of it trickling down
a supply to the poor, like manna from heaven.
This supply, were told, comes partly from big coal, the outfits exploding our
mountaintops to fetch out buried seams. They like to go at it lickety-split,
with relatively few actual miners and no thought for the vanishing forest and
wildlife, the creeks buried under rubble or the ruin of ancient mountain
Lawmakers have worked hard this year to help them, striving to hamstring
surface-mining laws and EPA regulations that protect life.
Big money running roughshod over Appalachian life is an old story. Today,
however, its cause has been strangely hitched to a pro-life platform.
How can pro-life be positioned against planetary life?
Because life has been reduced to nine months, said Sister Clare, a Catholic
nun who moved to these mountains to help children.
Even those prenatal months can be mentally severed from a livable world, Clare
said, because political micro-targeting distracts people from seeing lifes
My friend Mrs. Osborne of Grayson County heard FOX News warn Christians, this
year, of attacks on Christmas trees. She wasn't sure if they meant a tax or
attacks, but was concerned.
After all, the Osbornes live flanked by neighboring slopes of Fraser firs, pines
and spruces Christmas trees harvested each year and trucked away to cities.
But FOX, it turned out, was not worried about the actual living source of these
trees. They were fighting a war over the already-dead ones the kind propped
up in a studio for display urgent that everyone call them Christmas trees
instead of holiday trees.
This was hogwash, a Baptist minister told me a way to rile up Christian voters
for next years election. If you could get people squabbling over little dead
trees, he said, they would not worry about the living.
Still, we do worry. These days, our mountain woods are under so many attacks,
its hard to keep even little fir trees alive and pretty enough for somebodys
church or mall or campaign office.
Here is the real war not just on the Christmas tree but the whole Eastern
hardwood forest, up and down the Appalachians. Its a war of new insect
invasionsbeetles, borers, gypsy moths and aphids.
These are accompanied by strangely persistent droughts and constant drifts of
soot from coal-burning power plants, acidifying our mountain soil and weakening
the trees hardiness.
Tree farms are now so disease-prone, they require frequent doses of strong
pesticides. Deer, rabbits and birds regularly die among the rows, sometimes even
a hapless hunting dog. Mrs. Osborne worries that the chemicals will leach into
her familys well.
These ground-level troubles never show up on FOX news, in campaign debates or
among the Christmas tree lights. They are troubles rooted in a climate
off-balance, in unchecked power plant emissions and ecosystems gone haywire:
actual life issues many lawmakers want to keep under the surface, while voters
fuss over superficialities.
The Baptist preacher calls this hogwallering. Like the Christmas tree, he
said, it has nothing to do with Jesus.
He does think faith and politics can be rooted in life, like trees. But cut off
from any connection to the humble soil, theyre dead. You can prop them up and
add lights and they might look alive, but life has a deeper source than what
appears on the surface.
Liza Field teaches English and philosophy in the Virginia Governors School and Wytheville Community College. This column is distributed by Bay Journal News Service.