An excerpt from “Man without a Bio-Region” by Mike Roselle

A question….
What if I DO have a bio region?

It’s good to be home. A feeling washed over me the other evening and I could feel a bond forming with the ground beneath my feet. “We all knew you’d be back,” Ed says. It is a comment I’ve heard more than once. “It gets in your’ blood” is another. All I can think is that it must have already been in there somewhere, and well, it’s boiling now.

My grandmother was not proud to be a Hillbilly, never mentioned her childhood, and thought country people were crude. She was a hellraiser from Monticello, Kentucky who married a Revenuer and moved to Chattanooga after leaving my grandfather. I have no doubt that Jimmy had busted a few stills right here on this river. He would go undercover and dress and act like a hillbilly, even blacken his teeth, to find the stills and then blow them up with dynamite. He would usually keep some of the good stuff which he would tell me was his “cough medicine”. Moonshining was one of the few honest ways to make a living here.

Half of all the people born in these hills had to leave. This remarkable migration represents a larger percentage of the population than those caused by most contemporary civil wars and invasions. The children of these mountaineers will rarely see these mountains. Are these mountains still in their blood? What would it take to stir up those deep pools and get that blood flowing again? Even the thought that these mountains continue to be hauled away, after all of these years, by Mr. Peabody’s coal train, does not stir them?

What would?

It seems obvious to me that we can’t save the world. Not the world as we know it. Another world is emerging, one more terrifying than the last, which was plenty scary enough. Those bonds that now connect us to the rest of the world may not hold, and what will be important is a sense of place, a sense of community, and a sense that together we can hold out against the coming storm. We must protect our homes and bio-regions wherever we live.

I have mostly lived as a nomad, and for a nomad it is the sky where home is found. It is the same sky no matter where you roam, the ground is warmed by the same sun. Strange land under familiar stars! Farmers and clerks populate the valleys below but freedom is on the range and in the hills. Yet after this last year on the road I feel the need to settle down and get to work here. There is much to be done.

We will try to pass a bill in Congress this coming year. It is one thing I owe to this place. We are told that this is not possible. We are told we do not understand our nations capitol, only they do, they who have never passed any bills restricting, regulating or forbidding the blasting that goes on here every single day. They think because we live in a “holler” and pronounce Washington with an “r” that we must be ignorant.

As in Hillbilly.

Am I a Hillbilly? (Them’s fightin’ words!) I’m pretty sure that I’ve not earned it and never will. It is very hard to grow up and live here unless you mine for coal. If you do remain, you become part of the land.The bonds formed are not just to a place but to a community and a way of life that I am just beginning to understand. All of this is threatened, and this is not unique to Appalachia, but there is something bigger going on and I continue to believe that if we cannot bring the light of justice into these hills, we have little hope elsewhere.

Ahh..The question is how? The truth is we have no idea or we would have done it already. We’ve tried many things. Some work better than others. We make mistakes. The answer is to keep trying. Keep fighting for each other. The future holds many surprises and some of them may be good ones. We are currently making a movie about people who have not given up. There are more and more of them every day. These are the real volunteers, the front line warriors who labor every day to save their homes.

We here at Climate Ground Zero will continue to do what we have done since 2005. We are going to take a stand to stop the destruction of Appalachia for coal, the poisoning of the many communities here, and the death of our rivers. We operate a year round drop in center here in Rock Creek with housing and communication facilities. We offer tours, workshops and other opportunities to learn about the biggest environmental crime in the US.

As Maria Gunnoe told me in 2005, “You won’t believe it until you see it…” So ya’ll come on down for a spell and sit on my porch. It might change your life too…

Podcast: Tenthmil’s Johnny Killroy Interviews Dragline’s Antrim Caskey

Dragline – Magnificent Photography Highlights Mountaintop Removal Mining

By Johnny Kilroy on February 10, 2010 From the Arts campaign

LISTEN HERE to the Audio Podcast:

If I told you of a crack photojournalist embedded in a harrowing and dangerous adventure, you might first think of her ducking machine gun fire in a smoky combat theatre, or possibly documenting the indigenous people of some exotic jungle.

Dragline is the visual story of mountaintop removal coal mining in contemporary Appalachia. It’s a horror story that is closer to home than you may think – the hills and woods of your own country.

“It’s a war zone down here. It’s insane!”

TENTHMIL interviewed photojournalist author Laura Antrim Caskey about her new work, about the explosive situation in southern West Virginia, and about the importance of “long-form photojournalism.” She tells us,

“I learned so much, I educated myself, and I think, really, this subject radicalized me.”

With her 74 pages of shocking photographs and anecdotes, Caskey exposes the viciousness of the coal industry and the tenacity of the mountain people who are fighting for the right to exist.

In September 2008, Antrim left New York for the coal fields of West Virginia, the heart of the story. Embedded as an independent photojournalist within the Climate Ground Zero campaign base in Rock Creek, she reported on the MTR resistance movement for more than a year. She describes to us how, while working at the New York Indypendent, she got into the MTR story,

“They called me up to the front of the room, they were like ‘Hey, Antrim, someone from West Virginia’s here!’ It was Maria [Gunnoe] and she talked to me for about 45 minutes straight…she totally convinced me.”

Antrim Caskey is her own brand of exceptional photography. No one else has captured the tumult of MTR activism with the same poignancy (I know – I ‘ve tried). A seasoned hand, she has documented protests and social justice issues throughout her career, in New York City, Afghanistan, India, Appalachia and elsewhere.

“…this idea, the power of the picture, and the power of photojournalism which is…a dying art.”

In a sequence of near-tactile scenes, from the cover photo of a sludge impoundment to the young activists taking up the fight, from courtrooms to streets, from a Marsh Fork protest to explosions on Kayford Mountain, Caskey takes you on the ride she has be on with CGZ. She shows us a pristine Coal River Mountain and a devastated Kayford. We feel through their hardened eyes the experience of activists who have lived in coalfields for half a century, and some who only recently moved there to join the battle. We see faces twisted in anguish, twinged with resentment, becalmed with purpose, and grinning in quiet triumph. There are firebrands, cops, old timers, would-be martyrs, policy makers, assailants, and innocents. We meet the famous, the infamous, and the obscure.


“Because you’re the journalist, you’re witnessing all this stuff, and you see that laws are being broken, you see the corruption, you see the nepotism, and all of this outlaw behavior.”

She has been arrested several times for crossing property lines with activists to get the story up front. Massey Energy Company is battling Caskey in court, pending appeal, for violation of a temporary restraining order in spring 2009.

Caskey is Director of Appalachia Watch, a “long term documentary photography project” of photojournalism training, field reporting, and collaboration. It began in 2005, and with the release of Dragline it is seeking new interns.

Dragline is a jolting, crystal view into the mutilation of Appalachian beauty and liberty.

“This is the real news story…not just a story about poor Appalachia…it’s a global story.”

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, Caskey says,

“We’re seeing the shadow of the falling coal giant. Of course, it’s inevitable.”

Get a copy from Appalachia Watch or Climate Ground Zero.

Dragline: The CGZ Interview

By Mike Roselle

Photographer Antrim Caskey moved from Brooklyn, New York to the Rock Creek, WV in September 2008 to live and work in the field full-time. Over the past year she has documented the direct action campaign against mountaintop removal as the embedded photojournalist with Climate Ground Zero, which has taken her to new territory: the witness stand. On May 1, 2009, Caskey was held in contempt of court – along with four activists – in Raleigh County District Court for violating Massey Energy’s Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) by her continued reporting on the peaceful protests. Massey vs. Caskey is pending appeal. Caskey’s attorney Roger Forman promises to take the case to the highest court.

Caskey’s documentary photography has focused on community and social justice issues in such diverse locations as the streets of New York City, the war in Afghanistan, the new cities of India and the hollers of Appalachia. Caskey has published her work in newspapers like the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Indian Express; as well as magazines like the Smithsonian, Orion and Le Point.

In December 2009, Caskey earned her Masters of Art in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography, with Distinction, from the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. Caskey hopes to expand her journalism project to include the Rock Creek School of Photography, a burgeoning field school to advance and foster long form documentary photography, investigative journalism, and the printed page.

Dragline will be available by mail only. Please contact Climate Ground Zero directly. Dragline will not be released electronically.

On Jan 26th, today, you are releasing Dragline, your new photojournalistic exposé of mountaintop removal coal mining and the campaign to end it. Why Dragline, and why now?

Publishing Dragline is a concerted effort to expose the coal industry, an industry that does so much harm and yet is so poorly understood. That’s why I chose the photo of the sludge pond for the cover. Most people never see those, and yet if the dam holding back the toxic sludge breaks, it could affect them in a very dramatic way, because literally, billions of gallons of sludge would be heading down river towards some of the populated areas of the county. People should know this.

You have been covering the mountaintop removal story for almost five years. Can you tell us what brought you to the Coal River Valley ?

Maria Gunnoe showed up at my office at the New York Indypendent. She lives below one of these mountaintop removal strip-mines and has been fighting the coal companies for over a decade. She locked on to me, and kept explaining that if you haven’t seen mountaintop removal yourself, you’ll never believe how bad it really was. I went down three days later, and of course she was right. I have made at least twenty independent reporting trips to West Virginia since our first meeting, and a little over a year ago, I decided to move down here full time.

What sort of things have you been doing in West Virginia since you moved here and how does it differ from being a visiting reporter ?

Actually, as it turned out, I was not spending much time in Brooklyn any more, so I sublet my apartment and relocated here to save both time and money, but more importantly, by living here full time I was able to build closer relationships with the people and organizations I was covering. Trust is very important around here and I thought I had close enough relationships with the people on all sides of the issue to cover this story in a a more honest and personal way.

You have said that you became embedded with the resistance. Can you explain that?

I was embedded with US soldiers in Afghanistan who were training Afghan security forces. I had to live with the troops and move with the troops. We ate the same food. That’s what I’m doing here. As an embedded journalist in a conflict zone, it’s OK to pick sides. Photojournalists like Robert Capa were against Fascism. He supported the soldiers that he covered. In a sense, it’s not much different here. If I want to cover this campaign, I have to move with them, and it’s not a conflict for me that I support their goals of ending mountaintop removal.

You have been arrested three times covering this story. Can you tell us about that experience ?

One thing that happens to an embedded journalist is that not only do you share the food and living space of the people you are covering, you are also sharing the risks. So even though I was not a part of the protest, I knew I could be arrested. And while I was arrested three times, both the state police and the miners treated me as a reporter. They did not seize my cameras or film, and on the fourth protest that I covered, they did not even arrest me. I now have an appeal for the first arrests pending in West Virginia Supreme Court and we will see how that goes. However, other reporters have had their film and equipment destroyed by Massey Security, so it’s still very unpredictable.

What do you think Dragline will accomplish ?

Reporters usually cover issues. They rarely cover campaigns, unless of course they are electoral campaigns, because they think they will be accused of taking sides. But sometimes an issue is so compelling, the injustice so egregious, that even a journalist has to take a stand. Mountaintop removal coal mining is one of those issues. I think the campaign against mountaintop removal is the most compelling and successful campaigns on climate change in the U.S.. It’s a story that needed to be told.

What’s next after Dragline ?

Well, I have started the Rock Creek School of Photography, under the auspices of my new group, Appalachia Watch.  I have had my first photojournalism training already, as part of the Climate Ground Zero Winter Action Camp…It was a great experience and I actually have several applicants for photojournalism interns.  I think the photojournalism trainings have a lot of potential – right here in the heart of West Virginia and modern day coal mining. My students will be documenting the last days of coal and hopefully the restoration of Appalachia.