In 2008, a massive retention pond at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired power plant burst open, spilling more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers, burying about 400 acres of land under six feet of ash. The spill was one hundred times greater in volume than the Exxon Valdez spill and by far the largest coal ash disaster in U.S. history. When TVA decided to send the ash by train to a small, poor, rural, mostly black community outside Uniontown, Alabama, the EPA approved the decision. That same day, the first train of eighty cars clicked down the tracks to Alabama.
A Letter from the Editor, Summer 2018.
Sometimes we go on journeys just for fun, and sometimes we go because we have to, even when it’s hard. In our third annual Southern Journeys summer feature, five writers travel far and near in search of understanding: about their personal histories and roots, about our neighbors and changing landscape. Lucas Loredo, a Texan whose family escaped Castro’s regime in 1960 on the second-to-last boat allowed out of Cuba, visits Havana and the town of Nicaro in an effort to heal a painful feud. On the Cumberland Plateau, Lisa Coffman trails an infamous historical fugitive as she forms an unlikely friendship born from a love for “the peculiar character of the land itself.”
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2018 issue.
Pulled by the pale, stout horses, we listened as he told us the history of the paniolo culture in Hawaii. I sat on the wagon’s bench behind my father as he talked. I sat and listened as if cocooned in that place, that time, enveloped in those clouds of mist that we drifted into and out of, wrapped in one of the wool blankets that my father provided to the tour’s guests. When prompted with questions from the visitors, my father told about himself, his history as a jockey in Tennessee, and how he ended up in Hawaii to work with horses—the first time I learned those things about him. I wasn’t in his story. I tried to work myself into it, but I couldn’t.
Freshwater bivalves evolved by sending their larvae up rivers in the gills of spawning salmon. Now, like their ocean ancestors, they live out some of the most obscure lives on the planet, clasped in a darkness of their own creation, sometimes for up to a century or more. “Under a firmament of nacre,” wrote the French poet Francis Ponge about the oyster. A firmament, yes, because, like the sky, it is vast and ancient. Because, like the sky, you can get lost in it.