Photo credit to Wise County, Virginia
Last week I wrote about a collaborative project I was embarking on with the guys at YMMPodcast - and a woman from Wise County, Virginia, who had reached out to them. I was incredibly excited about it, as it meant podcasting via Skype with Alyssa, our neighbour to the (far) south, and it meant sharing some of our challenges with someone who had experienced some of their own in relation to where they live. On Sunday Toddske, Tito, and I sat down at the YMMPodcast studios (otherwise known as "Toddske's house") and we talked with Alyssa - and it was enlightening.
Alyssa grew up in Wise County, Virginia, a place in the Appalachian mountains (and I learned we all pronounce the name of that mountain range wrong, who knew? It is pronounced Appal-atch-ah, not App-lay-shia). It is a place of coal mining and rural life, and a place that has seen the boom and bust of a resource based economy. It is the kind of place where they receive a lot of negative media attention because of their industry, but also because of some of their societal issues. Sound familiar? That's because it is, people. Wise County might be a nation and several thousand kilometres away but it is our neighbour in spirit, without a doubt.
The podcast we recorded was wide-ranging, and at points I was just so excited to speak to Alyssa, to hear her thoughts (in that gorgeous Southern accent - the way she says "y'all" is just delicious!), that I forgot we were recording at all. It was like speaking to someone with a shared experience, but with just enough difference to make it fascinating.
We spoke about coal mining, and about technology, and about reclamation. We spoke about problems, like drug use, and about activists who paint a bulls-eye on our communities. We discussed negative media attention, and we explored the concept of reclamation not of the industrial sort, but of the community sort - reclaiming the image and presentation of your community. And we talked about what happens to a community when a resource-based industry begins to die, as all resources eventually run out and leave behind communities in peril. This was perhaps, to me, the most significant part of our discussion - because Alyssa in Wise County is seeing what is happening as their coal industry diminishes, and what that loss leaves in it's wake. It's a topic we don't like to discuss in the oil sands, but the reality is that this resource cannot last forever - and while it may seem a long time down the road it's funny how quickly time passes. Alyssa had some very, very wise words to say about this aspect of a resource based community, and it's worth listening to the podcast to find out what they are (in fact I think the entire podcast is worth that alone).
I was not only excited to be part of this, but honoured, too. I was thrilled that Toddske and Tito wanted to include me, and I think the four of us on that podcast - three at a dining room table, and one on Skype from Virginia - forged a bond on Sunday. At the end of the podcast we discussed the concept of visiting each other - us heading down to Wise County, and Alyssa heading up here (I suggested we could go there in the winter, and she could come here in the summer - purely for weather reasons!). I have a strong feeling I could sit and talk with Alyssa for hours, and I'd welcome the chance to do so - and I'd love to go see Wise County, too. I'd love to share some of our story, and hear more of theirs. I'd love to show Wise County that they are not alone - that their neighbours to the far north understand and empathize. And frankly I'd love to see her come here and show her Fort McMurray, and maybe podcast live with her, too.
This is one of those adventures I never expected to come from this little blog, people. I never expected to ever record a podcast (and now have done 3!), let alone meet someone from Virginia and discuss a little cross-border travel related to our common experiences and goals. And perhaps that is the true joy of finding someone else who experiences these things like we do. You learn that you are not alone - and you make a new friend along the way, too.
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