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Excerpt from The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

by Christopher Scotton

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton X
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2015, 480 pages
    Jan 2016, 496 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Print Excerpt

Word spread faster than the Model T, and by the time the car worked itself up the last hill before town, most of Medgar had already changed clothes and assembled outside of Hivey's Farm Supply. Women in their Sunday hats, men with fresh pork fat in their hair.

Boyd parked the car at the hitching post in front of Hivey's, jumped onto the car's red backseat, and stood stock-still, one foot on the spare tire, both hands on his knee, and said nothing. Absolutely nothing.

It was the kind of thirty-second silence that made some men look at their shoes and kick stones. Others rubbed their Adam's apples wondering if they should be the first. Women fanned themselves faster and even the children stopped pushing, every- one silent in suspicious anticipation.

William Beecher Boyd smiled, then cleared his throat. "Friends," he said, "you've a fine town here. A fine town."


William Beecher Boyd's Monongahela Mining Company started first on the north side of Hogsback Mountain with Juliet One driving true into the heart of what came to be known as the Medgar seam. Juliet Two and Three followed hard by, and people after that—like a rock thrown on a lake in the morning, sending out ripples in unstoppable waves.

Lew Chainey was the first to sell, then John van Slyke, then Mrs. Simpson. The surrounding fields suddenly became the town, with bright black asphalt instead of dirt and mud, new pine-board and shingle houses instead of struggling corn. A bank, another church, and two more blacksmiths took Medgar into 1917, all courtesy of William Beecher Boyd and the Monon- gahela Mining Company.

The 1920s saw Medgar grow to two thousand people in the finger valley between the Hogsback and White Mountain. A school, a jail, traffic.

The Depression came and went like an unfamiliar cousin. Depression or not, people still burned coal and Medgar still dug it because the Monongahela Mining Company made it so.

The opening of Miss Janey's Paris Hair Salon and Notion Shop in 1965 brought Missiwatchiwie County into the modern age. Miss Janey's cousin and partner, Paul Pierce, spent two years of military duty as first tenor in the Army Band and Chorus, culminating with a weekend stint in a muddy tent on the out- skirts of Paris, which, when he was back in Medgar, conveyed him instant credibility on all questions of fashion and style and made Miss Janey's an immediate success.

The next decades were Patsy Cline singing on the radio in the afternoon and thick chrome shining on Saturday night. Crew cuts close and tight to the neck and white cement sidewalks too new to spit; television antennae like Easter crocuses breaking through the last mutter of snow. Band concerts and commu- nists and tea dances with the Medgar Women's Club. JFK, Alan Shepard, Bay of Pigs, and a second bank. Negro rights, the Tet Offensive, Martin Luther King, RFK, and Miss Janey's addition. Nixon/Agnew, Walter Cronkite, George Jones, the Apollo moon landing, and an Italian restaurant. Kent State, Gerald Ford, the Statler Brothers, Jimmy Carter, and the mines. Always the mines. Until 1978, when they extracted the last ton from the Medgar seam and most miners followed the work south, leaving a peeled- paint husk of a place with fewer than seven hundred inhabitants. The once-thriving west side of Medgar, with its Italian restaurant and theater, was shut completely. A strip of businesses still clung to the frayed Main Street: Smith's Ice Cream, Hivey's Farm Sup- ply, Biddle's Gas and Grub, the Monongahela Bank and Trust, Dempsey's General Store, and, of course, Miss Janey's Paris Hair Salon and Notion Shop.


Before the breakfast dishes were cleared my father talked of get- ting a jump on the highway truck traffic, talked of garage orga- nizing and critical toolshed repairs.

"Let me put these sticky buns in some Tupperware for you," Audy Rae said.

Excerpt from The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton. Copyright (c) 2015 by Christopher Scotton. Used with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Beyond the Book:
  Coal Mining: Basic Overview

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