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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

The Diamond State

The Appalachian Mountains rise a darker blue on the washed horizon if you're driving east from Indiana in the morning. The green hills of the piedmont brace the wooded peaks like sandbags against a rising tide. The first settlers were hunters, trappers, and then farmers when the game went west. In between the hills and mountains are long, narrow hollows where farmers and cattle scratch a living with equal frustration. And under them, from the Tug Fork to the Clinch Valley, a thick plate of the purest bitumi- nous coal on the Eastern Seaboard.

June was midway to my fifteenth birthday and I remember the miles between Redhill, Indiana, and Medgar, Kentucky, roll- ing past the station wagon window on an interminable canvas of cornfields and cow pastures, petty towns and irrelevant truck stops. I remember watching my mother from the backseat as she stared at the telephone poles flishing past us, the reflection of the white highway line in the window strobing her haggard face. It had been two months since my brother, Joshua, was killed, and the invulnerability I had felt as a teenager was only a curl of memory. Mom had folded into herself on the way back from the hospital and had barely spoken since. My father emerged from silent disbelief and was diligently weaving his anger into a smothering blanket for everyone he touched, especially me. My life then was an inventory of eggshells and expectations unmet.

Pops, my maternal grandfather, suggested Mom and I spend the summer with him in the hope that memories of her own invulnerable childhood would help her heal. It was one of the few decisions on which my father and grandfather had ever agreed.


The town was positioned in a narrow valley between three sizable mountains and innumerable hills and shelves and finger hollows that ribboned out from the valley floor like veins.

We had not visited Pops since Josh was born three years before, and as we came over the last hill, down into Medgar on that Saturday, the citizens stared at us like they were watching color TV for the first time. A fat woman in red stretch pants drag- ging a screaming child stopped suddenly; the child jounced into her back. Two men in eager discussion over an open car hood turned in silence, hands on hips. Booth four at Biddle's Gas and Grub immediately discontinued their debate about proper plant- ing cycles and launched wild speculation about the origin and destination of the blue station wagon with suitcases and a bike bundled onto the luggage rack. People just didn't move into east- ern Kentucky back then.

Twenty-two Chisold Street sat straight and firm behind the faded white fence that aproned its quarter acre. The front porch was wide and friendly, with an old swing bench at one end, a green wicker sofa and chairs at the other. The house was a three- bedroom Southern Cape Cod with white pillars on the porch, double dormers jutting out of the roof like eyes. One broken blind closed in a perpetual wink. The yard was trim and perfect.

We drew up in the wagon, a thin smile on my mother's face for the first time in months. My father touched her arm gently to tell her she was home.

Pops had been vigiling on the wicker sofa, chewing the end of the long, straight pipe he never lit. He slapped both knees, bellowing an abundant laugh as he raced down the porch steps before the car was even at a full stop. He reached in the window to unlock the door, opened it as the engine cut off, and pulled Mom out of the front seat into a bracing hug. "It's good to have you back home, Annie."

She nodded blankly and hugged back.

I exited the car with my backpack of essentials. "Kevin, I think you've grown six inches in two months," he said, fingering a line from the top of his head to my chin. He bear-hugged me, then gave my shoulder a squeeze. The strength in his grip left me flushed. He spun to Audy Rae, his housekeeper of thirty-seven years, who had come out to the porch. "It's about time we had some life in this old house. The conversation has been wearing thin lately." He turned back to me and winked. She dismissed him with a wave, swept down the steps and over to the car.

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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