Appalachia can humble people who think they have an ingrained GPS. I had flown into Pittsburgh, incorrectly assuming I had landed east of the city, then spent the next 15 hours resolutely determined that west was east.
Rarely has my inner compass betrayed me during my travels amid the North American West’s tall mountains and wide valleys. Amid the tree-covered hills and hollows of Appalachia, though, I felt like a whirling dervish, a Sufi mystic seeking enlightenment through dizziness.
My trip to Pittsburgh had dual missions: a conference but also an assignment to write about coal communities in transition. “When you think of coal, everybody thinks of Appalachia,” my editor in Chicago had said.
Well, actually, I think of the giant open-pit minds of Wyoming, the giant shovels trawling across the prairie like some giant prehistoric beasts, or the coal mines near Steamboat Springs or west of Telluride, both ski resorts in Colorado.
But Appalachia it was to be, so I drove from Pittsburgh toward coal country, guided by signs southward. But then I saw a sign for Prosperity. I’ve spent my life seeking Prosperity. I had to see what it looked like.
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