Strip Mines and Tattoos

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As a child in East Tennessee I could see the Cumberland Mountains from my backyard. And I watched them slowly, but steadily get stripped of their precious coal. The black seams in the mountains were girdled and large gaping wounds bled orange dirt into the surrounding valleys. It was sad to me: it was brutal and seemed an irrevocable loss.

Dana, the tattoo artist, said that normally she did not ink names on anyone unless it was a blood relative but she would make an exception for me, primarily because of my advanced age. I wanted to surprise my wife for her 50th birthday by tattooing her name on my ankle. It was my first and, I was quite sure, only tattoo. Long married, we were both certain, beyond certain, we would always be a couple. Our destiny was in matching rocking chairs together in the sunset of our life. It was such sweet comfort that we had each found our soul mate.

Well as it happens, things changed and within three years we had separated. I was devastated, heartbroken, dreams shattered - all the country and blues songs echoed within me. And I had that damn tattoo.

Last year, I traveled back home to visit my mother and glanced up at those same mountains of my childhood. Where was the orange dirt? I could see nothing but emerald, the trees and shrubs had grown over the raw surface. The mountains had actually healed, but not totally. I could still see through the lushness, the underlying scars left from the strip mining. And I realized it was just like my heart. The scars were still there but time and the greenness of my own life had also healed me. My reality is different at the present and it's very good. I still miss that dream but now I have other dreams.

I saw Dana one more time and she tattooed orchids on my ankle. My ex-wife's name will always be there, but now beautiful flowers cover and surround it. Perfect.


This is Michael Ellis with Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.