cent, respectively, at this writing. Remember,rntoo, that the tally by the VirginiarnEmployment Commission doesrnnot include people who have given uprnlooking for work or “those whose benefitsrnhave been exhausted,” as the officials likernto say.rnhi other words, even the VEC spokesmenrnadmit that actual unemployment isrntwo or three times the reported rate.rnOther demographics and statistics arernjust as troubling, hi Tazewell County,rnper capital income is under $10,000, thernaverage weekly wage is less than $550,19rnpercent of the population lives below thernpoverty line, a fourth never made it pastrnthe ninth grade, and only around 700 ofrnus can claim a graduate degree.rnLiving here now is like showing up thernweekend after the party. Someone elsernhad all the fun and the place is a mess.rnRichlands and Tazewell County arc a littlernbetter off than most of the rest of therncoalfields. Again, because we are on thernfringe, where the coal deposits were notrnas heavy, and that means the local economyrnis not tied as tightly or as directly tornwhat used to be called King Coal.rnDoes it sound as though I’m trashingrnthe area? I hope not. Once, on ThernTonight Show, I saw a more or less unknownrnactress dodge Johnny’s questionrnabout where she was raised. Ratherrnthan even mention the name of herrnhometown in Tazewell County, shernsidestepped, saying only that she hadrnbeen raised in “a small town in the Appalachians.”rnShe even said “Appalachia”rnlike an out-of-towner, with a long “a.” Irnsensed she was ashamed of her hometown.rnSure, some of us in this area are ignorantrnand uncultured, and SouthwestrnVirginia does have its share of ills. Butrneveryone—locals especially—seems tornoverlook the good things, many of whichrnare natural and therefore not as valued asrnthe man-made. The 7,500 square milesrnthat arc Southwest Virginia claim fewrngigantic shopping malls and nary arnskyscraper, but in addition to having allrnof the commonwealth’s coal deposits, allrnthe natural gas in the state lies beneathrnthese timber-laden mountains, whosernpeaks include Mt. Rogers and 32 morernof Virginia’s highest points. Virginia alsornhas 2,500 caves—only four other statesrnhave that many—and half of those are inrnthe Southwest, serving as homes to atrnleast 50 globally rare species. Know, too,rnthat we all made fun of the “mighty”rnClincli River, wliich sprouts as a trickle arnfew miles up the road, until CeneralrnNorman Schwarzkopf and the NaturernConservancy—an international organizationrnclaiming 772,000 members—declaredrnthe river and the land around itrnone of the “Last Creat Places” left on thernplanet. Home to three times morernspecies of freshwater mussels than foundrnin all of Europe, the free-flowing watersrnof the Clinch drain 1,500 square miles ofrnpasture land and forests. Those forestsrnteem with deer and other wildlife, includingrnthe mountain lion, wild turkey,rneven the bald eagle and falcon.rnOver the years I have learned to recognizernwhat is good about my hometownrnin this isolated tip of Virginia. I like leavingrnmy 1986 Mazda parked in front ofrnthe house with the keys in it. I like leavingrnmy front door unlocked. Fine withrnme that it’s November and no one in myrntown has been murdered. It’s hard not tornchuckle when caught in the local “trafficrnjam,” that bottleneck under the signalrnlights out by the mall. You can forgetrnthe hectic anonymity of the urbanrnsprawlscape. Most everyone who walksrninto our newspaper office is a distant relativernof one sort of another. You won’trngo to the grocery store without runningrninto the pastor, your fourth-grade teacher,rnor one of the town councilmen. Andrnif you run out of money in the checkoutrnline, chances arc the manager will let yournslide until next time you come in.rnThen there’s the beauty. I realize nowrnthat many people go on vacation to seernthe sights we see every day: never-endingrnmountain chains, vibrant with fall colorsrnor lush with spring, towering over fogfilled,rnrolling valleys, dotted only by cattlernand the occasional farmhouse. If yournthink that is a melodramatic description,rnrent the Lassie video, which was filmedrnin Tazewell County. My life has beenrnfilled with visits to nearby places like LostrnMills, the Indian drawings on PaintlickrnMountain, The Peak over in Tazewell,rnMaiden Springs where we used to jumprnoff the steel frame bridge before somernnut blew it up with stolen dynamite, andrnunbelievable panoramic views that unfoldrnunexpectedly after rounding somernbend in a mountain road.rnI remember once driving break-neckrnup a winding road—no yellow line, ofrncourse—en route to interview Jeff Fenholt,rnthe guy who played Jesus on Broadwayrnin “Jesus Christ Superstar” and whornwas speaking at the War Auditorium inrnWar, West Virginia. As usual, I was laternand in a hurry. Most of the drive hadrnbeen between the mountains, until 1rnpopped around this curve, cleared therntrees, and came sliding cop-style into thernempty parking lot of a little white Pentecostalrnchurch. As the dust settled andrnthe engine coughed, before me lay severalrnhundred miles of mountain tops.rnRidge after ridge after ridge, fading intornthe blue-green distance. Never seen anythingrnlike it, and I live around here! Thatrnview literally took my breath away, andrnthen I cried. Later, I thought, that isrnwhere I would like to take all my cityrnfriends. If only they could see that viewrnfrom the parking lot of that little whiternchurch, then they would understand.rnParadise is not anywhere on earth, butrnthis is home, ya’ll. That’s why I’m here.rnAnd there is lots to be learned about thatrnplace we call home.rnLoren Mitchell is editor and publisher ofrnthe Tazewell County Free Press, a freernweekly newspaper in Richlands,rnVirginia.rnLU/ENGLISHrnNEWSLETTERrnAll the latest news fromrnLagado UniversityrnAnnual Subscription $5.00rnFour issues per year.rnLU/English Newsletterrn11 Llewellyn PlacernNew Brunswick, NJ 08901rnNamernAddress.rnJULY 1997/47rnrnrn