By Matthew Cumbie, Washington, DC

At the very end of the 500 mile hike that Cassie went on to research the source of the energy that powers her home, she found herself at Kayford Mountain just outside of Beckley, WV. From here she could almost reach out and touch those places where mountains had once stood; from here, she could see first-hand mountain top removal sites that were literally next door to Kayford and that had completely changed the surrounding landscape. Kayford Mountain became the highest point in an area where it had once been the lowest. Now I didn’t join Cassie here; at the time, I was still living in New York and had other obligations. I didn’t get to see the destruction that has found its home in this region, I didn’t get to meet Larry Gibson who lived on Kayford and fought his entire life to save mountains and mountain communities against such atrocities, and I didn’t get to experience first hand those people who are absorbed in this difficult situation.

When we all returned to our studios in Takoma Park to start digging deeper into this research and shaping what would become the stage work, Cassie asked me to start working on some solo material based on my experience on the hike and to pull from material that we all had generated (see Sarah Levitt’s post about making movement after coming off of the hike). Initially, I improvised the whole thing as that is what I’m drawn to do. Then we started pairing the movement with a song that performer/collaborator Zeke Leonard had written about Kayford, a lament of sorts (or so it seems to me). In this song, Zeke wanted to acknowledge another perspective of the struggle surrounding mountaintop removal: that of those who are tied to this process through their employment with coal mining companies.

The more we worked on this pairing, though, the more things fell away and we started to talk about repetitive acts, the revealing nature of uncomfortable situations, and the resiliency of the body. And while I didn’t experience Kayford personally, I often reflect on tough choices that have been placed before me and find myself asking if I’ve done enough when doing this piece. These questions about resilience, I think, are universal. How much can I do? How much more? Are these actions making any difference? How can I do more? The body, and the self in turn, continually find a way to surprise me when looking back through this lens.

Every time I do this part of “How To Lose a Mountain”, and have this moment with Zeke on stage, I get emotional. We all play our own part in making whatever difference we can in this world. It’s the questions we’re faced with that call us into action, and our responses shape the answers and set the stage for what’s to come. The only resurfacing question, for me then, is if I’ve done enough to set the stage that I want.

Posted on: May 23rd, 2013