Friday, March 8, 2013

Forever on Fire

This weekend's Trifextra challenge is to incorporate the word, stone, into a story.    I have dipped into the history books of my hometown for this weekend's entry.


Forever on Fire


A foundation of black stone. 
Coal seams run like arteries.

One February night,
the rats fled.
The sirens wailed at
No. 26 Colliery.
Methane.
10 miners killed.
10 bodies entombed;
forever on fire.






My hometown is called Glace Bay. It sits on the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island in northern Nova Scotia in Canada.  Glace Bay, at one time, had over 30 working coal mines in operation.  Today there are none.  When I was 15 years old, there was a methane gas explosion, a "bump" as it is known back home, at the last big coal mine, No. 26 Colliery. Ten miners were killed instantly. Several more died later in hospital.  Attempts were made to retrieve the dead bodies by professional draegermen (mine rescuers) but they had to turn back because of the intense heat from the fires that were burning in the mine.  The mine was sealed, entombing the dead men inside.   The mine is tested, every so often, to see if recovery efforts could be attempted but, as of today, over 30 years later, the mine is still too unstable and dangerous to enter.  It is burning right now, as you read this story or, as I said in my piece, it is forever on fire.

The video quality in the song I've chosen is not the best but, the song makes me tear up whenever I hear it.  It is called, "The Working Man" and is one of the unofficial anthems of Cape Breton Island.  It is sung by a choir known as The Men of the Deeps.  All members of the choir are retired coal miners from Cape Breton. They are tremendous ambassadors for Glace Bay and for a way of life that defined my hometown for many generations.   I may live in Cobourg, ONtario in the center of Canada but, in my heart, I am a Cape Bretoner and this song takes me home.

44 comments:

  1. Oo. That last line gave me a shiver.

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    1. Kinda spooky to think of it still doing a slow burn but, coal does burn and there is lots there. Poor families, however, never able to properly bury their sons, husbands, fathers and so on. A sad chapter in my hometown's history.

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  2. A great piece of writing. Very moving.
    Great imagery with the line, "the rats fled"

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    1. "When the rats get out, you had better not be far behind" is an old saying from back home.

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  3. Very moving piece, Tom! The first two lines were a great set up to tragedy.

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    1. Thank you, Gina. This one has been kicking around in my mind for awhile. Funny what it takes to suddenly force one to bring an idea to life. Glad you liked this. I appreciate your comments.

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  4. "Forever on fire" - lovely imagery there, if sad. A wonderful tribute.

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    1. I am sure it will eventually burn itself out but, for now, it smoulders on. Thanks for your kind words.

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  5. my great grandfather was a miner, in the coal mines of Lackawanna County in PA,,,he lost an eye to the mines and died of Black Lung. there are tours in that area that I grew up in that take you back down into the earth and with each journey down in a coal cart, I felt the danger he was in every time he went to work.

    this felt like that, "coal seams run like arteries" was a beautiful line and one that touched me.

    God bless those men, and the ones they left behind on the surface.

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    1. Absolutely! God Bless them all! We have a Miners Museum in Glace Bay. My wife and I actually got married there, if you can believe that. There are underground tours at that Museum, too. In high school, we all had a chance to go out on job placements for a day. My "job" was equipment manager at No. 26. I ended up be taken out right to the face. Couldn't believe the perpetual fog of coal dust in the air. Couldn't get myself clean for weeks; coal dust in every conceivable crack and crevice. There is a movie called, "Margaret's Museum" starring Helena Bonham Carter. That movie is set in Glace Bay. It is an odd movie but, if you want to know where my roots are, you'll see by watching that movie. It is set in the thirties but, not much has changed. The town was never so silent as it was the day No. 26 blew up. Never. Absolutely stone silent. Glad you understand. No wonder we get along! :)

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  6. Terrible tragedy - great tribute.

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  7. Thanks, Sam. Been wanting to write about that moment for awhile. Glad I did. Glad you liked it.

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  8. Oh wow Tom! Such a haunting piece of writing. I love the line "Coal seams run like arteries" - what a perfect visual.

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    1. Thanks Suzanne! I am happy that you liked this piece. I hope I did the miners justice.

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  9. This is tragic and heart-breaking. I like that you decided to tip your hat and do a tribute to those who died in the blast.

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  10. Everyone is my hometown knew someone who died or else, knew someone who was associated with someone who died. Everyone was touched by this tragedy, as can happen in small towns like ours (20,000 pop.). I've been wanting to write about this for a long while. Glad you liked it. I appreciate your comments. :)

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  11. So heart-breaklingly beautiful. This is a wonderful tribute. Great work.

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    1. Thanks, Lance. I appreciate your words very much.

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  12. Forever on fire
    Beautiful tribute, Tom!
    Also, a reminder of how much damage our raping of the earth does, and how long its effects. [sorry for the prosthelytizing.]

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    1. Thanks, Kymm. I was writing more from the standpoint of the dignity of honest work and way tragedy tears at the fabric of community but, as for the environmental observation........prosthelytize away......everyone is in a mood this weekend, anyway. :)

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  13. Chilling final line. Well written.

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    1. Thanks, Joe. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by.

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  14. Wow. I love the backstory too.

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  15. "Forever on fire", the price that is paid for the energy we've become accustomed to, that we feel entitled to.

    You have written a fitting and beautiful tribute to those who labor for us.

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    1. Not surprisingly, coal became a dirty fuel a while back so, the coal mining industry was on borrowed time anyway. But, the tragic way it all ended added to the sadness of a way of life concluding. People back home still talk about the explosion at No. 26 as if it happened yesterday.

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  16. So unbelievably tragic Tom, a well thought out and written tribute.

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  17. Thank you very much for your kind words. I appreciate them very much.

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  18. Your stunning words and that beautiful song just leave me speechless right now-but with tears of my own. My Uncle died in WWII, and like these miners-we owe all of them so much, and not ever forgetting them is one of the most important things we can do.

    Thank you for this.

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    1. My pleasure. Glad my words are worthy of their sacrifice. :)

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  19. Well put - haunting, even.

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  20. A tragic accident brought to life so wonderfully in your piece To.We have had these kinds of accidents (more with cave ins & flooding than gas. but that too)in our collieries-India is still developing,so the infrastructure is not strong enough,the conditions within these mines terrible-rescue operations often insufficient & not on time.When we were teenagers ,a movie was made on it-it was named "Kala(black)patthar(stone)" - it depicted the conditions of these coal miners-it was a box office hit:-)

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  21. Worlds apart but, the same needless loss of life in the same accidents. Thanks for pointing out that movie, I will have to look it up and check it out. Thanks for such a wonderful, rich comment. :)

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  22. This is such a moving tribute. We've got a bit of the coal country here in Pennsylvania so this hits close to home for me.

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    1. Thank, Draug. I figured that you might be somewhere near coal, being from Penn and all. Glad you liked it. :)

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  23. Tom, is is so well done. The reader is in the mine with those men. I enjoyed the backstory. It's wonderful that you have those feelings for your hometown. I am moved.

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    1. Glad that you liked it. I always appreciate it when you come by with your uplifting words. :)

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  24. This is so sad and tragic. I always hate hearing of things like this.

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    1. Well, Trifecta did say they wanted "serious" entries this weekend so, this was mine. Hopefully, you thought the quality of the piece was acceptable?

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  25. What an incredible tribute, Tom. I can't believe things are still so unstable, this many years later. We often tamper with so much without realizing the cost - until it's too late. I hate that you have to hold such a memory, but I know the families of these men and other miners appreciate that they are not forever lost as long as they are remembered. Peace, -j

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    1. The engineers would know beeter than I about the stability issues but, the mine remains sealed and the bodies remain inside. Thanks for stopping by to say hello. My posts are always better when you are a part of them. Bye for now. :)

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