Grassy Creek's Odyssey
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by Frank Shortt
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2016 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
We sometimes wonder why things come and go, why familiar things just disappear, and how that
our freedoms disappear before our very eyes!
Just below Osborne Mountain, at the head of Buchanan
County, Virginia, an artesian spring, situated between two hillsides, bubbled incessantly for many years. This spring was just above
Irby Altizer’s story which sat in the curviest curve on U.S. Highway 460. That is, until the new Rt. 460 was built. Nevertheless,
this spring was the beginning of Grassy Creek which ran underneath the old used and abused store where all the trash from the story
was, unthinkingly, thrown into the creek. This caused the waters of the creek to become brackish even at its beginnings. As the creek
emerged from underneath the store, it ran down below many houses with their outhouses placed along its banks.
Grassy Creek gained momentum as small rivulets emerged from the hollows along its banks. During spring freshets it became a raging
torrent, carrying outhouses, foot bridges, and other small outbuildings along with it to its final destination, the Levisa River.
The old Shortt homeplace was perched on one of the many hillsides dropping straight down to Grassy Creek. The Creek was a major part
of our scarce entertainment.
After leaving the Altizer store, Grassy Creek ran past the Altizer
coal mine where coal dust and mine poisons were mixed with the already polluted water. It is a wonder all the kids along the creek
did not end up with every disease known to mankind. The pollution did not stop us from chasing the illusive horny-head fish, snakes,
turtles, crawdads, and whatever else showed up to drink the water. Thank God the water became less polluted as it ran through the
rocks and meandered along through the clay laden banks. We built swimming holes, laboring during all our free time in summers for
enough water to barely dog-paddle or have an occasional baptism as we pretended to play church. Our
dogs received overdue baths as we encouraged them to dive into the pool for rocks and sticks we threw in saying, “fetch!”
In the early 1950’s the dreaded polio epidemic hit our area. It was feared that polluted creeks and streams aided and abetted the
spread of the disease. Did this dissuade us from heading to Grassy Creek for our favorite pastime? I should say, not! Every time our
parents turned their backs, we sneaked down to the creek to cool our summer baked bodies. Working the cornfields and gardens persuaded
us to become creative in ways to avoid the advice of our parents. We found out then that dog-paddling was not really swimming!
adults used the Creek for things they thought necessary. Whenever the churches produced a new convert, the pools along the creek became
baptismal founts. Some ladies, who experienced water shortages as summer lowered their wells, used the water to wash their clothes.
The county advised them against this practice, but the standard answer was; “Whar we gonna get any water?” This was so as the County
was not about to haul water to every person along the creek. The users were very careful to boil the polluted water before using it
for their, already, vulnerable families.
During the 1960’s and ‘70’s, shaft mining was introduced
to Buchanan County. As they drove deeper and deeper underground, all the streams up above were decimated to mere trickles. Men’s greed
for gain, and the ever greater demand for ‘black gold’, produced jobs for the locals, enhanced the economy for a while, but sunk their
live giving springs and wells. Bowels of the earth soon gave up most of its precious possessions, leaving only the skeletons of the
coal hoppers along Grassy Creek. Today, Buchanan County is poverty stricken once again! Men, who once made the high wages of Union
mining, are succumbing to handouts from the County. Illegal drugs have taken their toll among the younger generation. Coal has been
outlawed as a major pollutant to be replaced by, What?
Grassy Creek only runs when heavy rains
inundate its banks. As soon as the rain ceases, the water produced, sinks somewhere downstream to possibly provide water for the residents
of the underworld. Old Faithful is not faithful anymore! The Old Man of the Mountain has disappeared from the hills of New Hampshire!
America has lost face with other countries, and Grassy Creek only exists in the minds of the aging population still living along its
banks and a few living elsewhere!
Maybe, just maybe, one of the squabbling participants in this
ungodly election of 2016, will do something about our, swiftly disappearing, natural wonders and freedoms! Let’s not hold our breaths!