The light of day

The mine was dark, damp, and chilly.   When I came to the surface, I had dreams about it. Bad dreams.


This summer, I toured the Lackawanna coal mine in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  With a group, I was herded into a yellow metal car and lowered 300 ft. underground for about an hour.  Our guide walked us through the chilly passageways, matter-of-factly telling grim stories of men that’d been trapped or lost fingers.  His uncles and grandfather had died of black lung.  He explained the technique used to blast the rock away from veins of shiny anthracite, and he listed the constant fears: methane gas, collapsing roofs, consuming fire, and later, the ever present danger of electrocution. 


I’m not one to dwell on dark thoughts, but the places I saw and stories I heard really bothered me. It wasn’t the confinement or the claustrophobia so much as the risk. Mining is dangerous work that requires nerves of steel. Heroism. That boys as young as six were once required to spend days in that blackness nearly broke my heart.


Following my own brief descent into a mine, the plight of the Chilean miners transfixed me.


In August, Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera told the workers trapped 2,300 ft. underground in the San Jose gold and copper mine that they would not be abandoned, He said they were “going to keep doing everything humanly possible to get you back to the surface.” 


Music has helped them survive. In September, rescuers sent MP3 players and small speakers so they could listen to Mexican rancheras, Puerto Rican reggaeton and Dominican merengue.


It looks like they’ll be freed soon.  When they see the light of day, the world will rejoice.

photos by Andrew Galbraith-Ryerphotos by Andrew Galbraith-Ryer