Mary is one of the women who I interviewed for She Speaks Underground , a photo essay on women who work (or have worked) in local coal mines. I had been connected to Mary through someone working at a local paper in Paonia, after I inquired about women coal miners who might be interested in sharing stories. I reached out, and we were on a call within the hour. So I first spoke to Mary on the phone, while sitting in my dorm room at Haverford College. I making the call and feeling extremely nervous - "what would she say?", "would she want to even talk to me?", "would she like my idea?".
One of the first things Mary asked me was who I was writing the piece for, or what the intention of the project was. I told her about my family, my grandmother who lives on Matthews Lane, my uncle and second-uncles who work in West Elk Mine. I told her I was trying to offer a look into the complicated socio-political reality of coal mining, to my peers in the hyper-liberal space of Haverford College. I also offered that I had no answers or preconceptions, I only knew that there were narratives missing from the ones we had at Haverford. I also expressed that I felt her concern, from what I assumed at that point was being misrepresented in the media. "I have no agenda other than to listen", I told her. She then told me a little bit about her farm and her life, and explained that we would have to meet up in town before I went to her house. Mary is Celtic Shaman, and in being so, she would have to get a better sense of my energy before she took me to her home. I agreed, and we got off call with a tentative plan to meet up once I arrived in Paonia.
Mary stands in her sunroom for a portrait
The very first thing I noticed about Mary when we met for the first time was her hair. She has the most striking hair I had ever seen - reddish orange with deep burgundy roots, feeling almost metallic in reflection when it shifted around her shoulders as she walked. We sat at a table at a local cafe and spoke for a little bit about our lives, and what led both of us to Paonia. I told her about my life in Pennsylvania, and about my studies in school. She told me about her ranch, and as our coffees dwindled, she invited me over. Over the course of the following two weeks, I would visit Mary almost every other day.
There are three parts of Mary's life that I would like to share: her goats, her salve, and her home.
The entrance to Mary's home is far down a hill, off Route 133, the highway that cuts through the valley. When I first arrived at her home, I was greeted by a couple dogs, barking loudly at the gate. She soon walked to meet me, and I drove onto her property. It was cold, so we went inside (what I would later discover was her guest house), and I sat on the couch, her on a chair opposite me.