A Mountaintop Experience

image copyright Fred First

I can’t even imagine, but we should all try to, and sometimes I do.

I am standing on the front porch in the early morning with my coffee. The sun is just painting enough light behind the ridgetops to make rise and fall of their silhouette into the rim of this chalice-valley that holds our lives.

With a sudden, sickening slap against my feet in the near-light, the yard, the house, the entire watershed of Goose Creek shocks as smoke and dust rise from what had been forest along the skyline. And when the cloud of pulverized earth settles, the trees are gone. The familiar contours like the lines of loved one’s face, have disappeared forever.

Then, a massive machine rises above the ragged horizon. It pushes what is left of our mountaintop through what is left of our forest in to what used to be Nameless Creek, into my Fortress of Solitude where the three poplars converge, where I wanted my ashes placed; where our sitting bench has been, next to the little island covered in asters where the white waters will be no more. This image of an early morning spider web was taken at just this place of my nightmare.

A bad dream. Mountaintop Removal is a bad dream that is a new reality every day for someone, for some family, for some community somewhere in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee or Virginia. And unless we force ourselves to look at it in all its ugliness, unless we come to see our own complicity by our very silence and by our consumption without regard for the costs, there will be no end to it.

Some of you who are from or have a heart for the southern Appalachian mountains are surely aware of the costs of “cheap coal”. Most of you who read this here are genuinely uninformed, and there’s a reason for that. Until recently, the people most affected have not had sufficient voice to lift this issue above and against the powerful forces that want it invisible in the national media; that want vast stretches of remote, sparcely-settled, pristine watershed, forested plant and animal habitat and the physical context of mountain people’s lives to be seen as nothing but “overburden”. There has been an political policy of silence at the highest levels.

This must stop. We must be a part of the end of mountaintop removal for coal extraction.

Please take a few minutes and watch this short video from ilovemountains.com that just begins to tell the story. Do you love mountains? Then take 8 minutes to learn what’s at stake.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. fred- that makes me unspeakably sad. i know communities in our area have been banding together to try to stop this. and people wonder why west virginians don’t like outsiders? for decades, their land and resources have been raped for profit and then left for locals to clean up and deal with the mess. i know there is an elementary school in wv right at the bottom of one of these mountains that they removed, and the sludge has come down within feet of it. so thanks for posting- i’ll have to post this link sometime b/c people need to be aware of it.

  2. Fred, it is happening here as well, not coal, but other minerals, old growth trees and water, precious water. What isn’t being pillaged for profit is being turned into a vast stinking landfill. It gives me nightmares, and the thought of the highlands being turned into clearcuttings, unsightly mines and tailings, golf courses and landfill sites is just plain sickening – when are we going to learn, when it is too late?