Death of a Mountain

Stumbled across an online copy of Erik Reece’s “Death of a Mountain,” an article I sharply remember from the April 2005 Harper’s as a paragon of well-written environmental journalism:

September 26, 2004, Lost Mountain

It was one year ago this month that I first came to Lost Mountain. When I look back at the pictures I took then, I see dense stands of trees and rolling ridgetops painted orange and yellow by autumn coolness. Now I see a long gray plateau piled with mounds of wasted rock and soil. It’s drizzling as I start up the eastern slope. Today is a Sunday, as it was a year ago, and the rain has kept even the smaller weekend crews away. At about 1,400 feet, I begin walking along the top edge of a long highwall that marks the eastern boundary of the land permitted for mining. This cliff line drops about 100 feet down to the number 10 coal seam, where several pyramids of coal stand ready to be loaded away.

I’m walking along a thin strip of soil here at the edge of the highwall that divides the strip mine from the forest. The oaks and maples descend down into the watershed on my right, and the highwall drops away abruptly to my left. The sharp contrast between these two landscapes, heightened by the fall color and the gray mine site, gives me the strange sensation that I am walking on the edge of Creation, on a thin membrane between the world and the not-world. Everything past this point is an abyss, a lifeless canvas, a preternatural void.

It’s also a book.

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