Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lost Mountain

I will preface this book review with a number of statements: I LOVE the outdoors. I grew up camping and hiking all over the great state of Kentucky. I fell in love with the Red River Gorge and the Dairy Queen in Stanton long before I knew my future wife lived there. (Clarification: my wife did not live in the Dairy Queen, nor in Stanton, but rather in Clay City, Stanton's neighboring metropolis of 1,303 residents.)

There are few things I enjoy as much as standing in the middle of a cold river with a fly rod in hand, many miles removed from cities, houses, bait shops, and yahoos. I love nature, but I'm not a tree hugger (Mulch piles are beautiful too). I believe that humans are meant to responsibly "subdue the earth" (key word being 'responsibly', i.e. in a way that doesn't destroy it).

With all that said, This is one of the saddest books I have read in a long time. It exposes so much about human depravity. This book tells the plight of strip mining in the Appalachian region; specifically in Eastern Kentucky. The author is a teacher at the University of Kentucky and spends a year tracking the demise of one mountain top, ironically named Lost Mountain.

The author notes that many scientists believe the Appalachian region is host to one of the greatest forests in the world - even referring to it as the "rain forest" of North America. So the decimation of the forest alone is worth being up in arms over. When I say decimation, I'm not implying that a few trees are cut down so some coal can be cut out, rather everything is turned upside down and poisoned with chemicals. Families that have lived in 'hollers' for generations and have learned to survive off the land are now scared to drink their own well water and can no longer grow food in their gardens. The land becomes completely unusable except for growing field grasses or building box stores - but where is the demand for box stores in the depths of Appalachia?

Sure there are safe strip mining practices. Europe has regulations that require companies to re-establish the previous contour of the land and re-apply the top-soil layer. There are no such regulations in Eastern Kentucky (or they are easily disregarded). Poor people with very little land rights get pooped on because they don't have the means to stand up to the machine. And the worst part of the entire story is the hypocrisy. There is not one strip-mining mogul who would stand for such practices to occur within 100 feet of their estates (which is the legal limit), let alone 100 miles!

How is it that men can so easily disregard Jesus' statement to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you?" Why do people become so careless just for coal? Is making a profit from coal really worth destroying someones home and land, even if it is 'legal'?

I'd encourage you to read the book - especially if you live in Kentucky. In fact, this is a MUST READ for every Kentucky resident. Kentucky has to be one of the most beautiful places on this earth, yet this beauty is being destroyed so that more office buildings can leave their lights on at night. This is a painful book, but very well written and engaging. He writes the story as if the mountain is a family member, or even a girlfriend, and with each explosion, he exposes the ensuing pain in his heart. He visits the families that have been affected, gets to know them and tells their stories. By the end of the book, you feel as if you have spent some time with them as well.

Erik Reece, I applaud you for having the courage to write this book. I'm sure you will receive all kinds of grief from all strata of government and even your own University (with an excellent mining engineering department).

Do I hate all strip mining and all people associated with strip mining? By no means! In fact, I can think of at least one friend that I have much respect for that sells mining equipment. But the process in Eastern Kentucky is broken and serious changes and improvements are needed. Now of course I'm well aware that there is always two sides to every story (Proverbs 18.17). But if even half of the information in this book is true, then this is a serious problem that must be turned around.

1 comment:

John and Pam said...

Some real food for thought.