World's Fair

A: Probably.

* * *

DN: So Ben, what’s up with those mountain tops?

BRC: They’re fewer than there used to be, that’s what I know.

DN: Less places to ski and stuff?

BRC: But many more places to golf, apparently.

DN: Ben, is that for real? Mountain top removal for coal, for golf, for kicks, apparently? When I first asked, I was actually referring to a scene in the new Superman movie, but this I’m guessing is non-fiction. Why on earth are they doing this? It seems like an awful lot of effort.

BRC: It is, my Canadian co-blogger, for real. But it’s less work than hiring a bunch of West Virginians, digging out a mine shaft, scraping out all that coal, pulling it to the surface, and getting it on its way. Why not just blow the mountain top right off, they figure. We have the dynamite for it. It only takes a couple of big ole trucks and a guy to push the detonator. The coal seams are right there, under the surface, give or take, you know, geological variation. And you’re on your way. Bingo bango.

DN: That actually sounds Hollywood. I can picture the board meeting where this sort of decision was made. “Like, let’s try something different, you know. Think outside of the box. Yeah, like, kick it up a notch. Maybe get Tom Cruise in on it and get him dressed up like a superhero. Called him MountainTop Removal Man or something. What’s that? Tom Cruise is too expensive? Not comfortable with the scientology thing? O.K. then maybe get that guy with the hair thing going on from Grey’s Anatomy. Yeah, And his cape could look like a mountain top or something. What’s that? No budget at all for movie stars? Seriously? Alright then, let’s just blow them up, the mountain tops that is. You think we can at least get it on film?”

Presumably, West Virginian’s are freaking? I know my Canadian counterparts would be if that was happening in British Columbia. Our mountains are a big deal to us.

BRC: You hit on cultural conditions there, Dave. West Virginians are not necessarily freaking, nor are their Kentuckian neighbors. Some are, of course. Lots are, in fact. But the coal companies are not. And guess who makes the decisions? A three-year-old boy was killed a couple of years ago near our former home county in southwestern Virginia. A boulder from a mountain top site was knocked over by equipment, tumbled down, and crashed through the boy’s bedroom. Killed instantly.

DN: Jeez, a body count, seriously? Hopefully, the coal company got their come uppance at least.

BRC: Actually, Dave, they were fined $15,000 and told they should try to avoid that in the future. The argument goes: ‘you people, you non-residents, need coal. We give it to you. So be thankful. You people, you locals, need jobs and a livelihood. We give it to you. So be thankful.’ Now, it’s possible I’ve laid that out a tinge too crudely. Possible, yes. But here we are.

DN: Now that sounds like corporate Hollywood. Are we talking lots of coal, lots of energy, no possible alternatives? I seem to remember that mountainous terrain can be excellent places to play with things like wind energy and the like.


BRC: Well, that’s just it. This topic is just too huge — so many angles to cover, so many direcitons, and I’m not up on all of it. I’m thinking about environmental justice, I’m thinking about alternative energy, I’m thinking about cultural studies, I’m thinking about corporate-political combos, I’m thinking about consumerism. But: you know how the dream of educators, the holy grail of researching, is to find that one piece, that one singular source that really lays out the matter precisely, plausibly, persuasively, credibly? I‘m always looking for that, at least.

We’ve got one for this topic, the premiere primer on the subject (so I think). There was an article in Harper’s last year by Erik Reece that I ended up using in my class, and that was well-received by the students — they were critical, mind you, not just dull empty vessels, so that was good — and I now see is posted on-line. “Death of a Mountain.” Required reading. I’m gonna go re-read it and come back in later.

[we’ll be continuing this, but are pausing briefly for station identification…]


  1. #1 Jeff Lanam
    July 24, 2006

    Paradise, by John Prine

    When I was a child my family would travel
    Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
    And there’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered
    So many times that my memories are worn.

    And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
    Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
    Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
    Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away

    Well, sometimes we’d travel right down the Green River
    To the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill
    Where the air smelled like snakes and we’d shoot with our pistols
    But empty pop bottles was all we would kill.

    Repeat Chorus:

    Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel
    And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
    Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
    Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.

    Repeat Chorus:

    When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
    Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
    I’ll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin’
    Just five miles away from wherever I am.

    Repeat Chorus: