By Anonymous (not verified) on May 26, 2011

The mountain below us is gone. Flatland. Tableland. Sterile. Bare. Dead.

“Our culture, our history, our cemeteries—decimated—just like the Indians,” says Larry. “We had cemeteries all over these mountains, buried our kin on top of mountains to give them a view.”

He shows me through the trees where his family cemeteries were.

“Massey pushed all my family’s graves, 139 of them, over the edge with one bulldozer.” He points and pauses. “Right over there. They didn’t even bother to tell us, much less ask.”

“Over 1,000 cemeteries have been destroyed in the last ten years,” Chuck says.

“How much coal can it be worth to push 150 people, people that were somebody, over the cliff?” Larry asks.

“This is the work of only nineteen men and their machines,” says Chuck, quietly. “When I worked in the 1970s, there were 150,000 coal miners in West Virginia. Today, we have less than 17,000, and they mine just as much coal. It’s all about efficiency.”

I have never seen such a perverse skyline.

Think Machu Picchu in reverse.

Think of a freeway project that got started on top of a majestic mountain and was left.

Then think of spray-painting the whole open wound of Earth green with hydro-seed and calling it restoration, reclamation. And walking away.

Think of the tons of dynamite used day after day after day to take down a mountain and the flying boulders catapulting down from the top, flying through the air, raining on the valley.

Think of the trailers and homes below and the day one boulder flew through the roof of a house and killed a child.

Think of the coal company CEO compensating the grieving family for the life of that child and think of the hand that wrote a check for $15,000 and the other hand that received it.

This is but a short excerpt from Terry Tempest Williams’s essay in the June issue. That issue also contains a great essay by Wendell Berry. To read the story in its entirety, as well as the whole issue, simply subscribe to The Progressive for just $14.97—that’s 75% off the newsstand price. Just click here.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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