An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of August 3, 2006
Issued from Polly's Bend, Garrard County, in Kentucky's Bluegrass Region, USA

MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL,
RAGE & THE HUMAN CHARACTER

At Polly's Bend I am right beside eastern Kentucky's Appalachian Mountains. Years ago nothing pleased me more than wandering in those mountains, camping along streams, looking for rare ferns on sandstone cliffs, and hiking along ridges.

Mountaintop removal is when you blast the top off a mountain, take the coal that's exposed, then blast more off, then take the next seam -- and push all the rocky debris into the valley below, burying the stream. Eventually there's no valley and no hills, just a flat landscape of shattered rock. If you can't visualize mountaintop removal, take a look at http://www.ohvec.org/galleries/mountaintop_removal/index.html.

Maybe it's true that I spend so much time focusing on bugs and flowers because when I face obscenities like mountaintop removal I tend to lose it. Rage. I feel lots of rage. When I talk about nature study as therapy, I mean it. It's what keeps me together.

It's not good to feel rage. First, it's unhealthy. You lose sleep, your guts get tied in a knot, and the people behind what's enraging you go on enjoying life, maybe even becoming President.

Also, rage is usually misdirected. I see the vast, flat eastern Kentucky wastelands where once green mountains and sparkling streams bore witness to the glory of the Creator, and rage makes me want to attack the bulldozers and big shovels with my bare hands.

But, the bulldozer operators are just regular folks trying to make livings. The absentee business people getting their one-time shot of money from selling the coal are just providing a service demanded by the public. People buying electricity produced with the coal are just living the lives they've been taught to live, lives sanctioned by their religions and leaders.

Yet, someone is committing these atrocities.

It's just that there's something in the human character that enables us to easily turn a blind eye to the consequences of our behaviors. We claim that our nation is the beacon for world democracy, but let our voting patterns be focused on what we've called here "snake brain" issues. We get upset over a nestling tumbled from its nest, but let the house cat roam the neighborhood at will. We know that when we turn up the air conditioner we're sending an order to Peabody Coal in Pennsylvania to blow off the tops of more mountains and bulldoze them into the streams below, but we do it anyway.

When such a fault afflicts the human character, is there any hope for us?

I fear that the answer lies in these facts:

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