Friday, September 11, 2009
I'm delighted to tell you that Bird Watcher's Digest has a downloadable pdf version of my latest True Nature column, "Tear that Mountain Down" on its web site. I've written about mountaintop removal mining in previous blogposts, but this is a full treatment with photos. Click here to read it.
I'll give you a teaser:
It's tiny—barely 5" long—and it's hard to find, hard to see, and getting harder to add to a life list. The pose you have to strike to see one is standing, head thrown back as far as it will go on your shoulders, neck aching, peering up into the branches of an oak, watching for motion. And when you finally spot it and hear that maddening, hurried zur zur zur zur zur zreeee? coming out of its thin black bill, it doesn't look blue like it does on the field guide page. All you can see is a white belly and a thin black necklace, and you can't see even that for long, so quickly does it hop from twig to twig. Unless—unless you happen to be looking down on one, as I have for a couple of blazing moments, maybe twice in my life. Then you get a shot of the pure heavenly blue stretching crown to tail for which the cerulean warbler was named, and it all becomes clear why a minuscule bird should bear such an angelic title.
Cerulean warblers like rich deciduous forest, heavy on the oak, with rich soil and steep slopes. Ceruleans like mountains and clear-running streams. And in that habitat preference, which puts their center of abundance in Appalachia, is most of the reason it's getting so hard to find a cerulean warbler to check off your life list. The mountains that ring with warbler song, that have towered over Appalachia's streams and rivers since they first pushed up out of the ancient seabed, are being rapidly and systematically, if not cleanly, removed. Ammonium nitrate and fuel-oil explosives are pushed into their flanks, detonated; a huge cloud of earth and rocks shoots skyward; trillium and bloodroot, salamanders and box turtles along with it.
It is the vegetation that defines West Virginia for me, the riotous tangle of so many different trees, shrubs, vines, and wildflowers; ferns, mosses, and liverworts springing from the rich, wet soil, dripping with sweet rain. West Virginia has grown wild like this for eons, and the evidence is compressed in layers in the shale, not only in the fine handprints of ancient ferns, but in ebony lines and layers, the compacted growth of millions of years of plant life. And in the kind of irony that only humans can create, we obliterate the living, breathing plants to get at the black, oily, compacted ones, the ones we like to burn as coal.
and forward it to your friends. We must stop the coal companies from tearing West Virginia and all of Appalachia out from under its inhabitants.