Front Porch Blog

Book Review: Lost Mountain, by Erik Reese

Joan Kark has reviewed Erik Reese’s new book “Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness,” published by Riverhead Books.

It is behind a subscription wall at the Roanoke Times, so I have posted it (premission pending) below.

LOST MOUNTAIN:
A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness
by Erik Reece. Riverhead Books

240 pages, $24.95

Reviewed by Joan Kark

Joan Kark is a retired professor and a member of the Mountain Justice
organization at Virginia Tech.

Lost Mountain chronicles the year Erik Reece spent witnessing the destruction of Lost Mountain in Kentucky. The devastation was caused by a radical type of coal strip mining called mountain top removal where about ten men and vast amounts of explosives are used to blast off the top of a mountain to get at coal seams.

Hiking at least a hundred miles on Lost Mountain, sometimes alone and at other times with conservationists or scientists, Reece learned about the vast diversity of the Appalachian forest. In a writing style reminiscent of both Annie Dilliard and Edward Abbey, Reece wonderfully describes the mountain’s trees, plants, and creatures before their subsequent demise. He questions the wisdom of those who are so willing to sacrifice the Appalachian mountains for the sake of cheap electricity, the most common use for the coal.

Reece’s descriptions of the sight of the strip mined mountain are equally vivid. Lost Mountain once rose 1847 feet above Lost Creek but at the end of the year, the mountain is almost gone. First dynamited with explosives, the mountain was then removed by bulldozers and then deposited into the surrounding valleys. These legal valley fills are ultimately devastating to the streams below.

Lost Mountain will eventually become a green pasture composed of an alien grass species. Nevertheless, Reece offers a glimmer of hope that at least the forest, if not the mountain, might be regenerated if research on forest restoration results in new regulations regarding strip mine reclamation.

Reece interweaves his descriptions of Lost Mountain with poetry, philosophy, and history. What I found particularly illuminating was the comparisons to Jared Diamond’s theories on the collapse of civilizations. Will America’s relentless assault on the environment as evidenced in the start of this century result as well in our collapse?

Erik Reece provides a strong and coherent voice for the residents of Appalachia who are fighting mountaintop removal throughout this region. Further, the book is a fascinating read about a subject too often ignored.

Buy Lost Mountain.

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