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Rocky Mountain Cry


If you’ve seen the things I post online, chances are you’re aware that I’m a smartass, but you also know I can be serious when it's called for. You’re also likely aware of my interest in the environment, and in what’s happening to it these days. This one hits pretty close to home. Literally.

My family room, dining room, kitchen and master bedroom have a panoramic view of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. And the view is gradually but undeniably changing.

Remember that song by John Denver, Rocky Mountain High? The first two verses relate the awe and excitement he felt upon first coming to the mountains, followed by the introspection that they induced in him. But the third and final verse reveals the fear he felt for them.

Now his life is full of wonder, but his heart still knows some fear
of a simple thing, he cannot comprehend.
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more,
more people, more scars upon the land.

Back in 1972, I didn’t think much about that. For one thing, I lived in Kansas, and I was thirteen years old. But if I had given it any thought, I likely would have scoffed at the idea of people being able to tear down mountains. (I hadn’t truly discovered metaphor yet.)

But John Denver’s lyrics were referring, it turns out, to the relentlessly increasing tourism of the area. And that’s an issue that I feel strongly about, too. Denver and its suburbs are growing too quickly for the infrastructure to keep up. And it’s just getting far too crowded.

But now there’s something about those lyrics that my thirteen-year-old self would have understood even without the gift of metaphor. Strip mining is literally tearing down our mountains. One mountainside that can be seen from my house is being stripped down by Aggregate Industries, a British company that apparently decided that there’s not enough land in England to destroy, so they spread out.

This is the view from my bedroom window.

That swath in the center left where there’s no vegetation is bare rock, its skin flayed off of it by the monstrous machines. The horizontal striations to the right of that are more of the same.

This is what it looks like from above, thanks to Google Maps.


I don’t know what Aggregate Industries’ intentions are once they’ve leveled the mountain and moved to the next one. Will they plant trees to recreate a semblance of what they destroyed, but on a much less dramatic scale? Will they create a park on the new plane where a mountain used to be? Or will they just leave the ugly open sores to heal on their own, leaving scars that will be seen and mourned for generations?

What’s worse is that this is far from the only instance of this. Strip mining of various kinds is a common practice all around the world, whether for coal, precious minerals or, as in the case of this mountain, stone, brick and other building materials.

I’m horrified by this, but I realize that virtually all of us are responsible to at least a small extent. A house or other building made of bricks uses resources stripped from the earth. Those paving stones in our gardens were ripped from a mountain somewhere. The granite countertops in our kitchens were methodically cut in huge slabs from a mountainside or from an ugly gaping hole in the earth. By creating a demand, we contribute to the problem.

So, what do we do? In the long term, I’m afraid I don’t have any answers. But on small scales, there are more sustainable construction methods and environmentally-friendly building materials, such as HempCrete, recycled plastic, mycelium, ferrock and others. In most cases, they’re going to be more expensive and time-intensive than traditional materials and methods, but if it helps more of the earth to stay around for a little longer, it would be worth looking into.

The fact is that there’s no avoiding using earth’s raw materials. But doing what we can to reduce our footprint is always a good choice. The more conscientious we all are, the smaller the impact we will have on the earth, and the longer she’ll stick around.