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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

Wendell Berry Takes His Papers and Leaves

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: Keith Goetzman, environment, coal, Wendell Berry, Appalachia, energy, wilderness and wildlife, air and water, health, Lexington Herald-Leader, I Love Mountains, mountaintop coal removal,

Wendell BerryWendell Berry is truly a man of letters: The famously computer-hating agrarian writer still pens all his essays and books by hand. So it’s got to hurt the University of Kentucky to hear that it won’t be getting his voluminous archives as it had expected. Why? Because Berry, a man of rock-hard principle, is offended that the university is naming a new dorm for basketball players the Wildcat Coal Lodge in order to please coal-friendly donors.

The Lexington Herald-Leader got its hands on the acid letter Berry sent to the university regarding the matter. “It is now obviously wrong, unjust and unfair,” he wrote, “for your space and work to be encumbered by a collection of papers that I no longer can consider donating to the University.”

The papers measure 60 cubic feet in volume and would fill about 100 boxes, the Herald-Leader reports. They remain at the school while Berry negotiates their transfer to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.

Are university officials surprised? They wouldn’t be if they looked back to this passage in a 2005 essay by Berry, which originally appeared in the book Missing Mountains: We Went to the Mountaintop But It Wasn’t There: Kentuckians Write Against Mountaintop Removal (Wind Publications):

Coal is undoubtedly something of value. And it is, at present, something we need—though we must hope we will not always need it, for we will not always have it. But coal, like the other fossil fuels, is a peculiar commodity. It is valuable to us only if we burn it. Once burned, it is no longer a commodity but only a problem, a source of energy that has become a source of pollution. And the source of the coal itself is not renewable. When the coal is gone, it will be gone forever, and the coal economy will be gone with it. … If Kentuckians, upstream and down, ever fulfill their responsibilities to the precious things they have been given—the forests, the soils, and the streams—they will do so because they will have accepted a truth that they are going to find hard: the forests, the soils and the streams are worth far more than the coal for which they are now being destroyed.

See the full essay at the website of ILoveMountains.org.

Source: Lexington Herald-Leader, ILoveMountains

Image by David Marshall, licensed under Creative Commons.