And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away

At 35,000 feet, the effects of strip mining in West Virginia and Kentucky are all too clear. Mountains flattened, land scarred, trails of erosion carrying mud and debris into streams and rivers.

Most people think strip mining is part of the coal industry’s sordid past, but the practice of using giant shovels to carve away entire mountains continues today as demand for
low sulfur coal increases.

Coal mines aren’t the only companies that strip the land. Out west, gold companies call it “heap leach mining” but the process is the same: scoop off the tops of mountains and process hundreds of tons of rock to get an ounce of coal.

But flying over West Virginia and Kentucky on Wednesday, all I could think about was Prine’s song about Paradise, Kentucky.

Well, sometimes we’d travel right down the Green River
To the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and we’d shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would kill.

Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.

From the air, huge gashes in the earth mark the strip-mined land, producing an ugly, barren landscape.

When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I’ll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin’
Just five miles away from wherever I am.

After awhile, I stopped looking at the scarred land, pulled the window shade down and tried to sleep. But sleep never comes easy after viewing the progress of man.