The Vanishing Beauty of Coal Country

“Almost Heaven,” a photo by Carl Galie, which inspired “Limbo,” a poem by Joseph Bathanti.

Any Appalachian hiker who has risen early is a witness to the beauty of mountaintops that appear like islands in a world of fog. Photographer Carl Galie and North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti have teamed up to celebrate those Appalachian mountaintops, the future of which is at risk from mountaintop-removal coal mining, a process used by the coal industry to uncover seams of coal that are not accessible by traditional mining techniques.

Galie comes from a coal mining background, but when he first witnessed the mountaintop-removal process, he was astounded. “I thought I knew what a strip mine looked like,” he says. “But these are strip mines on steroids.”

For the past three years, Galie has photographed and researched the mountaintop-removal process. His goal is to help educate the public about the need to preserve these threatened Appalachian peaks, and through his photography, he tells a story of land that has been pushed, carved, and redistributed.

Bathanti has written a series of fourteen poems inspired by Galie’s photographs, four of which are heard in the video below and read for the first time. He says his writings are “poetry of witness,” just as Galie’s works are “photography of witness.” The poems focus on the world’s details, such as flowers, black birds, and white picket fences, which become charged symbols in the face of floods and coal dust.

In the video below, Galie and Bathanti talk about mountaintop removal and their collaborative project. Please enjoy.
—Scott Temple, writer and videographer

The above video was featured recently at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, located on the campus of Appalachian State University, where Carl Galie’s photographs are on display along with Joseph Bathanti’s poetry. For more information and to support the Wyld-Er-Ness documentary series, of which the above video is a part, please visit Partial funding for this project comes from the North Carolina Arts Council.


  1. Wow, this is astonishingly insightful. The horror and beauty of this is something that sheds true light on the way we value our planet. Kudos

  2. This is incredible. The finality of mountaintop removal and it’s rippling effects is chilling. It was beautiful and terrifying to have a multi-media experience of it – not just pictures and prose, but also poetry grasping to convey the sense of loss removal invokes.

  3. Thank you, Joseph Bathanti, for these poems. Western PA to Western NC…beautiful places and so many good people. All deserve our protection and care.

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