In Montana, you need not go far in search of wounds. The place is rife with them. All you have to do is look between the familiar postcards of The Last Best Place and you’ll see them: slick, deforested hillsides connecting at sharp angles in a quilt-pattern over every national forest; dams holding back decades of poisonous sludge, buried deep in some of the biggest waterways; trees cracking and listing in burns that are bigger than certain East Coast states; vast pits of toxic mineral water sidling right up to the highway. There is something satisfying about all of this. It’s a hard, unhidden truth, and the landscape runs wild with it. The first time I saw the Berkeley Pit was about two years ago during the National Folk Festival in Butte, Montana. I’d been itching to go. I get the same thrill looking at the wounds and scars left by extractive industry that other people get from looking at a mountain or the Grand Canyon, and I’d heard that the Pit really took the cake. It wasn’t a hard sell. After paying my two dollars, though, and stepping out onto the platform of the public viewing stand, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Frankly, the Pit didn’t look like much: a big, brownish-red lake, inside a crater. But on the way out I picked up a copy of Pitwatch and read the whole thing twice on the ride home. I was smitten.
more from Nathaniel Miller at Virginia Quarterly Review here.