Thursday, March 25, 2010

Whining About Mining - Reflections from the edge of an East Otago open pit gold mine

The Pit
It’s an open wound. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe because it’s not a metaphor - it really is an open wound. What are they doing down there? Hard to say if it’s infection or surgery: it’s metallic, mechanical, an automated surgical procedure. But it’s also yellow like pus, like infection; and so small from here, on the lip of the wound. They’re bacteria, crawling around in the heart of the wound.

It’s enormous. That’s the second thing that comes to mind. Why the second? Because it is so big, from here on the edge, that you can’t even take it all in. You only look at little parts, far away. A yellow truck lumbers along in the distance. You could fit a modest house in the back of it.

The Mound
It’s a lake. A poisonous dry lake. As large as the pit, and as deep, but completely flat; filled in. When you stand on the edge of it you are close to the action. There's a crackly electrical energy, like standing under high load pylons, an imminent death. You could dip your toes in, if it were water. If it is a lake the water is tan, like dirt. It’s really a fine sediment, like the mudflats just an hour downstream from here, where you might find flounder and skates. But nothing lives here. This mudflat is washed by a cyanide tide. Possum poison, infused with the soil, and poured into a natural fissure in the landscape. We are ever hopeful it won’t go anywhere from here: it looks so sluggish. Hard to imagine it could escape. Especially if you don’t try.

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