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Smith: Gashing the Earth’s thin skin

The impact of proposed new southern Arizona mines becomes clearer when you view the area’s beauty from on high

The Patagonia-Sonoita Scenic Road cuts through some of southern Arizona's prettiest landscape. News that mines are being proposed for southern Arizona is intriguing, encouraging or alarming.

The Patagonia-Sonoita Scenic Road cuts through some of southern Arizona's prettiest landscape. News that mines are being proposed for southern Arizona is intriguing, encouraging or alarming.

My old dump is kindly disappointing from the air. I gaze out across the creek and canyon bottom to the ridge rising up to divvy Adobe Canyon from Wood Canyon and congratulate myself on the sound judgment and blind, dumb, good luck that conned me into buying this piece of ground back in ’77.

Today’s dirt market has bloated to 15 times what I paid three decades ago, sufficient to squeeze me right out of the neighborhood, if I were starting over. But here I am, luckier’n a skunk.

Then last Friday I was invited on an plane ride to peek at what we fortunate few call home, and suddenly the depth of field is translated from oak-mesquite-walnut-oak-sycamore-more oak-another oak-mesquite-walnut-Arizona ash ad infinitum to one of each, separated by drip-line, grassland and bare dirt.

What looks like forest when you peer up canyon through miles of every kind of tree morphs to a mighty thin skin of veggies from 5,000 feet.

But this perspective gives you a truer picture of the works of man and our often unloving caress on the face of Mama Earth.

We were the guests of Eco-Flight, a flock of folk out of Aspen, Colo., who were visited with great good fortune via American Old Money and are passing it on to our common posterity.

Which is to say, a wealthy woman gave them an airplane and they decided to use it to fly influential grownups and young people with potential over important places in the Western landscape that are threatened by industrial development in its various dangerous iterations.

Take mining – please.

Here in my backyard, and yours, a Canadian mining monster named Augusta Resource Corp. plans to dig an open-pit mine at Rosemont Ranch, in the Santa Rita Mountains. And in the Patagonia Mountains east of Patagonia and west of the San Rafael Valley, three mining companies are doing exploration work.

All of this is variously alarming, intriguing, encouraging and points hither, thither and yon on the politico-emotional spectrum, depending on precisely how near these potential eyesores are to your living room windows or how badly you or your kids need a job and think Augusta or some other entity might hire you.

But all these works of fiction fade in the glare of reality when you fly over the future sites and see exactly where the yawning pits and sprawling tailings dumps will be. Especially when five minutes ago you flew over the huge open-pit mines and mountains of sterile tailings that form a man-made Western horizon for Green Valley.

It’s scary when you get high enough in the air so you can see how the ankle bone’s connected to the head bone in the hills and dales that make our home.

A mine that may be out of sight (and out of mind) three ridges over from where you sip a gin and tonic suddenly is seen as directly connected by the watercourses your well drinks from – the watercourse that might someday carry toxic instead of tonic from a mine that uses groundwater to separate copper from rock, and then feeds that water back into the underground stream that proceeds toward your well.

As we ponder these weighty issues, the macro view from high above the sweating and straining of mining, border fencing and the political skirmishing for and against seems to be a tremendous benefit.

You can see the territory as an entire organism, connected in its vital parts to make up a functioning body that depends on being able to make use of its peaks and valleys, its pathways, watercourses and the transitional zones between them.

When you see it as a living thing, the big picture don’t look so rosy, Rosemont.

Of course, this is not to say that it ever did. From the sad day in 1872 the mining law was signed, the ore body Augusta hopes to yank out of the soul of the Southwest was never marketable. The concentration of copper is too low.

The market is up now, but when it dips again, even Augusta and its dreamy-eyed investors will come to see reason in what we opponents of the mine are now saying.

I suspect these foreign mining companies are mining for investors as much or more that for minerals, and it is our mountains, our wildlife and ourselves, living here, who are underwriting this scheme.

Jeffyboy’s stabs at poetry rarely rise above doggerel, which is a pitiable poet’s best friend. Reach him at jeffyboy@wildblu.net or 520-455-5667.

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