I want to draw attention to one of the gravest — but least publicized — environmental crimes of our times. It is one of brutal violence, utter waste, and total disregard for the planet’s resources. Millions of unwitting Americans are complicit in the destruction each year, as evidenced by the burning lights spread across the otherwise dark night.

Worse, the devastating effects on the surrounding communities and ecosystems are hushed by the cruel corporatism wrapped around this crime. Once beautiful curves rising out of the landscape, now at their peak in breathtaking seasonal colors, are chopped off, their “fill” dumped carelessly at the wayside.

The horrors of pumpkintop removalStop the horrors of pumpkintop removal!Tonya RicksIf you aren’t familiar with this heartless crime against nature, allow me to introduce you to the horrors of … pumpkintop removal.

Yes, every year field upon field of ripe pumpkins, bright orange jewels of the autumn landscape, have their peaks hacked off and their rich, wholesome innards scooped out and cast away. The pumpkin — the most beloved of squashes, and yet, the most abused. Why not turn them to better uses, such as warm and delicious pumpkin and white bean chili?

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Most people haven’t a clue about the seasonality of food, but they know what time of year to expect this godly gourd. Another lesson lost in eating seasonally and locally! Instead, so many of us choose to bulldoze pumpkin tops and stab and scrape out the flesh, with little regard for its value beyond a few roasted seeds. Most often, these vibrant veggie globes are reduced to hollowed-out shells of their former selves, offering nothing more than a gruesome, flickering smile.

OK, so the real and insidious threat cloaked in the night is probably not pumpkintop removal. However, the terrors I described are very genuine for many people living in the hollows of Appalachia, those who have to deal with the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. Mountain peaks are leveled off and their guts (minus thin layers of coal) tossed in valleys and streams, raising the risks of flash floods and leaching chemical and heavy metal pollution into streams that are the source of drinking water for thousands. On top of all this, local residents are forced to live with the bone-rattling blasts as the mountaintops fall around them.

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And the spookiest part is that all of this is legal in the United States. Is there a more frightening story I could tell this Halloween?

(Because I don’t want to give anyone nightmares, I will note that, after intense pressure on their part, anti-mountaintop removal activists feel the tide is beginnning to turn in favor of ending this destructive practice.) But let’s not forget that the scariest ghost stories of all are the ones that are true.