From an early age, Jonathan Thompson wanted to be a writer.
Today, he makes a distinction between being a journalist reporting on events — something he’s done since signing on with the Silverton Standard and the Miner newspaper in 1996 and High Country News in 2005 — and being a writer, observing and chronicling a region.
For Thompson, who was raised in Durango, attended public school here, and whose family lived in the area for six generations, naturally, that place would be Southwest Colorado. It’s embedded in his veins.
Initially with his parents, Ian “Sandy” and Jan Thompson, he spent most of his life exploring the lands and waters in the Four Corners. Thompson’s interest remained with the people who inhabited and shaped these landscapes; and, in turn, in how the place shaped the people, and shaped him.
Thompson’s life in this homeland, his explorations and investigations, have resulted in his first book, “River of Lost Souls,” released in February by Torrey House Press.
Thompson initially didn’t intend to write a book, but then the Gold King Mine spill occurred in August 2015 and he covered it for High Country News. He sat down to write and the words kept coming, five times that his editor requested.
When the mine spill happened, despite all the worldwide coverage it received, Thompson felt it lacked context. It was a big event that was treated as an isolated incident when, in fact, he knew better. The spill was 130 years in the making. There was history, science and politics around the issue that got lost.
In an effort to help people understand what happened and why it mattered, he decided to write this book to provide context to this single event and to its place in history. The book is about the Gold King mine spill, the Animas River and the region, and the Animas River watershed as a microcosm of the entire West and the impacts, both good and bad, of mining and other extractive industries.
Thompson has a knack for relating past events to today’s issues. He recognizes patterns of how industry has treated the environment and how people have responded.
Today, the problem of abandoned mines polluting our waters throughout the watershed is so big that a federal Superfund designation and resources are needed for clean up. The same problem is poised to repeat itself with hundreds of abandoned natural gas wells in Colorado and thousands West-wide (Herald, March 30).
And industry is currently fighting hard for the repeal of a common sense 2016 methane waste and prevention rule developed by the Bureau of Land Management to manage fugitive natural gas emissions.
Methane waste is akin to modern industrial mine waste with the potential to create the same environmental and public health problems that mine tailings, unregulated and dumped into the river for decades, did until the Colorado Supreme Court ruled they had to be impounded. It was reasonable regulation that did not put mining out of business. To protect jobs, public revenue and clean air, methane waste should also be regulated and contained.
As Thompson so adeptly accounts in his new book, from which he will be reading Wednesday at the Green Business Roundtable at the Strater Hotel at noon, and at the Durango Public Library at 6:30 p.m. - don’t miss him - it is a history that does not need repeating and from which, hopefully, we will eventually learn.