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The law posed a problem for the plans of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to dam the Little Tennessee River at a place called Tellico.

In fact, TVA had already done substantial work on the dam when the new law was invoked by wildlife biologists working with people we learned to call “environmentalists,” a word whose origin dates from my college years.

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He crafted a compelling image of the green and flowing nature of Appalachia cut and partitioned by TVA’s concrete and barbed wire, patrolled by armed guards whose presence made the old farms and forests seem like a war zone.Matthiessen spoke of the opposition to the project not only by environmentalists with their snail darter but also by a much older endangered species in the region, the Cherokee Indians.Muir wrote volumes of poetic prose extolling the beauty and wisdom of nature, he entertained poets and presidents from Emerson to Theodore Roosevelt in his beloved mountains, he founded the Sierra Club to work for conservation, and he enjoyed many successes in wilderness protection, including the preservation of the Yosemite Valley as a national park.But when he lost the battle to save the Hetch-Hetchy Valley in the late 1890s, his energy failed and he died.By the time TVA finally got to build its dam at Tellico, after hired scientists successfully transplanted snail darters in other rivers, the course of my own environmentalism was firmly established.

The sense that something valuable had been lost in the Tellico Valley with its little river and fertile farms led me to join the Sierra Club and to identify with its founder.Like many causes during those formative years of environmentalism, the opposition to the Tellico Dam depended partly on scientific investigation and partly on a web of political identity reinforced by metaphors and myths.The famous nature writer Peter Matthiessen invoked the war metaphor when he traveled to east Tennessee in 1979 to write an article on Tellico for the .I thank Larry Mitchell, head of the English department at Texas A&M, Dean Charles Johnson and Associate Deans Larry Oliver and Ben Crouch of the College of Liberal Arts, and James Rosenheim of the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research for providing crucial support, both moral and monetary.I thank my daughter, Myrth Killingsworth, an ecocritic in her own right, for being my writing companion throughout the process.The opposition to the Tellico Dam reenacted a grand myth of the conservation movement, stirring the century-old roots of environmentalism with the memory of early efforts to preserve nature in the face of industrial expansion and urban growth.