Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘Conservation’

To Hell And Back

Flames and thick, acrid smoke. Putrid stench, fear, agony and death. A desolate place, inhospitable to life.

No, it’s not Hell. It is the Cuyahoga River in the middle of the United States, in Cleveland, Ohio.

It’s a hundred and one years after the first fire on the river was reported in The Plain Dealer, in 1868.

We think of Pittsburgh and Detroit when we think of our Industrial Revolution cities, but Cleveland ranks right up there with a healthy population of steel mills.

Rivers had been natural sewers as long as humankind has lived in densely populated communities. Ancient Rome is praised for its advanced civil engineering and the first public sewer system. (Perhaps premonition of humankind’s future, they also had indoor plumbing and running water. Unfortunately, the public water supply was delivered through lead pipes.)

As time marched on, the numbers of people using the waterways for waste increased a million fold. Add now the poisonous elements of our burgeoning “Chemical Revolution”; DDT, PCBs, waste oil, asbestos, mercury, household cleaners and industrial ones.

In 1969, TIME magazine featured the story of the June 22nd fire on the river that “oozes rather than flows”. River Of Fire.

That’s what it takes to convince people that things are really bad.

This is not far from the publication date of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”, where numbers and facts were needed to convince people that all the dead fish are really dead and you won’t be seeing any bald eagles anymore.

If I was an adult writing this in 1969 (I was 10), I would be declaring the end of the world as we know it. Actually, that statement would not have been far from the truth. When finally we had trashed the planet so badly that the water burned, folks began to wake up.

Maybe they didn’t care about the bald eagle, the official emblem of our country. Maybe they were unconcerned that no fish or water bird existed or could exist in that canal of contaminants. Maybe no one cared that the same things killing eagles and fish, waterfowl and mussels would do the same for us. Maybe they just wanted the fires on the river to stop.

We can fix these things, given time, effort and commitment to them, a concept I have often doubted.

We are unlikely to see again the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker or the Carrier Pigeon. We can, however, now see bald eagles. And ospreys, who were right behind the eagles heading for extinction. We have returned Trumpeter Swans and the native Yellowstone Trout to that preserve for which it is named.

And that filthy river in Cleveland, Ohio?

In 2019, the ban was lifted on consumption of fish taken from the Cuyahoga. One hundred fifty one years from the first reported fire. Fifty years since “Silent Spring”.

So don’t give up on our hopes for our planet’s future and that of its living occupants. Patience will be required.

I don’t have another fifty years ahead of me. I won’t know what progress we’ll have made by then.

With habitat loss. With carbon emissions. With lead and plastics.

But my hopes and dreams for my grandchildren and theirs are renewed and reinvigorated with the reclamation of the Cuyahoga River.

Humans have proven they can do many amazing things; learn to fly, wipe out polio, split the atom, land people on the moon.

With some perseverance, some devoted labor, given another hundred years, perhaps we can add one more amazing achievement:

Earth restored.

Max at West Creek

Seek peace,

 

Paz

The Ghost of Osceola

 

“Ever since the days of old

Men would search for wealth untold.

They’d dig for silver, and for gold,

And leave the empty holes.

 

And way down south in The Everglades,

Where the black water rolls and the sawgrass waves,

the eagles fly and the otters play

In the land of The Seminole.”

 

John Anderson’s song ran through my head constantly as we traveled the roads outside of Ocala, Florida.

Off to our right, pastures of green. Grazing dairy cows, playful galloping horses. Ancient Live Oak trees spread their limbs and shade all below, adorned and festooned with Spanish Moss. Orange trees and Crepe Myrtle.

Bisecting the Ocala National forest, one can see what this land once looked like. Sand and pines, low-growing palms, the ground dotted with piles made by Gopher Tortoises, making their nests in the warm earth.

In the rear view mirror, “The Villages”. Vast, expansive new communities developing as quickly as houses can be built. Replete with shopping centers, medical arts buildings, recreation centers. Concrete and asphalt, steel and glass, power lines, signs, lights and traffic spewing forth clouds of carbon monoxide.

“Don’t they look so nice and new?” my companions cackle. I purse my lips and swallow hard and keep my thoughts to myself out of some misshapen sense of civility.

 

“Progress came, and took its toll,

And in the name of flood control

They made their plans and they drained the land.

Now the ‘glades are going dry.”

 

The River of Grass. The Everglades. The largest freshwater delta in the world. The porous limestone aquifer, barely a few feet above the level of the sea, filters water beneath the ground, and it spews forth by the billions of gallons. At Silver Springs State Park we see the inverted Niagara. A vent pouring out millions of gallons of crystal clear water. “The volume produced,” said Captain Christopher, piloting our silent, electric glass-bottom boat, “could fill four Olympic swimming pools per minute.” Water so pure you can see the ancient river bottom thirty feet below without distortion or darkness. A Gar passes beneath, four feet long and a quarter of it the snout. An Anhinga swims by below, chasing after lunch.

A sign warns us not to feed or approach the Rhesus Monkeys. If scratched or bitten we’re required to call the CDC immediately. Some well-meaning naturalist, or showman, or perhaps a little of both, brought the monkeys to the park for the viewing pleasure of the public. Released on an island, they were thought to be contained. Little did they know, monkeys are agile and fearless swimmers. Now they roam throughout the park and the adjacent lands beyond. They’ve done well establishing themselves on a foreign continent, as well as the Burmese Python, inadvertently introduced as released pets.

The Florida Panther, a sleek cat occupying the swamp for millennia, is now a threatened species due to human encroachment and over-hunting of the past. Less than 200 individuals left in the wild, and losing habitat daily.

 

“And the last time I walked in the swamp

I stood up on a Cypress stump.

I listened close and I heard the ghost

Of Osceola cry.”

 

I looked at the beauty and diversity of nature here in this one-of-a-kind place, and looked out the other window at the world of humans. Chasing money. Everything has a price. I imagined what this place must have looked like only a few hundred years ago.

 

“So blow, blow Seminole wind.

Blow like you’re never gonna blow again.

I’m calling to you like a long-lost friend,

But I know who you are.

 

Blow, blow from the Okeechobee

All the way up to Micanopy.

Blow across the home of the Seminole,

the alligator and the gar.”

 

I thought of the Seminole and all the other original inhabitants as they watched the destruction of their Eden.

I hung my head in sorrow. I apologized to Osceola and his people. To the panther. To the world at large. On behalf of all those short-sighted and misguided beings that have come before me. Again, ashamed to be human, who now can do nothing but cry.

If ever you enter the swamps and ‘glades, find a quiet place, you may hear the cries of two men mourning for those things that can never be reversed, returned or replaced.

It is Osceola and I.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

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