We had lots of rain lately. As I first set the tube in the river I noticed it was no longer cloudy. A short moment after the rainbow’s appearance, I spotted an always-challenging-to-see green heron, stealthily slinking and hunting along a pebbled bank. They’re smaller than a crow and actually maroon colored with notes of deep green on their head and shoulders. Somehow the combination makes them very hard for me to see from the river, and, I assume hard for things underwater to see them too. Its presence was another sign the water was clearing in this stretch, as it means the river once again is allowing such shore feeders a chance to find their dinner in the shallows. I guess they locate ponds and other less active bodies of water in the interim.
Yes, there’s the annoying and ubiquitous plastic litter in some areas. Still, the clarity of this river continues to impress me. Look at this random shot of the rocky bottom through two to three feet of life-filled water! And this is just a couple days after 3” of rain fell in these parts. In a few more days it will be back to it’s near crystal clear self. Several years ago it was “unsafe” to be immersed in this stretch of river. Old time residents will still give me a second look when I tell them I float in a tube in this river through the city, because they recall how badly it was hurting from abuse and neglect back in the day. Now it has recovered and shines. Not magically, but due to the hard work of so many people on several fronts over decades—working both upstream in the county regions and within the city to outlaw dumping, cease polluting industries, our EPA pressing us to redo arcane city storm water/sewer system overflows, forestry and other agencies educating us on harvesting resources sustainably and minimizing agricultural run-offs, even local groups sponsoring volunteer river cleanups.
There is a value (financial and quality of life) to sensible regulation. Freedom is now bantered about as if it’s such a clear ideal, but clean air and water are no longer free! There are trade-offs for the scale and type of culture we have built and the luxuries we enjoy. There are also trade-offs if we allow profits and “free markets” to run roughshod over our ideals. Every time I see families playing in this resource—just today, a dad and his child excitedly told me as I floated past about the small trout he’d caught—it’s conspicuous to me how invaluable this earth we share is. It befuddles and saddens me when folks using and enjoying it and espousing they are for “freedom” can’t see or acknowledge how many environmentally and economically smart laws and regulations that give us this bounty (the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, so many basic restrictions on known toxic pollutants) have been removed, diminished, or disabled in the last 3 1/2 years. What they think of as free and a “given” is being sold off. So we are now wasting precious human resources in courts to reclaim what already was clearly serving the majority, not the desires of some murky elite profiteering minority.
The Roanoke River in these parts is a beautiful living testament to the collective efforts of a broad community recognizing what it values, and putting in the energy to ensure those values are preserved for future generations. Coming after storms, rainbows are symbols of hope, right? I sincerely hope those we elect to office can think beyond themselves, generations beyond themselves. The choice seems to me as clear as this restored, gorgeous old Roanoke River.