Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Canary in the Mine
I think of myself as a rather large canary in the mine.
When I was a kid we would play daily on the Kalamazoo River that flowed near my home. The town was one of those small industrial towns that had many factories and a couple of foundries. Upstream was one of the foundries. We would follow the river on long summer days. There were lots of adventures there: critters to discover, animal prints in the mud to follow, frogs to catch - river stuff. There was one spot outside of town that we'd stop at that caught our attention where warm water trickled down from the rear of a foundry property. I'm sure very few people saw this part of the countryside except for maybe the occasional hunter. But us, being kids, we weren't just walking through the area - we stayed; we explored. The water was warm. It was intriguing and fun because if we waded in past the bright orange-colored shore and into the collecting pond of warm water, we would sink down past our knees into the sand below. We called it quicksand and would spend hours splashing in the unusual water pretending we were in a Tarzan movie rescuing one another from the quicksand.
Recently I learned that years later this site was cordoned off by the EPA in the late 90's as a toxic wasteland. The earth of the property is contaminated with a long list of carcinogenic chemicals that over the years seeped into the ground and drained down to the river. The EPA document shows this spot on the map as the same pool of orange, warm quicksand water we played in years ago. The waters were poisoned along with the earth and my young body also. Back in the early 60's there wasn't much thought given to the dumping of toxic waste beyond putting it into barrels and burying it. Today, the foundry sits empty, the land considered "brown land" - land that must sit idle because it can't be sold or built upon. The land, the water, the animals, plants and myself have all been the recipients of the dumping.
My body reflects the earth's; the same tracks cross both. One of my responsibilities as a resident of the Great Lakes region, is to be a guardian of the fresh water - your grandchild's drink.
This is the only water we get. What we have is what we get. There is NO new water. It's the same finite amount that's been recycling on the planet for hundreds of millions of years. The same water a dinosaur drank was then pissed out to the ground, evaporated and eventually fell as rain, re-entering our water cycle. This process has been going on and on for eons without problem, and now, look what we've managed to do in just a few short years of industry.
What can we do? Gratitude is always a good place to start; appreciating the fact that over 1 BILLION people TODAY do not have the right of clean drinking water. If we appreciate this gift we won't squander it; we'll protect it because there's a high probability that the 1 billion without clean water today will grow to be many more tomorrow. We are the lucky ones; we are the privileged. We share a responsibility to our children, and to our children's children, and the children across the world today who will walk many miles with buckets and jugs to a dirty watering hole, to carry some dirty, precious, brown fluid home for their families.
Again, I send a 'shout out' and a 'megwetch' to the Water Walkers (see previous post) calling attention and raising awareness with their feet.