Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Time of Renewal

Here is a story I posted on Al Zagofsky's e-zine "Carbon County Magazine" back in March.  It has been my pleasure to be a regular contributor to this effort that chronicles our lives here in Carbon.  Out of respect to Al, I always wait until after he publishes to re-post my stories here on my blog.  Please follow this link to his site and subscribe to this free and quality resource that serves our region with information you will not find anywhere else.  Be sure to watch for my up coming story due out in a few days entitled, "Filling Our Bathtub with Gene Autry's Money."  Enjoy and thanks for checking in again.

Late Spring in the Lehigh Gorge, facing north: Glen Onoko is out of frame to the left, the former Hotel Wahnetah site out of frame to the right, from atop the old Jersey Central Railroad Tunnel at Glen Onoko.

Springtime is a time of renewal.  Even though it hasn’t been too wintry, it is still nature’s time to awake from a long winter’s nap.

It is also “Keep America Beautiful” month, the month we celebrate “Earth Day,” and of course it is the time of the eternally spring holiday of Easter, which represents the most important renewal of all.
We are fortunate to live in this county with the kind of natural beauty that draws people from far and wide.  I am quite fond of our biking trails and I cherish the State Game Lands where my family and I have hunted all our lives.  This place is our heritage.

But nature’s ability to renew itself can easily fall behind the pace of our consumption.  The Easter Islands have hundreds of stoic statues to remind us of this.  By the early 1700s, the native people there virtually eliminated themselves.  They outstripped their own food supply by cutting down too many coconut trees, which they used to roll the statues from their quarry to the coast.

So how can we ensure our sustainability here in Carbon?  Perhaps a few simple things, like using dishtowels more than paper towels, or using safer household cleaning products.  What about all those seemingly countless recharging cords?  We could plug them into power strips that are turned off when we’re not home.  Can we say this is enough?

Besides helping out on my friend’s tree farm for many years, I have always enjoyed cultivating trees of my own.  On our 5-acre homestead, I’ve made a determined effort to grow more trees than I’ve cut down.   (So far I’ve planted over 26 to the 4 I’ve had to cut down in the past 20 years.)  Trees are something that transcend our enjoyment and go beyond us in time.  But we consume a lot of trees in the amount of paper and cardboard each of us is responsible for.  It is hard to imagine ever being able to keep up with all we consume.

We at times have been hard on our environment here.  If we look for it, we can still find man-made impacts nature and man have yet to fully renew.  The Blue Mountain in southern Carbon is just now showing signs of renewed life from the decades of destructive pollution from zinc smelting.  (Danny Kunkle of Lehighton deserves much credit for the progress there.)  In northern Carbon, we still find culm piles and stripping pits.  The land seems to always remember what we have done here.

The water remembers, too.  One of my favorite biking trails through the Lehigh Gorge runs along the Black Creek that enters the Lehigh from Weatherly.  The water appears to be pristine; the rocks are clean, the water clear.  But a closer look finds almost nothing living there.  Moss doesn’t even grow on the rocks.  This stream continues to have high ph levels from mine runoff and is contaminated with heavy metals from a beryllium plant.  Despite the passage of time and remediation attempts, it is still devoid of the once plentiful brook and brown trout once native there.

One of the cautionary lessons I relay to my students is on how little our culture seems to embrace delayed gratification today.  Everything must be done instantly.  This impatience and lack of goal-directed behavior comes with a cost.  The American video game addiction alone accounts for the amount of electricity to power all of San Diego each day.  Just to play games! 

We are even taking shortcuts on the food we eat.  Did you realize most large non-family farms use “Round-ReadyTM” seeds?  These herbicide-tolerant seeds are engineered to enable our food crops to withstand doses of herbicides that would otherwise kill them.  Are we sure of what all this could be doing to the food we eat?  How about our water?  Did we not learn the lessons of DDT in the 1970s?

I am disheartened that our state’s abundant wealth of natural gas is weakly legislated.   Our current law doesn’t generate enough revenue to offset the environmental risk.  (We rank last of all states in severance tax and environmental oversight.)  Our potential environmental risk is high, yet the reward is minimal at best.  How will we pay for the clean-up when our water supply turns up contaminated?  Where will we turn for water and how much will that cost?

We cannot afford to be foolish with the resources that sustain us.  This beautiful county of ours will continue to serve us well if we do the same.  We must remember, as the land does, that we are stewards here, for ourselves and our posterity.

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