What Lessons can we Learn from the River

When younger, the only lessons to we learned from the river were how to fish, swim, raft and play in on and around the rivers water and avoid drowning. Little is taught to us about protecting and preserving the life our rivers support or protecting the environment and life that supports our rivers ecosystem in return. It seems, that the lessons we learn from the river are lost in selfishness and ignorance.

Daily we exercise our free will to do whatever we desire to our rivers and only have ourselves to blame for the damage we cause as individuals, corporations, governments and a race as a whole. For most of us, these few lessons we have been taught when younger, are not enough to form a reasonable and respectable perspective of what lessons we can really learn, from the river.

The crystal clear streams, thriving with vegetation, wildlife and water life have changed so drastically over time, many of the rivers we encountered as youth are no longer the peaceful and serene connection we made with nature and its environment. Giving way instead, to deterioration by ecological and environmental stress caused by progress, pollution, humanity, climate change and introductions of all kinds. The rivers we remember from our youth seem to be only a figment of our imagination, that they might never have existed so beautifully and full of life as we remember them to have been. Though this has occurred slowly, it has happened continually.

You may have sat many hours by the banks of rivers in your area. You would have marveled at the large trout or native fish species that could move so smoothly and rapidly, pushing forward up the stream, against the current, resting in the deeper cool pools, with their sleek, quick bodies. You could watch silently as a mill worm would spin its way out of the thickly wooded bank sides and drop helplessly in the water, only to be gulped up, by the closest smooth swimmer. Where are these swimmers now? These beautiful fish, they are still here, but no longer seen, so few exist now in this stream. They have been replaced instead, by the thousands of carp, other species or pollution that have overtaken this river and its original natural habitat. The few trout that do remain, rarely surface, desperately seeking alternative sources food closer to the bottom of the river. Some have changed spawning areas due to predator competition.

Their replacement came, by changes made either through the course of environmental, ecological and man caused problems. One river in particular, Provo River, located in Provo, Utah for example feeds Utah Lake and in 2007 a final draft listing the endangered or completely extinct native fish population found in this draft on pages 53 through 58, clearly show, how great the problem is. With many species of native fish either extinct or nearly extinct. The trout populations in Provo River, for example, have become smaller after the changes in Utah Lake happened. The native fish struggle to survive and adapt to the changes. Carp, however, thrive here. The effect on the rivers ecosystem is being damaged as the problems in the lakes below them, travel upstream.

The mill worms the trout ate disappeared as well, their environment ripped away, by new construction development that sprang up for miles up the river. The animals that used to come out of the lush wooded areas are rarely ever visible. No longer can you sit by the bank of the river and watch a beaver try to build a dam, a deer look up nervously with its ears twitching at every sound as it drinks. They have moved on, forced out of the way by new developments and population. The Quinney Professorship for Wildlife Conflict Management has issued a publication in 1998 listing the endangered and threatened wildlife publication regarding the loss and affects of Utah’s wildlife, due to these environmental, ecological and man made changes. This problem is not unique to the State of Utah; it is a problem world wide. Yearly the IUCN Red List of endangered and threatened species grows. One day, perhaps, mankind will be on this list, if we are not able to learn a few lessons from the river.

The development of homes and business changed the natural environment that surrounded the river. The bugs and spiders that lived on the land and shore as well as the vegetation that depend on the rivers natural ecology changed or ceased to exist at all. The flow of the water was diverted and slowed. To make room for roads and park paths that traveled up the stream side and make access for the developments. This changed the way the river self filtered. Instead of deep cool pools of water, where you could see clear to the bottom, you could now see various, strange algae and shallow mosquito feeding and breeding pools that the diversion now created.

Along with these changes is the loss of the inspiration that everyone received from the natural environment. The feeling of all life within and surrounding the river as a whole and co-existing together happily, dependent on each other to sustain life naturally and being connected is looming ahead. It is not entirely lost, but the change is evident, as we try to find once again that peaceful surrounding we once knew.

Your reflection in the murky water is distorted, by the plastic bottles, cans, trash, foreign introduced chemicals and carp all remnants of ignorance and selfishness. You can no longer sit on the banks in the shade surrounding yourself peacefully, deep in thought and make a connection to the river and life itself. The trees and foliage are practically gone. No animals present themselves. Fishing line, bait and economic waste entangles the ground and the wildlife as it floats down the river. You walk further up the river, for some sign of the past, something natural and something unchanged, hoping for a small indication of what you remember from your youth.

This is not a single rivers problem, it is world wide. The Yagntze River, located in China and known as the longest river in China, was reported to have irreversible pollution damage. News reports on the largest criminal polluters are published yearly for criminal polluters around the world at the environmental, health and safety online website. These crimes range from economic pollutants, due to chemicals, growth and other damage causes. Causes which affect the natural habitat and ecology of all our rivers. For over five miles you walk, with your garbage sack in hand picking up trash as you go. You can fill more than the three sacks you carry in the five mile stroll. You observe the storm drains that feed the river along the way. Waste from residences and business that range from engine oil plastics and other damaging waste, rush through the grates spilling into the river.

Eventually, you come to a place, where the population dwindles, no businesses or factories are strewn along the path. The foliage gets thicker and the path along the river becomes cleaner. The water is clear again. You hear birds in the trees and see a squirrel shoot up a tree. You hope to see a deer. There is a natural dam made by a beaver it seems to be a natural gateway separating the natural environment from the man made environment. It is close to the mountain where the river water sources come in. Few people live nearby and signs are posted by local groups. Pick up your trash, garbage receptacles are available, a fine imposed for littering. Don’t feed or disturb the wildlife another reads. No fishing and no swimming signs are also visible. The natural ecology that you recalled in your youth is surrounding you once again with the exceptions of the signs and garbage receptacles.

With programs such as the Utah Reclamation and Mitigation Conservation Commission, National Parks Rivers, trails conservation programs and other worldwide conservation groups like One- Water for the World Act 2009, preserve water sources from pollution, to restore lakes, tributaries and rivers to their original natural habitat, flow and setting, you are able to comfortably sit, by the bank once again and look into the clean cool water, see a smooth swimmer swaying in the current seeking its next mill worm victim.

Everything feels right and balanced and you can feel yourself connecting with this natural environment. Your spirit and thoughts run freely as they did long ago. Reflecting and thinking about the important things in your life. As you appreciate in its entirety the river as a whole, and how nature is connected in so many important ways, you wonder in deep thought, how much longer will this be here as it is? Will those who have protected this spot, be able to continue to do so? Will others learn to appreciate, how important our river is to cohabitating productively and responsibly to ensure all kinds of life can exist together and the ecology is preserved. How can I take part in this preservation and conservation? These are all lessons that we can learn from the river, just as long as we continue to teach our children and grandchildren the most important lessons we learn from the river. That we may impact their awareness of these problems and change their actions in some way. That they will learn to preserve the life of our rivers as a whole and have something to appreciate when they get old.