Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day

It's odd to recall that Earth Day was considered such a liberal, even somewhat radical, occasion when it was first observed in 1970. Even old-school Democrats associated environmentalism - an exotic word - with nasty leftists & "tree huggers." Progress equaled development of natural resources, which meant using them up, not renewing or sustaining them. Land was preserved by turning it into a park or golf course. They wanted to build a jetport in the Pine Barrens, & developers were still griping about the Great Swamp being off-limits. The Army Corps of Engineers had plans to dam up the Delaware River at Tocks Island & the government was buying up property for the purpose, evicting rural residents & tearing their houses down Tennessee Valley style. The "brown fields" of Jersey's industrialized wetlands were generally considered irreclaimable, good only for garbage dumps, nothing could possibly survive there. Black bears were uncommon. A bald eagle sighting would attract crowds. You were lucky to see a white egret along the wild Mullica River stretch of the Parkway.

Concepts of "environmentalism" in 1970 ranged from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, to Lady Bird Johnson's wildflower campaign (a remarkable achievement, as it turned out), to a good deal of hippie "back to the country" bullshit.

The past 38 years have been a horror show of overdevelopment in New Jersey at the shore & in formerly rural sections. You can drive all the way to High Point State Park in Sussex County now without seeing a cow. Long Beach Island could make you weep if you had reason to visit there for anything but looking at a beautiful lighthouse.The Pine Barrens are a fraction of their original expanse, ripped & fraying. I''d read John McPhee's famous book on the Pine Barrens, & peered into them from paved roads. When, around 1980, I canoed through the middle of them in the company of a botanist, I was astonished at what was there, & stunned by the ecological frailty of the tiny things that are its greatest treasures.

But those same decades have been pretty good ones for Jersey's rivers & urban wetlands. When my sister moved up to Pottersville 25 years ago, I remember sitting by the beautiful Black River for the first time, a clear, rocky, gurgling miracle of a trout stream, & thinking, well, this place won't last. But it has. I marveled at the life in the tidal estuary section of Rahway River, which was a sewer when I was a kid. All summer long I'd see egrets & even an occasional Great Blue Heron, or a cormorant drying its wings on the bank.Upstream rain runoff still carries down a flood of oily garbage but that's not Rahway's fault. Nature lovers take guided tour boat trips through the vast Hackensack meadows to view wildlife where once they would only have seen rats - the rodent & the bodies of forcibly retired wiseguys. Mistakes are still made. Middlesex County wrecked the unique charm of Smith Creek in Sewaren by constructing an ugly & unnecessary county park just because they had the money to do it. It was the old mentality & it infuriated me.

Labels: , ,

Bob, this is a timely opportunity to give some press to the Rahway River Assn.. The RRA is working with volunteers from a few municipalities to do a watershed-wide cleanup on Saturday.
Post a Comment

<< Home
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?