Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Water, water, everywhere . . .

I've been out of town on a business trip the last few days. I don't have traveling partners, so in the evenings, I'm finding things to do. There is an IMAX theater across the street located in a museum. They are currently showing, among other things, two shows that I was interested in - Grand Canyon and National Parks. I decided to buy a double-feature ticket and see both of them.

As I watched these documentaries, I found myself very emotional. Part of that emotion was because I feel guilty that my children have not seen the beautiful places I have seen. But part of that emotion was because I found myself wondering if they will ever be able to.

Nature, as many other things on our Earth, has become a commodity. 

I vividly remember one day in 1974 when I was just 9 years old, walking across the bridge that spans the Royal Gorge. It cost my parents $4 for our family to walk across the bridge and back. It was a lot of money to us, especially after my dad had just purchased, without really thinking, an original painting from a very-drunk artists selling his works on the side of the bridge. That vacation, we would barely make it home, literally on fumes and with one quarter remaining in my dad's wallet (enough, he said, for him to walk to a phone booth if we break down to call my granddad). I remember that day so vividly because of the emotion that was packed into it: emotion from fear of the artist who smelled of alcohol; confusion about my mother's stern face as my dad handed over money for the painting; joy at the beautiful sights and thrill of breathlessness as I gazed over the side of the bridge into the deep, deep divide; and a momentous occasion - the resignation of President Nixon, which we had pulled over to listen to on the radio on the way to the gorge.

Fast forward to today and you will see a very different view of the Royal Gorge if you venture there. A private company owns the lease to the land and has run a theme park on both sides of the bridge which requires a person to pay $25 or more just to get in so they can walk on the bridge. There are a couple of places a person who doesn't want to shell out the money can peer at the bridge from afar, but no longer can a family of six toddle their way across the bridge through their poverty.

The Grand Canyon documentary talked about our overuse of water and how it is affecting the Grand Canyon. While watching it, I kept remembering the same trip described above having a quick stop at the Grand Canyon, just at dusk, as we watched the sun set behind the unbelievable canyon. I also kept thinking about what I know about the truth of what is happening to the water in the Grand Canyon and in other places that have depended on the Colorado River over the ages.

The United States became dam happy in the early 20th century, placing hundreds of dams across the country in the name of providing reservoirs of water for areas that had low water supplies. This damming of nature resulted in our neighbors to the south experiencing extreme drought and areas that relied on fishing for their livelihood could not only no longer fish, they also had no drinking water. Some of the dams in the southwest also destroyed history and removed evidence of ancient culture, as ruins and artifacts succumbed to the sudden onslaught of water.

Creation was made in a way that ensured it would always be here. Nature has its own ways of renewing materials and evolving to suit climate change. When we have decided to change those processes, we have chosen to eliminate nature and heritage, and shorten our future.

The real issue, though, is that the general public are either blissfully unaware or intentionally disregarding these truths.

As a society, we don't always choose to be unaware, we have been coerced into it. We blindly allow environmentally-damaging practices to continue and we choose to continue them ourselves.

Nature had a way of ensuring that the salmon population in Alaska would forever provide food to its inhabitants, but we have systematically removed salmon habitat over the last 100 years. The water cycle promises us that we will never run out of water, but we have built dams and processing plants that forever remove water from that cycle in parts of the country that previously had plenty. Why haven't we done as native ancestors did and built along waterways or maintained a nomadic life, following the flow of water or the changing of seasons? Why have we decided that because we can build systems that allow us to live in the desert that we should, in fact, do so?

When this is all gone, will we even wonder if we were responsible?

It isn't too late to do something about it. Dams can be removed. We can choose to live in ways that are friendlier to our environment. We can decide that we will no longer build in harms way but rather in ways that are harmonious with our Earth.

Wake up. See the water leaving us. Lament the loss of wildlife and habitat.  Do just one thing toward ensuring that our descendants will still have nature left to enjoy, and don't have to rely on a movie screen to reveal what once was . . .

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