A few years ago I invested in the 1990’s Cousteau River Journeys DVD’s. Four of the episodes followed the Danube from headwaters to the Black Sea, with emphasis on the environmental degradation along the river in the former Soviet states. Chemical plants that dumped untreated waste into the river. The dangers of aging nuclear plants that weren’t that well built in the first place. Run off from contaminated ground water along with gas leakage into the atmosphere. Local economies based on fishing and farming were stressed out by the pollution.
The diversion of the river into man made channels to improve navigation, while destroying local economies based on the wetlands and marshes.
So, where is the soul of a river? Is it just the river? Or does the river and its soul stretch beyond the channel and the meandering blue line on a map. The river is the ocean that gives up its moisture to the rains and snows. The river is winter ice and summer sun. The river is snow, rain and hail. The river is the animals that depend on it for water and forage, the trees that shade the banks and shelter the birds.
The river is the disappearing marshes and the migratory birds that nest in the reeds. The canals are the river and so are the drying wetlands that used to hold back the floods. The dams we build are the river and so are the fish blocked from their native spawning grounds. The river is the disappearing fish and the villagers and fishermen who depend on them for their livelihood. The river is the untreated chemical waste that leaches into ground water. It’s the sewage from overburdened, aging city systems. The river is the rain falling through air contaminated with radiation from nuclear plants that couldn’t be built to withstand every possible risk.
The last episode ends with a group of children including one of Cousteau’s grandchildren flying kites along the river bank to remind us that they will have to live in the world we are creating.
(Words fail me sometimes. I have the vision in my mind but can’t find the words to express what I see)