If I had gone to kindergarten, I would have received a “U” for unsatisfactory under the heading of “Shares Well With Others.” Since kindergarten had not yet been invented in my school district in 1959, I had to wait until first grade for that damning “U” to be bestowed upon me. As a middle child, I should be good at sharing. Unfortunately, I am missing the sharing gene as well as the hair styling gene. If you see a selfish person with messy hair it’s probably me.
I’m going to go against my genetic make-up, however, to share one of the best-kept secrets in the area. We have running through this area a beautiful river that deserves a little better than it’s getting. A friend of mine can name every little branch and inlet to this river, but that’s just too much detail for me. It’s enough to know the river enters Ohio from the west and joins Greenville Creek and then enters the Great Miami River. Along its shores are scenes of incredible beauty, abundant wildlife, and surprising wild-ness.
As early in the spring as I’m brave enough to step into its chilly waters, I start wading the river. Sometimes I bring a fishing pole, sometimes a kayak, and sometimes just a lingering appreciation for a resource that is so close and so luxuriant. Throughout the spring and summer months the river is there to enjoy. This year, especially, people took advantage of an activity that was both family- and COVID-friendly. Every reasonably nice weekend this summer was met with kayakers and canoeists splashing their way downstream. (There are very few folks walking down the riverbed. I myself am somewhat leery of the cottonmouth-rattler-boa-anaconda but I’m willing to take my chances.) Now, even in the throes of late autumn, the river continues to give joy to those who travel her. I hope my fellow travelers have seen what I have.
I saw shorelines thronged with trees, from stately oaks to the precariously leaning sycamores with their Medusa’s tangle of roots to the nascent evergreens shaded in the canopy, striving to get enough sun to grow tall enough to get enough sun. I saw masses of knotted vines, linking those trees and sometimes spelling their doom. I saw fields of boulders in the shallows, strewn about as though tossed by giants and creating the fast burbling water with its attendant mesmerizing sound. I saw minnows leaping up out of the river, a sure sign of a predator below. It reminded me that despite all the human interference, the river lives on, supporting its food chain. I saw muskrats and mink and fawns with their snorting mothers. And birds. Some you hear before you see….the hawks and woodpeckers announce their presence with authority. None of their signatures, though, match that of the eagles. In a victory for the environment and for that ever-important food chain, the eagles are making a comeback. They soar majestically on unseen thermals, their cries swept back to us on the wind. And now I have seen the vivid evidence of the season change, when the trees give up their constant green and burst into color before the winter gray.
Unfortunately, I also saw the abuse the river endures. For some inexplicable reason, the river has become a dumping ground. It is utterly beyond me how someone can stop their car along the river and dump out bags of trash and empty bottles. It’s beyond me yet the evidence is there in all its ugliness. Bags of trash, twelve-pack containers and fast food boxes mar the landscape like scars. Try to imagine the mind set of the person who thinks this is acceptable. If they are willing to destroy a river, what is it that holds a priority in their lives? Is this ignorance or willful disregard? The river south of Troy has been especially harshly handled. Between Troy and West Milton, one side of the river has been stripped of every tree, every shrub, every blade of grass. White sheeting blankets the ground. The area has been fenced off and there are vehicles from the EPA parked nearby. Thanks to Richard Nixon, we have an EPA and I hope it can reverse whatever catastrophe befell this stretch of the river.
This river, like most, has provided food and water and transportation and recreation. It offers a chance to be content within yourself, to step back from being the loudest or drunkest and to revel in the tranquility of being the stillest and quietest. It asks nothing in return but to be respected. We do ourselves a favor when we do this favor for it.