15o. Wind chill made it feel like 6o. This was the day my supervisors chose, before they knew the forecast, for a retreat. The team-building activity? The same one our students from around the county do some time during their sixth grade year: Go down to a stream on county park property and conduct tests on the health of the local ecosystem.
Some of my colleagues balked. One refused to step outdoors and sat inside in front of a beautiful fire while the rest of us were outside for an hour, measuring the levels of acidity, the temperature of the water, the life of the stream. So what does it say about me that I preferred this activity to sitting at my computer in my windowless office in the DC suburbs?
I wore my flannel-lined windbreaker pants, a knit cap, my down coat with a fur-lined hood, leather gloves with flannel lining, and a warm scarf that my mother lovingly crocheted for me after she saw me without one at my father’s February funeral almost 15 years ago.
I traipsed down to the stream with three of my more cheerful colleagues—one from Belgium who was used to the cold, one who told us with a smile, “I’m from a country near the equator, but I’ll do this if you will,” and one who has lived here most of her life who cheerfully took pictures of all the teams. We looked for signs of erosion, considered the plant life around the stream, and reached into the freezing water to turn over rocks in search of what the park staff called critters.
Everyone but me got a kick out of saying critters. And me? I grew up in southern West Virginia with a father who called all animal life critters, so for me, the word evoked memories of an early childhood of wading in creeks in search of crawdads, of running down banks eroded only by the feet of children.
Born in a suburban hospital in 1986, my daughter never experienced the joy of fishing critters out of a creek. Her only experience with crawdads was in this same park, where she spent three days and two nights with her sixth grade team. It made me a little sad this week that I didn’t take her back to a creek in West Virginia while my father was still healthy enough to wade in a stream with her and put a crawdad into her tiny hands.
At our retreat one staff member—from a group of about 25—found a crawdad. My own team found nothing except a little green wormy creature, whose name I can’t remember now but who was one of the creatures that could live in highly polluted streams. The one crawdad actually showed that the stream was somewhat healthy. I told the director of the park staff—one of those rare residents who has lived here all of his life—that finding crawdads was much easier when I was a child in West Virginia. He smiled sadly and said that I should see how polluted the streams are as they get closer to the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay. And I shared with him that many of the streams in West Virginia are no longer so healthy either—filled with the gray sludge that comes from coal processing plants. I told him to check out the documentary On Coal River, which chronicles the lives of people who grew up in the shadow of a coal tipple.
So what do we do? It’s getting harder and harder for those who don’t want to believe in global warming to deny the damage that human beings are doing to this wonderful planet entrusted to us by the Creator of a world too spectacular for human imagination.
Now tell me your stories of a world worth saving—of a world worth leaving to our children’s children’s children—of a world where our descendants can find critters under rocks in a cool, clear stream. A world where we are only a legend they hear about in stories—stories of their ancestors who saved the planet just in the nick of time.