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Buriganga River Still in Crisis

 Sharif Jamil ont he Bow of the Buriganga Riverkeepers Boat

Sharif Jamil ont he Bow of the Buriganga Riverkeepers Boat

From mid-February through the beginning of March, I went to Bangladesh to see waterways impacted by pollution and climate change with Sharif Jamil, the Buriganga Riverkeeper, head of Waterkeepers Bangladesh, and Executive Director of the Blue Planet Initiative.  The Buriganga River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, in large part from the tanneries that operated here until many were relocated to Savar Tannery Park this year. Some smaller ones still operate on the river clandestinely and the government has not done much to shut them down.  The river was totally black before the larger operations were moved, and it is still very dark.  According to the Department of Energy, oxygen levels have improved since the relocation  to 1.0 in January and February of 2018 compared to 0 for the same two months in 2017.  As you can see, Sharif's boat is not large, especially compared with barges and other large ships that travel on this waterway bringing goods to the capital.  He prefers to have a smaller vessel, so that he does not have to take contributions and  can maintain the integrity of his organization.  

 Barges Barreling Down the Buriganga River

Barges Barreling Down the Buriganga River

The image above shows one of the barges that came right at us.  I have a closer image of a barge that was almost on top of us, but this one shows there are multiple barges and ships traveling this river all day. The thought of capsizing in that water filled me with trepidation.

 Dying Operations Shyampur Aream Buriganga River

Dying Operations Shyampur Aream Buriganga River

The biggest threats to the Buriganga River are the dying factories at Shuampur area, Dhaka WASA (Water Supply and Sewage Authority), continued unauthorized tannery operations, other industrial waste, and household pollutants.  It is estimated that 60% of the pollution in the Buriganga comes from industry, 30% from government institutions (WASA and others) and 10% from households.  Most don't contain any sort of effluent treatment, and according to Abul Hasanat Abdullah, the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on local government ministry, the city of Dhaka is only able to treat 20% of the cities sewage. Fortunately for this river the largest tanneries have been moved from Hazaribagh to Savar Tannery Park, but now the Dhaleshwari River faces the same issues the Buriganga faced for years (http://www.lynnebuchanan.com/blog/2018/3/7/savar-tannery-park-and-the-textile-industry-on-the-dhaleshwari-river-in-bangladesh).

 Textile Industry with Water Hyacinths Proliferating from Untreated Waste

Textile Industry with Water Hyacinths Proliferating from Untreated Waste

The image above shows all the hyacinths that proliferate near textile industry operations.  The waste that is being released from this effluent pipe is untreated..  The lack of treatment causes water hyacinths to grow out of control and choke the river.  Here you can see one of the canals that has been totally blocked.  When hyacinths cover too much of the surface of the water, they block out all light and reduce oxygen levels.  While researching the water hyacinth problem in Southeast Asia, I did discover one interesting proposal that has been put forth.  Hyacinths can be harvested, chopped, ground, processed and dried into bricks that can be used for cooking oil and other energy needs.(https://www.eniday.com/en/sparks_en/hyacinth-power-cooking-fuel/).  The World Health Organization attributes 4.3 million premature deaths worldwide to the burning of biomass and coal, so finding alternative sources for energy production seems wise for the air as well as the water. 

 A Pipe Carrying Water and Sand to Fill in Parts of the Flood Plain and Low Lying Areas

A Pipe Carrying Water and Sand to Fill in Parts of the Flood Plain and Low Lying Areas

In the photographs above and below, pipes are shown that are designed to carry water and sand from boats to fill the river's flood plain and nearby low lying land.  Frequent monsoons and flooding that erodes riparian banks as well as land grabbing for development are big problems for this river.

 Buriganga River, Pipe for Filling the Flood Plain 

Buriganga River, Pipe for Filling the Flood Plain 

In other areas along the river I saw people harvesting hyacinths, though I am not sure what purpose they were harvesting them for.  In addition to its potential use as a source of energy, the stems of water hyacinths can be used to make rope, furniture, paper, and as a source of natural fibers (https://textiletoday.com.bd/use-of-water-hyacinth-in-sustainable-fashion/). Further usages include wastewater treatment, since the hyacinths absorb and digest nutrients and minerals from untreated effluent.  The image below shows people harvesting hyacinths near a street market.  

 Harvesting Water Hyacinths

Harvesting Water Hyacinths

Although Dhaka is 400 years old, the city still lacks an adequate sewage treatment plant with the capability to treat 80 percent of the sludge generated by its population of close to 20 million. The water hyacinths that proliferate here, especially during the monsoon season, might be helpful in combatting this issue, as well as other forms of industrial wastewater pollution (http://wst.iwaponline.com/content/19/1-2/85.  

 Buriganga River Untreated Sewer Discharge

Buriganga River Untreated Sewer Discharge

Below is a cottage tannery business that is still operating along the banks of the Buriganga River.  According to activists and civil society leaders, the government has not done enough to enforce the relocation of industry or in terms of protecting the river.  Though power sources were eventually cut off to encourage businesses to move some were able to get illegal power connections. Even though a few fish have returned to the river, pollution levels are still so high that any fish that have returned are toxic to human health as will be discussed below.

 Cottage Tannery Business with Workers Still Operating Clandestinely Along the Banks of the Buriganga River

Cottage Tannery Business with Workers Still Operating Clandestinely Along the Banks of the Buriganga River

The fact that some fish may have returned is suggested by the presence of these tall fishing poles that have been installed by a public park where many residents are congregating and playing cricket.

 Buriganga River Park and Fishing Poles

Buriganga River Park and Fishing Poles

The image below shows a larger fishing operation on the Buriganga that seemed idle as we went past, although there were people present on the platform above.  The heavy metals present in the river include: Cd, As, Pb, Cr, Ni, Zn, Se, Cu, Mo, Mn, Sb, Ba, V and Ag.  According to a study in the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health entitled "Human health risks from heavy metals in the fish of Buriganga River, Bangladesh," chemical contamination of food is the highest risk to human health from all the metals present in unsafe levels in the fish in the Buriganga River.  These heavy metals persist in the aquatic environment for a long time, and they are subject to bioaccumulation and biomagnification in the food chain.  Although not all metals cause carcinogenic health risks, the study concluded that "the accumulation of Ni in all fish species suggests significant cancer risk through consumption of these fish species." (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5047865/)  Yet, many people in Bangladesh live in poverty and have no choice but to eat fish from this and other polluted rivers when there is enough oxygen to support the presence of fish and other aquatic life..

 Idle Fishing Operations, Buriganga

Idle Fishing Operations, Buriganga

In the distant past, the Ganges river flowed to the Bay of Bengal via the Dhaleshwari River.  Over time, the course of the river gradually shifted and lost its link with the Ganges, which is when it was renamed the Buriganga River.  There were links with the Dhaleshwari though a few canals, but these canals have been grabbed by real estate companies, power companies, and brickfields.  This canal, which once connected with the Dhaleshwari, has been totally blocked, essentially robbing the Buriganga River from connection to its source and worsening pollution levels as freshwater no longer flows freely from the rivers it was once a tributary of.  The river would be in even worse shape if it were not for the monsoons and the flooding that accompanies these storms adding fresh rainwater to this ailing river.

 Encroachment of Canal that Used to be Source from Dhaleshwari River

Encroachment of Canal that Used to be Source from Dhaleshwari River

The image below shows how the brick industry relies on the Buriganga River for transportation of materials to Dhaka. 

 Brick Industry and Cow on the Buriganga River

Brick Industry and Cow on the Buriganga River

One of the mainstays of the Bangladesh economy, as well as a major source of pollution is the brick industry.  According to Dabaraj Dey, Research Associate from Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers association, "the unhygienic traditional burning process of the dried bricks is responsible for emitting about 11.59 million tons of CO2 in 2015."  (http://youthenvop.weebly.com/youth-blog/brick-sector-of-bangladesh-development-associated-with-concerns-dabaraj-dey) It is also linked to deforestation and is detrimental to agricultural top soil.  Yet bricks are the core element of most building projects in Bangladesh.  Eco friendly kilns are beginning to be built, but banks are often unwilling to make loans to smaller brick making companies (http://www.thedailystar.net/business/eco-friendly-brick-kilns-growing-numbers-1383931),

Buriganga River Brick Transporters7146.jpg

I found it quite remarkable how they could balance so many bricks on their heads.

 Bricklayers Balancing Bricks, Buriganga River

Bricklayers Balancing Bricks, Buriganga River

Chemically treated plastic bags are another big problem for the Buriganga River.  People rinse these bags directly in the Buriganga and Turag Rivers. (https://www.thethirdpole.net/2017/06/26/can-new-protections-save-dhakas-dying-rivers/)

 Men Rinsing Chemically Tainted Plastic Bags along the Buriganga River

Men Rinsing Chemically Tainted Plastic Bags along the Buriganga River

We saw people washing discarded scraps of textiles as well as plastic bags in the river that they may have picked up in the mounds of garbage, again releasing unfiltered toxins.  Though utilizing waste and recycling are clearly beneficial for a society that produces so much trash, if waste producing unsafe chemicals is not disposed of properly, these toxins will continue to make their way into the water.

 Washing Refuse in the Buriganga River

Washing Refuse in the Buriganga River

One proposal the government had in 2012 was to dredge a channel fro the Jumana River, which is part of the Brahmaputra River that flows through Tibet and India before reaching Bangladesh.  However, environmentalists say this alone won't fix the problem. It is always best to prevent pollutants from reaching the river in the first place.  Dredging stirs up pollutants that have settled on the bottoms of rivers, and there are many in the Buriganga River from industries and oil operations along its banks.The dredging project was suspended that same year due to a lack of dredgers. (http://www.theindependentbd.com/printversion/details/9956)  

 Buriganga River Dredging Operations

Buriganga River Dredging Operations

What really struck me while I was motoring down this polluted river is how it is still a major artery of life for this city of approximately 20 million people, even though it is essentially a dead river.  All along the banks, I saw children playing often under drainage outlets or even in the water.  They were almost always barefoot.  

 Buriganga River Children Congregating in front of a Drain Pipe

Buriganga River Children Congregating in front of a Drain Pipe

 Children Looking at Something in the River

Children Looking at Something in the River

As was mentioned earlier, it is estimated that 10 percent of the pollution in this river comes from households.  This image shows a section of the riverbank that has been entirely taken over by trash.  During a Renewable Energy Meeting that I attended while I was in Dhaka, scientists discussed how biomass waste could be used as an energy source.  It also might help provide a healthier environment for residents–especially children.

 Buriganga River Children, This is Their Home

Buriganga River Children, This is Their Home

Below are more images of the ways in which people directly interact with the Buriganga River on a daily basis.  Though we often insulate ourselves from the many roles water plays in our survival in the western world, in Bangladesh the usage and importance of water in daily life is quite visible.  When I returned home and began processing these images, I realized that some were quite beautiful despite the horrifying thought that these people are continually exposing themselves to such health risks.  Before the country was subjected to unregulated industrialization as we experienced it 100 years ago, this river and the lifestyle of the people who dwelled here must have been quite idyllic.  When I blocked out thoughts of current  pollution levels, the bustle of people going about their daily lives made me wonder if people lived along the riverbanks in much the same way when Dhaka was formed 400 years ago or even 3,000 years ago when ancient boats were first designed in Bangladesh to traverse its 700 rivers.  However, food security was not an issue for this riverine country then, as the waterways were clear and stocked with fish.

 Buriganga River Life Goes On

Buriganga River Life Goes On

 Doing Laundry on the Buriganga

Doing Laundry on the Buriganga

 Buriganga River Boatmen, Children Harvesting Hyacinths, Drying Bags and Other Activities

Buriganga River Boatmen, Children Harvesting Hyacinths, Drying Bags and Other Activities

 Children Playing Near a Load of Bamboo, Buriganga River

Children Playing Near a Load of Bamboo, Buriganga River

 Ferrying People Across the Buriganga River

Ferrying People Across the Buriganga River

 Oarsmen, Buriganga River

Oarsmen, Buriganga River

 Pedestrian Traffic Along the Banks of the Buriganga

Pedestrian Traffic Along the Banks of the Buriganga

 Human Artifacts, Buriganga River

Human Artifacts, Buriganga River

 Buriganga Oarsman Rowing Past an Area with Discarded Plastic 

Buriganga Oarsman Rowing Past an Area with Discarded Plastic 

 Lumber Transport, Buriganga River

Lumber Transport, Buriganga River

 Buriganga Oarsman and Bustling Industry Near the Old Dhaka Landing

Buriganga Oarsman and Bustling Industry Near the Old Dhaka Landing

 Old Dhaka Landing

Old Dhaka Landing

The Streets of Old Dhaka

 Sheet Metal Vendor, Old Dhaka

Sheet Metal Vendor, Old Dhaka

One of the most interesting experiences I had in Bangladesh was being taken through the streets of Old Dhaka by Sohag Mohajon, who volunteers for the Buriganga Waterkeeper and lives in the area.  Most of the time I was in Dhaka, I was either inside an apartment or a car.  The country is problematic for tourists in the city, although it was possible to walk around in the Tea Gardens, Rain Forest and the Sundarbans.  I really enjoy connecting with people and seeing the culture, so it was a real treat when I got to walk around and have honey cakes and tea in a little shop and see what people were selling on the streets.

 Old Dhaka, Pineapple Vendor

Old Dhaka, Pineapple Vendor

The colors of people's attire added so much to the scene.  So many dressed so meticulously, both men and women.  Though there is a lot of poverty in Bangladesh, people do take great care with their appearance. As a tourist, I dressed to be modest, but often I felt so slovenly next to people in the city.  When I got home, I read this great article about fashion in Bangladesh.  It ends with the following observation, "Many styles have come and gone within this period but one thing has definitely remained constant throughout it all was the obsession of the people of Bengal, to look their best through thick and thin." (http://www.thedailystar.net/lifestyle/fashion-through-the-years-bangladesh-1355911)

 Old Dhaka, Street Pickles

Old Dhaka, Street Pickles

There were so many varieties of pickles on the street. I loved the rich colors from all the spices.

 Pickle Vendor, Old Dhaka

Pickle Vendor, Old Dhaka

The vendor was such a gentle soul and so proud of his offerings.  He is dressed in traditional attire for the men, wearing a lungi, the piece of cloth made of cotton, silk or batik that the men wrap around.  I suspect it is cooler than pants in the heat.  Lungis are very popular in rural areas, but they are worn in cities too.

 Newspaper Man, Old Dhaka

Newspaper Man, Old Dhaka

I could have walked around the streets all day taking everything in and noting all the cultural differences.  The old part of town is so enjoyable because it is a pedestrian area.

 Electrical Wiring, Old Dhaka

Electrical Wiring, Old Dhaka

The government estimates that about 70 percent of the population has electricity now.  However, the wiring is definitely interesting.  Sometimes power is shut off in a process called shedding, which serves to conserve power in the city of 20 million people.

 Old Dhaka Sugar Cane Vendor

Old Dhaka Sugar Cane Vendor

There are 30 varieties of sugarcane in Bangladesh, but farmers are reducing their production of this crop since it is an annual and land has to be dedicated to it year-round. With floods and monsoons, the country is having a difficult time producing enough rice for its population.  Rice is a major staple in the diet of people here, so some of the land that sugarcane was grown on is being taken over by rice and other more profitable crops.  

 Dhaka Gate, Erected by Mir Jumla

Dhaka Gate, Erected by Mir Jumla

This gate was erected by Mir Jumla, who was appointed Governor of Bengal in 1660.  Trade and commerce took off in the capital city, with people coming from  Holland, France, England, Greece and Armenia to do business. Now this landmark is in disrepair and nothing is being done to preserve it.  

 Old Dhaka, The Group of Volunteers Who Showed Me Their Town

Old Dhaka, The Group of Volunteers Who Showed Me Their Town

The group in the photo above are the wonderful people who escorted me through Old Dhaka.  I felt so honored that they came out and brought flowers for me.  The woman who is second to the right is from Belgium and works for First Defenders, who provide legal help for people in developing countries who are standing up for their human rights.  I was treated with such incredible respect and people were so gracious and grateful that I came to see the plight of their waterways.  Often our media only shows the problems in these countries and people fighting or suffering or refugees.  They paint a scary picture of otherness, but walking through the streets with my hosts I felt included and befriended.  There is something very special about truly honoring one another with such good will.  I always raised my children to accept and celebrate diversity, but often living in homogenous suburbs it was just a theory.  When connections like this are experienced, otherness disappears and that most certainly is the strat to healing and working together to solve the problems our entire globe is experiencing.

 Dhaka Jute Holiday

Dhaka Jute Holiday

There is just one more image I wanted to share and that is the one above.  The day I visited Old Dhaka was a national Jute holiday.  There were photos and billboards of jute all around the city.  Though it is not as popular today as it once was, the country is making an effort to revitalize it.  There was even a slogan for the day, "Golden Fiber, Golden Country.  When I was this woman walk buy and look up a the glamorous women in the photograph while she was so glamorous herself, I had to roll down the car window and take the shot.  It was especially beautiful to see the conventional dress and materials being celebrated. The people of Bangladesh are not without pride.  Though their country suffers from many problems associated with climate change and overpopulation, that does not mean that they are lesser people. On the contrary, the resilience, steadfastness, and dignity they exhibit in the face of critical environmental crises made me realize how remarkable the Bengali people are and how much I can learn from them about not giving up.

The Invitation to Infinity and Oneness I Experienced in the Sundarbans

 Sundarbans Heritiera Fomes on Red List of Threatened Species

Sundarbans Heritiera Fomes on Red List of Threatened Species

After spending ten days in the very polluted cit of Dhaka, I was fortunate to be able to spend three days in the Sundarbans, which literally felt like heaven on earth.  Though this is such an overused saying the mangroves were so graceful that it did not feel like hyperbole at all.  We spent our time on a boat traveling between the many islands that are home to Heritiera Fomes, the dominant mangrove trees here.  Though about 70 percent of the mangroves are this species, it is on the threatened species list due to the rising seas and potential damage from cyclones. I was struck by the exquisite beauty of these trees and how many birds, like the egret in the image above, made them home.  Heritiera Fomes are in fact the highest carbon storing plant in the Sundarbanas.  Given that this small country is perhaps most affected by climate change than any other place in the world, having a huge delta filled with mangroves is critical–especially as they buffer tidal surges.  

 Sundarbans Canal, an Invitation to Infinity

Sundarbans Canal, an Invitation to Infinity

While in Dhaka, I experienced a philosophical shift and arrived at a new paradigm of being in terms of my own experience.  Though I have often read about people feeling small when standing before the wide open expanses of the west, I did not understand what feeling truly insignificant was until I spent time in a city of 20 million people and huge traffic jams, where I could only see a few feet in front of me at a time.  I got claustrophobia and felt both helpless and powerless. 

During our trip to the Sundarbans, we took a small boat down a canal one early evening.  Standing on the bow of the boat looking down the expanse of the waterway that seemed to terminate at the edge of my vision or beyond, I felt that I was being invited to experience the infinite mysteries of being.  The distant horizon seemed full of possibilities I could always strive for. The boatman paddled soundlessly and I caught myself holding my breath several times.  Though walking on these islands is very unsafe, due to tigers and crocodiles, and only honey hunters and robbers venture into the forests, I still felt more included in this world than I did in the congested city where I had been hidden away in apartments or cars because I was an other.  Here I felt much more at home, though of course it would have been foolhardy to step off the boat.

 Narrow Tunnel Off a Canal in the Sundarbans

Narrow Tunnel Off a Canal in the Sundarbans

This narrow mangrove tunnel was off the canal we traveled down in our search for wildlife.  Somewhere near here, we'd spotted tiger tracks and smelled its scent. Beautiful Golpata trees graced the entry way.  If the tiger had really wanted to meddle with us, and Bengal tigers are the most man-eating of all, there would have been no way to escape quickly.  Yet, this knowledge did not fill me with fear and in fact I felt at one with this landscape that contained serenity and hidden turmoil around every secret corner. The mangroves dotting the shores held the soil and helped created a sense of unity among all the ecosystems.

 Sundarban Moon Rise in the Water

Sundarban Moon Rise in the Water

We spotted an endangered crescent eagle, kingfishers and many plants and artifacts, as well as a boat that was hidden on a narrow tunnel, potentially by a robber.  This whole area, not just individual species of trees or animas, is endangered. Yet, for a brief period of time it seemed this natural universe would continue unperturbed. I vowed to remember the feeling of oneness that came over me, so I would never forget the importance of unity with the natural word..

Climate Change in Bangladesh and Why Preserving the Sundarbans is So Important

 Mangrove Tunnel, the Sundarbans

Mangrove Tunnel, the Sundarbans

The Sundarban (translated as "a beautiful forest" from Bengali) is the world's largest halophytic mangrove forest. The section of the Sundarban that lies in Bangladesh was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, due to its "‘Outstanding Universal Value’, biological diversity and the ecosystem services the area provides."  The Indian Sundarban was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987.  (https://www.nature.com/articles/srep21234). The image above shows one of the many mangrove tunnels that grace the approximately 200 islands in the Sundarbans, which perhaps explains why it is often referred to in the plural.  These islands are disappearing due to sea level rise, which is happening here faster than in other places in the world, with many scientists predicting that the Sundarbans will be under water in 15-25 years.  Some say the Bay of Bengal is rising twice as fast as other oceans, while other environmental scientists have indicated that the average sea level rise in the Sundarbans is 5.9 mm yr-1 versus 1.0-2.0 mm yr-1 elsewhere.  (http://environmentalprofessionalsnetwork.com/sundarban-the-worlds-largest-natural-mangrove-forest-in-bangladesh/)  

Located in the world's largest natural delta, which is formed by the the termini of three rivers, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, it is home to 334 species of saltwater tolerant trees and 269 species of wild animals including the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Ganges River Dolphin and crocodiles. (http://environmentalprofessionalsnetwork.com/sundarban-the-worlds-largest-natural-mangrove-forest-in-bangladesh/)  The Sundarbans occupies 10,000 sq km in Bangladesh and India, with 60 percent in Bangladesh.  As of 2015, it was estimated that 8 million people lived in and near the Bangladesh side of the Sundarbans while 5 million lived in and near the Indian region . (https://www.cnbc.com/2015/02/18/millions-at-risk-from-rapid-sea-rise-in-swampy-sundarbans.html). Eighty percent of the people depend on fishing for their livelihoods.  However, this industry and the ecosystems of the Sundarbans are being faced with many threats in addition to sea level rise. Other threats include increased salinity, climate change and cyclones, oil and coal spills, pollution from rivers that flow into the delta, deforestation and increased silt, and reduced flow from dams and water grabs by India that are  robbing the ecosystems of fresh water. 

The most serious threat to the Sundarbans continued existence is the proposed 1320 MW Rampal Power Plant currently under construction, which would burn 5 million tons of coal a year that would have to be transported through this delicate ecosystem.  The plant is projected to come online in 2019, perhaps sooner according to government officials.  In May 2016, a bulk cargo vessel carrying 1,245 metric tons of coal sank in the Shela River, the fourth incidents in two years.  The image below shows that almost two years later, coal is still being cleaned up.  Environmentalists are also concerned that the plant will draw its water from the Passur River, the lifeline to the Sundarbans, and will discharge wastewater back into that same river.  They believe this will threaten the future viability of the mangroves, which also act as an important carbon sink for the entire world. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/07/18/a-new-power-plant-could-devastate-the-worlds-largest-mangrove-forest/?utm_term=.bcd3e62d7d7b)

 Removing Coal from the Shela River

Removing Coal from the Shela River

Water pollution will obviously impact fishing, which is central to the Blue  Economy–a concept that began to receive worldwide attention in 2012 and is used in the context of economics, agriculture, and conservation as a way of moving from scarcity to abundance by focusing on what is locally available.  Given that the Sundarbans is the largest delta in the world, it is no surprise that fishing is the major means of livelihood for people in the area. Additionally, it provides food security for this developing country, which is among the most densely populated in the world.  This is especially important as many of the rivers, especially those around Dhaka have become so polluted as to become classified as dead.  Rivers like the Buriganga can no longer support fish.

 Fishing Boats, Dublar Char

Fishing Boats, Dublar Char

In addition to water pollution from coal ash ponds, there would be serious air pollution that would contributed to global warming and affect the health of people, trees, and ecosystems.  Effects of air pollution would "cover the entire Sundarbans ecosystem, Satkhira, Khulna, Noakhali, Comilla, Narsingdi and Dhaka districts in Bangladesh and Ashoknagar, Kalyangar, Basirhat and Kolkata of West Bengal."  (http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/6000-premature-deaths-40yrs-1401421).  This would make the already unbreathable air in Dhaka even worse.  In Nasrul Islam's book "Bangladesh Environment Movement, History, Achievements and Challenges," he says Dhaka has been described as "a gas chamber for slow poisoning," and goes on to say that it is destroying the body and brains of its citizens–especially children.   I can attest that this is true after my visit, where one hot day I almost succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.  The air quality in Bangladesh is so polluted already that bringing another coal fired plant on line can only have disastrous consequences for both the environment and the population.  UNESCO has recommended the immediate cancellation of the project.  A Greenpeace study found that the plant would cause "at least 6,000 premature deaths and low birth weights of 24,000 babies during its 40-year life." (http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/6000-premature-deaths-40yrs-1401421)

 Dusk Over Dublar Char Fishing Village in the Sundarbans

Dusk Over Dublar Char Fishing Village in the Sundarbans

During my recent trip to the Sundarbans my host, Sharif Jamil, took me to visit the Dubalr Char Fishing Village.  It was almost dusk when we arrived and I was struck by the incredible beauty and peacefulness of this scene.  The motors of most boats were quiet and there was a stillness in the air and water.  I could see why people in other parts of the country would risk coming here for five months to fish, despite the dangers they face from man-eating tigers and crocodiles.  The air is clean, and though the water is laden with silt from deforestation, it is not black and foul-smelling like it is in Dhaka, and there are still many fish, though many that are caught in this area are smaller than those in India.  The Blue Economy has not been operating at capacity, with many resources exploited or mismanaged, and all fishing in the Sundarbans is dependent on the health of the forest.

Sundarbans Gathering of Fisherpeople in Dublar Char to Discuss Threats to Their Way of Life0517.jpg

The people are used to facing many threats besides the wild animals.  The temperatures have become increasingly hot in summer and the reduced flow of the rivers coupled with rising seas has altered the mix of the ecosystems forcing them to go further into narrow canals and up streams to fish.  This of course increasing their likelihood of tiger attacks. Many women in fishing villages become widowed.  They live far from civilization and lack access to hospitals or medical care.  The village leader told my host, Sharif, that someone had died from a heart problem three days earlier and would have lived if he'd been able to get medical care.  Sharif wondered if floating hospital could be obtained for the Sundarbans.  The storms are much, worse every year due to climate change, and the rising seas are swallowing more and more land every year.  Each time and island is submerged and more mangroves disappear, another layer of protection for the region and country vanishes.  The mangroves are essential to the survival of these people and indeed the nation's continued viability as ell.  This is one of the many reasons that building a 5 million ton a year coal burning plant 14 km from the edge of the Sundarbans would be so detrimental.  The air and water pollution that would result would kill the forest and pollute the water.  The health of the fish will be impaired and stock will be greatly diminished.  Already, after the oil spill of 2014, many dolphins and crocodiles died and the reproductive cycle of fish and crustaceans was disturbed.

 Rinsing the Small Fish to Make Chapa Shuntki

Rinsing the Small Fish to Make Chapa Shuntki

From late October until the monsoons come in April, the fisherman collect and dry fish to make the fermented fish product, Chapa Shuntki.  After the fish are rinsed, they are dried and then sorted as can be seen in the images below.  All phases are carried out by fisherman in close contact with the environment.  If the water is polluted, their health will be undoubtedly compromised from constant contact.  You can also see from the photographs how small these fish are, indicating problems with the Blue Economy in Bangladesh, especially given the over 165 million people that live here and need to be fed.

 Sundarbans Blue Econony Lags Behind India's, and it too is at Risk from the potential destruction of the forests.

Sundarbans Blue Econony Lags Behind India's, and it too is at Risk from the potential destruction of the forests.

 For Sundarban's Fishermen, the End of Each Drying Season is Filled with Uncertainty

For Sundarban's Fishermen, the End of Each Drying Season is Filled with Uncertainty

 Sorting the Small Fish for Chapa Shutki

Sorting the Small Fish for Chapa Shutki

 Man in Dublar Char Carrying a Fishing Net

Man in Dublar Char Carrying a Fishing Net

 Fresh Tiger Tracks Along a Narrow Canal in the Sundarbans

Fresh Tiger Tracks Along a Narrow Canal in the Sundarbans

In 2015, a census of Royal Bengal Tigers was undertaken in Bangladesh and it was estimated that the population was down to 106 from 440 in 2004.  The Royal Bengal Tiger has been listed on the red list of endangered species since 2010.  A current census that will take two years to complete is currently being undertaken by the forestry department.  The tigers used to help protect the mangroves, since they kept fishermen away from the dense forests, but due to increased salinity and flooding that is forcing the fishermen deeper into the Sundarbans, the continued existence of both mangroves and tigers is at risk 

 Trucks Going to the Rampal Power Plant Construction Site

Trucks Going to the Rampal Power Plant Construction Site

The image above was taken on February 26.  Construction was set to begin in March and the project is slated to be completed by the 2019-20 fiscal year.  The $1.7 billion project is being jointly undertaken by Bangaldesh and India and it is estimated that over a 60-year period, it could produce 38 million tons of coal ash.  (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10807039.2017.1395685?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=bher20

 Illegal Poaching of Mangrove Wood

Illegal Poaching of Mangrove Wood

The image above shows a person taking wood from the Sundarbans, which is illegal.  The government banned tree harvesting in 1989, but poachers continue to exploit the forest despite the fact that exploitation is directly linked with the habit loss of the Royal Bengal Tiger and other endemic species in the Sundarbans.  

 A Line of Dead Trees from Sea Level Rise, the Sundarbans

A Line of Dead Trees from Sea Level Rise, the Sundarbans

As was mentioned before, many islands are being swallowed by the sea.  Along the shorelines of remaining islands, there is frequently a line of dead trees from where the land has been eroded from encroaching saltwater and waves that undercut their banks. 

 Dead Trees and Encroaching Water from Sea Level Rise, the Sundarbans

Dead Trees and Encroaching Water from Sea Level Rise, the Sundarbans

As we traveled around in our boat for a few days, I spied a lot of driftwood in the waters and along the shores, signs of the ongoing destruction of the mangrove forests even before the Rampal plant becomes operational.  The image below, of the fisherman in the mist and the washed up roots of a mangrove tree on shore expressed the current fragility and temporality of the diverse ecosystems and fishing industry that have been here for generations and have been protected since the early 19th century.  Now that the country is experiencing industrial development without proper pollution controls, just like we experienced a hundred years ago in the West, the future of this region is at risk. 

 Driftwood and a Fishing Boat in the Mist, a Threatened Ecosystem and Livelihood   

Driftwood and a Fishing Boat in the Mist, a Threatened Ecosystem and Livelihood

 

The image below shows the banks of the Padma (Ganges) River and the receding water levels resulting from the Farraka Barrage, the dam in India that diverts water to avert their own water crisis.  According to some estimates, India is predicted to be "water-stressed by 2025 and water-scarce by 2050," To avert political unrest, the country is grabbing water. As a result, Bangladeh is already experiencing water scarcity "with villagers forced to watch crops shrivel, walk hours each day to collect water, risk dehydration, and even interrupt their education." (http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/south-asia/article/1986238/bangladeshs-water-shortage-woes-stark-contrast-countrys)

 Padma River with Reduced Flow

Padma River with Reduced Flow

The image below shows a shrinking stream in UNESCO World Heritage site in the Sundarbans.  This image was taken at the end of February, roughly a month before the start of monsoon season.  When the storms begin, the area will quickly go from parched to flooded.

 A Stream in the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Low Levels Near the End of the Winter Dry Period

A Stream in the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Low Levels Near the End of the Winter Dry Period

 Parched and Cracked Earth in the Sundarbans

Parched and Cracked Earth in the Sundarbans

The image above shows how cracked and parched the earth is in this region, and the image below shows trees that have died from lack of sufficient moisture during the winter dry season.

 Dying Trees and Parched Earth, The Unesco World Heritage Site in the Sundarbans

Dying Trees and Parched Earth, The Unesco World Heritage Site in the Sundarbans

 Endemic Crested Serpent Eagle Eating a Snake

Endemic Crested Serpent Eagle Eating a Snake

The Crested Serpent Eagle is also on the IUCN Red List for Endangered species for the potential destruction of its habitat.

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The Sundarbans are home to monkeys and spotted deer, which are among the most beautiful in the world. The Rufus Orange Kingfisher and the Brown-Winged Kingfisher are also prevalent here.  It was magical to watch these creatures coexisting together on the shorelines and near the forests. There are obviously many more creatures that we did not see, but I appreciated all the biodiversity I did witness here  It made me feel so alive after leaving the pollution of Dhaka and the haze hovering a large majority of the country.  

Sundarbans Rufus Orange Tree Kingfisher6932.jpg

The Sundarbans is clearing a treasure worth preserving for its biodiversity and the livelihood it provides to its residents.  The mangrove forest is also critical to the viability of the country as a whole given rising seawaters, and to the entire planet as a major source of carbon sequestration.  Scientists in Bangaldesh and from the United States and other areas are convinced that adequate sources of power can be found through more sustainable methods such as wind, solar, and biomass.  The country is one of the most densely populated on earth and as a result has a large garbage problem.  Though deriving energy from alternative sources like these was more expensive in the past, it is cheaper now and it would free the country from dependence on other nations for coal, etc.  For the sake of the Sundarbans and the planet, the wisest choice is to abandon plans for the completion of this plant or convert it to a more environmentally friendly mode of energy production.

Savar Tannery Park and the Textile Industry on the Dhaleshwari River in Bangladesh

 Savar Tannery Park Pollution Close Up

Savar Tannery Park Pollution Close Up

The tannery industry is a $1 billion  business in Bangladesh.  Until recently, the majority of the tanneries were located at Hazaribogh and were polluting the Buriganga River with over forty heavy metals including Chromium. Pure Earth listed the Buriganga River as one of the top ten polluted sites in the world, including Chernobyl.  In July 2017, the High Court of Bangladesh issued an order to cut down electricity to Hazaribogh to force the relocation of tanneries to the newly established supposedly green Savar Tannery Park.  Plans for this park were begun in 2003, but repeatedly relocation deadlines were missed. Many tanneries did not relocate even after the court's order and continued operations by way of illegal electrical connections.  The new park has a CETP (Common Effluent Treatment Plant), but it is not functioning correctly since it lacks a Chrome Separation Plant. Existing operations and CETP functionality are not monitored and there are no preparations or guidelines for solid waste management.  Currently, solid waste is dumped into a field and contaminates the soil.  Many small and medium scale cottage industries use tannery waste and byproducts, but there are no guidelines for these businesses.  No plans or arrangements have been made for treating salt either, so wastewater being released into the river contains a high saline count.  Furthermore, the plant does not have the capacity to handle all the effluents after the complete relocation of the tanneries and when they are all operating at capacity.  Additionally, they do not have sufficient capacity to handle all tanning operations following Eid Ul Azha, the annual Muslim holiday commemorating Abraham's sacrifice of his son, during which many cattle and other animals are slaughtered.   The CEPT in Savar has the capacity to treat, if properly functional, 2500 cubic meters of waste, but the tannery industries produce more than double that during this large religious festival.  Finally, not all the tanneries go through the CETP and the image below shows untreated effluent being dumped directly in the Dhaleshwari River.  

 Sharif Jamil, the Buriganga Riverkeeper, Observing the Release of Untreated Eflluent

Sharif Jamil, the Buriganga Riverkeeper, Observing the Release of Untreated Eflluent

I went to Savar with Buriganga Riverkeeper and Executive Director of the Blue Planet Initiative, Sharif Jamil.  We  were also accompanied by Adrian Sym, the Chief Executive of the Alliance for Water Stewardship, a global network of members "that promotes responsible use of freshwater that is socially and economically beneficial and environmentally sustainable." The group has formulated an International Water Stewardship Standard (the AWS standard) and companies that comply with this standard are rewarded as being good water stewards.  As the government in Bangladesh (and in the United States and in many parts of the world) fails to implement policies if they are even made, I am in agreement that finding a way to get companies to comply on their own is highly desirable.  Those that meet these standards can market themselves as being responsible water stewards and those that do not can be boycotted by consumers or otherwise pressured to comply with this standard and stop polluting our waterways.  Though people I spoke with thought the United States was well ahead of Bangladesh in environmental protection issues, I indicated that Florida could benefit from the implementation of an international water standard.  In 2016, the Governor convened a board with two seats vacant, one to represent the environment and one to represent municipalities, to raise the level of acceptable toxic pollutants in the state's water by three times.  It would seem an international standard would prevent governments from changing acceptable levels to support the operations of corporations without requiring industries to improve waste management.

 Adrian Sym Photographing Effluent Discharge from Tannery Operations as it Makes its Way into the Dhaleshwari River

Adrian Sym Photographing Effluent Discharge from Tannery Operations as it Makes its Way into the Dhaleshwari River

While we were taking photographs of this effluent being dumped directly in the river, I felt really nauseated from the terrible odor released from all the chemicals.  There is a strong ammonia smell, among other scents.  Though the images are disturbing, the odor was even worse.  Adrian astutely observed that I needed a smell camera.

 Effluent Directly Entering the Dhaleshwari River from the Savar Tannery Park

Effluent Directly Entering the Dhaleshwari River from the Savar Tannery Park

The tanneries were relocated to Savar in order to protect the dead Buriganga River, which is black and has no living fish.  Given that many toxins are being directly released into the Dhaleshwari, it could soon meet the same fate as the Buriganga.  Additionally, the Dhaleshwari joins with the Buriganga downstream, so pollutants released into the Dhaleshwari will eventually reach the Buriganga.  

 The Dhaleshwari River Downstream from the Savar Tannery Park

The Dhaleshwari River Downstream from the Savar Tannery Park

The Dhaleshwari divides into two branches and merges back again before meeting the Shitalakshya River and eventually merging into the Meghna River, which is terminates in the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers and is the largest delta in the world.  This delta is also where the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest is located.  Toxins dumped in the Dhaleshwari do not just stay in that river.  Rather, they make their way to other rivers and the delta.  The rivers in Bangladesh would be in even worse shape water quality wise, if it weren't for the monsoons that flood the waterways and wash some of their pollution away every year.  However, these toxins are being carried somewhere and rather than looking at the monsoons as a way to cleanse polluted water, it would seem to make more sense not to allow the water to be so seriously polluted in the first place.

 Savar Park Backed up Drain

Savar Park Backed up Drain

Another huge problem with the Savar Tannery Park is that adequate drainage has not been implemented and pipes back up all the time, spilling black noxious water in the roadways that people drive and walk along and which dogs wander near and potentially drink from.  Chromium is a carcinogen, so having this water flood areas people live in and work near is a huge threat to their health. Additionally, no guidelines or plans have been made for the housing, healthcare, and education of the tannery workers as was required.  Workers lack protective clothing and many work barefoot, according to one report by a NY based company, Transparentem, examining human rights in this industry.  The report also found children worked in the industry, although Bangladesh prohibits anyone under 18 from working in tanneries.  Transparentem did not publish its findings to protect investigators, and the claims about child laborers have been denied by the companies involved.  (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-4347870/Report-examines-grim-Bangladesh-leather-trade-links-West.html)

 Worker at an Incomplte CETP Plant at Savar Tanner Park

Worker at an Incomplte CETP Plant at Savar Tanner Park

Even though plans for the Savar Tannery Park were begun in 2003, it is still not complete.  Roads remain unfinished and the Chinese company responsible for the park has used that as an excuse for not finishing the CETP and making it more effective. Below are some more images of the plant.  

 Tannery CETP Savar Park

Tannery CETP Savar Park

 Sharif, Adrian, and a Worker Walking Through the Unfinished Effluent Treatment Plant

Sharif, Adrian, and a Worker Walking Through the Unfinished Effluent Treatment Plant

The photograph below shows the last tank before the effluent is discharged. In the background, workers are bringing their lunch to the site.  The water in the tank is still black and clearly has not been sufficiently cleaned.

 Last Tank Before Discharging the Effluent

Last Tank Before Discharging the Effluent

The image below shows where the effluent from that last tank ends up. There is still substantial point source pollution of these toxic chemicals.

 Discharge from the CETP, Savar Tannery Park

Discharge from the CETP, Savar Tannery Park

The following photograph shows hides hanging in the building in Savar Park.  Where tannery hides from the Dhaka tanneries end up was traced by Transparentem to Apex Tannery and Bay Tannery, who in turn manufacture for Clarks, Coach, Kate Spade, Macy's, Michael Kors, Sears, Steven Madden and Timberland, as well as Germany-based Deichmann, Harbor Footwear Group, and Genesco, which in turn design and market shoes in even more brands. ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-4347870/Report-examines-grim-Bangladesh-leather-trade-links-West.html#ixzz595vpmUua) Though some companies denied the claims while other said they got only about 1% of their leather from Bangladesh, consumers can make a difference by asking where companies are getting their leather from and what is being done to protect the workers and ensure that labor  and environmental laws are being complied with.

 Hanging Hides, Savar Tannery Park

Hanging Hides, Savar Tannery Park

The Dhaleshwari is also plagued by pollutants from the textile industry.  Though we did not get to visit a plant, we did drive by this building owned by the Doel Group of Industries, a 100 percent export oriented fabric and apparel company with in-house knitting, dyeing and garment production.  The photograph below shows untreated effluent being dumped directly into a canal.  Invasive plant species have clearly proliferated as a result of these discharges, and the toxins in this wastewater flow from the canal into the Dhaleshwari River.

Textile Industry Effluent Discharged Directly into a Creek0359.jpg

The textile industry accounts for 83 percent of Bangaldesh's exports, and Bangladesh's prices for textiles are the lowest of all global markets.  However, the textile industry is the second largest contributor to the pollution of Dhaka's Rivers after the tanneries.  According to a feature story by the World Bank in February 2017,  "There are 718 washing, dyeing and finishing factories discharging wastewater to the rivers in Dhaka and according to IFC’s best estimates this is generating as much as 200 metric tonnes of wastewater per tonne of fabric."  (http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2017/02/15/how-dialogue-is-shifting-bangladeshs-textile-industry-from-pollution-problem-to-pollution-solution). The industry also has lots of child labor issues that need to be addressed, but that was not something I had time to delve into on this trip. 

In 2013 an initiative called the Water PaCT (Partnership for Cleaner Textile) was introduced and some progress has been made though implementation is often where difficulties arise in developing countries. The World Bank worked with 215 companies on cleaner production and achieved the following milestones:  $200 million was allocated by the Bangladesh Bank for a Green Transformation Fund for companies that implement environmentally friendly measures; incentives for environmentally friendly technologies were created; and penal measures for companies continuing to use chemical pollutants were agreed upon.  These measures and recommendations were submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forest for approval and ratification.  In the meantime, the water is still being polluted.  One positive note is that in 2016 Levi's announced they were rolling out the implementation of PaCT's recommendations at six facilities in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.  Again, if customers demand that the source for products they purchase is not destructive to the environment or a violator of child labor laws, changes may be made by the companies themselves so that their bottom line is not adversely affected by boycotts.  

Dress and Scarf Vender Near The Textile Plants6143.jpg

The textile industry accounts for 45 percent of all industrial employment in Bangladesh, and is a huge source of jobs as well as contributing 5% to national income.  People need clothing and labor here is cheap, so this industry will likely remain in Bangladesh for years to come.  The environmental crisis has reached a critical stage in Bangladesh and, as in many places around the globe, government often sides with corporations.  However, the people in the country are increasingly aware of how polluted their water and air has become and they are starting a movement to demand that waterbodies are cleaned up and air pollution is reduced.  Due to increased public's awareness of environmental and water quality issues, frequent discussions are held between government officials, scientists, and civil society members.  Though Bangladesh is experiencing industrialization as we did 100 years ago and the United States is ahead of Bangladesh in controlling industrial pollution in many sectors, the recognition of the important role activists play and the willingness of these different sectors to come together to find solutions is something we can take away from this country in dealing with our own environmental issues. Lastly, given that the environmental problems in Bangladesh have become so severe as to become human rights issues, it behooves consumers in the US and around the world to purchase responsibly and consider the sources for materials in products we buy.

Satchori Forest, Bangladesh

 Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree, Satchori Forest, Habiganj, Bangladesh

Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree, Satchori Forest, Habiganj, Bangladesh

A couple of days ago, my hosts Buriganga Waterkeeper Sharif Jamil and his wife Mithun took me on a drive across Bangladesh to the Satchori National Forest near the Indian Border where we were accompanied on a short hike by Mr. Mahmud Hosen, a ranger there.  There we were met by Waterkeeper Tofazzal Sohel and his friend the poet Sifur Rahman Kayes. Satchori is a 600-acre forest with seven streams and over 200 species of trees, as well as many species of butterflies, brids, and animals.  It is exceptionally lush during the monsoon season.  Our visit was over a month before the start of the moonsoons, and though the stream I saw was totally dried up it was still very verdant compared with all the dust-caked trees closer to Dhaka.  This are is where Sharif and Tofazzal grew up.  Sharif said that when he was younger it was teaming with so many trees, you couldn't see the sky except on the roadway.  Climate change and air pollution have put a strain on all vegetation in Bangladesh.  Still, I was very happy to be in a natural area with green trees and very healthy looking bamboo.  Hopefully, the environment will be preserved in Bangladesh, so that one day I can return and hike more of the trails here and in the country's other rain forests.

 Dried up Stream, Late Winter,Satchori Forest

Dried up Stream, Late Winter,Satchori Forest

This is one of the streams flowing through the park.  Moonsoon season does not begin for more than a month, so there was no water.

 Satchori Forest, Giant Bamboo with Crown of Leaves

Satchori Forest, Giant Bamboo with Crown of Leaves

The image above shows all the biodiversity of the trees.  I have never seen such a tall bamboo with such a full crown of leaves.

 Satchori Forest, Steps to the Observation Tower

Satchori Forest, Steps to the Observation Tower

Some of our party beginning the ascent to the tower.

 Satchori Forest, Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree Looking Down from the Tower

Satchori Forest, Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree Looking Down from the Tower

 Satchori Forest, Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree Looking Down from the Tower

Satchori Forest, Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree Looking Down from the Tower

 Satchori Forest Sunset

Satchori Forest Sunset

 Satchori Forest Bamboo

Satchori Forest Bamboo

 Tour with Satchori Forest Ranger

Tour with Satchori Forest Ranger

Here we all are at the summit of the tower.  I am standing between Mr. Hosen, the ranger, and Mithun. Next to her is Tofazzal and beside him is his poet friend Sifur Rahman  It was such a special time sharing the beauty of this wonderful area with my new friends who are committed to preserving the environment of their native country. 

The Big Blackfoot River Revisited

 Big Blackfoot River, Peaceful Dawn

Big Blackfoot River, Peaceful Dawn

Came across these photos of the Big Blackfoot River that I took in 2016, while I was collecting photos from my Cross Country trip that year.  What a beautiful and peaceful river.  It was so amazing seeing it at dusk and feeling its serenity in patches without rocks, and its power in the riffles.

 The Big Blackfoot at Dawn

The Big Blackfoot at Dawn

The Big Blackfoot was the subject of Norman Maclean's book "The River Runs Through It."  In 1992, a movie starring Brad Pitt was made from the book.  However, the movie was actually filmed on the Upper Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder Rivers, since the Big Blackfoot was so polluted then.    Thanks to the Big Blackfoot Riverkeeper and the Big Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the river is much healthier these days.  The Trout Unlimited chapter restored 700 miles of shoreline over the past 30 years, and spearheaded 750 restoration projects costing $15 million.  The river is a story of success and shows that waterways can be remediated if there are sufficient resources available, but wouldn't it make more sense not to allow our waterways to becomes so polluted in the first place?

As I worked on these photos, the feelings of peace and balance and health I experienced while sitting on the rocks by the river came flooding back. Before our elected officials are allowed to make more decisions that put our waterways at risk, wouldn't it be wonderful if they were required to spend a few days communing with rivers like this.  Then maybe they would experience through their senses just how valuable such waterways are for all who visit them or are dependent on them for their water supply.

Winter Storm Inga

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Winter Storm Inga from the Ridge Near My House

The storms have been coming one after another spreading snow and/or ice, bringing with them howling winds and dark skies.  There is a moodiness to the landscape. It doesn't feel quite as hospitable as usual, but it is also more mysterious and it is possible to see vistas that aren't usually accessible with all the leaves. 

 The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

When I saw this when I was out walking my dog, it immediately made me think of the Robert Frost poem–only there were yellow weeds and the weather was not fair.  The choice of whether to stay on the road or follow this path was easy to make, unlike it often is in life.  It was so bitter cold that I actually didn't actually choose either and turned around and went home.

 One Leaf Remaining  There I was greeted by a wintry scape the snow-lined branches and a grey mountain peak in the distance.  Suddenly I noticed one reddish dead leaf hanging on. How had it managed this is in such high winds and so late in the season. There are always the hangers on in nature, the ones that don't give up, the underdogs that somehow persist and I love them.

One Leaf Remaining

There I was greeted by a wintry scape the snow-lined branches and a grey mountain peak in the distance.  Suddenly I noticed one reddish dead leaf hanging on. How had it managed this is in such high winds and so late in the season. There are always the hangers on in nature, the ones that don't give up, the underdogs that somehow persist and I love them.

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Snow Clinging to Bark Crevices and Vines

It is funny how snow finds areas to cling on in high winds.  It created such beautiful patterns with the vines and lichen.  In winter I notice the trunks more as the leaves aren't there to distract me.  The world is somehow more solid in winter, demonstrating its stalwart objective to survive and endure until spring comes again.  .

The Suwannanoa River Thawing after the Big Freeze

 Suwannanoa River in Winter

Suwannanoa River in Winter

The Suwannanoa River flows by Warren Wilson College in Suwannanoa, North Carolina, and has a walking trail with signs about the riparian landscape.  The banks are left mostly wild, and there is a beautiful grove of yellow bamboo.  This was the first warm day after an arctic blast and there was still ice in the river.

 Warren Wilson Student Testing the Waters

Warren Wilson Student Testing the Waters

While I was photographing, a student ventured out on the rock to test the water.  When I passed by, Takoda and I stopped and sat on the rock with her for awhile.  We talked about the river and how much cleaner it is than so many of the rivers I photographed in Florida.  She told me about a mountain spring between Suwannanoa and Black Mountain where they go to fill up bottles of water. When I asked what she was studying, Loti said she is a biology student but is most interested in studying water quality.  It instantly struck me that having someone who wanted to connect with and wade in a waterway was exactly the type of water quality expert we need in these environmentally challenging times.  I was heartened by her talk and she said she was inspired by it.

 Suwannanoa River with Fallen Branches

Suwannanoa River with Fallen Branches

The few moments of sunshine we experience faded and we were left with a dark, mysterious day that added an ominous tone to the heaps of fallen branches and trees that were swept here by the current when the water was hider.

 Takoda Being an Excellent Photography Dog on  Patrol over my pack

Takoda Being an Excellent Photography Dog on  Patrol over my pack

  Winter Sky Along the Suwannanoa


Winter Sky Along the Suwannanoa

I looked up at the winter sky with the tips of the branches all growing together and felt part of a giant web.  Suddenly I heard these loud bugling calls coming from another direction and quickly rushed over with my camera towards a small opening in the tree cover.

 Branches and Cranes Migrating South

Branches and Cranes Migrating South

I hoped they would find food to eat and stay warm enough at night. The images below were from the other section of the bridge heading away from Wawrren Wilson and past the delapitdated bridge.

 Suwannanoa Wild Riparian Landscape

Suwannanoa Wild Riparian Landscape

Takoda and I climbed tout to a spit of land to make this image.It gave me a central location without having to be a bot.

 Suwannanoa River at Dusk

Suwannanoa River at Dusk

This was the end of the day.  I was grateful to have seen the river as it was thawing.  The light was going , which perhaps made it even more peaceful.  Winter on the river is just as rewarding, maybe more so than spring, since it is so intimate.

Pondering a Riffle on a Winter Hike Along the Suwannanoa River

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To Ponder a Riffle

 

To ponder a riffle is to be in the moment.

As water breaks over stones and quickens its pace,

stasis is obliterated and I reconnect with the source of life.

Where this stream flowed before entering this turgid bend,

replete with snags and downed logs, becomes a distant

memory.  Dead wood will decompose and bring new life.

Dams will burst  when floodwaters are high and ice will melt.

The flow cannot be stopped or frozen in time.

As molecules leap and jump, oxygen, another of life’s

essential ingredients, is added making the water richer.

Waves form and as they crash and churn,

layers of my identity are stirred up.

The alchemy of my awakening begins.

For each barrier breached, the waters of my soul

are pushed back by subsequent boulders  

or shorelines of unreachable destinations.

At times, the weight of water folding back on itself

pushes all that is caught in its wake down

to seemingly terrifying depths, though this is an illusion.

Instead we humans often find ourselves thrashing about

just below the superficial surface of confusion.

Riffles provide shelter for fish and insects to feed and develop;

When I dive deeper into my own being, I too will regenerate,

despite remaining until death in this tantalizing eddy.

Through water I find the freedom to dwell in uncertainty

and celebrate this journey through the unknowable.

 

Waterfalls in North Carolina's Dupont State Forest and Falls Park in Greenville, South Carolina

 Hooker Falls Wide Image

Hooker Falls Wide Image

Hooker Falls is within Dupont State Forest and is relatively pristine even now and offers wonderful hiking.  It is always a balance between humans appreciating an area and causing more harm to ecosystems.  Hiking near waterways can compound the problem of erosion.  In 2007, there was an extensive restoration project to remediate erosion on the Little River above and below Hooker Falls.  Thought the placement of the rocks may be a little too even to look entirely natural, the end result was that the riparian banks filter sedimentation and runoff from the roads.The main pollution issues the Little River and Cascade Lake contend with are excess sedimentation from the logging practices that took place here once and excess nutrients in the form of non-point source pollution from agriculture and roads in the watershed.  

 Hooker Falls Close Up

Hooker Falls Close Up

Here is another view of Hooker Falls along the Little River closer up and Cascade Lake.  The Little River flows through 10,400 acres of The Dupont State Forest in North Carolina.  It and Cascade Lake are part of the French Broad River Basin, along with the Suwannanoa, Nolichucky and Toe Rivers.  Since it runs through the forest, it is cleaner than other waterways which run through more developed areas.

 Triple Falls

Triple Falls

Triple Falls is the next fall you come to on this three mile hike that includes three waterfalls.  The first view is from the trail where you can see all three sections of the falls.

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This view is from  a little higher up looking back.  You can see that the banks have been left wild here and there are only periodic strategic and safe viewpoints so that footfall doesn't erode the banks or that people don't run the risk of injury and death falling from steep elevations.  One of the goals of the National Forest Service is that these waterways are also able to function as filtrations systems, which is most effective when riverbanks are left wild.

 High Falls

High Falls

High Falls was stunning.  There are two viewpoints.  One from the trail across from the falls that gives you a viewpoint from about the midpoint.  There is also a trail that goes to the bottom of the falls, which I did not take this time.  All the falls in Dupont State Forest are beautiful and safe to wade in from a water quality perspective.

 Falls Park, Greenville SC

Falls Park, Greenville SC

The image above is of Falls Park in downtown Greenville, South Carolina.  The Reedy River, which is part of the Saluda-Reedy Watershed, runs through the middle of town and despite its unhealthy levels of pollution over the years throngs of people came and continue to come here to wade and for recreation especially in the summer months.  The sources of pollution include textile mills close by, sewage discharges, and runoff from increased urbanization.  Today much of the river is designated as "impaired," which explains why there are not many access points to this area outside of this one area.  (https://greenvillejournal.com/2017/07/27/reedys-water-quality-hindering-recreation-outside-city/).

 

 Close up Falls Park

Close up Falls Park

The Reedy River even here often suffers from excessive amounts of E. coli bacteria, the sources of which are animal waste from pets and cattle farms as well as leaky sewer pipes.  “E. coli bacteria impair waterways and can contaminate sources of drinking water, limit recreation opportunities, damage the habitat of fish and other aquatic animals and plants, and make humans and pets ill if ingested,” said Maddi Phillips, community relations coordinator for the Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District.  When I visited here, I saw many dogs and in fact had Takoda with me as well.  Pets must be leashed and it is very important that owners pick up after their dogs when walking or hiking near waterways.   With the overpopulation of people also comes the overpopulations of pets and in areas where many visit waterways are at greater risk of becoming impaired.

Hawaii Waves–The Power and Spirit of Water

 Papohaku Beach Spray and Curl

Papohaku Beach Spray and Curl

This was the third time I went to Papohaku Beach, the beautiful 3-mile sand beach on the island of Molokai.  Every time the conditions have been different and this time I felt a bit disappointed when I arrived.  The light was more drab than I had seen it and not as golden.  The waves didn't light up in the same way.  I also heard others say they'd been bigger the week before.  Then it dawned on me I should stop my inner dialog of complaints and just look at these waves and marvel in what they had to offer.  If I took waves for granted, I might also fail to appreciate and be grateful for my breath and health and all the miracles I see when I wake up with fresh eyes.  I decided to watch as if I'd never seen wavs before and though they could have been bigger or brighter, what they did have was an amazing amount of spray and momentum.  They were in fact beautiful and even mystical.

 Wave Wall with Mystical Spray

Wave Wall with Mystical Spray

The image above was one of my favorites.  It is always satisfying to catch the wall of the wave before it breaks.  In this case, the spray was ripping off the crest and dancing over and back on the ridge, creating thin wisps of water that almost formed a cylinder to contain the energy and power of this particular wave. The dynamics of each wave are different, which is probably why they are so mesmerizing to us.  

 Papohaku Beach Wall of Water with Spray from Another Breaking on the Rocks

Papohaku Beach Wall of Water with Spray from Another Breaking on the Rocks

This wave had the wall and the spray, again forming a cylinder, but it also had the tension of interacting from the wave before.  As I saw the wall in the distance, another wave was breaking on the rocks I was standing on throwing vertical spray and large bubbles.  Soon the wall would be doing the same thing and perhaps dancing with another wave behind it.  We are always peaking and crashing at different times, creating a symphony of interactions.

 Papohaku Wave and Rocks

Papohaku Wave and Rocks

This one represented pure uncontainable power to me.  The wave crashed on the rocks and shot up filling my frame and obliterating all else.  If perfect curls were not to be because of the tides and elements, then what was wrong with appreciating the gifts they were giving us and on of those was a graphic description of force.  Water can gently wash things clean, or it can pound and destroy and erase. 

 Shock Top Wave

Shock Top Wave

Sometimes waves are just plain funny. This one with its huge spray reminded me of a shock top ad.  It was a pretty small wave and close to the shore, so I couldn't quite figure out what caused all that spray-perhaps a wind just or the direction it broke in.  Then there was a laundry machine full of turbulent water behind it.  

 Curl in a Moment of Light

Curl in a Moment of Light

For a brief second, we were treated to some light as I remembered it from the last time I was there.  Not quite as intense maybe, but enough to reveal the greens and turquoise hues of the water.  It wasn't a huge curl, but it hung suspended for a moment creating a shelf with spray that reminded me of the great waves near Mount Fuji in Japanese woodcuts on a more diminutive scale. 

 Papohaku Beach Wave and Volcanic Rock

Papohaku Beach Wave and Volcanic Rock

The tide was out and the volcanic rock under the surface of the water was readily apparent. It was fun looking at the rocks and the tidal pools, but you had to be ready to run as the waves are not entirely predictable.  Suddenly one can be coming right at you and you have to run to avert it.  I suppose this one another life lesson about staying on your toes and being ready to dodge or avoid on oncoming obstacle at a moments notice.  Always best to stay flexible and also to never dismiss something amazing because you are too bent on comparing it with past experiences.

Kaehu Point, The Sun Rises on Pristine Beauty and Trash

 Kaehu Point, Sun Waves and Stormy Skies

Kaehu Point, Sun Waves and Stormy Skies

When I was in Hawaii recently, we went to Mo'Omomi Beach and  Kaehu Point to watch the sunrise.  Mo-Omomi Beach is part of the Nature Conservancy's land.  To get there, you have to drive down this really long dirt road with big ruts that is frequently not passable, even for big trucks with high clearance and four wheel drive. This is not an area where you encounter tourists.  To be present on this point at sunrise is absolutely magical.

 Mo'Omomi Beach on Fire with the Napali Cliffs in the Distance

Mo'Omomi Beach on Fire with the Napali Cliffs in the Distance

This particular morning was very stormy and between the salt spray from the waves and the rain, many of my images had a lot of drops on the lens despite how frequently I wiped it.  This was one of those occasions when I was glad I made more images rather than less of similar scenes.  Although I would have been happy standing there just experiencing the elements and miracle of being on this incredible spot on the earth taking it all in, I was happy that I made a few images that expressed how I felt watching the sky catch on fire as the sun rose higher in the sky behind the clouds.  Now I can return there more easily in my imagination when I want to be inspired to feel the sublime beauty of existence that is present even during challenging times.  It remindes me we just go out there and let ourselves experience life full on, with its storm clouds and jagged edges.  And even if the light is hidden, it is always there on the verge of breaking through just as the highest aspect of our being is always with us calling from beyond the obstacles we encounter.

 Kaehu Point Rocks

Kaehu Point Rocks

It is not just flaming skies or huge crashing waves that are sublime.  Sometimes I find my connection with the elements watching the nooks and crannies or rocky coastlines absorb and shelter the waves and turbulence, taking in the energy of impact and releasing it as the ephemeral, fluid spirit of water that is ever-changing but part of a continuum that mirrors how I experience my own being.  I sat here for quite sometime mesmerized by the intersection of land and sea feeling my pulse beat and knowing that there was nothing more I needed to do than experience being right there in that moment.

 Mo'Omomi Beach with Trash

Mo'Omomi Beach with Trash

Then I walked around the corner and saw this beautiful crescent beach littered with trash brought here by the ocean currents not tourists.  It was heartbreaking to see and I could have turned away, but I chose to walk down to the beach and see exactly what had washed up.

 Trash-Littered Beach, Mo'Omomi Beach

Trash-Littered Beach, Mo'Omomi Beach

When I got down to the beach, I discovered it looked even worse close-up.  I have read articles and posts about all the plastic islands in our oceans but never have I seen evidence of them close up.  Our disposable society is not so disposable after all.  Though some clearly think nothing about allowing all this waste to make it into our oceans and waterways, much of what I saw here will never decompose.  I suspected volunteers had been here picking up the debris, since there were large bags up on the grass beyond the shoreline.  Where would it be taken next, I wondered.  It made me take a vow to reduce or eliminate plastic in my life as much as possible.  Wondering what will happen next to all of this is not like wondering what will happen to giant tree branch that fell in the front of my property.  That hit the ground less than six months ago and already the fungi is establishing colonies that are breaking down the wood and providing nutrients for other life forms.  If creatures come and dine on Mo'Omomi beach, it would likely kill them.  If despoiling beauty is not a concern,  perhaps the thought of choking birds and their punctured intestines will make people pause and according to a story in National Geographic nearly every seabird on earth is eating plastic.

The Earth Will Reclaim Our Homes, Ruins, East End of Molokai

 Molokai, East End Ruins with a Forest Inside

Molokai, East End Ruins with a Forest Inside

The Earth Will Reclaim our Homes

 

Whether our homes are made of stones, wood, concrete or brick,

the mortar that binds our walls will never be strong enough

to keep nature out.

We are not prescient enough to anticipate every gap

that invites in the elements, and good that we’re not

or our homes would become mausoleums.

We ask for protection from the winds and rain,

scorching heat and fires, but nothing we build

can withstand the persistence of nature’s rhythms.

What has the greatest right to be here?

The trees, the mosquitoes hiding in damp corners,

the insects and bacteria proliferating in the soil,

or we humans who mistakenly believe we are in control?

Why are we so drawn to dilapidation and ruins? 

Is it a return to the 19th century longing to experience

instead of regulate the vastness before us that shrinks daily,

filled up with buildings and roadways and artificial networks

that veil Fibonacci spirals and the secret workings of Mycorrhizae.

Let the trees in, I say.  Let their greening rejuvenate me

and may they be a living roof for our planet.

 

 

 

Serenity in Western North Carolina on a Mid October Morning

 View from Black Balsam Knob Before Sunrise

View from Black Balsam Knob Before Sunrise

About a month ago, I went on a hike with my new neighbor, the wonderful photographer Robert Priddy, to watch the sunrise from Black Balsam Knob.  When we arrived and saw the cloudless, star-filled sky, we knew that the sky would not be our ally and that it didn't promise to be spectacular for photography.  Even so, I appreciated being there and seeing the fingers of mist hover over the valley and the lights from cars and homes gradually disappear while it got lighter.  During the day, you do not know anyone is remotely near you, except for the cars coming along the Parkway.

 Black Balsam Knob at Sunrise

Black Balsam Knob at Sunrise

As it got lighter, the earth's shadow became apparent.  It was a subtle and serene sunrise, with the shapes of the rocks on the knob echoing the layers of mountains in the Blue Ridge.  I felt one with these gentle undulating hills and remembered that the less dramatic moments are often the most connecting.  There is balance and harmony and we feel our energy connect with the place we are in and the life forms around us.  No domination, but rather infinitely expanding waves of life force energy, in a universe in which we belong without disrupting the flow of life.

 Nantahala Forest Road Creek with Reflections

Nantahala Forest Road Creek with Reflections

The day only got better.  We traveled to a creek on a forest road and clambered down the banks.  From the stream bank below, the golden reflections were mesmerizing, especially as they contrasted with the blue sky that was also visible in the water.  The wildness of the riparian banks added to the natural beauty and diversity of the scene, with rocks scattered by the elements and lichens, leaves, vines and plants filling in the nooks and crannies.  Bear hunters were driving trucks above.  I felt sorry for any bears they might find fishing and minding their own business on a quiet creek far from the hoards and throngs of visitors that stick to the advertised trails or the parkway.

 Nantahala Forest Road Stream with Lichen Covered Rocks

Nantahala Forest Road Stream with Lichen Covered Rocks

The image above accentuates the lichen-covered rocks, which I climbed to get more within the scene.  It is often that way for me in photography and life.  First I survey the big picture and then move closer in, until I feel at the heart of it all.  Standing here, in the midst of this pure, unpolluted waterway, I experienced a profound sense of health and realized that our whole planet must have functioned this way in all places when all the earth's arteries were clean.  

 Dill Falls with Fallen Tree

Dill Falls with Fallen Tree

Though nature often appears serene and tranquil, how its elements came to be is often anything but.  This fallen tree and another behind me were deposited by remnants of hurricanes that form in the Gulf of Mexico and pass through the mountains. A stream that flows so gently when water levels are low can well to torrents and carve through rocks.  Dill Falls is a hidden gem and even on a mid October morning we did not see a soul. 

 Graveyard Fields Upper Falls

Graveyard Fields Upper Falls

The Upper Falls in Graveyard Fields were wonderful in dappled light, but it required scaling rocks and getting onto the other side of the stream from where the trail was.  Takoda was hiking with us, and fortunately he was willing to navigate the rocks slowly, even though he is far more sure-footed than I.  Luckily, he takes his job of photography dog quite seriously and is always content to inch around with me until I find the perfect angle.  It is rare to find any other non-photographer being who will indulge me this way.

 Leaves Dancing in the Breeze Before they Fall

Leaves Dancing in the Breeze Before they Fall

Though this fall was not a very vibrant one, with many leaves turning only to brown before falling, I did spot these maple leaves which seemed to dance as the breeze blew their spindly branches.  The blue North Carolina sky made a great backdrop.  Though as humans we always quantify what is the best or most dramatic or largest or brightest in the last five years, ten years, our lifetimes, there is always something to celebrate and we should never discard the "ordinary," because what makes it that is our perspective and not life itself. 

Agate Beach, Lake Superior, with Adrian of the Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians and What I Learned About Rocks and Water

  Adrian Agate Hunting on Agate Beach


Adrian Agate Hunting on Agate Beach

A year ago, I found myself walking along agate beach in the morning after watching the sunrise at Grand Marquis Island.  I was already feeling peaceful and in harmony with nature.  The beach was littered with beautifully colorful stones that had been polished by the water.  Lake Superior can be calm or wild with waves.  This particular morning the waters were still, but it was nevertheless apparent how the incessant rolling waves polished and cleaned the rocks, revealing their intense colors and smoothing them.  I picked up several, rolling them in my hands, loving their weight and feel.  I wasn't sure how to find an agate, or even what one looked like unpolished and still in its rough state, but it didn't matter.  I really appreciated every rock I touched and saw.  

 Stones with the Waves that Shaped Them, Agate Beach

Stones with the Waves that Shaped Them, Agate Beach

Some of the rocks were deposited on the beach, the rest remained on the lake bed.  When I waded, I felt the rocks under my toes as they in turn polished my feet.  It created such a deep connection with this place for me that when I look back over these photos I can still remember the sensations I experienced when I waded into the lake and felt simultaneously united with the water and the earth.  When we experience places through multiple senses and synesthesia occurs, it becomes easier to return to that place in the future blurring the demarcations of time and allowing memories to keep informing and shaping the present and future.  For me, whenever I am in a stressful situation, this is the place I imagine in my mind to find balance and calm. 

 Natural Stone Still Life

Natural Stone Still Life

As I was walking, I arrived at one spot where a piece of driftwood had formed a makeshift shelf, allowing rocks to become stacked and maintain a balanced position between water and land.  The textures, colors, and way the rocks were clustered made me think of a found still life.  It was very Zen and I was utterly lost in the moment, appreciating all the patterns and the way that this scene was impacting me internally, allowing me to fell balanced and fully grounded amidst the fluidity of life and constant change I had experienced given that I'd been on the road for over a month.  I was marveling at this found miracle when Adrian approached me.  

 Adrian, Tribal Member, Mackinaw Nations

Adrian, Tribal Member, Mackinaw Nations

Adrian was a Tribal Member and council member of the Mackinaw Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians.  I was immediately struck my his presence, authenticity, and penetrating gaze.  We ended up talking for a long time, about how the rocks were alive, how this was a piece of paradise where the tribes hunted, fished, and gathered and how they should be allowed to continue to do this as they had done for centuries.  He taught me many Anishinaabe words.  I told him Takoda and I had been at Standing Rock.  He told me about the Line Five Pipeline that skirted Lake Superior and went under Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and how to connect with Anishinaabe grandmothers to protest this antiquated line that was threatening the health of all the Great Lakes.  (Here's a link to the blog I wrote about that: https://lynne-buchanan.squarespace.com/blog/2016/10/4/nokomis-ogitchida-line-5-rally-to-help-protect-the-great-lakes ) The time Adrian and spent together made me think of our connection with nature on a deeper level, how when we spend time looking closely and noticing the smallest rocks and marveling at how they came to be, we appreciate life in all its brilliance and we see how Mother Nature is the greatest artist of all.  Adrian must have realized I understood him, since before I left he reached into his bag and found a rock with an agate in it and gave it to me.  Whenever I pick up this rock, I am right back there on Agate Beach and I know I will do whatever I can to preserve this place that connected me pure water at the heart of the universe.

Tahquamenon Falls–Paradise of Purity at Risk for Effects of Climate Change

 Tahquamenon Falls Movement and Power

Tahquamenon Falls Movement and Power

Tahquamenon Falls in located in the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan near Lake Superior. During the spring melt, up to 50,000 gallons per second of water tumbles over the 50 foot sandstone cliff of these 200 foot-wide falls.  The sandstone is part of the Chapel Rock group of the Munising Formation, which was responsible for eroding this part of the landscape in the Cambrian period 500-600 million years ago.  It is primitive and popular with trout fisherman,  The water gets its brown color from the tannins of the surrounding cedar swamp.

 The Many Shades of Tahquamenon Falls

The Many Shades of Tahquamenon Falls

The first image was taken with a very slow shutter and filter.  The image above was taken with a fast shutter speed to freeze the tumbling water.  This served to crystalize the bands of color, making the falls appear almost rock-like.

 Tahquamenon Falls Vertical Against the Sandstone Cliffs

Tahquamenon Falls Vertical Against the Sandstone Cliffs

The water seemed almost alive as it fell over the cliffs to the river below, its droplets flipped up and back with electric force due to its velocity and mass.  I watched the water for hours, mesmerized by how many forms it could take, as it roared incessantly announcing its incredible force.  No wonder rivers shape landscapes.

 Tahquamemon Falls, Water is Gold

Tahquamemon Falls, Water is Gold

This water is pure, save for the sand that gets swept in from erosion and from the leftover damage done to the riparian banks from logging in the area years ago.  Other than that, it is pure and one of the top trout fishing destinations in the country.  It was celebrated in Hiawatha and walking along the walkways, I suspected the river appeared much the same way as it is today (save the paved trails) to an indigenous person back then. Yet, this cold water river that provides habitat for trout is at risk from climate change, as are all rivers in the United States.  Organizations like Trout Unlimited and the Sierra Club have focused on this potential problem along this river and engage in conservation efforts and ways to raise awareness.  When the temperature of a river rises above 70 degrees for too long, brook trout and other cold water species of fish cannot survive.  

 Lower Tahquamenon Falls

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

The image above is of the Lower Falls, which are four miles below the upper falls.  You can see the tree being swept into the river and other branches caught along the rocks.  Yet despite all this powerful water, I felt a strong sense of peace being in direct contact with unspoiled nature unharnessed by man.  It is not every day that we can experience elemental force in a natural area and these places need to be preserved for humans to learn these lessons as well as for the species that live here, in some of the last waters cold enough to support them.

Black Balsam and Tennent Mountain

 Shining Rock Wilderness Area from the Trail to Tennent Mountain

Shining Rock Wilderness Area from the Trail to Tennent Mountain

The Shining Rock Wilderness Area, which is seen in the distance, is the largest wilderness area in the state of North Carolina.  It is removed from civilization, which makes it one of the only places where you can go to see native plants and how the ecosystems operate in succession left to their own without interference from the hand of man.  Next time Takoda and I go back, we are going to have to go all the way to Shining Rock.  

 Tennent Mountain Trail, Final Fall Berries

Tennent Mountain Trail, Final Fall Berries

Though many of the plants were shedding their leaves, flowers, and berries, it was still apparent just how much biodiversity exists up here in this undisturbed area.  The clouds were bruised and heavy and I really felt as if fall was giving a final gasp, while in lower elevations near where I live it had only just begun.

 Tennent Mountain Moor

Tennent Mountain Moor

Walking across the open field with the wind blowing in our faces reminded me of battling the elements on English moors.

 Tennent Mountain Path, Biodiversity of Low Lying Ecosystems

Tennent Mountain Path, Biodiversity of Low Lying Ecosystems

The path got narrower and on either side the ground was teeming with biodiversity. Each square centimeter of ground was covered with algae, lichen, grasses, and plants.  Though the tress had lost their leaves, the ground cover was teeming with life. 

 Asters Enlivening a Landscape Headed Towards Dormancy

Asters Enlivening a Landscape Headed Towards Dormancy

Asters, other plants, grasses and shrubs were all growing high on the Art Loeb trail.  The access to sun and lack of towering trees created good conditions for vegetation to flouriwh. 

 Pine Roots Exhibiting Symbiosis

Pine Roots Exhibiting Symbiosis

The roots of this pine stopped me in my tracks. There were lichen and algaes growing everywhere and I suspected the mycorrhizae were flourishing too, doing their part in the woods wide web.  The mycorrhizae help the trees attract the rite sorts of nutrients.  When the fungi approach trees, the trees growing less hairy roots and prepare themselves to be a better hostWhen I see a sight like this, I always think how much we can learn from the forest about diplomacy and working together.

 Ivestor Gap Trail, Rocks Teeming with Life

Ivestor Gap Trail, Rocks Teeming with Life

On our return, Takoda and I took the Ivestor Gap Trail back to our car.  We passed this incredible rocky outcropping that was also teeming with life, just like the mountain trails.

 Blue Ridge Trail with Fog in the Valley

Blue Ridge Trail with Fog in the Valley

On the way to and from Black Balsam, I stopped to see the fog and some fall color starting.  This was closer to Asheville, so the trees hadn't turned too much.  The image below was from an overlook a bit higher up. 

 Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Color and Clouds

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Color and Clouds

The last thing I did on the way home was stop by the side of the road and photograph the Lower falls at Graveyard Fields.  By the time I went back and hiked in the area a few days later, most of the leaves were gone.  It turned out to be fortunate that I stopped.

 Graveyard Falls, Lower Waterfall from the Parkway

Graveyard Falls, Lower Waterfall from the Parkway

Tanasee Creek and Dill Falls in the Nantahala National Forest

 Tanasee Creek Flowing Fast

Tanasee Creek Flowing Fast

Last week, I hiked 1.5 miles along a primitive trail with a fellow hiker who was kind enough to show me the way to this secret spot.  He had hiked this trail a couple of times but not since the recent hurricanes.  Many trees were down along the way and the creek was flowing very fast.  To get to Dill Falls, in the Nantahala Forest, you have to make three stream crossings, but I had lots of camera gear and my guide was not confident that we could make it across all three crossings without getting quite wet and possibly slipping.  After we enjoyed this spot for awhile, we ended up backtracking and driving to the falls.

 Tanasee Creek, Secret Vista

Tanasee Creek, Secret Vista

Here is another image from just below where we decided to go around.  It was such a wild and natural creek back there and flowing fast enough that the water was likely clean. I still get nervous whenever my dog drinks out of a stream, after living in Florida and him almost dying from toxic water.

 

 Tanasee Creek's Wild Banks

Tanasee Creek's Wild Banks

You can see from the image above how many trees fell during the hurricane, many crossing the entire width of the creek.  Needless to say, the trail was blocked in many places and we got a workout jumping over or crawling under limbs and clearing dead trees.  On the other hand, we didn't see a single soul and the forest looked very healthy if in disarray.

 Tanasee Creek, Secret Riffle

Tanasee Creek, Secret Riffle

I so enjoyed being in this pristine wilderness and wondered how the ecosystems were thriving and producing nutrients in this totally unspoiled riffles.  

 Tanasee Creek Fall Color

Tanasee Creek Fall Color

Back by the small, unmarked parking area I ventured over to the creek one last time and was met by this beautiful and inviting view.  The rocks in the Blue Ridge are between 600 million and 1.2 billion years old.  This ecosystem has been thriving for a long time and standing here made me feel part of our planet's historical evolution, which is becoming increasingly threatend in most places.  Here, though the impacts of acid rain are felt in the higher elevations of the mountains, there is still so much biodiversity.  To me, it is an example of what we should hope to maintain on this earth to support all the creatures we share the planet with as well as our health and the viability of our species.

 Dill Falls

Dill Falls

Dill Falls was magnificent.  My guide said he had never seen it with so much water.  There were many fallen trees, some old and some new.  When trees fall in the woods, especially in moist areas, they provide structure for many ecosystems to flourish.

 Blue Ridge in the Fall Fog

Blue Ridge in the Fall Fog

On my drive out for the hike, I passed many views in the fog.  I loved the mystery of this one, with the asters and small patches of sunlight on the fall foliage beneath the rolling fog.  As usual, I was struck by the incredible diversity of life forms and vegetation.

Shope Creek, Pisgah Forest

 Shope Creek, Pisgah Forest

Shope Creek, Pisgah Forest

The other day Takoda and I hiked in the Pisgah Forest by Shope Creek.  We were hoping to find Painted Suillus mushrooms for ecology class.  Though we didn't exactly discover those, we learned many valuable ecology lessons and the creek was beautiful.

 Fungi Architecture, Pisgah Forest

Fungi Architecture, Pisgah Forest

There is so much biodiversity here and so many types of fungi. I will do my best to learn them all, as this area is so fascinating and may possibly contain important information as to how we can save our planet from destruction.  However, it is incredibly hard to figure out which type of fungi you are looking at sometimes.  I am just fascinated crawling around on the ground discovering what there is to see.  Each step we take potentially destroys these ecosystems.  More and more I feel the call to tread lightly.

 Shope Creek Pisgah Forest Trail in Autumn

Shope Creek Pisgah Forest Trail in Autumn

Takoda and I ventured along this trail the day after hurricane Nate visited the mountains.  Fortunately, the winds were not quite as high as expected and it moved quickly, the end result being dashes of color began to emerge.  Such subtle beauty along the trail was food for my soul.

 Red Canopy

Red Canopy

Sometimes looking through the leaves is the best medicine.  It has been so long since I have been able to enjoy the changing seasons in essentially my backyard. And purple asters have become new friends. 

 Purple Asters

Purple Asters

But the real gems of the day were fungi in symbiotic relationships with the trees. Takoda and I were on a hunt for the Painted Suillus, but I don't think that is what we found despite finding a fungi at the base of a white pine.  Nevertheless, when Takoda sniffed out these mushrooms and led me to them, I felt the interdependence of plant and micorrhizae was instantly apparent.  Many have argued that plants would not exact on this earth if the mycorrhizae were not here around 450 million years ago. 

 Fungi at the Base of a White Pine

Fungi at the Base of a White Pine

 Pisgah Forest Symbionts

Pisgah Forest Symbionts

It has been argued that the mycorrhizal symbiotic relationship with their host plants is the most significant mycorrhizal relationship on earth.  The symbiosis improves the health of the host plant, decreases irrigation and fertilization requirements, decreases carbon, mitigates climate change, increases pathogen resistance, and likely is the key to saving planet earth if our home can be save.

 Cupcake-shaped Fungi, Pisgah Forest

Cupcake-shaped Fungi, Pisgah Forest

On the way out of the forest, we came across two interesting fungi. this was the first.  It was so huge that it looked like a cupcake.  I tapped the top gently with a stick, and multitudes of spores were released into the air.

 Pisgah Forest Slime Mold

Pisgah Forest Slime Mold

This area I have chosen to move to has perhaps the greatest biodiversity on earth.  According to my ecology professor, there might be one place in China that is comparable.  I have to wonder if this diversity is related to the proliferation of fungi in the area.  Mushrooms and fungi, especially those with symbiotic relationships with host plants, have hyphae that branch and extend outwards in many directions absorbing nutrients and taking in carbon. They improve the health of plants while benefiting soil structure and aiding in combatting climate change.  While I was researching mycorrhizae, I came across this slogan from a German company: "Mycorrhiza For All: An Underground Revolution."  Step lightly, the mycorrhizae could be saving the earth for you and your offspring.