6-22-2008 RiverFest 2008 or: Zach in a ‘yak

Zach and I just returned from an early morning bike ride. And there’s nothing quite like an early morning bike ride on a Sunday. If you head out early enough, the streets are yours. Nada, nobody. It’s awesome.

We headed over to the boat launch at Nesbitt Park to see off the folks doing the second leg of RiverFest 2008, which takes the paddlers from Nesbitt Park to Colony Park in West Nanticoke. Zach and I did the first leg, some 20 miles, yesterday, which ran from the boat launch at the Apple Tree Restaurant in Harding to the aforementioned Nesbitt Park.

We were the guests of Kayak Dude on the U.S.S. Dude, a two and a half man sea kayak, which reportedly displaces 46,000 tons of water without it’s weapons payload. As kayaks go, it’s a big sucker and then some. Oh, and heavy, too.

This was Zach’s first RiverFest, er, his first ever foray into kayaking. And as the date fast approached, he was filled with much trepidation. So we showed him the pictures of his cousin Gage Andrew and his cousin Mason who had both gone kayaking before him. Still, he was filled with much trepidation. And the reason? What else, sharks. Cut him a break, he’s not quite 5-years-old.

So I coached him. And Wifey talked to him. And his father rapped with him. And by this past Thursday, his mom felt that he was all good to go. Good. Still though, I kept wondering if we’d get to the point of no return--the launch point--to have him end up kicking and screaming as we tried to lead him to the U.S.S. Dude. Yikes.

So, as David Buck from Endless Mountain Outfitters was giving the big safety rundown to the multitude of paddlers huddled around him at the river‘s edge, Zach made his way down the boat launch and into about a foot and a half of water. And as he peered down at the river’s bottom, he let out with, “This if fun!” Whew. Good to go.

I’ve posted two river-related videos, The Trees (2006), and RiverFest 2007. On both of those videos, I was trying to show the unwashed what a paradox the Susquehanna River really is, and how that related to the then ongoing battle to deep-six Paul Kanjorski’s proposed inflatable dam at Wilkes-Barre.

Some of those pictures show just how beautiful some stretches of the river are. Others display just how polluted some sections of it are. The river is a free-flowing and constantly changing contradiction. It’s pretty and teeming with rebounding wildlife over here. And then it’s a frightening-looking health risk over there. And as the river’s level and currents change, so changes the shifting enigma that it is and will continue to be until the general public demands that the combined sewage outflows and the acid mine drainage issues are both remedied to some noticeable degree.

With this new video, I was having none of the paradox thing. No, my sole intent was to document what I saw yesterday, but to also go out of my way to record some of the river at it’s absolute ugliest. Mind you, I could do better. Or worse. If our intent was to produce a video that would shock people into taking action, we could do it. Easily. But, being that we were participating in an organized event, we needed to keep pace with the group. So, no puzzle. No paradox. And I’ll tell you why.

On Friday night, at the RiverFest kick-off on Public Square, a very high-ranking city official told me that I do not want to go into that water fountain, that I do not know what’s in that water. As we all know, I’m the goof who takes his grandkids to the fountain for the purposes of cooling off during bike abouts and then publishes some of the pictures of them doing so afterwards. Fine. I don’t know what’s in that water. Homeless people bathe in that fountain, so the anecdotal story goes. They say it’s a health risk. Again, fine.

Okay, so let’s turn that around on him. Why then did that same very high-ranking city official support damming the Susquehanna River at Wilkes-Barre? Why did he tow the absurd Kanjorski & Co. line about how the dam would be a glorious new amenity that would bring thousands of tourists and $70 million a year in economic investment to Wilkes-Barre’s shoreline?

Why would he support damming the river without knowing what’s in that water? Why would elected and appointed officials from one end of the valley to the other all fall in line and support recreating in that water? Why would they be supportive of encouraging people to recreate in, on or anywhere near what can only be called a documented health risk? Why, because the long-term congressman told them to?

Yes, that same argument that applies to the water fountain also applies to the inflatable dam issue, but only more so. Yeah, there may well be parasitic protozoans and the like in that water fountain, but on the river you will find the remnants of sewer discharges, i.e., pooled fecal matter. And on a free-flowing river no less.

And yet, the politicians and their underlings wanted to put a dam in front of all of that. The out flowed sewage. The acid mine drainage. And god only knows what from the Butler Mine Tunnel. The water fountain? Or the river? And with an inflatable dam? Nah, thanks. I’ll take my chances with the water fountain, thank you very, very much.

Pictures don’t lie. Pictures are worth a thousand words. That’s what they tell me. Well, then have at it, pictures of the Susquehanna River, such as it was, yesterday morning and early yesterday afternoon.

RiverFest 2008 (9:35)

Note: I want to apologize for the abrupt ending of that presentation. As we were exiting the kayak at Nesbitt Park, as I was trying to get my legs to working again, my camera took a quick dip in the water. F%@$!!!

You make a popular summer destination--a water fountain--a legal out-of-bounds, but you wanted to dam that?

And they call me crazy?

Publicity-wise, the newspapers were a total waste. Somebody said “diversity day,” and the newspapers both rushed to cover a glorified barbecue. Yeah, those silly “river” folks and their constant clamoring for a clean, safe, and usable Susquehanna River were all but stricken from the news.

A half-hearted attempt from the Citizens’ Voice:

RiverFest aims to change perception of waterway

Worse yet, here’s the Times Leader’s report.

I watched WBRE at 11 last night and saw footage of a kayak. Then I blinked and it was over. As is always the case, WNEP was short-shifting the news so as to give us four separate weather blurbs from the back yard. So I turned the thing off and went to bed.

Anyway, here’s some bonus footage. Not footage of RiverFest, just kayaking the Susquehanna in general.

Jeff Chirico meets David Buck (3:00)

As we were first afloat yesterday morning, Kayak Dude upped and put some pressure on Zach. Being that when Gage Andrew was asked by some regular paddlers what he thought of being on the river and offered the profundity, “It’s chocolate water,” Dude reminded Zach that, like his cousin before him, he needed to say something profound during his first ever river adventure.

Well, I’m not sure how profound it was, but as we hovered directly in front of the discharging Butler Mine Tunnel and were surrounded by fecal matter, it’s foamy byproducts and it’s corresponding aroma, Zach yelled, “It’s gooey water. Let‘s go!”

Profundity or not, that’ll work.

It’s chocolate and it’s gooey.

Then county commissioner Todd Vonderheid said opposition to the inflatable dam was “misguided.” Our soon-to-be former congressman, Paul Kanjorski, said that a vociferous opponent of the dam had “more passion than brains.” We even had a member of Edwardsville’s ruling council hurl insults that those who stood in stark opposition to the dam.

Yet, a kid a week shy of his 3rd birthday once said “It’s chocolate water.” And now a kid a month shy of his 5th birthday says “It’s gooey water.” Okay, now somebody really smart explain to me how gooey and chocolate water figure in to attracting gaggles of tourists and millions of dollars in economic investments?

Wilkes-Barre: Home of the chocolately, gooey lake?

Not on my watch!

RiverFest 2007 (5:30)

Kayak Dude pointed out that, when he first met me at RiverFest 2002, I made it a habit on this site of mine to bust on environmentalists. And then last year, I chose to use Neil Young’s “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)” as the accompanying song to my River Fest ‘07 slideshow. Not that I’ve now come full circle or anything. I’m no environmentalist by any stretch. Unless we’re tapping a series of kegs, you won’t catch me hugging any trees no matter what state of undress they might be in.

But as long as people rail against coal, oil and nuclear power and what have you, but then protest against a series of windmills being built anywhere near them, I doubt that I ever could be. As long as municipalities zone against individually-owned windmills, I really can’t take any of it seriously. So long as city councils make it illegal to erect a simple clothesline in the backyard further necessitating the use of gas or electric-powered dryers, I could care less about their newfound commitment to recycling. And if you’re telling me I need to wean myself off of all fossil fuels unless I buy some asinine nonsense like carbon credits from the Democratic Council on Energy Idiocy, I’m going to tell you to take your environmental concerns and shove them up your brain. And so long as the elite ruling class, the politicians, pay mindlessly banal lip service to energy independence in lieu of doable action, I’m not going to get all worked up over what can only be called a bunch of nothing about nothing.

But…a combined outflow can be fixed and converted into a rainwater only outflow. And even though it’s an enormous undertaking, acid mine drainage can be seriously curtailed. It’s been done. And people who dump used tires into the local waterway can be caught and hanged by the neck until they cheer up. My point is, we can do better. Namely, we can start right in our own back yards and do better. We can make a difference. And noticeably so if we think and start small.

I can’t save any polar bears. I know not and care not about any ozone layers. I can’t preserve the arctic ice sheet. I can’t save any spotted turtles, any rare slugs, nor do I want to. And I don’t give a care about how many starlings get turned into chum by windmills. But as I take a closer look around my own local environment, I not only know we can do better, we should feel obliged to do better.

And that’s what I’ve gotten, that’s what I’ve learned from Kayak Dude, an admitted environmentalist. And that’s all that he ever asked of me, to get on out there, take a look, and see what I think. And as all of this pertains to the Susquehanna River, we can and should do better. We can and should make it into the unspoiled, free-flowing, life-sustaining waterway that it was when first we found it. And if that makes me an environmentalist in your mind, then speak up and tell me so. And then be prepared to defend yourself.

Dude, as always, thanks. And thanks especially for having Zach along. He can’t stop talking about yesterday, and, you never know…maybe he’ll grow up and one day take his kids kayaking on a considerably cleaner Susquehanna River. Or perhaps, save those polar bears.

The Trees (4:59)

You know, one of these years I’m gonna up and buy me some of that sun block stuff. Oh, well.