“Rivers flow not past, but through us; tingling, vibrating, exciting every cell and fiber in our bodies, making them sing and glide.“
– John Muir
As a young boy, before I ever experienced romantic feelings for a girl (or even knew I someday would), I had a love affair with a river.
Growing up in the small village of North Hudson, Wisconsin, my idyllic summers were spent dividing time between the ball diamond behind my elementary school and the banks of the Willow River that flowed just two blocks from my home. When I wasn’t hitting and tossing baseballs at the sandlot with my buddies, you could find us along the shores of the Willow tossing earth worms and artificial lures into its pristine, fish laden waters. Down by the river side, during those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” we wished that summer could always be here.
But when the Wisconsin winter eventually blew in and Mother Nature laid down her blanket of ice atop those waters, the Willow charmed us once again by morphing into into a skating rink seemingly without end. Much of Christmas break was spent gliding freely along that ribbon of ice both day and night. December days were short and nights were long with shimmering moonbeams adding a mystical glow to the river’s natural allure. Toss in a lovely young girl gliding along with you arm in arm, and the intoxicating, moonlit river’s spell can make a giddy young boy feel more alive than he ever could have imagined. Who doesn’t love a river?!
Samuel Clemmons (a.k.a. Mark Twain) who grew up along the west bank of the Mississippi was also smitten by the river. In the writings of this quintessential American author, the river comes to symbolize freedom, adventure, comfort and protection. His language suggests a special bond between himself and the river, as if the river is a human friend, an object of affection. The river has great wisdom,” he writes, “and whispers its secrets to the hearts of men.”
Speaking of the critical force that rivers play in nurturing life on earth, Roderick Haig-Brown stated, “A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart.” Amit Kalantri stated it even more succinctly: A river doesn’t just carry water, it carries life.”
When I relocated from Wisconsin to North Carolina, as my daughters had already done into the Durham area, the allure and lure of the river came with me. My quest for a new home base eventually brought me to Chatham County. Driving down highway 15/501 and across the Haw River for the first time, the sight of the iconic spillway at Bynum caused me to double back and find my way to its edge. Gazing up and downstream at the impressive beauty of this amazing natural resource, I felt Mother Nature placing her seal of approval on my inclination to call Chatham County my new home.
My innate affection for this river that flows outside Pittsboro, along with a development boom that was and is threatening the environmental sanctity of the Haw, its tributaries and Jordan Lake was the catalyst for my introduction to the organization that launches our new blog series of Earth Care Champions. No local environmentally conscious organization is more deserving to lead off this series than the Haw River Assembly (HRA) with its office just above the river in Bynum. If ever there was a group of people who love a river, it is the HRA.
2022 marks the 40th anniversary of the HRA, the premier non-profit, grass-roots environmental organization serving people and all God’s creatures, flora and fauna, in eight counties along the 110 mile length of the Haw River and its 1,707 square mile river basin. Over those four decades the scope of the HRA has broadened to not only defend the Haw, but to address a myriad of environmental justice issues that threaten the lives and livelihoods of the people and creatures inhabiting this watershed and beyond.
The current Mission Statement of the HRA is testament to their commitment to environmental/creation justice:
“Our mission is to promote environmental awareness, conservation and pollution prevention; to speak as a voice for the river in the public arena; and to put into peoples’ hands the tools and the knowledge they need to be effective guardians of the river. Our Haw Riverkeeper advocates for clean water, and against threats to the river. The Haw River Assembly is dedicated to the goal of environmental justice and equality for all people in our watershed. The Haw River Assembly is a stronger organization and our work to protect water is more successful when our organization represents the full diversity of people living in our watershed. We believe all people should have access to enjoyment of the natural world and a voice in decisions that may affect their environment and/or health. No group of people should bear a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial activities or governmental policies that situate polluting activities in their community.”
Time and space do not allow for this post to do more than merely scratch the water’s surface of all that the HRA is and does. Therefore, I point you in the direction of their fabulous WEBSITE, and urge you to make the time to push all those buttons beneath the masthead and be inspired by what you discover. You’ll be amazed at what the small staff of Elaine, Emily, Kyleene, Carolyn and Cynthia accomplish with the aid of a dedicated Board and a hoard of enthusiastic volunteers from across eight counties to fuel their many programs and events.
If, like me, you love a river, then you are also going to fall in love with the Haw River Assembly and want to give it all the TLC it deserves.
I leave you with a few river quotes to ponder as you wade into the HRA website:
“To put your hands in a river is to feel the chords that bind the earth together.”
“If the earth is a mother then rivers are her veins.”
– Amit Kalantri
“We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations.”
– David Brower