WPSU

Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

Look!  A canal boat on the C & D canal!
Happy Earth Day from SlowBoat. How did you celebrate?  Please let us know.

On this end, SlowBoat spent Earth day docked in Delaware City, DE. Ironically, the crew were off burning fossil fuel.  But we believe it was for a good cause.

We attended the first-ever Berger Family Reunion. About 30 of us piled onto a yellow school bus to drive past the homesites and graveyards and textile mills that the Berger family once knew in the fading industrial towns of Lawrence and Haverhill, MA.  Lawrence is the site of the famous Bread and Roses strike of 1912. The strikers, led largely by women, appealed for both fair wages AND decent working conditions (hence the slogan: "We want bread, but we want roses too.")  Family founder Joseph Berger was hit by a rock and lost an eye during the strike.

Now we're back on the boat and about to make a run down Delaware Bay. Did raw materials for those Massachusetts factories--wool, cotton, leather for the shoemakers--pass through this port? Probably.

I was thinking about Earth Day when we first docked here last week.  The water at the head of the Chesapeake--right before we entered the C and D canal--was chocolate brown with mud.  And where we passed the mouths of rivers draining into the bay, the water was loaded with debris, mostly tree branches and even some tree trunks.



"Oh yeah," said our dockmaster, Tim. "We've had big rains this week.  Most of that stuff washes down from the Susquehanna." In other words, from  our home state of Pennsylvania, where farms and logging and development roil the soil that spring rains wash down the river.

That same morning, our hometown paper ran a tiny story, about two inches of copy.  "Bay grasses harmed by extra nutrients." Yawn. Nothing to grab the attention of the average reader.

Unless you know what it all means. Um, do you enjoy seafood?  Crabcakes?  Fresh fish? Shrimp and oysters?

The exact phenomenon we were seeing--muddy water from big rains--is bad news for the fields of underwater grass in Chesapeake Bay that serve as refuge and nursery and food source for critters in the bay.  Muddy water is not just ugly, or bad for swmming. It coats the slender leaves with muck and cuts off essential light.  Runoff also adds nutrients that spur the growth of algae, which suck oxygen fro the water.

For the big picture, check this satellite photo.

We're in the home stretch! Should be in Cape May, NY, by Weds or Thurs.  Then, up the Jersey Coast to the Big Apple!

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