Delaware, the River, and the Official Riverkeeper — Tale of Christmas and Courage
Christmas is a time for every citizen in our country and everywhere, to remember:
without the Delaware River, there wouldn’t BE an America.
This post celebrates a mightily courageous woman — Maya von Rossum — the official Delaware Riverkeeper. She’s articulate, accurate, and brilliant. Following her blog, or attending to local news media night after night, readers marvel at Maya’s steady focus on the many perils of our boundary water, and what must be done to reverse them. Some situations are obvious and seemingly internal: like pollution, stormwater run-off, animal wastes and fertilizer poisoning by nearby farms. One, which I fought to prevent, is artificially emptying her to cool a nuclear power plant. Other dangers are less visible, certainly far more difficult to describe — matters political. Listen with me to our spokeswoman, what she has to say about our river, our country, our freedom in these times. AND THE IMPORTANCE OF SPEAKING OUT.
Thomas Paine exemplified the utmost daring and determination in his diatribes, polemics, books and pamphlets in the time of the American Revolution. It is the essence of the country our Founding Fathers dared all to create, that vox populi — the Citizen’s Voice — is to be encouraged and heeded so that liberty may truly exist.
Thomas Jefferson felt the war could never have been won without Paine’s words. It is no accident that his most famous book is Common Sense.
NJWILDBEAUTY long-time readers, –especially those who came aboard when this was a Packet Publications Blog, NJWILD –, know that I’ve been fighting for the well-being of our magnificent Delaware River since I moved to New Hope from Princeton in March of 1981. I used postcards of the painting above to announce my change of address.
That essential move across the river plunged me right into her perils. Forces of greed, (though we did not bandy about that phrase in those days), a.k.a. PECO (Pennsylvania’s PSEG) and chemical firms, lawyers and judges, far-seeing realtors wanted to insert a pump into the Delaware. To remove unconscionable amounts from this already too-thin river, and pump them to the Susquehanna River, where Del’s water would be used to cool a nuclear power plant. A fierce protest group, Del-AWARE formed. A newspaper was generated. The printed word, the spoken word, and especially the televised word brought us national coverage in our battle for the river.
Our strategy meetings were held at a rather disreputable tavern, [Applejack’s – is it still there?] –appropriately upriver, on the river, above New Hope. Remember that taverns were the meeting sites in the 1770s, where our seemingly impossible American Revolution unfolded. I always picture early patriots, including Tom and John and George and Ben at Philadelphia’s City Tavern, banging pewter tankards on rough wooden tables, asserting “Give me LIBERTY or give me DEATH!”
In the 1980’s, near Lumberville, PA, just north of New Hope, my own friends, — women, including nursing mothers and venerable grandmothers–, lay down in front of the bulldozers set loose to ruin the river environment— lay down to save the river, and were jailed at what is now the Michener Museum. For some reason, no one at that Bucks County penal institution seemed to have heard of the writ of habeas corpus, so those women were jailed for the entire weekend! Patriots, indeed! I think of this every time I view Delaware River Impressionists honored on the Michener’s former prison walls.
I love our river even more than I cherish our state. But I couldn’t lie down in front of bulldozers. However, I could write. I penned poems such as “I am The River Speaking” and “To Val (Sigstedt) and the Valorous” to be published in the DEL-AWARE newspaper. One, written when the forces of greed blasted the river during the shad run, [and Nature generated a powerful mud-slide right across from the site of the proposed PUMP], ends, “Blast ME? I’ll show YOU power!”
[To read the poems, here’s an earlier post with both in it:https://njwildbeauty.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/dump-the-pump-fighting-for-the-delaware-river-with-poems/comment-page-1/%5D
One feels so hopeless in the force of these impassive official corporate forces. But I could also write prose, –especially letters to editors of Bucks County and Philadelphia Newspapers. And, each week, in Doylestown, as a volunteer, I penned position papers, releases and speeches for Congressional candidate, Peter Kostmayer. Peter ultimately would see to it that our Del was named Wild and Scenic, for as much of her imperiled length as could possibly qualify. He also played a major role in stopping the Tocks Island Dam Project. I’d write truths about the essentiality of saving our river one day, and see them on Page One of the Philadelphia Inquirer, as headlines, the next day.
THEN, as NOW, WORDS MATTERED – but they must be conveyed to the broadest possible public.
We succeeded in returning Peter to office, despite mockery, fury, insults, dirty tricks – like wording the Dump the Pump referendum backwards, so we had to vote YES to mean NO PUMP. We won the May referendum to prevent the building of the PUMP.
After which, I moved to France. Upon my return, the PUMP was in place. It had been a non-binding referendum. Let the protestors beware… However, our battle kept the greedy group from fulfilling their original plan to remove 200 million gallons a day from the River of the Revolution!
It’s almost Christmas, 1916. Grave changes are afoot in our country, which could result in negative changes far more perilous and long-lasting than the Delaware’s unwelcome PUMP.
It’s also almost the anniversary of George’s famous Crossing, to win the two battles of Trenton and the one battle of Princeton. Never forget that the third of our first victories took place in Princeton, near the Clarke House, near the Institute for Advanced Study [who have finally bowed to protests and will not be developing acres of that sacred battlefield.]
Soon we can attend the annual re-enactment at Washington’s Crossing on the Delaware below New Hope. There might be enough water in our river, after all, despite this serious drought year. People who live near major rivers know truths despite increasing insistence that global warming is a myth. For awhile, it looked as though this year’s Re-enactors would have to walk across.
Without the Delaware River, and her bounty of shad, according to Founding Fish author John McPhee, which fed our meagerly-clad-and-nourished officers in winter quarters, WE WOULD NOT HAVE A NATION.
Because of the Delaware River, we are the only state with three coastlines — the Shore, The River, and the Delaware Bay. Vital Philadelphia and our own Capitol would not exist without the Delaware, Yet, she is never safe.
LISTEN TO THE DELAWARE RIVERKEEPER, HERE, AND ACT ACCORDINGLY. Her level of commitment, devotion, and willing to sacrifice and risk, is Revolutionary. Let Maya be our model, every one of us!