Once upon a time, there was a sacred river. Her name was Delaware. In the 1980’s, people blasted our river, that joins New Jersey to Pennsylvania — blasted her in shad season, in April, in order to build a pump. A pump to take out 200 million gallons a day from my beloved river, and send it over to the Susquehanna, to cool a nuclear power plant.
to EMPTY this River!
Once upon a time, there was a group called Del-Aware. Grass-roots, indeed. People who fought with every tool they could imagine, fought against chemical companies and the power company and lawyers and judges and realtors. Fought to keep our Delaware, –which may be the only undammed major river in our country–, to keep her whole and safe and clear forever.
John McPhee insists that shad from this river saved the lives of Washington’s starving soldiers in nearby Valley Forge. In other words, saved our country.
To Keep Her Free and Clear Forever – Delaware from Bull’s Island Footbridge
Friends of mine, women, nursing mothers and grandmothers among them, were jailed for putting their bodies in front of the bulldozers, brought to Lumberville to build the Pump House. I don’t know whatever happened to the writ of habeas corpus in Bucks County Pennsylvania in the 1980s, but those women spent the weekend in jail, in Doylestown. I’ve been in the Michener Museum’s cell, out in their courtyard, so I know how meager and degrading were their lodgings all that weekend. God bless James and Mari Michener, who turned that jail, ultimately, into a major museum of Delaware Valley Impressionist art. I stare at its stone wall every time I visit, remembering my courageous women friends, walled in by it and corporate greed, for an entire weekend.
I have always been ashamed that I did not have the courage to put my body in front of vehicles bent on destruction of my river. I have always honored my friends who were so fearless.
I put my pen and my checkbook to use for the River. Joining Del-Aware, going to wild meetings at Applejack’s upriver, writing poems for the cause’s newspaper, whose name I think was The Citizen’s Voice.
We fought for our referendum, and it won, even though worded backwards. We had to urge people to Vote Yes to Vote No. I drove around Bucks County stapling up enormous posters, alerting those who wanted the ban the pump to vote YES. We knew they didn’t want the pump. We didn’t know if they could bear to vote YES to prevent it.
We won, yes. And when I returned from my year in Provence, the Pump had been built. Water was being removed. The Susquehanna and the power plant were being suffused with Delaware’s liquid life. Why? It was a non-binding referendum. Oh, yes and miles of land that always failed perc tests had suddenly passed them, so an epidemic of McMansions profaned Bucks County upon my return.
People still say, “It’s impossible, what you tried to do. To fight all those implacable forces.”
Maybe it was. Impossible but essential. It was our battle, our citizens’ joining. Our stands for what was right. Our love for the river.
The Congressman, for whose re-election I worked each week, writing his position papers, speeches and releases, the noble Peter Kostmayer, at least managed to get any part that qualified of our river named officially Wild and Scenic. It’s cleaner by far now. Shad run again. Crowds suffuse Lambertville and New Hope now for each spring’s Shad Festival.
People joined hands and stood up for what was right. At least, we managed to get the water volume lowered that is stolen from our river of Independence.
Here are two of my Delaware poems, that were all I could manage, in terms of holding my own hands up against those vile bulldozers:
Val is Val Sigsted, who lead the fight. This poem was born the night I drove across the river with all windows open to feel the riverwind, hearing of our referendum’s victory, as I returned from theatre in Manhattan. In the play, the key song had been “There’s a Small Hotel, with a wishing well…”, composed, I had always been told, at the Delaware-side Stockton Inn.
TO VAL AND THE VALOROUS
I am the River, speaking
out of my depths
out of the bounty of my shores
with cleansing winds
from my tumultuous clouds
for streams who suckle me
for shad yet to be born
for generations of wildfowl for whom I am nursery
for lilting swallows nesting at my banks
for the ocean who cradles me at last
to you who float me, tend me
you who cast your nets within me
you who paint me, weave me
you who sculpt beside me
you who sing me
you who work to save me
I, Delaware, carol thanks
I, who had been barrier, am bond
CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN
Yes, our river, which many see as dividing two states, in the 1980s, joined them.
Here is the other — may these mere words catalyze others to fight for what is right in our country, for our citizens, for our rivers above all, for Nature Herself.
This was written during a dire flood, long before the referendum, when the literal Power Company of Pennsylvania blasted the river during the shad run.
one gander dozes near the broached canal
taking no notice of the river’s fury
boiling through isolate skunk cabbage
brown water churns like lava in broad tubes
turns trees to whorling pinwheels
massive drums to agitated corks
my river vomits onto picnic sites
I focus on her, seething at abutments
numb fingers awkward at the lens
chilled by new winds our angry river sources
in her headlong freedom ride
I return to find her licking at my carwheels
as mallards swim the yellow parking lines
she gulps hyacinths whole beyond the vanished footbridge
I drive along our river’s threatened banks
bristling with dawn fishermen, fellow pilgrims
at the shrine of independence, the river rises
determined as the General, crossing
near the site where men employed by Power
blasted as the shad began their run
the Delaware claims my road and I retreat
hear on every side, our river shouting:
“Blast ME? I’ll show YOU power!”
CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN
What it’s all about in the end — HABITAT!
Support your local non-profits, defending Nature everywhere, especially where sacred rivers are concerned.