Monday, September 17, 2012

Knapsack 9-19-12

Notes From My Knapsack 9-19-12

Jeff Gill



We need nature, and now more than ever




Yes, the election season is wholly upon us.


Yes, the rhetoric is overheated and the facts are being spun, twisted, mangled, and fracked beyond all earthly recognition.


Yes, I have no interest in joining in with the din (nor do I have bananas, I have no bananas today).


What I need is a walk in the woods. Or . . .


To tell you the truth, I've been doing a fair amount of creekwalking recently. Creekwalking is not something you should do, nor am I recommending it. You get me? I. AM. NOT. RECOMMENDING. IT. (Corporate legal, are we happy now?)


Creekwalking is indeed tricky because there are legal questions about who owns what or where, whose liability covers you down in the shallow waterways (I. AM. NOT. RECOMMENDING. IT.), and then there's the fact that once in a while, even around Licking County (or Legend County, if you prefer) the water gets deep.


Not often, though. You can pick your way from Alexandria down through Granville if you don't mind getting wet up to your armpits, and as a citizen measuring five foot, seventeen inches, that might come out a little differently for you.


My favorite stretches are closer to the confluences, where the South Fork of the Licking curls down from Pataskala to bounce off of the northbank of Buckeye Lake, then wandering through Hebron arcing north to Heath and joining Raccoon Creek where Newark begins.


Down in the lowest levels of the ecosystem, you can still see the richest span of species and types, along with the rarities not often spotted on the flat stretches we think of as the lowlands, which are far above your head when you tread the gravelly, sandy, occasionally soggy breadth of the bottomlands.


Sheltered by overhanging trees and high banks of shrub and sapling, a cedar waxwing perches on one bush; a kingfisher splashes into the water in front of you; a great blue heron slowly flaps a primordial path past your vantage point; scarlet tanagers and goldfinches punctuate the margins of the ribbon of blue unspooling overhead.


When your path allows no other way forward than into the water, you share the road with fish in shoals and schools; young and small, you tend to see only those who have the potential of being fished, since the seniors of the set stay in the very spots you intentionally avoid while creekwalking: deep pools, side riffles with overhanging brambly brush.


Native accounts and early settler tales remind us that once these waters were rich in paddlefish and freshwater sturgeon, in a time when the moral equivalent of caviar was a local staple, not a foreign delicacy. Clams and mussels are seen almost not at all, only as broken, long dead shell bits probably only washing down from the furthest upstream reaches. The general lack of health in the waters, even with all the progress we've made since the Clean Water Act and the EPA, is reflected in the absence still of those canaries in our well lit coal mines, the freshwater molluscs.


Despite that hint of concern, it's remarkable the range and number of wildlife you can see literally within blocks of the county courthouse. Yes, including bald eagles. Yet for all my creekwalking in recent months, I've seen precisely one guy out there fishing, and he said the catch was good. (Okay, I saw two other people, but they were smoking something and didn't seem pleased to see me pass by their secluded bankside hideaway. Anyhow.)


Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has noted that the US Fish and Wildlife Service reports the number of Americans who fish has dropped fifteen percent from 1996 to 2006; the National Park Service has seen a thirty percent drop in the number of backcountry permits since the late 1970s.


"In wildness is the preservation of the world" said Thoreau in his magnificent essay "Walking," and it is certainly the preservation of my sanity. There's social science data coming in showing that exposure to and time spent in nature helps youth reduce the impact of things like attention deficit disorder and general anxiety, and for adults it can improve blood pressure and general well-being far beyond just the health impact of walking alone.


Have you had your nature today?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; he DOES NOT RECOMMEND creekwalking. Tell him what you recommend at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

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