I work at Bard College in upstate New York where I am a member of the Citizen Science faculty. The curriculum is new this year and all about water. The campus is a gorgeous forest along the banks of the Hudson. The hardwood forests are expansive and enchanting in a way one will never experience in Colorado. This temperate rainforest is washed by 45 inches of rain per year. The forest is literally dripping at all times. If it is not actually raining, it is 90% humidity. There are so many edible plants all around. I love to run through this enveloping forest and remember my life in New England when I was growing up. While running, I graze on raspberries and wish it was just a few weeks later so I could eat grapes too. I take note for future meals of fiddlehead ferns, wild carrots, chestnuts, and herbs.
Sitting in the classroom, we reviewed peer-reviewed papers and propaganda videos about the chemistry, human dimensions, and political history of PCB contamination in the Hudson river caused by General Electric in the early 20th century. This is a science literacy program. On day four, lots of memories started flooding in. I grew up along the Housatonic river flowing from four sources in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts. The Housatonic is a few drainages away from the Hudson. GE was there too.
I was looking forward to taking my own boys to the river bends where I played as a child. You just stop at the bridge, walk through the cornfield for 10 minutes and then there you will see the bank fall off where the river bends. This little oxbow is a fun beach. You can float down to other beaches and walk back up.
I remember the day I learned about PCBs in high school. This memory is linked to an image of me standing creekside, not at the beach but somewhere else. I was gazing into the creek wondering what it all meant, “what are PCBs exactly and how do they get stuck to the bottom of the river? This place is so beautiful. How could it be poisonous?”
I am still unpacking these questions. It is a lot to take in. I recreated in a Superfund site my whole life. Who knew? And now I live in Colorado Springs where the recent discovery of PFOA contamination in the Widefield aquifer has our community wondering if we are the next Flint, MI. I urge you to explore further the water resources of your homelands. You deserve to know and although there is probably no answer for some of the questions that will arise for you, I predict that your critical thinking on the subject will deepen your daily commitment to protecting the water resources we all share.
A quick synapsis of my home watershed:
Some of our readings for the 2019 Bard College Citizen Science Program: