So here I am, sitting in Gifford Pinchot state park in Pennsylvania. I’m sitting on a park bench right surrounded by deciduous forest. Less than 30 feet behind me there is a woodpecker beating its beak violently and persistently into a tree. He seems determined to get every last insect it can until it starts to get colder. The seasons are beginning to change. I can feel it and see it, I woke this morning to a crisp cool air, looking forward to the sun rising and warming up the land. Tomorrow is October 1st and I can tell its happening.
If I were back on campus right now I would be sitting in a classroom, learning about some element of life or the world. The difference now, and I think one of the main goals of this semester is that I’m not just learning about it, I’m experiencing it. I’m watching the seasons change before my eyes and listening to the woodpeckers beating. Now that you have a general picture of what I’m seeing let me explain what I’m thinking.
Gifford Pinchot, famous for his conservation based approach to nature, was the first chief of the United States forestry. One of his most famous quotes shows his emphasis on not just the present condition of forests but of their future sustainability. He practiced these words, “The greatest good for the greatest number of people in the long run”. Pinchot is an advocate of Utilitarianism, which is founded in these principles, the greatest good for the greatest numbers.
Pinchot is someone who appreciated nature and understood not only its instrumental value but its intrinsic value. Someone who is exclusively concerned with what an area could give them, instrumental value, would quickly deplete the resources of that area. They would have no regard for long term consequences and would likely move on to exploit another area. Someone who values nature intrinsically can go outside and look at the land and appreciate it simply for its existence.
Yesterday was one day in this trip that I have felt a strong distinct connection to the Chesapeake Bay. We drove by bus to Harrisburg where we would launch our canoes. Harrisburg is a city in Pennsylvania that is developed around the Susquehanna River. The view was literally breathtaking, there is not many other ways to explain the emotions that I felt when I looked out across the river. The water was moving but seemed calm. I leaned over the side of my canoe and i could see straight to the bottom. This was one of the greatest feelings I have ever experienced while out on the water. As I paddled down the river I could not help but get a feeling that everything was going to be ok.
The sediment largely consisted of boulders and rock. There were areas of pebbles and we later saw three different types of sea grass beds. Tires were scattered about the river floor, as people used to believe that inserting tires into the river would give organisms a place to plant themselves and flourish. Now we know that practice is not nearly as clean and helpful as previously thought. I do not think the tires are all bad though serve as reminders to us that we are not the only generation that recognized the need for a cleaner bay.
After we passed under arch number 4 of the Rockville Bridge I looked down into the water. I saw something metal glimmer out of the corner of my eye; the river flowing pulled me away from it but I yelled out to Anna that I saw what looked like a ring. I asked Mike if I should go in and get it, nothing ventured nothing gained he said. Without accounting for the cold water or the current I lowered myself into the water fully clothed. After a few minutes of everyone helping from their canoes we located the object and I dove down to get it. It was a mans wedding ring. There was no inscription but the style and manufacturer indicated its identity. I was wet the majority of the rest of the day but it was worth it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Yesterday was eye opening to me. In 1972, Hurricane Agnes sent a catastrophic pulse down the Susquehanna river, moving sediment, ripping up sea grass beds and killing wildlife. Today in 2013 the river is making a huge come back, it has a low turbidity and contained many species of macro invertebrates that indicate high water quality. We found species of invertebrates that cannot survive in anoxic conditions despite the history of coal industry in Pennsylvania. The Susquehanna river is only one part of the river, but the example that has been set there can provide hope to people who may be ready to give up on the restoration of the bay.
Only time will tell when this kind of change will be most observed in the bay and it might not even be visible during my lifetime but its our responsibility as people to consider others and the future of the bay. In the words of Gifford Pinchot, we must protect the bay so that it can have a chance at providing “the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the long term”.