What legacy will we leave?

Bald EagleWhen I was a little kid growing up in Iowa, we seldom saw Bald Eagles, even though we lived near the Mississippi River. When we did chance to spot one, everyone, children and adults, looked skyward, hoping for a glimpse.

Eagles were endangered because the pesticide DDT found its way into the eagles’ food supply, ultimately weakening the egg shells, causing them to break during incubation. Since DDT was banned in the early 1970s, eagles have come back.

Now, Bald Eagles are common in Iowa. It’s not at all unusual to see one of these majestic birds soaring overhead. In the winter, there are even more eagles as the birds migrate along the Mississippi and Missouri River “super flyways.” Adults and children still find it a thrilling sight, gathering on  bridges to watch our national symbol swoop for fish in open water and roost in the tops of trees.

The Des Moines River runs through a park near my home so I ventured out to see if I might spot some eagles for myself. I pulled into the parking lot and hadn’t even gotten out of the car when I saw three mature eagles in a nearby tree.  One by one, the eagles took off, leaving me yearning for their return. Even though the river is low, they would be back as long as the river isn’t frozen overPop can in river.

The drought has been so severe the river now runs in less than half of the area its carved for itself. I set out for a walk, figuring it’s not every day you get to walk on a river bottom. Winter or summer, the river can be a quiet, peaceful place. As I walked, the silence was broken only by the sound of geese calling to each other.

I took along a plastic grocery bag to pick up any trash I might see. Very soon I realized I should have brought more than one bag. Cans. Bottles. A cowboy boot. Even underwear! In no time, my bag was full and the handles were tearing. I left the bag to pick up on the return and continued to walk. In the distance, the sun glinted off the water moving around what I thought was a pile of brush. As I got closer, I could make out a wheel. Then a tire and an axle.

Wagon trash in riverDuring a drought, the river reveals how we’ve cared for our waterways. The disregard we’ve had for them over the years, using them as a trash bin. Perhaps people thought they’d never fill up. Or that no one would ever know because the garbage sinks out of sight. Perhaps. Until a drought like this shows us the folly.

River clean up efforts like Project AWARE – A Watershed Awareness River Expedition – involve hundreds of volunteers every summer to clean tons of trash out of Iowa’s rivers. The visibility Project AWARE has brought to the plight of our rivers has encouraged thousands of volunteers in communities across the state to get out on the water, too. Those volunteers are doing good work, but they can’t make real progress until people stop putting trash into the rivers in the first place.

Sometimes we humans get it wrong and are able to fix it. We were able to do that with Bald Eagles. I hope we can be that smart when it comes to our rivers.

Bald Eagle photo credit: w4nd3rl0st (InspiredinDesMoines) via photopin cc

Gratitude in a drought?

Hot, dry weather yields brilliant fall color – 2012

Are all these sunny, dry days good for us? Only in Iowa would someone even ask that question! I spent last week in California where no one ever questions “yet another day in paradise.” But here in Iowa, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

As the sunny, dry days stretch on, I look at my flower gardens, which I don’t water, and wonder how many of the plants I’ll lose by next spring. I look at my prairie, which history says can stand the swings of nature, and notice that the grasses thrived in the dry heat while the flowers were much less lush and brilliant. And all of the prairie plants were shorter.

The farm fields suffered painfully in the drought. I hated even to look as I drove by many fields of corn. The leaves were curled up and pointed to the sky, as though pleading for rain. When none came, eventually, the stalks wilted, turned brown and crumpled. Yields are way down and we’ll all feel the farmer’s pain at the grocery store in coming months.

At lunch today, a friend commented, “This area wasn’t made for perfect weather all the time.” He’s right. Iowa thrives with the change of season. We thrive when we have sun mixed with regular rains, hot days followed by cold days. We thrive when it all evens out.  This year hasn’t been like that. I joked when we were getting 70 & 80 degree days in March that we were going to have the longest summer on record. I didn’t know how right I’d be. I didn’t know it would be a California summer.

Looking past concerns of drought, I have to say a California summer in Iowa is beautiful – the endless perfect days, the ash trees turning gold. I’ve determined to be grateful for the beautiful weather, to marvel in the brilliant colors, to be outside as much as I can be. And to try not to worry that there’s no rain in the forecast for another 3-4 weeks. If then.

I will remind myself that in all things I can give thanks.