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

Comments

  1. i love bald eagles… don’t have any in richmond va, although we do have pleanty of hawks soaring around…
    a family lives in my neighborhood, close to my home.
    but i did have the opportunity to observe two bald eagles up close, taking up residence at maymount park. they are injured eagles that can no longer survive in the wild

  2. It makes me sad to see trash thrown along roadsides, in streams and lakes, in areas of natural beauty. How hard is it to carry a can or plastic wrapper home and put it in the trash?

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      That’s what I’ve never understood, Mary. How hard is it? One day I saw a teenager walking down the sidewalk finish off the last of a bottle of water and throw the empty bottle to the ground. She didn’t even hesitate or look around to see if anyone was watching. No guilt. No shame. I shudder to think what her house looks like!

  3. I’ve only ever seen eagles on television. It must be a spectacular sight to see them in full flight.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      They are gorgeous, David. To know they were headed toward extinction and are now back makes seeing one all the more thrilling.

  4. That’s so sad about the trash. Why can’t people be more respectful. I’m in Marion, Iowa, a couple of hours NE of Des Moines, and travel frequently to southeast Iowa where I grew up. We usually see at least one eagle per trip, and last time one glided within about ten feet of our windshield. Got to look into its eyes.

    We also drive down about 10 miles from my parents, at a place on the Des Moines river that supposedly never freezes. This time of year, you see a lot of eagles. We went the day after Christmas and saw over 20. They are amazing!

    • They have an intense look about them, don’t they, Stacy? My husband and I were driving in northeast Iowa one weekend and as we crossed a small bridge, an eagle flew right in front of our car, right at eye level. It was breathtaking. I’d always figured we saw them at this time of year because leaves are off the trees and they had to congregate where there was open water. That’s true, but now I know that they’re also migrating and the migratory path for many birds is along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. We’re lucky!

  5. Unfortunately we don’t have Bald Eagles in the UK – but we’ve plenty of trash in our rivers. Sometimes I’m thankful that the rest of the population isn’t interested in going to the really wild places or they’d be spoilt as well. Let’s hope Project AWARE is successful for all our sakes. To be fair, we’ve cleaned up a lot of pollution from our rivers and otters are now returning to places they’ve not been to for years. We’ve brought back the White-tailed Sea Eagle too – now that’s a sight! Good luck. NED

    • Congratulations on getting otters and Sea Eagles back, Ned. That’s very good news. It’s a huge task to educate people about the importance of the rivers and keeping them clean. But it’s an effort worth making. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Seems like a good read.

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