This is a story that includes several threads. One, appropriately, is a fabric known as Rayon. That thread is interwoven with two others: the chemical mercury and the South River Watershed in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. It is indeed a complex weave of science, history, changing economic forces, and an exceptional river.
Another Dam Done Gone
The crowd of close to 3,500 gathered on the riverbank of the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, VA on February 23, 2004. They had come to see the explosion. The atmosphere was celebratory, even jubilant, with dignitaries and media buzzing around. The crowd had come to see the Embrey Dam be blown up by an Army Engineering team from Fort Eustis, ultimately opening up 700 miles of river and tributary waters to migratory fish and creating a unique river paddling experience. John Warner, a U.S. Senator from Virginia at the time, donning his floppy brimmed fishing hat, pushed the symbolic demolition plunger, and the crowd held its collective breath.
Recently, I had the occasion to put a canoe in the water, which of course involved getting the canoe on and off of the car. When it came to lashing the boat to the car, my companions for the day just stood back and watched. They observed the placement of the canoe on the racks, the positioning of the ropes, and finally the slip knots that sealed the deal. One actually muttered softly, “oh, that’s how you do it,” as if I were performing a magic trick.
I assure you, there was no sleight of hand involved. Far from it – it was the direct product of the best lecture I heard in college, delivered by the renowned lake researcher, Dr. Daniel Livingstone.
The Dam Keeper’s Dilemma
On the September 17, 2018, the remnants of Hurricane Florence had moved inland from the North Carolina coast and up into the Shenandoah Valley. As he did during all major storm events, Michael was in his Soil and Water District truck patrolling the water levels at several flood control dams. At the Tom’s Branch dam, Michael realized that things were a bit different with this storm. The water level had already topped the 40 foot gauge and water was flowing through the emergency spillway. Plus, the access road below was underwater, so Michael couldn’t drive out. He spent the night there, in constant contact with County emergency services crews and his District co-workers in case mandatory evacuations had to be enacted.
I am being followed. Or, rather, I am following. I keep glancing over my shoulder to see if it is still there. Not because I feel threatened, but because it is cheering me along, whether on foot or bicycle. The subject is Packera aurea, known commonly as golden ragwort or golden groundsel. Packera is unflinchingly cheerful. If you are following Packera, you are likely in a wooded setting on a rocky ridge or a floodplain or maybe a rain garden, and it may be early or late Spring. How fortunate for you!
The $0.25 Part That Breaks the Million Dollar Machine
Recently, two seemingly incongruous things happened on the same day. The first was that I turned on my kitchen faucet and water sprayed all over the kitchen. The second was an online presentation that included an academic review of the deficiencies of stormwater practice inlets. Ah ha, I said, the 25 cent part that breaks the million dollar machine!
The Damming of America’s River: Reflections on the Age of the Technocrat
Most of the nation’s rivers and tributaries had. . .been dammed by the late 1960s. . .The mainstreams of the Columbia, Missouri, Mississippi, Colorado, Tennessee, Ohio, and Rio Grande had been nearly fully developed (NRC, 1999, p. 18). To our modern sensibilities, this seems like a crazy fact. What societal forces were in play to allow this to happen?
Giving Back to Your Ecoregion
I live in Central Virginia, but also the Northern Piedmont/Piedmont Uplands ecoregion. As much as political boundaries, our ecoregions are responsible for the landscapes, livelihoods, cuisine, recreation, industries, cultures, and storytelling of the places where we live. As such, our ecoregions provide for us and sustain our communities.
One of my first jobs out of college in the early 1980s was working as a dishwasher and line cook in a vegetarian restaurant in Durham, NC. The name of the restaurant was SomeThyme. The place was quite a fixture within Durham’s cultural vibe at the time.
Little Bobby & Big Bobby: An Erosion Control Drama
Little Bobby and Big Bobby were standing about four feet apart, work boots rooted in the construction mud. Excavation contractor Big Bobby, a mountain of a man, was swinging a shovel above his head like a helicopter blade in motion, cursing loudly as he swung. The County erosion control inspector Little Bobby, small of stature but stiff of spine, was holding his ground, growling his reaction to the shovel blade spinning just above head level. What was the argument about? Inlet protection.