“Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not leaves and vegetable mould myself?” – Henry
In 1854, instinct told Thoreau he was an integral part of nature. He could live in solitude beside a pond in the woods and not be lonely. Nature would be his companion. In Walden, his journal, Thoreau wrote, “Nature is full of genius; full of the Divinity. Not a snowflake escapes its fashionable hand.”
Moments alone beside a stream also offers enlightenment and peace to anyone who honours the instinct to revere nature.
But, some don’t. Two weeks ago, Dan, a neighbor who does, knocked on my door to say McKenney creek behind his house near Rosewood and Cook Streets was milky white. This section of McKenney divides a greenbelt flanked by the White Spot on the south, Value Village to the west, and Brookside Townhouses on the north. It’s a home for owls, raccoons, woodpeckers, and recently coyotes whose two pups went to kindergarten here to learn about predation. They’ve moved on.
Along Dan’s back fence there’s a path used by high school students, pot smokers, and the transient who left a tarp when he moved on. It begins on Rosewood and follows the stream to the restaurant and shopping mall on 207th. It was here Dan discovered the paint someone upstream dumped into a storm drain. It’s happened before.
“Do you have the pollution hotline number? “ he asked.
I phoned for him. It was a weekend, but a few minutes after getting a file number from the hotline receptionist, a B.C. conservation officer called back. He was off-duty and an hour away, but he promised a response as soon as possible. I was skeptical, but 10 minutes later there were two fire trucks parked on site. Firemen lifted storm drain covers to locate the paint’s origin. Others followed its progress down stream.
If the spill had been oil, Chief Howard Exner told me, they could have taken it off with the skimmers they carry, “but there’s nothing we can do to filter out paint.” I thanked him for responding quickly, and doing what he could. The health of our streams hinges on the department’s quick response to incident reports and educating the public about the connection of storm drains to creeks. We have good stream protection policy in Maple Ridge but we’re on our own since Harper axed Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada staff and reduced their role for habitat.
A few days after the spill, Joe Jurcich, a member of ARMS and I, walked McKenney to see how it had fared. It was mirky in places, but in others the water was clear, a sanctuary for several good-sized coho that survived by swimming up side channels. It surprised me to see them this far upstream, but, “Coho, don’t stay close to their redds,” says Geoff Clayton. “They move around a lot. These are teenagers, maybe a year and three months old, eating insects until they smolt. Must be good supply there.”
When the fingerlings smolt – get big and strong enough to tackle the ocean – these salmon swim downstream past Joe’s house near 206 B Street, and northward to the South Alouette near Jerry Salina Pond. I’m amazed by their resilience, and dismayed by the garbage people leave along their route. Joe and I found CDs, clothing, broken chairs, tires, a car seat, a desk, two half buried bicycles, soggy social studies and science textbooks – “property of Westview library,” and a crack pipe.
Yet, among all this indifference there’s signs that McKenney has friends. At the edge of Brookside, someone pulled up blackberry and stripped ivy, a plant that kills trees, from a cedar.
If McKenney had more friends willing to clean it up, the stream would return their kindness ten fold. A dumpsite could become a refuge from noisy city life; a place to silently observe the genius of nature and come away feeling connected to the bigger picture. A few volunteers to remove the garbage would do it, and maybe others to pull invasive plants under the supervision of ARMS. There’s indigenous salmon and huckleberry here, but noxious ones like blackberry and Japanese knotweed which choke out everything. Joe, who’s adopted his section of McKenney could tell stories of the crawfish he’s seen and the wood ducks he’s built nests for in his greenbelt. There’s not a better classroom for kids than a stream, and those who respect nature early on will have a comforting companion throughout their lives.
For information about the Adopt a Stream Program at ARMS, or their education program, call Greta or Nicole at ARMS (604-467-6401).
• Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.