Monday, May 21, 2012

Disappointed Hope and a Call to Act

The Big Elk Creek rarely disappoints, and today was no different. I counted 8 species of fish within the first 10 minutes in the water. The problem was I was the only one in the water while 20 high school environmental science students watched from the shore.

We had plenty of gear for everyone to get into the water to see the underwater world of the Elk for themselves. We talked about this trip for a month leading up to the date. Even the weather cooperated with a sunny 80 degree day.

My excitement at the diversity and abundance of fish: darters, white suckers, common shiners in breeding color and the sighting of the more maligned ones like eels coaxed a few students in but still we only had three students finally decide to gear up and get in.

I was disappointed in my ability to convince these students to get in the water to check out what’s below the surface, to challenge and expand their view of the Big Elk. To form connections that I hoped would translate into action. I never had a student snorkeling trip not get into the water. Most times I have to work to get them out of the creek, and I wondered why this trip was different. It turns out there was a mix of reasons. Some students had to go to a different class after this one and didn’t want to go there wet. Others weren’t prepared to get in the water.

But the one reason that was most disturbing was the concern that getting into the Big Elk would get them sick. Maybe we have done too good of a job talking about problems so people perceive that the environment, especially the environment where we live, is impaired to the point of being unhealthy for us. Maybe we have presented a hopeless situation.

If creek snorkeling is about anything, it is about hope. Witnessing a diversity of fish, and the struggles of ecology in our local streams, the same streams many people consider to be disease causing, void, lifeless, and sick, proves that while our actions have impaired our waterways, it is far from too late. It is time for hope to generate action. Hope to maintain the amazing ecosystems that still thrive in our streams, and even restore them to an improved condition.

Above all there is hope. We can work to make our world a better place, and that work can start with the local stream. There is a vibrant ecosystem in the Big Elk Creek, and we can work to protect and restore it. I owe these students this lesson.

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