I remember sitting on the banks of the Blackstone River on a beautiful day in April 1970, listening to the great folk singer and prophet Pete Seeger. Pete was giving a concert from a barge anchored to the slow-moving Blackstone, in honor of the first Earth Day. On that day citizens across our nation had worked to clean up trashed and polluted areas in their hometowns. I was 14 years old and I had spent the day with my cousin Tom, pulling shopping carts and old tires out of the shallow reaches of our local river in Cumberland, Rhode Island.
Life Magazine had recently labeled the Blackstone as ‘the most polluted river in America’. The Blackstone had been the workhorse powering the American Industrial Revolution, since the first Cotton Mill had been built by Samuel Slater in the 1790’s.
Since that first mill the river had been lined with textile mills that drew power from the river and poured their industrial waste directly back into the water. By the time I came along the mills had long since closed but the chemical waste remained imbedded in the river silt. The chemicals had killed off the fish and decimated the birds. Biologists labeled the river as a biological dead zone.
Rachael Carson in her landmark book Silent Spring, published in 1962, awakened the conscience of our nation to the price we pay for our neglect of mother earth. On April 22, 1970 thousands across the nation looked around at our polluted water ways and toxic landfills and said ‘no more’. It was the beginning of our national awakening to our responsibility to be stewards of the earth, for this generation and generations to come.
On that first Earth Day after a day of working to clean up the Blackstone, hundreds listened to Pete Seeger sing a song of hope for the river. He spoke of nature’s ability to restore and regenerate. He reminded us that taking care of creation was a sacred trust.
43 years later as you walk alongside the Blackstone River you are likely to see people jogging along a newly built footpath and seeing parents push their children in strollers. You’ll watch the trout dimple the water as they rise to feast from an insect hatch. A woman casts her fly as she stands chest high in her waders casting for that elusive trout. At the same time a Great Blue Herron casts its own shadow on the water as it looks for its next meal.
And as you walk or canoe along the Blackstone the words of Pete Seeger our great American Prophet continues to remind us, that taking care of mother nature is a sacred trust. The Blackstone is a story of resurrection and regeneration and a reminder of what happens when people of good will come together for the common good. Happy Earth Day and keep up the good work.