Environmentalist

drawing of barton creek in austin, tx by Lynn Bridge

Barton Creek 4

Copyright by Lynn Bridge

16″ x 24″

I just scanned an article in the New York Times relating to our federal Clean Water Act, and it dredged up memories from a creek bottom of my childhood. I became an environmentalist about the same time I learned to walk, although there was no such term as ‘environmentalist’ back then.

I was fortunate enough to grow up “out in the country”, a location my parents chose before I was born.  Although my father worked at a large university in town, the distance to “the country” was minimal, sprawl not having invaded my hometown yet, so it was practical to live on a bit of acreage, yet drive to work in 15 minutes.

Our slightly-more-than-an-acre was L-shaped.  Through the long part of the L was a running brook, fed by a spring on the farmer’s property next door to the south.  The little brook ran into a larger creek, “Little Buttermilk Creek” on the  neighbors’ property to our north.  And, “Little Buttermilk Creek” ran through the foot of our ‘L’.  So, I had two creeks in which to play when I was young.

I had access to every insect, spider, reptile, bird, amphibian, fish, and mammal living on or traversing our property, and I learned early which were dangerous to me and which were benign.  The brook in our back yard contained minnows and, at the right time of year, long strings of frog eggs dangling in the current, kissing the “crawdads”, or crayfish, which also thrived in the stream.

As a toddler I ‘swam’ in the creek under my parents’ supervision and I loved the thrill of trying to escape from the mysterious beings living in the water.  When I was older and had friends visiting, we loved to gather rocks and dam up the creek, making a pond in which to float our scrap wood boats.  We loved to play like we were marooned on an island and we had to make our own way finding food and shelter by the water.  My parents made sure that we removed the rock dam at the end of our play, in order to restore the creek’s natural balance for the sake of the creatures in it.

When I was in about 7th or 8th grade, the farm next door was sold to a housing developer, and the first hints of urban sprawl wormed their way into my consciousness. The bulldozers came and covered the little spring with about 20 feet of caliche dirt hauled in from some other location.  The whole property was made level, and then the building started.  The immediate result for us was that the little brook quit running, so that the frogs, fish, crawdads, and turtles all died.  The next result was that the intense runoff from the housing development became a raging torrent during each Texas thunderstorm, turning our property into a foaming, tumultuous flood.  The final result was that the water, having carved huge gullies on our property, eroded so much top soil that nothing green would grow in the little valley again.  However, orange algae covered the exposed dirt and rock so that the formerly verdant brook area was orange, muddy, and slimy, running muddy water only when there was rain.  It was a dry gulch when there was no rain.

I suspect that an idyllic, nature-inspired childhood, followed by such an emotion-laden transformation of the land that a kid loves, would turn most any kid into an ‘environmentalist’!  This scenario has been played out countless times all over our great landscape, and I have been an observer of much of this change in my lifetime.

A second event further confirmed my position as a lover of God’s Earth when our son was born with severe physical birth defects and what they call a Profound Developmental Disorder. We were living in New Jersey at the time of my pregnancy, and our public tap water was most unattractive!  Someone in our neighborhood sent in a sample of our water to the state lab and this is the report that came back at that time:  New Jersey has the lowest standard for drinking water quality of any state; your water passes the standard for industrial chemicals and biological waste, but I wouldn’t drink it.

Here I was, pregnant, and I had been drinking what, for all practical purposes, was poison!  When our son was born a month after we’d moved back to Texas, he had to undergo major surgery to save his life, and was later found with the PDD.  I am happy to report he is doing exceptionally well as an adult, but not everyone in his situation is so lucky.  Now, more research than ever is pointing to a possible connection between environmental chemicals and autism and other profound developmental disorders.

Back when I was a kid ‘conservative’ meant ‘conserving’. In other words, taking care of what we had.  It did not mean the freedom to rape, pillage, and burn, which seems to be the standard for ‘conservative’ now.  The concept seems to have made a 180 degree turn in its meaning just in my lifetime.

My conservative ranching ancestors would be appalled at what they would see now, if they came back to visit.  And, is there any surprise about my frequent inclusion of water and underwater in my art?  Water means life and always has!

mosaic stepping stone of water by lynn bridge

Puddle #2

Copyright by Lynn Bridge

16″ diameter

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