Recovering the ‘River of History’

A Metaphorical Essay for Humanity’s Cultural Condition.

Many years ago, I woke up on a random Saturday, and felt the immediate Providential prompting to write about… “River Pollution.”

“River pollution?!” I thought, “what the heck am I going to write about river pollution?”

Twelve pages written later I had the start of a book entitled, “Recovering the River of History.” The intro to the book is below, and I believe is very relevant to our current cultural time. You may see this from one point of view or another, and recognize it across many domains, but I believe the metaphor is topical and relevant.

At the end of this short metaphorical essay, you are left to make your own conclusions, start your own discussions… and that is the way it should be.


“The world is changed… I feel it in the water… “
(The Lord of the Rings — The Fellowship of the Ring)

A pipeline dumping toxic waste into a healthy river rarely yields recognizable results immediately. But from the moment the chemicals first press their way past the river’s all too accepting surface the contaminants begin slowly infecting and overpowering the river’s purity and vitality. For the survival of the river, discovering the chemical intruder becomes a race against time. Each daily addition of pollutants decreases the chances of the river’s recovery. As the intruding pollutants choke out the river’s natural resources, the river is helpless to fight against its own deterioration. It cannot cry out for critical aid. Far worse, the river often masks its own impending destruction. But its perpetual devastation does not end at the river’s edge. The river becomes a carrier, unleashing the biologically threatening agents on the surrounding environment, the unseen circumference around the river, consisting of all organisms, minerals and agriculture capitalizing on the river to sustain life. The surrounding environment might include the trout and turtles living under the polluted river’s watery surface, the corn and wheat irrigated by its water, or the deer and elk that lap daily at the river’s edge. It could also include the elementary school children who innocently drink from the school’s water fountain, piped in ten miles downstream from the deadly noxious intrusion.

It may take numerous generations of wildlife (or worse, human) abnormalities for the untrained layperson to recognize a consistent pattern, contact the authorities, and the river to become marked for an environmental case study. Therefore, the level of ecological and biological damage is in direct correlation to the community and/or environmental agency’s ability to read the warning signs in the surrounding environment. The more perceptive and vigilant the investigating team, the less destruction to the river and its surrounding environment may occur. By quickly responding to the signs in the surrounding environment, an environmental team or community can effectively preempt wholesale ecological destruction. Failing to do so produces tragic results.

If the visible warning signs are ignored or misread, then the pollutants continue to supplant the water without hindrance. Eventually the pollutants will so overwhelm the water supply that the river itself will expose the brutal truth of its injurious condition, simply through visible examination. The water no longer resembles its natural state, but takes on the physical characteristics of the pollutants. The river becomes more damaging than sustaining; its unnatural color and consistency evident for all to see. But by then the total surrounding environment, including its human community, may have been completely destroyed.

A proficient environmental team observes the warning signs, and uses these signs as the reasoning behind whether to embark on the analysis of the river water. The environmental team’s goal is to determine if the river findings confirm the “pollution” hypothesis due to the evidential widespread abnormalities in the river’s surrounding environment. Backed by the findings of these two initial procedures, the evidential warning signs and the mineral/chemical findings of the river water, the environmental team is outfitted with tangible truths about the true condition of the tributary. These truths then validate the search for the river’s offending intruder. The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency and similar agencies in cases such as river pollution save lives, even generations, human and animal, plant and mineral, by not simply focussing on the deceptive healthy and natural appearance of the water, but carefully and strategically observing the signs in its surrounding environment. The more preemptive and doggedly determined they are, the greater chance for recovery. They understand that if they can catch the offending culprit in time, the river will eventually heal itself. Nature and man return once again to vital health and harmony. Beauty will be restored, and the river, though savagely hijacked by the pipeline, will again refresh — instead of destroy.


In a case such as this, who or what should be held responsible for any biological deaths in the river’s surrounding environment? It is certainly not the fault of the river. It was forced against its nature to swallow the offending contaminants. And yet, though it had no desire for the entrance of these intruders, eventually the river begins to embody the characteristics and the physical qualities of the pollutants. Through the perpetual increase of pollutants, the river and the chemicals combine in a strange but undesired synergy. But the pollutants are not necessarily to blame either. Though the chemicals may in fact be corrosive and destructive, they are only destructive when introduced into certain environments. Proper disposal of harmful chemical agents eliminates the dangerous and potentially destructive nature of the products. The physical pipeline also suffers no blame. It was merely a receptacle through which the corrosive agent traveled through to the river’s surface. Pipe, is not an “evil” or “malicious” object, it was merely positioned at the correct coordinates to transport the potentially genocidal agents from the factory to the river base. It did not choose its coordinates, or its covert positioning. It just did its job.

The offending and guilty party for the death and destruction of the surrounding environment and community is not the pipe, nor the corrosive agents flowing through it, nor the river. The wholesale responsibility falls on the corporation having capitalized on all of these factors to continue its own selfish agenda, regardless of the impact to the surrounding environment. Indiscriminate annihilation of the surrounding environment and the river, including its inhabiting human community, was of little concern over the corporation’s personal agenda and continued profit. The corporation, its executives and possibly even its employees deliberately chose this course of action, knowing full well the potential results. Every day (or night) that pipe was being laid closer and closer to the river’s edge, those on the clandestine “pipe detail” had the opportunity to usurp their company’s executive orders and combat its logical conclusion. Instead, those that continued to lay pipe willingly validated their employer’s vile, nihilistic and corporately narcissistic intentions. But corporations are not living entities. They are made of people; people with subjective agendas leading to objective causal action. In essence, for all those in agreement with their corporation masters the outcome would be man-killing-man. Worse, it was covert killing.

When a situation like this arises and is discovered somewhere in America, the offending corporation is labeled with harsh monikers like, “evil,” “wicked” or possibly “devilish.” It is inconceivable that any one or any group of individuals would deliberately observe the genocidal effects on the unsuspecting environment and continue daily pumping more and more life-snatching chemicals into the river’s water supply. It is the worst of tragedies, one that truly brings shame upon humanity. As ecologically conscious and humanity-caring citizens, we demand immediate retaliation against the offending corporation, often ordering for the disintegration of the business operation and the incarceration of the key individuals involved. And yet, none of these punishments ever fully become a substitute for the loss of life and the environmental damage endured. “Tragic” doesn’t come close to describing the biological and natural aftermath, regardless of whatever financial settlement was dispensed, and however many years “before parole” are incurred by the offenders.

But there is a far worse scenario…

Suppose the conscious capable citizens living inside the “surrounding environment” refused to read the ecological and biological warning signs. What if those living in the surrounding environment unanimously decided they would only investigate their water once the river visually and clearly exposed its own contamination. Until that moment, the community would continue living on the river’s resources. Perhaps they often questioned the repeated and consistent physical abnormalities and frail condition of their offspring. But they continued to stare at the river surface — or worse, themselves — for the answer.

Attempting to live as comfortable a life as they could, the most vital watched with mystified expression as loved ones died around them, poisoned livestock fell in their fields and once rich agriculture shriveled into rotted carcinogenic dust. All the while, the fewer and fewer remaining citizens kept staring at the gracefully flowing cancerous river and repeated over and over again, “it’s only water, it’s only water.”

Can you imagine the news headlines?

“Thousands died, refusing to investigate their tainted water supply.”

“Death and Ignorance — a community’s refusal to accept the truth.”

“Failure to read the signs results in eventual annihilation.”

It would be unfathomable. The story would comprise newspaper articles and op-ed pieces for weeks on end. Experts would congregate around paneled news desks and postulate how a community could have ever been so foolish, so willfully ignorant. How could anyone deliberately prevent the investigation of their water supply when the warning signs were so apparent and perpetual? The rest of the world would be at a loss for answers. Why would a community adhere to such a decision, when the hazardous effects of the river manifested physically in their own bodies and throughout the environment they utilized every day? There couldn’t exist an answer that would justify the community’s actions, could there? Maybe for those outside the surrounding environment, their perplexity was just because they were outsiders.


Perhaps the effected community was waiting to see if the same abnormalities sprung up in the next generation, and then again in the generation to follow, and so on, and so forth. Perhaps at first, the abnormalities only occurred in twenty percent of the community, then forty, then eighty. The community then looked to the lucky unaffected twenty percent to give them the answers, until they also began to suffer. Perhaps the community perceived that it was only a strange phenomenological fluke, and developed technologies, pharmacological solutions and support groups to cope with the situation, until the society would naturally turn itself around again. Perhaps they grew to deal with conditions, thinking that it was merely how life was meant to be. Without outside intervention each successive generation would have known only increased perpetual destruction and disease. To each new generation, the appearance of the surrounding environment would appear more and more natural. Perhaps those that had once experienced the beauty of surrounding environment’s original state never mentioned it, sheltering those that had grown up only knowing the poisonous conditions of the surrounding environment. Perhaps they grew to enjoy the taste of the chemicals…

While those on the outside, the concerned individuals that the diseased and dying community refused to listen to, grew hoarse from screaming, “read the signs, check the river!”



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