There was a day last summer that found me and Fynn and Rowan sitting in the shade of an old Willow tree. It was an enormous tree, with branches reaching out over the river, over the trail that we used to get there, and reaching out over us. Rowan told me that he loved Willow trees, and wanted to live under one. As we sat there in the shade we saw a currant bush, which still had currants, long after all the other bushes around had lost their fruit. We went over to check it out. Sure enough the currants were big, fat, ripe, juicy and delicious goodness. They were the size of grapes! We ate and ate and ate until we had eaten our fill. We sat down and rested some more. We looked at the wild grapevine that climbed up the side of the river and spilled out onto the trail. It was full of green grapes. We made plans to keep our eyes on them, to harvest them once they were ripe. But that day never came.
The next day we went back to eat more currants, to check on the grapes and rest in the shade of the Willow tree. We ran into a Trail Closed, Detour sign. It had an arrow pointing away from where we wanted to go. A chain link fence had been put up. Ok, I thought, we’ll go around and come at them from the opposite side. But no, there was a fence there too. Trail Closed. Detour. Arrow pointing away from where you want to go. “What’re they doing, Papa?” Fynn asked. I don’t know. They’re probably just working on the trail. “How are we gonna get the currants?” We’re not gonna get ‘em. But maybe they’ll be done by the time the grapes are ripe.
That was last year. The fence is still there. But the currants are not. The grapes are not. The Willow tree is not. The Cottonwoods, The Box Elders, The Silver Maples, and all the other Willow trees, are not. The Kingfisher and the Great Blue Heron are not. The Duck and the Goose are not. The Fish are not. Instead we have concrete. Lots and lots of concrete. The foundation for the new water park. Rowan will never again sit under that Willow tree and want to live under it. We will never again eat those currants, the biggest, juiciest currants we’ve ever eaten. We’ll never again watch a Heron catch a fish from underneath that Willow tree. And it makes me wonder if it’s worth it, this price we’re paying. Is a water park more valuable than a child’s dream? Than a Willow tree? Than a grapevine? Than a Heron catching a fish? I don’t know. I don’t think it is. But that’s just me.
We went back there the other day, me and the kids. Not on purpose, we were just riding past it, along the river. A good ways downstream I smelled something rotten. Something like death. Like sewage. It took me a while to figure out what it was. It was the river. We stopped and looked at it. It was lifeless. There was nothing there but this grey muck flowing where the river used to be. All the trees were still there but there were no animals, not even birds in the trees. None of us said a word about it. We just got back on our bikes and rode on. What else was there to do?
I know that one day they’ll be done with construction, that the river will run again. That the fish will return, (it’s stocked every year), and that probably even the birds will return. But they’re gone now, and that’s what scares me. I mean haven’t we all seen the Lorax? Don’t we all agree that a dead river is bad news? Don’t we all want to see a wild river? To rest in the shade of a Willow tree? To sit along it’s banks and watch a Heron stalk a fish? To see a pair of Geese raise their young? To watch it rise and fall, dry up and flood?
I hope that we will look at this river, our one and only river, and love it so much that we would not dare to change it. That we would rather change ourselves before we would change it. Like a lover or a best friend, someone you love for who they are, not for who you want them to be. I hope that me and Rowan will go back down there, and sit under the one remaining Willow, the one right next to the bridge, and allow it’s branches to drown out the sound of the cars on College Avenue, as we daydream about living under a great Willow someday. I hope that we will look around and see a new grapevine growing, new Willow shoots springing up, new currant bushes in bloom. I would like my kids to be able to tell their grandkids about the time we almost ruined the river, but we didn’t. I would like for that story to be true.