Saturday, July 31, 2010

Good News Downstream

The good news downstream is that the oil hasn't reached our stretch of the River. The guy in white in the canoe was a City of Kalamazoo employee surveying the area Friday for evidence of the spill and fortunately the word out is  - no oil - . Me and a couple friends concluded the same thing from our eye witness observation from the bridge at Michigan Avenue and Kings Highway.

Not a particularly comforting piece of news for the stretch upriver that's been saturated in crude, but from a bigger perspective, to contain the disaster to only that 25 mile stretch is significant. The health of the entire river, and connecting bodies of water--especially Lake Michigan--depends on it. Preserving other parts of the river will most likely help in the eventual recovery of the contaminated stretch. Wildlife and fish have some immediate places to escape to, and, in the long run, can eventually re-colonize the recovered portion of the river.

I'm skeptical that they can stop every ounce of oil, whether sheen or the thicker stuff, from making it's way downstream, but stopping the major flow means a lot to the health of the river, and us. 

It makes me think of the expression, "everybody lives downstream". Indeed, we're just downstream, and thank God they know that upstream. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Something Smells

I ventured east of Kalamazoo the other night to see the effects of the recent 1 million gallon spill of crude oil into Tallmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. 

My first encounter with significant signs of oil on the river was in Battle Creek, and the first thing you notice is the powerful odor. Your body, instincts and experience tell you it's not a good smell. Fifteen minutes into it I became nauseous. 

It reminded me of the foul stench you release when you kick up muck in a marsh. 

Now imagine (there's some truth to this) that smell, comprised of aging, decaying matter, then compressed, distilled, and intensified by a thousand times, and you have the smell of crude. And here we are, as humans, drilling up this stuff that was sequestered in the earth for millions of years, safely removed from living systems, then trying to move it around in mass quantities so we can use it for so many facets of our lives. At some point it's bound to spring a leak.

Things have run amok.

Go See For Your Self

I visited our contaminated river Thursday evening, and when I arrived at a point further upstream, closer to the source of the spill, the impact of this catastrophe was far more visible.

I was one of many on the 9th St. bridge, just Southeast of downtown Battle Creek, trying to absorb the situation.

And although I think we have the capacity to comprehend something from afar, through pictures and news, it wasn't until I saw firsthand the crude oil, spanning from bank to bank, flowing non-stop downstream, that I began to fully understand the severity of the situation. The first thing that came to mind was, "the river is f - - - ed! It really makes you want to do something.  

When you see the thick, black, tarry stuff clinging to vegetation on the banks and all throughout the floodplain, you realize this is not going to just go away, and cleaning it up in it's entirety is impossible, it dawns on you how damaged the river truly is.

And this follows in the wake of the Kalamazoo River's sordid history with the paper mills and PCB contamination.  After decades of negotiations, community input, legal wranglings, and various other human obstacles, we finally start making progress in the cleanup of PCBs, only to face another historic environmental catastrophe that once again puts us on the map for all the wrong reasons. 

It really hits home when you experience it firsthand. Go see for yourself.

As I was leaving for the night, right around the corner from the bridge was none other than a BP gas station, an uncanny reminder that not only are the spills becoming far to common for comfort, but that we, as consumers and drivers, are the demand in the supply chain of crude that flows through our land and water. 
How did I get to the bridge to observe the oil spill? I drove my car and burned some gas. How crude.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

If The River Could Talk...

...she would scream.

I visited the Kalamazoo River this evening near Battle Creek. It's not good.

More to come...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Monster Bucks Among Us

Years of scouting, waiting and learning are finally starting to pay off.
All I'm going to say is, this buck is in the city limits. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ottawa Marsh

Spending most of my time and energy exploring the urban wild-scapes of Kalamazoo is of course a joy, but it's also a labor of love, a discipline. Restricting myself to the wild spaces of Kalamazoo has it's pros and cons; the pros being that it's conveniently right out my back door (so to speak) and it's also uncharted territory in the wildlife genre, representing the burgeoning phenomena of urban wildlife, endemic throughout America. The cons are that the wild spaces are always miniature compared to bigger preserves or wilderness and often degraded. In fact, sometimes depressing. 

My explorations into Schippers Crossing, particularly the degraded parts, are more like a photo essay, trying to capture the beauties and tragedies of a landscape that we've deemed disposable. These "truths" can make for interesting material, from a photo-journalistic standpoint, but as soon as I put down my camera, the beauty and intrigue can quickly fade away. From the perspective of the naked eye, it's often a depressed and depressing landscape. There's garbage, garbage and more garbage, there are the casualties of clear-cuts, excavations, dumpings, and did I mention garbage. It's not always pretty, at least in the way we seek aesthetic solace from the natural world.

Now don't get me wrong, there are some real gems in the city, with real fine vistas that serve up generous sensations of the wild and solitude. But when I want to un-restrict myself to the city limits, and explore some truly vast and wild landscapes in the area, there is one place in particular that ranks real high on my list of favorites. It might even be the top of the list for Southwest Michigan. I'm talking about Ottawa Marsh, a marsh system branching off the Kalamazoo River in the Allegan State Game Area. 

I recently ventured out into the Marsh on my birthday, as a present to myself. A brand new birthday kayak, allowed me to get some real nice shots both at dawn and dusk.  What's intriguing and beautiful about the Marsh is that it's a bayou. In fact, one map (might have been Google Satellite) even listed it as a bayou. Although it technically fit's the definition, I--like so many others--always envision bayous in the South and the Gulf region.  Low and behold, we have our own.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

They're Out There...

Finally, after traipsing about the woods of Schippers Crossing for nearly a year, evidence of some big bucks. 

The antlers aren't fully grown yet, for the year, or perhaps for their age, but the potential is clearly there. 

As you may have gathered by now, Schippers Crossing is sort of a new frontier, or wild west, for the quasi-urban wilderness of Kalamazoo, with lots of wild space and not a whole lot of rules. Hunting occurs - and with that comes pressure, ample pressure on the deer. Thus, either the bucks are killed or wary as all hell.  

That's where the lackadaisical days of summer come into play, coaxing big bucks out into the open to graze in peace. They can sense the hunters absense; and the does don't drive bucks against each other. That's why they mill about in "bachelor packs", biding time for the annual ritual of the rut. I can hardly wait. 

The only question is: will I see these same bucks in three months? We'll see...

Monday, July 5, 2010