The River…”The Body of the Nation”

(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Mark Twain called the basin of the Mississippi River, “The Body of the Nation.” It gathers slowly in the upper midwest. It is fed from a remarkable number of rivers and a remarkable number of states. It winds its way though the center, through the very soul of our country. There are countless stories and mythologies and poems written in homage to this beautiful languid body of water. There are lives who live and breathe because the river flows. There are whole ecosystems depending on the great artery to bring them life.

Earth Observatory…NASA

This body flows to the sea. The beautiful flowering delta above is the Mississippi River Delta flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. It is it’s own unique biology, it’s own unique organ. From the ocean of the sky above where this picture was taken and looking down, it looks like an aorta, a distributor of life giving oxygen and nourishment, bleeding millions of gallons of water into the delta and out into the Gulf of Mexico. There are untold numbers of organisms, untold numbers of plants and animals and fish living and thriving on this ecosystem. There are untold numbers of humans who’s very lives depend on the fishery and the lifeblood this ecosystem feeds.  

An now we are poisoning it.

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river

Is a strong brown god-sullen, untamed and intractable,

Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;

Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;

Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.

The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten

By the dwellers in cities-ever, however, implacable.

Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder

Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated

By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom,

In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard,

In the smell of grapes on the autumn table,

And the evening circle in the winter gaslight.


(No. 3 of ‘Four Quartets’)

T.S. Eliot

The Dry Salvages

PHOTO BY TED JACKSON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE An oily mess inundates the Roseau Grasses that mark the coastline of Southeast Louisiana at Pass a Loutre at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Wednesday May 19, 2010

We are all witnesses now. We watch now as the oil comes ashore and seeps up into the delta of the mighty Mississippi. We watch. We are powerless over something this enormous, something so much larger than we could imagine…and yet we know that this could get much worse. The spill may take months to cap. In the meantime we will watch as it fills the Gulf of Mexico and wraps around the tip of Florida. How much further will it go? The Bahamas, up the eastern seaboard of the United States and then out to sea to be carried to the shores of other nations? At this point no one knows but as we have seen our government, our corporate masters, our leaders have lied to keep us from the truth.

As some have stated so much more eloquently than I, if this does not wake us from our addiction, our dependence on fossil fuels and the insidious toll they take on our planet, our eco-system, then what will?

What right to stewardship of this planet do we have?

This is a moment in history we will all remember. This is an environmental Pearl Harbor.

This unfolding black poisonous stream leaking into the conscience of everyone will be something we will speak of decades from now. We are watching history. Everything that we do as a nation now will be remembered. What will our response be as a nation, as a species? What will our leadership do? This is a moment someone, anyone in power must seize upon and begin to steer us toward a greater awakening, toward a future where our sources of energy do not destroy the bio-sphere we rely upon to live.

What is happening in the Gulf can no longer be acceptable.

PHOTO BY TED JACKSON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and La. Gov. Bobby Jindal tour through the Roseau Grasses that mark the coastline of Southeast Louisiana at Pass a Loutre at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The delta of this great and mighty river is dying. I want us to remember that. I don’t want us to look away from it. This is what we as a nation have created. Our appetites, our indulgences, our belief that we can consume everything that we want and then some without causing harm. The planet is too small, too complex an organism to carry the burden of more humans with greater appetites.

How much more will die? How much of the coast will be contaminated? How many plants, animals and fish will die. How many coral reefs poisoned beyond repair? What cost is enough to wake us up? Is this not enough? Do we have to have this happen in the Arctic? Or here in the Gulf again?

We are poisoning the river. We are poisoning ourselves.

There will be a day of reckoning for this, an accounting for what we have done and continue to do. Will we really begin to awaken to what we are doing to this planet and take the necessary steps to begin to repair the damage to our body, our river, our planet? It will take not just the vision of what is feasible, but what is visionary. There is no more time.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;

The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite

Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses

Its hints of earlier and other creation:

The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;

The pools where it offers to our curiosity

The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.

It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,

The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar

And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,

Many gods and many voices.


(No. 3 of ‘Four Quartets’)

T.S. Eliot

The Dry Salvages

Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

LA Times

I sit and humbly watch. I wonder what will become of us.

Crossposted at DKos


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  1. will we find redemption?

    • Edger on May 21, 2010 at 3:38 am

  2. …but oh my aching heart.  Eliot’s 3rd Quartet is appropriate.

  3. I wonder how long our rivers – and we – can survive after we’ve poisoned the oceans.

    Lovely quotes from Eliot.

    And always Mark Twain – the Mississippi, which he knew so well, as the body of the country (which he also knew well, along with many other things).

    Thanks for sharing this exquisite essay.

    You’re right – what has happened is historical, fateful.  We did this – and must change how we live.

  4. Sadly I need to take issue with the repeated;

    We are poisoning the river. We are poisoning ourselves.

    If we lived in a democracy it to be “we” but we don’t. We live in an oligarchy and we are watching helplessly as our river is being poisoned, as the elite kill us and “our” planet.  

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