My friend, Leslie, and I are sipping morning coffee on a bench near my patio overlooking the Hudson River. We are high-up in the woods of the Palisades, looking down. It is a spectacular scene. The river is straddled by the city on its east bank and the mighty Palisades on the western, Jersey side. From our perspective, it is framed on the north by the iconic George Washington Bridge and on the south by a sparkling mid-town Manhattan. This river is a tidal body that rises and falls 4-5 feet every day, flowing in either direction. Today, it’s headed north, slapped with the briny essence of the Atlantic like a cologne, and my nose insists I’m a child on a Cape May beach slathered in Coppertone. Oh the joy! Our eyes feast on the glistening surface of this once muddy-brown and now glistening steel-blue water filled with drifting sailboats, racing ski-doos, yachts, schooners, and kayaks. The river is so very alive.
My friend, Leslie, is visiting from Georgia, but she once lived in New Jersey and worked in Manhattan. She has not seen this river in years, and has never seen it from this point-of-view—it is prancing for her, sun-struck, and really showing-off! We sip our coffee and stare ahead. There are no words. We both know we are looking at a miracle.
Leslie was not raised in this area, but she too remembers that a couple of decades ago, this very same river was a cesspool of sewage and chemical waste dumped from factories and the massive container ships that used our ports. I grew up west of here, but vividly remember pinching my nose whenever we crossed the George Washington Bridge. No melodrama there—it stunk! If anyone had told me that I would be living on these banks (voluntarily!) some forty years later, I would have told them they’d been sniffing too much river water.
But now I do live here. Voluntarily. And in large part, there is an organization called RIVERKEEPERS that is responsible for this reclamation and my joy. The river is far from perfect—GE is still trying to figure out how they’re going to make good on a promise to clean up the tons of chemical waste they dumped upriver decades ago. Chemical waste that, because of the tidal currents, is making its way downtown. And, as with BP and the Gulf, it is a much bigger problem than they imagined. The cleanup is delayed and delayed as they try to figure out what they have to figure out. Always back to square one with no apparent way to get their arms around a solution. Yet. And GE isn’t the only perpetrator. There are septic issues from upriver towns with antiquated wastewater systems that just don’t get fixed. And then, of course, there was 9/11.
But right now from my perch on the Palisades, I can see tectonic improvement. From this perch on this day, I can imagine a river that my grandchildren can swim in. I can imagine a retirement filled with sensory wealth derived from the hard work and imaginations of organizations like RIVERKEEPERS who just keep on caring and won’t let go, never allowing the (albeit massive) problems to drown out the possibility.
While Leslie and I watch this feast, we can’t help thinking of the Gulf, and we say a prayer. We pray that your spectacular water will be renewed quickly, in spite of all appearances to the contrary. We pray that the livelihood of its people will be restored by some as yet seen miracle. And we wish the people of the Gulf faith and hope. We pray for the day that you will be sitting once again, as we are, looking out on holy waters filled with so much life.