Monday, May 13, 2013

Blog for American Rivers by Steve Piragis

Somehow rivers speak to us don't they?  More than placid lakes that lie still and demur asking only to be respected, rivers demand your attention.  Spring whirlpools turn to summer's lazy meanders and the surface for transporting leaf boats to the sea in fall.  Lakes seem safe in winter for us to ski or fish or camp but rivers have the unpredictable personality that tempts us to take a chance.  It's the the headwaters of big rivers that I love the most.  Small streams merge into medium streams.  Rocks, not mud dominates the benthos.  Hatches of midges and stoneflies emerge from cold waters then the best of all, the dragonflies of June walk out on a rock and unzip themselves down the back, unfurl their wings and set sail in the fragrant air of a blooming June day.  Such is the mood and the temperament of the Kawishiwi River winding its way thru the heart of America's canoe wilderness, the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. 

How could a wilderness river so pure for twelve thousand years since it's birth under glacial ice be threatened?  This gem, flowing tea amber from bogs and lakes that lie within the Precambrian bedrock, has a small problem.  A billion plus years before that last glacier melted during a time of crustal uproar these Algoman highlands were being injected from the mantle of the earth with a magma rich in metal ions hot to mate with the sulfur atoms in the country rock that this magma was invading.  The marriage made in hell lay dormant through a quarter of the earth's life until now.  Now the metals bound to their mate sulfur are immensely valuable to the planet's masters.  We, the members of the technology culture, have in insatiable and gluttonous appetite for metal.  The problem the Kawishiwi has is that these metals are sleeping in the crust just below the river and are being awakened by the core drillers taking biopsies to assess their riches.  Metals tied to sulphur in a sulfide marriage brought up to the light of day and the exposed to the rains and winds get divorced quickly and remarried hot to travel on the river as sulphuric acid and loose metal ions.  The river suffers when plants and frogs and fish burn out on the acid or suck up the metals to become toxic to the trophic layer above them.  

It's rather simple isn't it? Don't risk the life of one of the world's most pure rivers flowing through the heart of the most loved wilderness to feed the insatiable  appetite of this culture.  The river deserves our love and our willingness to fight for it;  even to commit to use less metals ourselves and enjoy our brief lives on this enduring planet more in the company of a river with personality, a river with life and liberty and purity, a river like the Kawishiwi.  

Steve Piragis

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