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Nature: Through A Rower's Eyes This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

It’s beautiful out on the river today. The new boat glides swiftly into the harbor as the sun creates a bright sheen on its glossy black surface. The colors on this magnificent summer morning, particularly the intense blue of the sky, seem almost too bright to be real. The perfect surface of the water is disrupted only by the long smooth strokes of our oars. This is the river I row on every weekday with my school’s crew. Although it seems beautiful and idyllic at first, the water’s surface masks a problem that lurks beneath.

As soon as you step onto the Narragansett Boat Club dock you’ll get a hint of what the river is really like: soda cans covered in seaweed, cigarette butts, ripped Doritos bags, and (of course) dead fish. In a word, yuck. And it gets worse. The waste treatment plant, located across and slightly upriver from the boathouse has what it calls red flag days. God only knows what is floating by your oar then. Taking a closer look at what should be blue water, and realizing that it is actually brown, is not at all comforting.

So how did the Seekonk get like this? Why is nothing being done about it? I don’t know the exact answers to these questions, but they are likely very similar to the reasons why we have let our entire planet become so polluted. We have simply chosen to ignore just how bad things have become. For example, when we think of the northern Pacific Ocean, we might think of sunny California and Hawaii beaches, or the largest expanse of water in the world, or maybe the TV show Deadliest Catch. Most of us either forget or don’t know that “a vast swath of the Pacific, twice the size of Texas, is full of a plastic stew that is entering the food chain” (Casey 1) according to an article from Best Life Magazine entitled “Plastic Ocean.” And there are five more garbage patches just like this one throughout our world’s oceans. It’s no wonder we haven’t done anything about one polluted river in the smallest state in the nation when we can’t even acknowledge an issue that is bigger than our largest state.

Part of the problem is ignorance. I watch the news every day and I still did not know about these marine trash dumps until I read about them in English class. After reading the article “Plastic Ocean” by Susan Casey, and the essay “Moby Duck” by Donovan Hohn, I began to wonder why this issue was not headline news. If the media were looking for an attention-getting story, they couldn’t do much better than a threat to the existence of our world as we know it. But for whatever reason, the majority of the public has been left blissfully unaware of the fact that a big part of what they throw “away” will end up staying on this earth, either on land or sea, for millions of years to come. If we keep ignoring our plastic problem, we are eventually going to run out of “away.”

But our sorely unsustainable lifestyle will catch up with us long before we run out of physical space for it. “There’s growing—and disturbing—proof that we’re ingesting plastic toxins constantly, and that even slight doses of these substances can severely disrupt gene activity” (2). Just falling into the Seekonk River out of a single rowing shell could expose my body to hundreds of different chemicals and carcinogens. So even if you don’t currently care about what’s happening in the middle of an ocean thousands of miles away, you are eventually going to have to because the chemicals in the plastic floating there are going to end up on your dinner table.

Another part of the problem is that plastic has become such an integral part of our lives that we don’t have a good way to live without it. Just count the number of products in your field of vision right now that are made of plastic. Changing our entire lifestyle to fit the needs of our planet is just too inconvenient and problematic for most people. So even those who realize the consequences of buying plastic containers, tablecloths, pens, straws, and toys continue to do so simply because there really isn’t an easy alternative. But we need to do something to help preserve our oceans and our earth. After all, “as we lose those landscapes … we run the risk of becoming evermore brittle, until one day our imaginations and even our spirits may become as barren as a wash or a gully in a dry land” (Bass 17). As we lose the beauty and wonder that lie around us, we also begin to lose our own sense of wonderment and imagination. We stop seeing the possibilities for a better tomorrow and we stop dreaming of a brighter, more sustainable future. As nature disappears, our ability to hope disappears with it. And, without hope, we are lost.

But I haven’t stopped dreaming. I believe that if we each try to slowly but surely change the way we live, reducing our use of anything that can’t be recycled and finding sustainable alternatives for once disposable items, we can eventually create a society that does not depend on plastic. We might not be able to reduce the amount of garbage that the world has already amassed, but we can lessen the amount that we create and use on a daily basis. And, maybe someday we can make sure that the beauty we see from a distance is truly present when we take a closer look.







Works Cited

Bass, Rick. “A Texas Childhood.” The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004. Philip Zaleski, ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

Casey, Susan. "PLASTIC OCEAN." Editorial. Best Life Magazine 20 Feb. 2007: n. pag. Love for Life. Fiona Cristian. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.




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