There’s more light in the morning than there was just a few weeks ago.
Winter is still coming on, days growing shorter, but that last rain knocked most of the leaves down and though it comes up later, you see the sun a little earlier.
The foliage that’s hanging on is spectacular, ash, paw paw and a Magnolia magniflora with golden leaves as long as your arm all flickering from the wind in the day’s earliest rays.
It’s been cold, but there’s something warming about just seeing that and lately I’ve gotten up earlier to just sit on the couch, one arm on the old hound, taking in the sunrise and not thinking much of anything.
I’m thankful for that. A person ought to be astounded from time to time by what this world can do on its own, without all the frames we tend to put around it.
I spend a good deal of my time these days writing about what is commonly called “the environment,” more specifically the public policy by which the environment is protected – or not.
In a kind of odd twist, the two news organizations I work for are on either end of the state. Given the obvious differences, you might think the policy needs of the mountains and the coast are very different. This is certainly true in the fine grain details of hydrogeology, but overall, not so much. Whether at the heights atop watersheds or at sea level, that which is required of we beings who can shape, restore and even destroy this land and its waters is essentially the same. Much.
As the great 20th Century botanist B.W. Wells noted in his introduction to The Natural Gardens of North Carolina, the odd slice of land within this state’s borders unites the fir forests that range down from Canada with the pocosins and swamps of the Gulf of Mexico. Eighty years ago when Wells wrote the book, the state was near dormant economically, a mostly rural place.
But in the post-war era, that turned around and since then, millions of acres of the Natural Gardens, the inland marshes, live oak forests , boreal forests, savannahs and wire-grass sandhills have been gobbled up to make way for more people and their stuff.
Though the topography differs greatly, the people steering policy in North Carolina’s mountain and coastal regions share a similar challenge. Growth in both places is strongly driven by their unique natural beauty and managing growth requires striking a balance with nature itself. That requires not only a lot of scientific skill, but also a great deal of respect.
The other day while speaking to a class at Carolina on our state’s coal ash problems, I asked a question that was posed to me when I was a student. Does a river have rights?
Sorting through that idea reveals a lot about how we think about the world around us and our responsibilities in it. People are quick to assign rights to humans and a large swath of the animal kingdom, but trees, ecosystems and streams are another story.
The question eventually leads to why we try to protect our land, air and water. Is everything we do, even protecting a river, done just in the name of human health, safety or enjoyment? Or does a river or marsh have some kind of rights of its own that require our consideration. To be honest, I don’t really know.
The answer, I think, is somewhere in those moments when the morning light through the leaves awes us or half a dozen dolphins slowly cross the horizon holding our gaze as they head gracefully downcoast.
What I do know is that in the end, this land of ours is really the only lasting thing we have to pass on. Be thankful for it.
Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist, musician and public-policy enthusiast. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org