An East Falls love letter to the Schuylkill, a streaming source of peace, beauty, and positive chi.
June is National Rivers Month, a time to reflect on the history, health and beauty of our nation’s waterways. These majestic rivers include the Mississippi, the Colorado, the Rio Grande and here in East Falls, no matter how you spell or pronounce it, the Schuylkill. The river that runs through our front yard may not have the reputation as some of America’s better known rivers, but it’s ours and despite the occasional washing machine, millions of pounds of toxic chemicals and a few dumped bodies, it beckons us into its watery arms at the end of Midvale, searching for some kind of peace in its constant currents.
While the lure of water has been a theme since the beginning of time, only recently have scientists begun to study the positive effects that bodies of water have on our minds. “The surfers, scientists, veterans, fishers, poets, artists and children whose stories fill this book know that being in, on, under, or near water makes your life better,” writes Wallace J. Nichols in his book Blue Mind. He claims that the 80-percent of the world’s population that lives, “within sixty miles of the coastline of an ocean, lake, or river,” experiences a better mental state than those who are tragically landlocked.
On any given day in East Falls we can see proof of Wallace’s thesis. Joggers, bicyclists, power walkers and leftover rollerbladers from the 90’s can be seen following the water along the Schuylkill River Trail. Scullers glide across the surface from dawn to dusk, while dragon boaters paddle in sync to their primitive, communal rhythms. Fisher-people put out their rods and wait with infinite patience for any one of the 40 species of fish to bite, while deep thinkers simply sit by the river and stare at it in hopes of finding answers to mysteries that only the river can provide. All these activities share the physical and mental benefits of being on or by the water.
As the advantages of an aquatic lifestyle become more accepted, so too does an appreciation for our local river of paradise. In 2015 the Schuylkill River Trail won the Best Urban Trail award from USA Today. In 2015 the Schuylkill was named River of the Year, based on online voting compiled by the Pennsylvania Organization of Watershed and Rivers and this March the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a $12 million grant to connect the Center City section of the trail to Southwest Philadelphia.
And even though the quality of the Schuylkill has improved since being designated Pennsylvania’s first scenic river scenic river in 1972 there is still much work to be done to protect one of East Falls’ most valuable resources. Some of this work can be as simple as picking up trash along the banks on our daily walks to voting for local and national politicians who support environmentally conscious legislation.
This summer, as more stories of celebrity suicides pour in, as the daily news cycle seems like a nightmare from which we never wake, the river will be there, as will the ocean, to remind us that tides turn, waves crash and hope and beauty still exist, often in the form of water — sometimes even through the very water that flows through our own front yard.
Nate House moved to Calumet Street with his wife Mary Conway several months ago after living on the Delaware Bayshore for two years.Before that they lived in Philadelphia neighborhoods from the Northeast to South Philly. They teach English, Communications and Gender Studies at Community College of Philadelphia. Links to other stories about birds, dogs and magical fish can be found at www.natehouse.wordpress.com.