In this Spring-themed blog entry, Beth Kephart, author of 18 books, including Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River and Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent for Temple University Press, writes again about the Schuylkill River.
Earlier this year, the Schuylkill River—a water body I have always poetically, somewhat defiantly referred to as a “she”—was named the Pennsylvania River of the Year, winning 43% of the popular vote and earning the Schuylkill River Greenway Association $10,000 in Leadership Grant monies. It was her second rotation into the top river spot; fifteen years ago she also brought the trophy home.
Perhaps it seems odd—cheering a river on, placing a crown upon her watery head. The Schuylkill is just doing what rivers do, right? Flowing along. Reflecting the sky. Surviving the storms. Harboring the finned and the shelled. Freezing, melting, rising. Rivers go about their business; rivers meander by. Pennsylvania River of the Year? What does she think of it all? What can she think, and what would she say if she could somehow escape her own banks and size up the four honored finalists? Would she declare herself superior to the Brodhead Creek & Watershed, the Kiski-Conemaugh Rivers, the Ohio River, and the West Branch of the Susquehanna River? Would she say, Oh yes. I see. Or would she count herself one among equals in the wilderness of riverhood?
Of course I am biased. Of course I myself have featured the winning river not just in Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, but in two historical novels for younger readers (Dangerous Neighbors and Dr. Radway’s Sarsparilla Resolvent), in my writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer,
In keynote talks (such as one given at Bank Street in November 2013, listen here), even in memoir workshops. I can’t get enough of her. Can’t stop watching her, walking alongside her, crossing over her, writing her story.
Nor can I stop feeling an enormous sense of gratitude to those who rescued the Schuylkill from filth and shame, toxins and clottings; who plant trees along her banks; who send kayakers down her spine; who offer solace and sustenance in shelters like the great Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center; who keep us focused on the importance of unobstructed waterways and H2O purity. The Schuylkill River is Pennsylvania’s 2014 River of the Year precisely because so many different people, variable interests, and organizations chose to care, for a very long time—chose to collaborate on behalf of her rescue, chose to believe she was worth rescuing.
The Schuylkill River had to have hope. Her advocates had to have fervor. They came together. They won.