And not a drop to drink. This Ancient Mariner quote came to me as I listened to patriotic songs stream over the loudspeakers during the fireworks display in my hometown. Lyrics like ‘from sea to shining sea’ and ‘to the oceans white with foam’ abound during the 4th of July season. Pictures are painted of the United States as beautiful and bountiful.
How far have we come from those days? As I watched the firework display and listened to the lyrics, I suddenly saw a family at the beach telling their children not to go near the water because it was toxic. A family too afraid to touch the water around them. Before you dismiss this as impossible or too futuristic, we are not that far from this. Here in the DC area, we are surrounded by two rivers, yet neither one is safe to put a toe into. We are literally surrounded by water that is unsafe to drink. The water is a danger to us rather than the life support it is meant to be.
And this is just the water around us. What about those majestic purple peaks now destroyed by fire or sheared off at the top? Or those plains and prairies with little life left in them, bled by industrial agriculture? The beautiful country that people wrote songs about its beauty is being ravaged by those very same humans.
I think of the movie Wall-e, where people were so far removed from nature that they were unsure what dirt or plants were. They had to relearn the value of slow food and nature. Instead, they were fed on supersized, nutrient packed processed food. How close are we to that? We already have orange juice stuffed with calcium and fiber and other essential vitamins that it’s hard to remember what the original OJ tasted like.
This Fourth of July, instead of worrying about what barbecue to attend, or if you should have one or two burgers, take a minute to remember the lands that people wrote songs about. If we don’t act, those songs will no longer be reminiscent of a new country formed on some of the most beautiful lands in the world, but they will be shameful reminders of what this country once looked like. I know I don’t want to have to explain to my children how it was normal to play in the creek bed or to buy food from a stand on a corner of a farm. I want them to be able to experience that during summer breaks. And I want them to know what it means when they sing ‘from sea to shining sea.’