Chemical Silence of Acid Rain

Christmas has passed another year. My family is small now, so there was no big gathering and gorging at my house. I did, however, exchange presents and eat a fine meal with two aging biker dudes. One of them cooked. The other one is my older brother, a 6’4” carpenter extraordinaire with his knees, hands, and feet worn out from too many years climbing ladders and swinging hammers. It’s not unusual for me to spend a holiday dinner with my brother and his friend, Toad, who loves cooking holiday meals. We thrash politicians and solve the world’s problems. Many a good conversation emerges from these thrashing discussions. Mostly, we get rounds of laughs at the absurdity of our surroundings and the people in society.

Most discussions with me invariably lead to the environmental problems we now face on planet earth. It’s what I do. It’s how I earn my living. Animals, earth and the health of our natural world provide me reason to breathe, to think, to explore and to wring my hands over the multitude of problems our planet and its inhabitants face. Out of the dinner table discussions, my brother told about a road trip on the bike that he and his club brothers had done back in the early 90’s. They were camped in a state park close to Cherokee, NC.  These guys were hard core. They slept on the ground with a bed roll. When you’re travelling on a Harley you don’t have room to pack a tent and an ice chest. You just roll. My brother said they had been in this state park for a couple nights. When he woke the second morning it hit him that there was nothing but silence. They were surrounded by woods and there should have been birds chirping, branches shaking when a squirrel scurries from one limb to another. The woods spoke only silence. There were no birds full of morning song; no limbs rustled by squirrels. None. There were not even any bugs crawling or buzzing mosquitoes biting. My brother said there a couple of guys fly fishing in a beautiful, clear water stream, but he said, “sis, there were no fish in that stream! You will usually see an assortment of life that we take for granted, but that beautiful little creek had no bugs, no minnows, no nothing—–not even moss.” My brother explained that the eerie silence of nature was the result of acid rain that has been such a problem in the Northeastern region of the U.S.

Acid rain. It made sense. I’ve not personally spent any time in the NE, and haven’t experienced the effects of acid rain. How could any small animal, whether it’s a mammal, a bug, a tree or a fish in the stream survive an environment that is too acidic? They can’t. I’ve not studied the acid rain issue, but have certainly heard of the phenomenon for many years. I’m not here today to get into chastising discussion of the damage we humans have done since we’ve released our ‘progress’ across the globe. Most of us grasp the damage of burning fossil fuels. We grasp that with industrialization the rate and quantity of the chemicals released in the process, SO2 and NOx’s, are the constituents that make up acid rain. I’m not even here to discuss the dying spruce and fir trees on Mount Mitchell. I’ve never been to North Carolina, let alone Mt. Mitchell.

I only wanted to relay a family story: My biker brother waking up from a night of sleeping on the ground to the sound of death in our natural world. That short story from a day long past made me sit up and take notice of the possible future we face. Yes, I know the acid rain issue has been worked on by scientists and regulators for decades. It is however, just one more sign of the damage of our ‘progress’.

When will we progress enough to say enough?

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