The Haw River Paddler


“Nature in all its beauty and splendor is the physical manifestation of pure spirit. No wonder we are inspired and renewed when we visit or live within it. In Nature heaven jumps out at you in color, balance and grandeur.” Anonymous


What is it about a river that we find so attractive, that inspires us to write music and poetry, to seek adventure and give us a sense of place? What does the future hold for the Haw River?

The connection we have to all rivers begins when we, as a fertilized egg, begin to multiply. We are floating around in this liquid environment doubling our cells in seconds. At some point, the human embryo even has slits and an arch behind the head like a fish. We begin our physical existence as a creature of a liquid world and then we are thrust out into the open air. No wonder deep within our consciousness we have a connection to rivers and the life they sustain. That liquid environment was safe, warm and provided us with all that we needed to grow and prosper. Outside of the womb we search for that feeling for the rest of our lives.

Don’t attempt to count the number of songs or poems written about rivers. The more you try, the more it feels like trying to count the number of grains of sand in a square foot of beach. Why is it that so many song writers and poets pick rivers as the focus of their creativity. It is exactly that. Rivers are creativity personified. Rivers embody passion, power, ever changing moods, timelessness, abundance, connection, awakening, mystery, sustenance, diversity, beauty, consistancy, renewal and the love we experienced in the womb. Is it really any wonder that songs and poems are written about rivers and that they are too numerous to count?

Any student of religious books or recorded history knows all too well the role rivers have played in our past. Is there anyone in our culture who has not heard of Noah or Huckelberry Finn? What about Lewis and Clark? Anyone heard of John Lawson crossing the Haw River in 1700, and along the way recording accounts of Native Americans? The point is that our history is full of accounts of adventure that involved rivers. Just like when our young mines drifted to those far off places, as adults we seek those adventures to some degree when our lives seem boring and mundane. In our hearts and minds, we need to know that there are still adventures to take, and the nearest river gives us that opportunity.

Whether you have lived near the Haw River all of your life or moved neaby last week, we are all products of its past. In the early years of this Nation, communties developed next to or near rivers. Rivers provided the initial transportation routes. It was rivers that enabled commerce to flourish. At one time, there were over 300 grist mills along the Haw River and its tributaries. Not only did river power provide the energy necessary to transform crops into edible food for trade, but water-powered sawmills provided the energy to convert trees into lumber. Years later, that power turned the machinery of a textile industry.

The one, two punch of cutting the forests for an every expanding population along with the discharge of industrial wastes in the form of dies and lubricants weakened the natural ecological cycles of Piedmont rivers, the Haw River being one of them. There are many written accounts of how the Haw River used to run clear. You could see the river bottom wherever you looked. Mussels were everywhere. Fish and wildlife were abundant. A combination of increased turbidity and sedimentation from runoff of the human-dominated landscape changed all that along with the dams that blocked fish migration inland.

I think former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said it best, “We allow engineers and scientists to convert nature into dollars and into goods. A river is a thing to be exploited, not treasured. A lake is better as a repository of sewage than a fishery or canoe-way. We are replacing a natural environment with a synthetic one.” Is that what we as a community want or as this area continues to urbanize, do we need a healthy Haw River to represent that part of our past when the river was pristine and represented unlimited potential?