After five humbling years in Northern California’s Sierra, I was considering moving back to NY’s High Peak wilderness to reconnect with the quiet corner of the country where I was born and raised. So I took a trip there, last summer, hoping for that gut feeling, the guidance that often falls beneath the surface of my own stubbornness. During my second week home, Mom invited me to join her and the Ausable River Association (ARA) for a community paddle and river clean-up. Our childhood home is a repurposed farmhouse from the 50s that sits several hundred yards from the river, and my fondest memories are floating the quiet West branch with Mom, my four siblings, and our dog Faith. The event rolled around, Mom and I giddy with childlike excitement as we glided through the river in our canoes. As I reflect on this moment, reconnecting with the Ausable felt like reconnecting with family. At the same time, I began to see her through a different lens than before as I caught glimpses of rusty hubcaps and rubber tires embedded into the earth that is the river floor. I could see that she was hurting, plastic debris bordering the river bank, camouflaged with brush, thistles, and lily pads. Birds flew overhead, but I don’t recall minnows, bullfrogs, or painted turtles the way we frequently encountered them as kids. With help from the ARA and the community, several canoes of unwarranted trash were removed from the river that day. Although the pollution I saw left me bitter and frustrated, it gave me a newfound appreciation for the people here, folks like my Mom who show up out of the deepest levels of compassion to care for and restore our earth. This perspective significantly impacted my decision to move back.
Bekah Ashley | The Ausable River, The Adirondack Park, NY