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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Passaic River Drought -- 1980-81

Even the gulls cry for water, though none can read the newspaper headlines declaring this the worse draught in twenty years. I lived in Paterson when the last spell hit, and remembered hovering over the Passaic River then where the West Broadway bridge crossed up into the Haledon hills, the shrunken banks of the country's first industrial city smeared below with soil so black it looked like tar. That spell lasted from Kennedy's election as president to Nixon's loss for Governor of California two years later.
Now, hot dry September follows a hot dry August, the brutal sun beating the river bottom hard, leaving cracks in the soil the way a car crash might rip open highway ashpalt. The old fishermen line up along the stony sides lines drooped into the remaining puddles.
"It's not as bad as the dust bowl thirties," one old man tells me, who was old enough and well-traveled enough to know and remember. "But it's bad enough."
The river looks like an open wound in the flesh of the earth, leaving the green on either side to wither and die, while gulls, wrens, robins and sparrows peck at seed in the muddy corners.
I watch the old men swaying, back and forth, trying to coax a bite on bait as dead as the fish likely are, cringing under the steady soot of illegal factory smoke, avoiding those places where the drip, drip, drip of chemicals falls from equally illegal drainage pipes, the earth there a toxic zone that even the wild dogs avoid.
And me, I sit near the spot where my old raft once sunk, seeing its rotted edges for the first time since I was a child.

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