Oasis of Light
The Wild Beauty of White Clay Creek Preserve
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees,
Books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
- William Shakespeare
It's all about the light say the physicists. Everything we perceive as solid matter is nothing but gravitationally trapped forms of light energy. As Fred Alan Wolf, aka, Dr. Quantum explained in a recent e-mail, all matter is made from two forms of light he calls luxons. "God's command: 'Let there be light,' writes Wolf, "now takes a new meaning: everything is made of luxons--we are all made of luxons and the universe is a light show on a grand scale."
This collection of photographs celebrates a small part of the big cosmic show as seen in and around a place on planet Earth called White Clay Creek Preserve, a popular nature refuge on the outskirts of Newark, Delaware. Every year thousands of people enjoy the sanctity and beauty of the White Clay Creek watershed while fishing, hiking, running, biking, canoeing and birdwatching. Runners and walkers like it here because it's shady and relatively cool in the summer and the soft dirt trails are easy on the joints. Fly fishermen value the preserve for the abundance of game fish and many photographers and painters deem the area a rich aesthetic resource. Art critic Robert Hughes once said, "The basic use of art is to provide oases in a fallen world." For visual artists, White Clay Creek Preserve can be just that, an oasis of light.
The entire preserve now exceeds 5,000 acres thanks to the efforts of activist Dorthy
P. Miller. Pennsylvania White Clay Creek Preserve and Delaware White Clay Creek State Park comprise a wild and scenic watershed rich in flora and fauna with more than 500 native plant species, 500 wildflowers, including nine native orchids, and trees such as beeches, oaks, sycamores and tulip poplars. And although it's probably
a good idea not to eat them because of PCB contamination, fish are abundant throughout the watershed, which is habitat for over two dozen freshwater and saltwater species.
Every Spring, over 20,000 brown and rainbow trout are stocked in the Pennsylvania portion of the White Clay Creek and more than 18,000 in the Delaware portion. In addition to trout, the White Clay Creek supports Striped Bass, White Perch, Gizzard Shad, Largemouth Bass, Yellow Perch, Sea Lamprey, Smallmouth Bass and American Eel.
The preserve is valuable for significant economic reasons as well. According to the University of Delaware's Institute for Public Administration Water Resources Agency, "The water, natural resources and ecosystems of the watershed contribute an economic value as high as $1 billion annually to the economies of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland." The preserves's ecological benefits alone add up to over $165 million per year according to the WRA's Kate Miller, "With just a single acre wetlands provide more than $13,000 worth of goods and services that include water filtration, water storage to reduce flooding, natural habitat for birds and fish and nutrient removal from suburban and agricultural fertilizer use."
For most visitors though, the value of this wild place transcends market economics; natural environments like White Clay Creek Preserve also have a sacred dimension that's impossible to measure in monetary terms, a vision of nature that John Muir described as "not something useful and productive but of a deeper, spiritual good, a mystic transubstantiation, fusing man and nature." "What ultimately feeds us and makes the world go around is the living world itself," says Helena Norbert-Hodge. "When we discard that understanding and act as if it is of no importance and follow the laws of the human-made system, we rapidly strangle all life and in the process make ourselves much less happy." Out here in the woods, the sounds of water flowing through the landscape and birds singing in the trees are reminders that, as the Dalai Lama says, "The purpose of our lives is to be happy." As his Holiness and many other great sages have pointed out, true happiness depends on learning to go with the flow of all the great causes and conditions that move evolution along and aligning ourselves with what anthropologist Julia Martin calls "the Big Flow of the Cosmos to which all the little selves in the universe belong." In short, true happiness, as the Buddha pointed out 2600 years ago, can only be realized by letting go of the false conceit of the egocentric self.
"Despite its protected status as part of the Department of The Interior's National Wild and Scenic River System," says Shane Morgan, White Clay Wild & Scenic River Program Management Plan Coordinator, "more than 75 percent of White Clay stream miles are listed as 'impaired' or 'polluted'. Excess fertilizer, animal waste, leaking septic systems, soil erosion, and hard surfaces such as roads and parking lots have degraded water quality and stream habitat. "
The human population throughout the White Clay Creek watershed has more than doubled since 1970, a trend that has had numerous negative impacts. Forest cover has decreased, for example, as well as agricultural land as a result of increased urban development. In densely populated areas where impervious surfaces such as parking lots, roads and driveways have increased, the health of the watershed has been degraded as stream base flow has slowed. "Water ignores political boundaries," says Stroud Research Center entomologist John Jackson, "but obeys natural ones. All uses in the watershed can affect downstream . . . Streams have the ability to cleanse themselves, but humans have to help. In the late 60s, concerned people stopped DuPont from building a dam on the White Clay Creek which ended up saving the whole watershed when DuPont donated the land for preservation."
A Great Blue Heron (right), takes off from a tree along the creek bank. The largest of the North American Herons, Great Blues are expert fishers, but also eat crustaceans, small mammals, insects, amphibians, and other birds and rodents. Solitary hunters, they spend 90 percent of their waking hours stalking for food. According to the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan, their numbers have increased in the US since 1966 with a current continental population of approximately 83,000 breeding birds.
According to naturalist Rich Collins, pictured at left with Phyllis Gervais Voss, "The White Clay Creek Preserve is a critical habitat centrally located within the Atlantic Flyway. The open fields, shaded valleys, and gentle watercourses offer nesting and stopover opportunities to some 200 songbird species--almost half stay and breed in the area. Birders find uncommon species such as the eye-catching American Redstart, Blue-winged Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Cerulean Warbler, and in upper reaches, the mysterious Veery. As development continues, the importance of the Preserve to Atlantic songbirds will grow."
The White Clay Creek Preserve is also an important refuge for migratory birds threatened by man's rapid technological advance in the form of power lines, wind farm turbines, aircraft, and cell phone towers. In the US, according to the Worldwatch Institute, communications structures alone kill as many as 40 million birds every year. Other hazards include alien and predatory species, hunting by humans, free-roaming felines (cats kill over a billion birds in the US annually), lethal pathogens and parasites, oil spills, pesticide poisoning and the greatest threat of all--habitat loss due to human development.
HAPPY TRAILS! During his years as a working photographer the author got his regular aerobic exercise running on the woodland trails throughout the White Clay Creek Preserve and when he retired was immediately inspired to document the visual beauty of the place he had enjoyed for so many years as a long distance runner. The result is this publication which represents more than 20 years worth of images from a much beloved outdoor venue beyond the frenzy of suburbia. The book is now back in print and pictures featured in the book are included in the slide presentation below. Click on the light shaft image to start the show. For ordering information send an email on the Contact page in the Menu bar.