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Delaware River Biophilia

By Siba Kumar Das
September 6, 2012

While walking on River Road just north of Callicoon, I try sometimes to put into words the sounds the Delaware makes as it surmounts or swirls around rocky obstacles or runs over slanting beds of stone and rock. One morning, I came across the following in an essay by Ray Collier, a British nature writer (he is standing on the high bank of a river in his country): “Below me the waters seemed to be in a desperate hurry to reach the sea as they gurgled and splashed around boulders and small islands.”

Late evening the same day, I listened intently to the Delaware’s sounds, and, yes, I did hear Collier’s gurgles and splashes. But in one section of the river I also heard a continuous murmur that made me think of falling rain. In another part, where the water flowed over a rockier, steeper bed, what I heard was the sound of a waterfall and the sound of a narrow brook rushing downhill after a prolonged storm.

Between 1874 and 1879, Czech composer Bedrich Smetana created Ma Vlast (“My Country”), a set of six symphonic poems that included a 12-minute piece evoking the sounds of the great Czech river, Vltava, also known as The Moldau. The Delaware still awaits its Smetana.

The sun had long set by the time I finished my walk. Close to the place where my car was parked, the river was wide and still. It was quite dark. Half the river reflected the now nearly black forest on the mountain on the opposite bank; the closer half reflected a sky that was still faintly aglow with the light of dusk. The river and its surrounding environment had become a mysterious inviolable presence.

There are two kinds of beauty. One arises from the symmetry of form and pattern, a thing prevalent in nature. Maybe this has something to do with mathematics and the wonder it inspires. But beauty comes in another form: something expansive and formless and transcendentally profound. It, too, is a natural thing. Looking at the world at dusk, even in cities, one is overtaken by an oceanic sense, a feeling of oneness with an ever-widening, ever-unfolding natural world.

Edward O. Wilson, renowned entomologist, has written about the innate affinity for nature that humans have. Maybe this biophilia, as he calls it, is at its most intense at dusk, when the Delaware, at its most beautiful, still flows towards the still distant ocean, carrying with it countless life-support systems and its still unrealized potential to be a musical muse.

[Siba Kumar Das is a resident of Callicoon, NY.]