Our second class for Earth Lodge was honestly unlike any class I have ever been in. I remember in high school when students would beg teachers on sunny days to have class outside. I can assure you that every single teacher that was asked this question would smile, laugh, and make a snide remark about the student who dared to ask. There were, however, two glaring differences with our situation on Wednesday. The first was that it was raining and the second was that our Professors initiated the trip outside.
And so it was with mild trepidation that we exited the warm belly of the Atlantic house to the even warmer and wetter banks of our campus lake. I have to say now that I felt a little embarrassed at how little I knew about my own surrounding area. I walked over the bridge of our lake countless times my freshman year and looked at the trees and the water but I never really payed attention to what I was looking at. I had no idea until this week that a creek, Little Westham Creek, feeds into Westhampton Lake. My first thought upon visiting the creek after a very brief walk from the Atlantic House was that it looked small and weak, even a little sad. Why were we looking at this if the amount of water flowing was equivalent to the amount in a bathtub?
Let me stop right here and say that this kind of thinking does people in. Even the smallest, most insignificant little stream leads to something much larger, much more powerful, and equally as important as the most raging river (perhaps one not too far away like the James). Our professor spoke to us about the fact that with increasing urban development, the amount of pollutants and run-off that find its way into these little streams and creeks is growing. The oil on our parking lots and the fertilizers on our flowers have no where to go after a rain storm and increasingly, hydrophilic plants that would normally soak up these waters on the buffers or riparian zones of our water bodies haven’t been allowed to grow properly. It’s even clear around our own lake- the banks of most of it are almost completely bare save the area closest to the main road that are populated by Baldcypress’s and River Birches.
Upon further research, I began to realize just how important our little creek really was. The county of Henrico has been pushing forward with efforts to improve the buffer zone, encouraging cooperation amongst homeowners, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, gardeners, and even the University of Richmond to protect and expand the buffer zone. The county even outlined a list of plants that would soak up more water and help prevent further erosion and pollutants from entering the water. This would help provide shade for the water which would regulate temperatures, but also provide more habitat for wildlife, and improve the quality of not only the James River watershed, but the Chesapeake Bay watershed as well. It made me realize that the implications of the health of our little creek cannot be taken lightly. It is clear that small as any creek may seem (not just Little Westham), it is part of a larger and deeply interconnected and delicate system that requires appreciation and great sensitivity to maintain.