For many, the Susquehanna River is just that expanse they cross on their way along the Pennsylvania Turnpike or a troublemaker for the Chesapeake Bay, but for students from ENGL 466: Environmental Advocacy Writing the river is a source of inspiration. These students have been tasked with telling stories of the river, focusing on the people, plants, animals, and places that make the Susquehanna a valuable connection to our area. What better way to start that process than by getting into the river itself?
Led by Dr. Justin Mando and guided by Shank’s Mare Outfitters, the class floated the river to gain a sense of place that will drive the writing they do on behalf of this magnificent, threatened, and often overlooked American waterway. Their goal is to capture in writing both the aesthetic and cultural value of the Susquehanna along with the threats that face it. Many organizations from the Susquehanna’s headwaters to its mouth in the Chesapeake Bay are excited to hear what flows from our student advocates. River Stewards, a Susquehanna-focused organization, funded the excursion in its entirety. This surely demonstrates the value of the work our students do!
The trip was attended by Lindsey Campbell, Kaitlyn Cicchino, Maddy Giardina, Rylan Harvey, Karen Layman, Dylan Marciano, Amanda Mooney, Julia Snyder, and Caitlyn Tynes.
The students set off on a calm evening in early October, taking double kayaks from south of Wrightsville down to Fishing Creek and back in the section of the Susquehanna known as Lake Clarke. Because it is between two dams, this part of the river is much more like a lake than what normally comes to mind when we think of rivers. This lake-like stretch has caused the students to think of how differently they may have to communicate environmental issues to citizens located along the banks of Lake Clarke among lighthouses, seagulls and jetskis than they would in the river’s northern reaches of grass islands, exposed rocks and riffles.
These kinds of rhetorical issues regarding context and audience really come to life when you’re out there in the middle of the river. You can’t help but imagine the native Susquehannock settlements of the distant past and their dugout sycamore canoes juxtaposed with the brightly-colored kayaks we floated. You look to the top of Turkey Hill where a landfill, a processing plant and windmills now have the high ground and then your eyes focus on the mottled white of a swooping osprey. You come ashore and the ground feels different; it’s not just your soggy shoes, it’s the sense of being part of the sweeping flows of time and place that we as individuals can passively float or choose to paddle against.
Photo credit: Dylan Marciano for panorama of Susquehanna