Restoring Louisiana’s coast is such a hard job that real progress sometimes seems impossible. So I welcomed the arrival of “Saving Tarboo Creek,” a new book by Scott Freeman, as a reminder that ecological damage isn’t necessarily irreversible.
That’s the abiding message of Freeman’s book, which tells the story of how he and his family restored a salmon stream, Tarboo Creek, in Washington state. The stream, on land that Freeman and his family bought in 2004, had been straightened to make it more practical for farming. The changes made it harder for salmon to breed and thrive. With some help, Freeman and his relatives set about making the stream more natural again. One big challenge was un-straightening the stream, a task called “remeandering.”
As Freeman explains, streams usually have curves, or meanders, that bring them alive. They help create “quiet, backwatered pools where the current is slow,” and where fish and other kinds of life can grow. Remeandering is a way to put these quiet spots back in place.
Freeman made me wonder if the lives most of us lead could benefit from some remeandering, too. Maybe, along with the straight lines of schedules and to-do lists that nudge us from one task to another, a few mental meanders might give our days the quiet spots they need to keep us well.
Freeman talks a little bit about that idea in a passage describing the breaks he sometimes takes while working on his land. “If you watch a creek flow by long enough,” he tells readers, “you will find yourself thinking about things: like how long this cycle of water and salmon has been going on without us, or how much you love the people sitting next to you, or how long it’s been since you just sat somewhere.”
For many of us, “just sitting,” even for short periods, isn’t something we find time for, yet those small pauses seem to help successful people gain perspective. That theme surfaced in last week’s column, which touched on “In Praise of the Useless Life,” a new book by Trappist monk Paul Quenon. Quenon’s just teasing with his title, since he’s not a champion of laziness. He’s worked hard at various jobs around his monastery in rural Kentucky, embracing that labor as part of a fulfilling vocation. But he makes the point that work and wonder go hand in hand. That means taking the time to notice the blessings in front of you.
Patricia Hampl strikes a similar note in her new book, “The Art of the Wasted Day.” Hampl, like Quenon and Freeman, is no slacker. She’s kept busy teaching and writing and tending to family. But she argues that so-called “wasted time,” what’s not easily quantified on a spread sheet, is often what connects us to something larger than ourselves.
She calls it daydreaming. Others might call it remeandering, something we probably need more of.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.