Before being contaminated, the river would like to be heard
Flow of Events
Through Listening You Become Truly Human
The Seven Sounding Sites:
1. Headwater Stream in Frost Valley, NY, July 10
2. Yeaman Farm, July 31
3. Minisink Island, August 6
4. Confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers at Easton, August 14
5. The Trenton Falls, August 27
6. Fort Delaware, Peapatch Island, September 17
7. Delaware Bay Crossing - Cape May, NJ to Lewes, DE, October 8
The Role of Creativity in River Sounding
The Planning Team
OriginsRiver Sounding began as a collaboration between Norman Lowrey and Cynthia Poten, then Delaware River Keeper, based on conversations they had centering on the need to listen in quietude and in ceremony to what the river has to say when human dominance is set aside. The initial concept quickly grew into a collaboration among several artists, who formed a planning team funded by a grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in the spring of 1994. The planners included Pauline Oliveros, John Bromberg, Allan Gusow, David Dunn, Poten and Lowrey. Following is material from the original River Sounding 1994 Guidbook:
Introduction by Cynthia PotenIn asking people to come to the Delaware River to listen communally and later, after assimilating the experience, to put what was heard into form and share these creative works in celebration exhibits, we are performing a ritual for the River. By ritual we mean the process described by biologist Lyall Watson in Lightening Bird, his remarkable book about shamanism in South Africa: "Dramatic ritual is a procedure for grasping the unknown, a way of binding what is grasped into a system of belief. It is a method of incorporating into daily life what is thus grasped and bound. Such a process makes use of all the resources of the culture in which it occurs - everything from instinctive behavior at one end of the scale to language, song, dance, and art at the other."
The unknown we are grasping for, our purpose in coordinating the Soundings, is how to restore a human relationship to the River that fosters and protects the diversity of life. A belief that the River and other natural forces have consciousness and information we can receive is central to our purpose. So is a strong commitment to active listening.
Listening is the opening of River Sounding, which is a two-year project. Following this exercise in communal receptivity will be a period of individual reflection that we hope will result in the creation and exhibition of art. We are asking artists of all disciplines to translate the River's message into symbolic language, into dance, music and visual images that can be perceived by the collective, intuitive mind of humanity and forged into a new vision of human purpose. Art in the broadest context is needed. The prosaic language of progress and development is outmoded and irrelevant to the planet's environmental crisis. Democracy's regulatory, judicial and public participation forms have failed to prevent ecosystems from crumbling all around us. Yet even the most frightening problems we face - nuclear waste, climate change and the hole in the ozone - demonstrate the immense power of human creativity, a power that has been used without awareness and sensitivity for far too long. We need to use our creative power with humility and reverence and redirect it toward working in cooperation with Nature's forces, so that human power serves life instead of death.
Coordinating River Sounding has entailed an extensive outreach to artists. But our call for artists does not mean we want only artists to come and listen to the River. On the contrary, River Sounding is an experiment in communal listening. If only artists participate in this reception of the River's intelligence, we may have succeeded in attracting a lot of talent but we will have failed in our goal of crating a communal mind. Listening itself is a creative process and creativity is inherent in everyone. We believe that the River is calling for the receptive and creative powers of all its people. Our outreach to the larger community of the Delaware Valley has been equally extensive.
River Sounding affirms the necessity of aligning our communal consciousness with the consciousness of the life pool in which we are immersed, and which the constructs of our mind are impacting with such negative force. To quote Lyall Watson again, "It is no longer possible to deny that our thoughts and desires influence our environment. The most recent cosmologies all include consciousness as an active participating factor in reality. The new explanations of how the world works are strangely like the old beliefs of nonliterate people everywhere. Undogmatic minds are much concerned with magic, and arrive, as a result, at descriptions of reality which...in the final analysis prove to be more meaningful than those we contrive by the elaborate exercise of logic and contingent mathematics. It seems that merely by admitting the possibility of unlikely events, you increase the probability of their occurrence."
We hope that the readers of the Guidebook will join us at one or more of the Delaware's seven Soundings in the coming months. Your presence will increase the probability of success for our communal experiement to find a way to balance human needs and aspirations with the River's life. In the Soundings, we are going to the source of that life, where we believe we can begin to find information we need. We believe that it is not only possible to learn from Nature, it is necessary. William Ruckelshaus, former Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, descirbes this necessity very simply: "In creating the consciousness of advanced sustainability, we shall have to redifine our concepts of political and economic feasibility. These are, after all, simply human constructs; they were different in the past, and they will surely change in the future. But the earth is real, and we are obliged by the fact of our utter dependence on it to listen more closely than we have to its messages."
A final note. In agreeeing to come together at seven sites along the River and hold a silence for as long as we can sustain it, we are moving beyond the confines of Western civilization's centuries-long dominance of Nature. I believe we will find hope and renewal on the other side of the barrier we have erected.
ListeningPhase I of River Sounding is comprised of seven gatherings, called Soundings, along the length of the Delaware River in the Summer and Fall of 1994. At each Sounding, participants will be encouraged to listen to the River and hold a silence for as long as it is possible to hold it. Sounding participants will first gather at a parking area away from the Sounding site, tehn proceed as a group to the Sounding site, accompanied by drumming. At the site there will be an invocation. Then, at the sounding a a conch shell, the silence will begin. During the communal silence participants will be encouraged to explore the River and its banks. While wading and swimming are not recommended at all the sites, it is appropriate for the cleaner, safer waters. When the silence is broken, stories will be told and an opportunity for questions and discussion provided.
Meditating and CreatingThis phase of River Sounding will determine what we do with what we've heard. Participants will be asked to think about what was learned by listening to the River and, in the months following the Soundings, to create expressions of the Sounding experience. These expressions can be in any form and any medium. Anyone planning to work on a River Sounding piece should register with Delaware Riverkeeper Network so that we can organize for the celebration exhibits.
Celebrating and ExhibitingThe final pahse of River Sounding will be held in the Summer and Fall of 1996. There will be a final celebration Sounding Event in Philadelphia where a selection of artwork and performances will be presented.
its multiple meanings:
Vibration, the vibratory nature of
all that we experience;
light and sound;
the Indo-European roots svar and svara.
The distance over which something can be heard; earshot.
To present a particular impression.
To make known; celebrate.
Free from disease; helathy, whole.
Deep and unbroken; undisturbed.
To measure depth.
To try to learn the attitudes or opinions of...
To dive swiftly downward. (Used of a whale or fish).
To investigate; look into.
Sound, sounds, sounding, sounded...
Norman Lowrey, Boonton, NJ June, 1994
Through Listening You Become Truly Human"The house that we live in is made of sound and life is a house of sound and the people are made from that sound.
"Since people are made of sound, listening is important. It is through listening that you become a true human, and a true human is a listener who is constantly attuned by working with everything that is happening.
"To become a true human, one must become conscious of listening and hearing the voice of the Great Mystery speaking through everything, through the sound of a tree, or the bird flying overhead, or the wind in the room, or someone breathing, or someone talking, or a moment of silence. The activity of sound is what made the people. It is, therefore, simply through listening, and using that listening and paying attention, that one finds the guidance of the Great Mystery along the path of life."
Joseph Rael, Being and Vibration
Listening SticksA simple way to hear the inner voice of the River directly and intimately is to find a stick that's shaped so that one end can be placed gently in an ear and the other end positioned in the water. The stick will act as a conductor of the sound, and when placed where water is gurgling over rocks is especially effective for discerning the multitude of sounds that are being made. Short sticks will require kneeling or bending over, placeing one even closer to the source. Long sticks can be used standing up and provide greater reach. The best sticks for listening are solid and dense. Each stick will have its own acoustic properties, reinforcing different frequencies of the aquatic vibrations. Sticks can be decorated to your own liking, "conversed" with, or otherwise interacted with in order to transform them for ceremonial use, although even without such procedures, a listening stick may simply provide a means of hearing that is different enough from common experience to awaken new connections with the River.
When we were exploring Biscuit Brook as a possible Sounding site, I tried out my listening stick in one of the springs feeding the stream. I was startled by the similarity of the spring's bubbling sounds to recordings I'd heard of stellar activity - pulsars and quasars. Here, at an origin of the Delaware River were sounds like those emanating from the farthest reaches of the heavens. Two lines from Cecelia Vicuna's poetry flickered through my mind:
The Seven Sounding Sites
Headwater Stream in Frost Valley, NYBirth of a River
July 10, 1994
The Delaware... is a stream beloved of the trout. Nearly all its remote branches head in mountain springs, and its collected waters, even when warmed by the summer sun, are as sweet and wholesome as dew swept from the grass. ...streams of wondrous beauty that flow south and west into the Delaware. (The brrok) proved to be one of those black mountain brooks born of innumerable ice-cold springs, nourished in the shade, and shod, as it were, with thick-matted moss...
The fish are as black as the stream and very wild. They dart from beneath the fringed rocks, or dive with the hook into the dusky depths, --an integral part of the silence and the shadows. The spell of the moss is over all.
-- John Burroughs
The wetland seeps traditionally identified as the headwaters of the Delaware River are located in Delaware County, New York. They are the most distant sources of the flowing waters that make up the East and West Branches of the Delaware which join in Hancock, New York to form the mainstem river. But the Delaware River has hundreds of headwater streams. Every tributary has headwaters and every one of them is of critical importance.
The headwater stream chosen for River Sounding is Biscuit Brook, a tributary of the Neversink River which flows into the Delaware at Port Jervis, New York. Biscuit Brook was selected after a long search because it remains a pristine, forested headwater stream, fed by nearby springs and surrounded by native plant species.
The first Sounding commemorates the birth of the Delaware in the remote mountain region so eloquently described by John Burroughs in In The Catskills. If all of the Delaware's headwaters were as forested and free from human impact as Biscuit Brook, the future of the River would be of less concern. As it is, we must make every attempt to restore headwater streams throughout the watershed.
The riparian areas -- transitional zones between flowing water and terrestrial ecosystems -- located at the headwaters of a river are extremely important to the health of the river. These riparian zone headwaters keep the stream temperature cool, and nourish aquatic life with leaf litter and other detritus.
Headwaters are extremely sensitive to human disturbances. In fact, of the whole riverine system these areas are the most sensitive to human disturbances because they respond quickly and dramatically to disturbances that occur in the riparian areas that surround them. Changes and disturbances that occur at the headwaters will affect the river for significant distances downstream.
Yeaman Farm, July 31, 1994
The waters that flow past Yeaman Farm have travelled 38 miles from Hancock,
New York, where the Delaware River begins. They flow past rocky palisades harboring
endangered species and through floodplain that has been cleared and farmed since
the 18th century. Yeaman Farm was chosen as the second River Sounding site to
honor gentle use of the land. There is an organic garden thre, chickens and
goats, fruit trees, a raspberry patch and a broad hay field that slopes imperceptibly
down to the River. On the edge of the field, overlooking the River, is the oldest
black maple in Pennsylvania. Nearby an eel weir adds to the sound of the River's
The River's Childhood
There is an innocence in the way of life on farms like these, an unquestioning faith in nature's rhythms and abundance. The Yeaman Farm thus represents childhood in the stages of our relationship to the River, a time of unquestioning reliance on Nature's abundance and respectful acceptance of her controls over our lives. Agribusiness has led us far from this hard-working but simple way of life. As we search for ways to create a sustainable relationship with our biosphere, solutions for rectifying man's destructive force upon the River and the Earth, organic gardening must be remembered.
The Yeaman Farm is located in a floodplain. During floods, river water enters the soil in the adjacent floodplain where it depositis nutrients and soil. As a result, agricultural lands are fertilized, making the soil healthier and more productive. Yet, because it has been decided that the costs of floods outweigh their benefits, dams and dikes are built to keep rising water from entering the agricultural fields adjacent to rivers. In turn, chemical fertilzers are used to artificially maintain the reproductive capacity of the soil for agricultural purposes. The use of dams and dikes has also resulted in the use of floodplain areas for economic developments that disrupt the natural ecosystem of of the land and result in soil and plant degradation, lowering of water tables, destruction of floodplains, forests and wetlands. The Delaware River is the only major river in the East that is not dammed.
Floodplain habitats support the largest diversity of aquatic habitats and are habitiat for significant numbers of non-fish vertebrate and invertebrate species which are essential links in the aquatic food chain. They are essential corridors for migratory birds, provide food for large numbers of terrestrial species and provide essential habitat to large numers of animals and birds. The biological diversity which is supported by floodplains is critical to the natural food chain. The vegetation in the floodplain helps to maintain water temperatures best suited for the plant and animal life they house.
Minisink Island, August 6, 1994
The River's YouthThe Lenape term Minisink once referred to a large region that extended from the lower Hudson to the upper Delaware River valleys. Native Americans who inhabited the region at the time of the European invasion sometimes referred to themselves as Minisinks or Munsee, which means "people from the Minisink." Archaeologists have determined that these people used no single term to describe themselves except for variants of the ethnic term Lenape.
Thus, Minisink did not describe a particular tribal division of the Lenape people. It was a term that linked people to a particular place in the Delaware River watershed, a fertile valley of abundant rainfall and diverse life forms where indigenous Americans lived continuously since the retreat of the last Ice Age. We need such words. The was Minisink was used by Native Americans reminds us that ther is a bonding of people and place which generates reverence, forsters community and sustains life. One's identity becomes that place because one is that place.
As European settlers displaced Indian peoples from their ancestral lands, the Minisink area, with its proximity to major communication routes, became a haven for Indian peoples forced into being nomads. Minisink became an important way station between Indian settlements that stretched from the Connecticut Valley to Ohio. The Europeans began to encroach on the Minisink area by purchasing the land. Eventually Pennsylvania authorities had the remaining Minisink Indians ordered off their land by the Iroquois who apparently controlled the area. Over time, they were completely forced out of the area.
Minisink is the name of an island in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. It has been chosen as the third River Sounding site to honor the ancestral peoples of the Delaware River Valley. We see their robust strength, spiritual power, bonding with place and reverence for life as a particular state of youth - the period of greatest potential for realizing human purpose and its place in the natural world. Our Sounding at Minisink acknowledges the Lenapes' profound attunement to the River's forces and non-human life. They listened to the voices of Nature and the "standard of living" that resulted kept the River pure and teeming with fish. Since the Lenape were driven West, the unique places of the Delaware Valley are changed and diminished.
The European settlers that took over the Minisink area cut down the existing forests, slaughtered the game, cleared areas for farmland, and built dams and roads. By the early 20th century, the Minisink area was intensively cultivated. Then, in the late 1960s, the federal government acquired land around Minisink for the Tocks Island Dam project - a project that has been permanently postponed.
The Confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers at Easton, August 14, 1994
AdulthoodThe river turns on itself,
The tree retreats into its own shadow.
I feel a weightless change, a moving forward
As of water quickening before a narrowing channel
When banks converge, and the wide river whitens;
Or when two rivers combine, the blue glacial torrent
And the yellowish-green from the mountainy upland...
--Theodore Roethke, "The Far Field"
The Lehigh River, much like its beleaguered sister the Schuykill River, has beginnings in the anthracite coal region and once had extensive canal systems. As a result of its origins, the Lehigh helped to fuel the industrial revolution. At a time when the manufacture of steel and iron was booming, and coal was needed to fuel these industries, the Lehigh supported its own destruction by providing the means of barging needed coal throughout the region.
The polluting effects of the coal industry are still felt in the Lehigh. Although water quality has improved since the days when coal tailings blackened the streambed and acid draining from the mines killed all the fish, the Lehigh is still a significant source of pollution for the Delaware River. Considerable pollution runs off the land in storm events as rain flushes fertilizers from farm fields and hydrocarbons from parking lots.
Where the Lehigh joins the Delaware, there is often a dramatic demarcation in the waters. The lehigh is turbid, full of algae and sediments while the Delaware is usually clear.
There is also a dam right at the mough of the Lehigh which feeds the Delaware Canal. Recently a fish ladder was installed. In the right season, observation windows enable you to watch shad migrating up the ladder, returning to ancestral Lehigh breeding grounds after more than 160 years.
People all over the world settle at the confluences of rivers. The confluence of rivers at Easton was chosen for the fourth Sounding to honor adulthood - a time of relationship characterized by a mingling of energies and a working out of differences.
The Trenton Falls, August 27, 1994
The River's MaturityTrenton Falls is the place where the River descends from the Piedmont into the Coastal Plain, and becomes subject to the ocean's tidal effects, even though it still has 135 miles to flow to the ocean. The "Falls," now more a series of rapids than a true waterfall, is the effective head of commercial navigation and the beginning of the estuary.
The Falls at Trenton are a true representation of the maturity of the River, marking a major shift in the geology of the region fand the point where the tide is stopped by the altitude of the Piedmont terrain. In seeking the appropriate site for the Trenton Sounding, we discovered no easy access to the Falls from the shores of the Delaware at Trenton. This shoreline stretch of river is a major thoroughfare, supporting several major highways, railroads, and bridges. In addition, the shoreline is used by treatment plants and industrial facilities.
Before the River's shipping channel was deeply dredged in the 1940's the tide at Trenton Falls rose and fell only 4 feet; today the tidal range is 8 feet showing how much more the River here is now open to the power of the ocean.
Above the Falls the River is a flowing repository of fresh water from rain which falls on 6,780 square miles of land, carrying all that it rinses from roads, parking lots, farms and lawns. The mud, silt, oils, salts, metals, pesticides and fertilizers it delivers to the tidal estuary stay for a long time, sloshing back and forth with each tide. Many pollutants drop to the bottom and accumulate as toxic sediments.
Clearly, the Delaware River is subject to many detrimental attacks at this point in its life - dredging, navigation, and high levels of pollution. It is here especially that we must provide the River high levels of protection. This is the height of the River's reproductive cycle. In the estuary millions of fish, aquatic organisms, and plant life live and reproduce annually. If we do not bring heightened protection to the estuary, we will be irreparably damaging the River and the aquatic and human life which are dependent upon it.
Fort Delaware, Peapatch Island, September 17
The River's AdversityThree forts line up at this point on the River -- Fort Mott in New Jersey, Fort Delaware on Peapatch Island, and Fort DuPont on the Delaware Shore. Fort Delaware was originally built protect to the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia. Fort Delaware later became a union fortress and served as a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. In August of 1863, the Island imprisoned 12,00O confederate soldier. Approximately 2,700 people died while imprisoned in Fort Delaware. The Fort was again used, albeit lightly, during the Spanish-American War, as well as during World War I and World War II.
The presence of these forts, emblems of conquest, make this reach of the River a fitting, site for expressing the diversity stage of Man's relationship to the River. Nearby are the cooling towers of a nuclear generating station, producing nuclear waste that, as yet, has no safe disposal site and posing to the region an ever present threat of an accidental release of radiation. The Salem Nuclear Generating Station is one of the most destructive forces on the Delaware Estuary, estimated to kill millions of fish, larvae, and eggs, and many threatened sea turtles annually.
Peapatch Island is also a wildlife preserve. Partially made up of marshes, it provides habitat for one of the largest. nesting sites for wading birds on the East coast and is a summer home for herons, egrets, and ibis. This ironic juxtaposttion of an old fort prison and a wildlife preserve is an apt metaphor of our civilization's adverse relationship to Nature. On the one hand we conquer and despoil, imposing deplorable and lethal conditions upon resident populations. Then we put fences around areas that can serve as refuges to protect threatened populations from the continuing conquest. Necessary as these fences are at this point in our relationship to Nature, they are yet another manifestation of our alienation.
Delaware Bay Crossing Cape May, NJ To Lewes, DE, October 8, 1994
FulfillmentThe Delaware River reaches fulfilment in Delaware Bay, which is thirteen miles across at its widest point. The Bay is a source of fish, shellfish, and aquatic life for sustenance and recreational fishermen. At one time there was a thriving oyster industry, but the oyster native to Delaware Bay has been vanquished by viruses.
The Bay is unique in that it does not have major cities at its mouth such as the Hudson and Chesapeake Bays have. Cape Henlopen, DE is a wealth of natural habitat, comprised of a saltwater lagoon, a salt marsh, dunes, and pine forests which make the Cape a valuable home to birds, including the threatened piping plover, reptiles and mammals. Cape May is an important fishing area and miles of shoreline North of Cape May is an important stop-over for migratory shorebirds.
Although there are no ports on the Bay, it is a busy place, ful! of shipping vessels, recreational boats and major cargo vessels, including oil transport ships. The Delaware Bay marks the beginning of the shipping channel which allows ships to reach ports in Wilmington, Philadephia, and Trenton: The channel must be continually dredged and dredge spoils sites can be found in several sections of the Bay's shoreline.
Deepening the shipping channel will cause permanent impact on the tidal portion of the Delaware River, allowing more salt water to travel further up the estuary. As with any major engineered alteration of a water body, the impacts must be addressed through other engineered solutions, like building another reservoir so that stored fresh water may be available up stream. This fresh water is needed to protect salinity levels in the estuary. The metaphor of fulfillment poses the central question facing our relationship to the River – will we continue on the course of ever more elaborate engineering, altering the salinity, climate and hydrology of the River fulfilling a destiny of directions? Or will we commit to working in harmony with natural forces?
We are mindful that creative imagination is not limited to artists, although they are practiced in its cultivation and skilled in transforming perception into language and material form. The art we hope the Soundings generate reflects the premise that everybody is potentially an artist because art depends upon human perception, not a particular body of skills or an individual aesthetic.
We are also mindful that the technological extension of our senses can add another dimension to the Soundings. We are planning scientific readings of the river, including recording sounds from various strata of the river. The results of these soundings can be made available to anyone interested in incorporating the data into art forms. Data gathered by Riverkeeper valunteers over the past three years will also be available for incorporation into art projects. Exhibiting and allowing for the performance of River Sounding art is central to our goal of achieving communal mind.
Doug and July Alderfer-Abbot of Willow, NY, are a husband and wife team who grew up in the Delaware River watershed and studied art in Philadelphia. Their work is unique because they work together on all of their paintings. Alderfer-Abbott paintings have been exhibited throughout the northeastern United States, in the midwest and Arizona.
David Dunn works in a variety of sonic media, including traditional instruments, tape music, film and live electronic-acoustic performance, as well as developing a variety of interactive environmental structures. His writings and compositions have appeared in international forums, concerts, broadcasts, exhibitions and publications.
Alan Gussow, a visual and conceptual artist who is known around the world for his creation of the 1984 International Shadow Project. Twenty years ago Mr. Gussow curated the exhibit, "A Sense of Place," an exhibit with an accompanying book that put this concept into the environmentalist lexicon. In January, 1994, Mr. Gussow curated, "The Artist as Native: Reinventing Regionalism," and exhibit now traveling to museums around the nation.
Norman Lowrey, a composer and mask-maker, brought the idea of listening ceremonies to Cynthia Poten, the Delaware Riverkeeper, and together they initiated River Sounding. Lowrey has created numerous performance ceremonies using his masks, which have also been exhibited in East Coast museums and galleries. His compositions for orchestra have been performed throughout the United States and broadcast in Canada and Europe.
Pauline Oliveros of Kingston, NY, has worked at the forefront of new music composition since the fifties. She has served on the composer/librettist panel fo the National Endowment for the Arts and has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as several international prizes. Her Sonic Meditations and Deep Listening Pieces are improvisational works based on prose guidelines for achieving particular states of awareness and inclusive, creative involvement. Many of these have evolved into ritual environmental pieces.
Nura Petrov is a visual and conceptual artist who has collaborated on multi-media projects with poets, playwrights and film makers in London, U.S. and Canada. Her paintings can be found in numerous private and corporate collections in America and Europe. Her sculptural art projects are designed to provoke participation rather than remaining static, material entities.
Cynthia Poten has been the Delaware Riverkeeper since 1988 and is committed to bringing people together to work creatively for the River. She initiated a water quality monitoring program for the Delaware River that now has 87 sites tested twice a month by volunteers. Formerly a writer, garden designer, puppeteer and mask maker, she was funded to create collaborative theatre pieces in Hunterdon County, NJ.
Cecelia Vicuna is a native Chilean living in New York City who is considered one of the most creative artists of Latin America. She is a poet, film maker, performance artist and sculptor. Working in the tradition of the oral poetry of the High Andes, she brings forth a poetic universe of ancient resonance and new forms. She has published seven books and performs her works throughout the Americas.
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