Christopher D. Swain, an average man by his own description, discovered how interconnected we are with nature and how badly we treat her by swimming the Columbia River
(largest river flowing into the Pacific Ocean in North-America). Herbicide baths coming from golf courses, pesticides from fruit orchards, municipal sewage... He went through a lot, but the worse he faced was probably when he "swam through the most radioactive piece of land in the Western hemisphere [the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which was part of the Manhattan Project
as a plutonium production complex with nine nuclear reactors, and is now a Superfund site that is expected to be cleaned up by 2030] with nothing but a five-millimetre wetsuit between him and the strontium-90, technetium-99, uranium and plutonium."Mr. Swain was very aware of the danger: "There was no barrier that could protect my nervous system from the neuro-toxic pesticides [...] no technology that could get the PCBs
out of my fat cells". Why did he do it? Because he loved the river, like everybody he met during his swim (according to him, even those "whose job it was to vent the municipal sewage lagoons into the river spoke of weekends spent fishing, paddling, and water-skiing"). He wanted to help despite knowing that he was part of the problem. "The copper and asbestos dust that shaved off from the brake pads of my SUV
sifted into storm drains and fouled -spawning streams. The lights I left on sustained a demand for ecosystem-unfriendly hydropower. And when I flushed my toilet at the height of Portland's rainy winter season, it poured straight into the Willamette and Columbia Rivers."
Following the swim, Swain made many small changes in his daily life. These changes include buying organic food, riding his bike more often, not letting the water run while brushing his teeth, etc; in short, he discovered the power of economic and personal lifestyle choices. "If you pay a dollar more for organic butter, you get cross, sure. So why do it? Because you are not just buying butter, you are creating an economic incentive for farmers to stop using the cancer-causing chemicals. [...] Why would I spend money on neuro-toxic fruit? Why would I support the same chemical companies whose products had made me sick [during my swim]?"
We don't all have to go swimming in toxic waste to reconnect with nature, but we should all use this man's story as a reminder of the impact that our daily choices have. ::Stroking the Columbia ::An Aquatic Epiphany