Jeri Edwards and her three Jack Russells
When the pipe burst upstream in the Braddock Creek, it took a handful of days for the neighbors to notice the stench. While the adults drove to work with their windows rolled up perhaps thinking someone else would call the county to report the smell, my friend’s brother sensed something like this was going to happen. Reid had taken a keen interest that summer in the turtles inhabiting the creek, which in some areas not far from our neighborhood, was as wide as a small river, and in some places deep enough to swim across after a heavy summer storm. Reid spent hours exploring up that creek and had discovered a huge pipe protruding out of a sloped bank, hidden, he informed us, by big clumps of ivy. One day he witnessed a coppery sludge oozing from the pipe, so thick it looked as if it could swallow all objects in its path. That evening he brought home as many turtles as he could find, carrying them in his t-shirt tied into a makeshift pouch. His sister, Alice, and I watched him come back from the creek several evenings in a row, each time with a t-shirt pouch full of turtles. Then he locked himself in his room and refused to speak. English, that is. The utterances we heard from the other side of the door reminded me of the time Alice and I rode our bikes across the Pike to the Congregational Negro Pentecostal Church during their June revival. We hid behind the firethorns and listened to a high pitched gibberish which later we found out was called speaking in tongues.
We had wondered if Reid was trying to speak in tongues until he slipped a note under his door informing us he was having conversations with the turtles in their language, and they were telling him to watch the creek.
It might have been a day or two later that the slime from the burst pipe reached our section of the Braddock. Alice and I were in the kitchen when Reid came downstairs wearing his hip waders, armed with nets and buckets and asked for our help.
When we got to the creek the smell was so bad Alice and I held our hands to our noses. Reid screamed and flailed his arms high in the air, his waders flopping at his thighs as he tried to run through the muck. We found turtles trying to claw their way up the bank out of the creek, covered with the metallic slush, some of their eyes eaten away by the contaminate. Others were struggling towards the grass overcome from the spewed toxins, some dragging useless back legs. Reid was on his knees crying “they didn’t do anything, they didn’t do anything wrong,” scooping up baby turtles, holding them to his cheeks, his skin smeared black.
The Braddock was never the same after that summer. The company never admitting any wrongdoing, and the county blocked off public access to the creek for several years with posted signs that read “Area under Re-Development.” Reid spent the rest of the summer in his room speaking in turtle tongue to his rescued community. He released them on the Eastern shore in the fall.
Today I am completely shut down in despair over the massive destruction of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I find myself walking deep into cubbies of oaks whose massive limbs stretch to the ground. I stand silently in these sanctuaries, let the chatter of cooper’s hawks, acorn woodpeckers and bluebirds wash over me, drown out the present holocaust.