River talk

A legacy of compassionate action

Posted 7/7/21

In early 2005, River Reporter (RR) writer and passionate naturalist Ed Wesely asked me if I’d be interested in writing this “River Talk” column in weekly rotation with him. Ed …

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River talk

A legacy of compassionate action


In early 2005, River Reporter (RR) writer and passionate naturalist Ed Wesely asked me if I’d be interested in writing this “River Talk” column in weekly rotation with him. Ed launched the column in 1984 and was ready to share the space with a new voice.

I was fortunate to receive that invitation and devoted my first “River Talk” column to tracking—a practice involving heightened awareness of what can be discovered with attention to the natural world and its wonders. “We will lay down individual tracks as we offer alternating perspectives on the
natural resources we encounter along the Upper Delaware River,” I wrote, noting that tracking begins with getting out. “And while you’re out there, pay attention to the human tracks you see. You just might be tracking Ed or me.”

I’d crossed paths with Ed at environmentally focused events and was a fan of his work at RR. His compassionate devotion to the welfare of monarch butterflies and at-risk amphibians attempting to cross rain-slick roads were proof of the special person he was.

Ed was familiar with my work at RR too, as author of the column “Think on This.” He seemed to sense a kindred spirit in me—a sympathetic soul with poetic sensibilities and an entwined appreciation for nature, writing and photography. Ed’s passion for the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and mine for that of Mary Oliver, were evidence of the value we both placed upon noticing and sharing what we’ve learned at the altar of attention.

We both love Barbara Yeaman, too. Ed had the privilege to be that somewhat behind-the-scenes person who saw her potential for greatness and pointed her to the special property along the Delaware River that would ultimately lead to Barbara’s founding of the Delaware Highlands Conservancy (DHC). I became one of Barbara’s awestruck admirers, inspired forever by her success in launching the iconic land trust at the age of 70.

They both, in different ways, affected the course of my life for the better. Their legacy has led to the conservation of more than 18,000 acres in the Upper Delaware River region—preserving habitat that will forever help monarch butterflies, salamanders, frogs, toads and countless other creatures living here to thrive.

In November 2002, RR ran a photo of Ed carrying 31 hand-reared monarch butterflies into a Harrisburg, PA meadow for release. I thought back to the day when Ed showed up at the RR with a small jar, a magnifying glass and the tiniest caterpillars I’ve ever seen. As we squinted through a lens at the minuscule life forms, I marveled at the good fortune bestowed upon these future butterflies—to have fallen under the care of such a person. There seems a certain grace and dignity that results from a life steered by compassionate choice. When we act with compassion, we show gratitude for the life we have received.

The last time I saw Ed, I was relishing an artist’s residency at Lemons Brook Farm at the invitation of the DHC. He stopped by to pick up a telescope and I gave him a print of a monarch butterfly I had photographed in Shenandoah National Park (SNP) during my residency there. I asked him to share it with Barbara (who had moved to Charlottesville, VA) and who had attended a walk I led at SNP. Seizing the opportunity to assist more monarchs, Ed sent along a hand-reared batch for Barbara to release. As ever, the pair made compassion their practice.

“Compassionate choices often aren’t easy and may not even be recognizably
rewarding,” I once wrote in a column about Ed, who migrated away from this earthly plane on May 26, 2021. “It’s more like placing your bets on hope and on the unknown—like releasing monarchs whose fate you’ll never learn. Maybe it’s not so much the deed, but the doing. In such acts, the generous and good world widens. As we exercise the power of compassionate choice, we rise and rise—like Ed’s beloved butterflies.”

Ed Wesely


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