DSC01520Folks who live along Irwin Creek and its tributaries used to swim, fish, even hold baptisms in the waters. The city once used it for drinking water. But runoff from streets, pollution from aging sewer pipes and heavy metals from an industrial past today make the creek one of the city’s most troubled. Yet, hope remains for a better future.

By Amber Veverka

One of its first tendrils begins in Ernest and Misty Eich’s backyard in northeast Mecklenburg County, a trickle you can jump across.

There, the creek curls like a question mark through a ravine’s mossy banks, beneath towering tulip poplars.

Ernest, 39, and Misty, 37, often follow the stream with their dogs, Magnum and Abigail, as the waterway leaves the shelter of their six acres to join other tributaries in Ribbonwalk Nature Preserve.1  There, the Eichs watch the stream, whose headwaters they steward, officially become Irwin Creek.

From Ribbonwalk, Irwin gathers strength and pours itself alongside Interstate 77 south, concealed from commuters’ view by curtains of kudzu, secret within steep banks. The stream reaches the heart of Charlotte and embraces its west side, moving south until it finally links with Sugar Creek near Billy Graham Parkway.

Misty and Ernest Eich, who live at Irwin Creek's small headwaters. Photo: Amber Veverka
Misty and Ernest Eich, who live at Irwin Creek’s small headwaters. Photo: Amber Veverka

Irwin’s waters once slaked the thirst of a growing city. Its springs nourished an African-American neighborhood as it took root. Its pools cradled fish, coached swimmers, baptized believers.

But nurturing a city came at a cost.

As it flows from a nature preserve to an interstate, embracing uptown and the west side, Irwin carries in its current a city’s missteps – pollution from aging sewage pipes, heavy metals from an industrial past, runoff from acres of asphalt.

Despite all this, those who know the stream well say Irwin still holds beauty and promise. It embodies all the ills of an urban waterway, say its advocates. But Irwin Creek is no lost cause.

Read the rest of Irwin Creek’s story and watch videos, read oral histories and find out about the creeks in your Charlotte backyard at Keeping Watch on Water.

The kindergarteners that day were wide-eyed.

“What is nature?” I asked the kids seated around me. They peppered the air with their answers. But the one I can’t forget was from the little girl in ponytails who said, solemnly, “Nature is something you should never, ever touch.”

If I ever needed confirmation that we – and our children – are alienated from the natural world, that little girl’s response supplied it.

School is back in session, and families like mine are again swept along in a rush of drop-offs, bus rides and after-school activities. If we aren’t intentional, the school year tide can pull all of us into an indoor life. It’s dark in the morning. Kids are loaded down with homework at night. In between, they’re in classrooms and we’re in offices.

We’re born loving creation, recognizing instinctively that we belong in the grass, under the trees, within earshot of birdsong. But the entire arc of our culture – particularly the culture of an overscheduled, urban center such as Charlotte – veers away from these first loves. We get jobs. We get busy. We live our days in cubicles and cars.

I urge all of us to make this school year one in which we and our children spend more time in nature. It’s not always easy. But it’s possible.

Read more of this Op-ed here.


By Amber Veverka

I lumber like a spacewalker in my bulky white suit, lagging behind my teacher. Noticeably behind. She’s striding with casual confidence over to the white boxes beneath the oaks in her T-shirt and jeans, the veil over her head not even tied shut.

I, on the other hand, am sealed in, top to toe, yet anxiously fingering the zipper on the veil for the ninth time to be sure it’s shut. I edge nearer the hive, where about 40,000 stinging insects raise a dim hum. Jennifer Tsuruda, my instructor, puffs smoke over the hive entrance. The air around us is peppered with bees, sisters returning from fields of goldenrod to deliver their goods.

Tsuruda, 35, is Clemson University Cooperative Extension’s apiculture specialist for South Carolina, and we’re here at the hillside of hives where she does her bee research. Just now, she is explaining that the smoke interferes with the bees’ ability to communicate chemically, to warn one another of our approach.

This is all fascinatingly scientific, but I’m finding it hard to focus because it’s taking all my concentration not to wildly swat at the bees landing all over my suit. Slowly, Tsuruda lifts the hive cover and sends smoke inside, and the bees’ hum crescendoes.

Don’t wave your arms, I tell myself. Don’t run.

Read the rest of the story at S.C. Living Magazine.

Bears roam Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Jacob Mills

Photo: Jacob Mills, Alligator River NWR

By Amber Veverka

Dusk is softening the edges of forest and swamp to an auburn haze when one of us spots it: A smudge of black at the edge of a stubbly field.

“BEAR!” the kids shout from the backseat.

Without field glasses, the bear is a blur, but it’s the first wild one the 8- and 10-year-old have seen, so they’re ecstatic.

The black bears and other charismatic fauna set the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge apart from other wild places in North Carolina. This 152,000-acre refuge in Dare and Hyde counties is home to one of the largest population of black bears in the eastern U.S. and is the world’s last stronghold for the imperiled red wolf.

River otter, bald eagles, bobcats and alligators roam here. In winter, the refuge skies whiten with wheeling flocks of tundra swans, sweeping down from the Arctic. Read the rest of the story.

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