You had to be there

Billboards do not have to blot out the scenery.I would like to visit North Korea. I would like to learn what wildlife calls the place home, and maybe why.

I have been a foreigner in many countries. Spain was prettiest, even after I landed a single-engine plane in some olive trees and spent a month filtering hospital food through a grill that held my jaw from falling on the floor. I still have a piece of platinum wire in my mouth that occasionally sets off an airport scanner.

Germany, I think, was cleanest. I remember that look and I know why people of a certain ancestry have to keep their lawns closely manicured. It was there I met a young woman who quickly spotted me for a tourist and took me on a tour of Hamburg. I said if she ever came to the States, I would return the favor.

Our nation was full of race riots and burning homes, she said. That was 1967. I explained if she would come look, she’d see that there’s a whole lot more to the U.S. of A. than Los Angeles and Selma and the troubles she saw on television news.

I’ve lived through a couple of hurricanes, and run away from a couple more, but never did one destroy my home, as Katrina did to New Orleans and Maria did to Puerto Rico. I visited the island for a few days one summer, when I was young enough in my Navy career and recently enough separated from Mom and Dad that I was still wary of people I didn’t know.

Over the years, I got over the wariness. I discovered most people simply want to make a living and support themselves and families. They don’t deliberately set out to harm the planet, and mostly they become NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) because they do not know the folks who live in the other backyards.

To most people, a news item about a 2014 chemical spill in West Virginia was interesting, but too far away to warrant concern, unless the spilled chemicals traveled down the Elk River, to the Kanawha to the Ohio – and the Cincinnati water intakes.

Cincinnati is at the top of Tornado Alley, in which twisters are becoming more frequent and powerful. Water shortages are becoming normal over the globe. As the planet warms, sea levels rise and ice melts, making sea levels and temperatures rise.

In a recent article, James Bruggers, a journalist for the Louisville (KY) Courier Journal, reported that a new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study predicts planet warming has already started affecting the 13-states of the Ohio River Basin.

“The changes are happening today,” Bruggers quoted Kathleen D. White, a climate change expert at the Corps headquarters who oversaw development of the study. “This isn’t something that’s just in the future.”

The study points out the importance of the Ohio River for manufacturing, electricity generation, transportation and drinking water; in the next 20 years or so, our warming planet is predicted to cut into the river’s abilities to serve.

A colleague recently introduced me to the story of a biologist who has tracked a bird that travels, non-stop, more than 7,400 miles from New Zealand to find habitat where human development has not yet destroyed the terrain in North Korea.

I have never been to North Korea. All I know about it is what I’ve heard about a leader our leader calls “Rocketman,” thus keeping us wary of people we don’t know.

It is nearly always better to see a place and its people than to only take the word of a TV snapshot for what you’d find.

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