If the Calaveras River could talk…

Photo by Jim Marsh

Of all the photos naturalist Jim Marsh has taken along the Calaveras River, this one would seem to be the least “natural.”

But it just might tell the story best.

Marsh has spent the past year regularly visiting a 3-acre portion of the Calaveras where native grasses were planted last winter in a modest effort to restore the glorified drainage ditch.

During his weekly visits, Marsh does what most of us would never think to do along that stream. He opens his eyes. There isn’t much to see yet in the restoration area, or so it would seem, but Marsh has found surprising beauty even in the smallest insects and flowers found at the site. He also listens to the ambient noise — the wind, the birds, the bustle of the surrounding city. His observations are written down in a journal.

In a presentation to the Sierra Club last week, Marsh combined the images and the noises into an 8-minute slideshow made all the more powerful by the fact that there is no narration, no talking. Just the sights and sounds of the river.

One day Marsh came upon this graffiti on the underside of the Pacific Avenue bridge over the Calaveras.

I don’t know what intent the artist had, but the fact that this message appeared directly over a river that has long been ignored and forgotten struck Marsh.

“‘Please tell me I have value and worth,'” he told the group, quoting the image. “That is the take-home message. That river has worth to this community. It has value and we need to celebrate that and talk about it.”

The next time Marsh plans to give his presentation, I’ll stick it on my weekly events calendar in advance. It’s worth checking out.

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