Devastation on the Delaware: Stories and Images of the Deadly Flood of 1955

by Mary A. Shafer

Excerpt from the Epilogue:

While the outcry for dams and other huge flood mitigation projects grabs the spotlight in the waning months of 1955, another school of thought is quietly taking hold in less visible parts of the Delaware Valley. In living rooms and around picnic tables, on lunch breaks and in the corners of classrooms, the flood has sparked another kind of conversation.

The jarring experience of the great flood induces introspection in some thoughtful people. It forces them to take a new approach to thinking about waterways. Instead of assigning fault and blame to insentient natural features, this discussion is more interested in applying common sense and claiming personal responsibility for human actions and decisions. Rather than being a divisive debate about who uses what and how they should be compensated, this conversation uses words such as “stewardship” and “conservation” and “interconnection.”

It’s a new conversation, at least among non-academic or –scientific types, that begins exploring ideas about the land, water and sky as parts of a larger, singular organism. It is the extension of a young environmental ethic based on the life work and writings of such pioneers as John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Sigurd Olsen and Pennsylvania’s own Gifford Pinchot, and it will give birth in this region to the “watershed way of thinking.”

It’s a still-small voice, but the ears into which it whispers belong to active, energetic and passionate believers. Some come to the idea through a natural extension of their personal beliefs. Others will be yanked in by a huge threat to their ways of life. In the years to come, these people will give the watershed movement a voice with which to be heard. As kites rise against the wind, this voice will begin to soar when it meets the resistance of overwhelming political force.