By road going mostly south the U.S. seems an extended “grassy-land” of medians and margins with periodic off turns for food, fuel. Signs tell there’s a named settlement nearby, rarely seen beyond the fast stops and stores at its fringe.

This is not the country I remember from days past. I’ll not say for better or worse, but can certainly recognize the change. Vehicular travel is by far faster. People and goods (lots and lots of trucked goods) stream along, motorized rivers replacing water routes.

The Mississippi begins here, nearby, a vital route for people and cargo when roads were poor and horsepower limited to horse power. A river barge easily out performs a fleet of trucks in tonnage, but at a rate of travel better suited to earlier times. So obvious, but difficult to see until the staggering capacity of a group of barges is explained.

Slightly west and north of the Twin Ports (water transport to the Atlantic coast) you can step across rocks carrying water that is nearer a hundred feet deep where it empties into the Gulf.  

Whew, there’s a lot to take in and consider about water. A port or river town seen as a tourist destination these days has its working heart (or purpose if you prefer) hidden, tucked away, out of sight as the vast rail yards we prefer not to have too near our placid neighborhoods.

To be alive a port has to be busy. On the Great Lakes or our greatest rivers, remove commerce from a port and what’s left? Look at that abandoned pier. That crumbled structure was once used to store ice for railcar cooling.

Change happens so utterly that many-many among us have to think twice or for the first time to grasp the days when insulated cars used stored ice to keep produce from on-route cooking. We are surrounded and supported by rivers of roadway, of water and of rail. Stop any of it at any point and the stoppage spreads like a basket of golf balls dropped in a busy mall. It goes everywhere because we are everywhere connected.  

Basic as it seems and sounds when examined, the illusion of being above-it-all is pervasive in a culture dreamily fast in all things (food and fuel especially) except fateful consequences. It does sound good to talk green. Doing is often anything but green.

Take clean electricity. Most of us use it from, so t’ speak, the pump (or well if you prefer). The flick of a switch is the connection to the fuel for light, heat, entertainment or etc. The easily overlooked kick is this energy being not very portable. Away from the pump you’re on your own. We get used to small batteries in phones or remotes, but how much “work” do they perform? I’d say virtually none.

A better comparison might be battery tools. But without extras and chargers in constant use you face long pauses.  

Electricity would not be my choice for portable energy. Coal, for instance, stored well and was ready when needed to release its stored energy to produce heat, steam, current, etc. A ton of coal represents a known amount of stored energy. People soon learned how much stored coal energy was needed to cross an ocean or navigate a river before the next fuel stop. This size ship needed X volume of coal to carry Y amount of tonnage. Wood could be used instead, but coal, denser in stored energy, was a better choice until oil came to be used, I think largely due to its higher volume of stored energy.

Machinery using coal or oil varied in efficiency, but overall use of non-green fossils meant we didn’t have to cut down every tree on the continent to keep grain moving to flour mills or transport a cork insulated COOLERATOR to Milwaukee. There’s not a place on the entire planet where you could walk in to buy gallons of 110 or 220 for use later. Would be nice, maybe ideal, but the volume of portable energy needed is staggeringly (maybe impossibly) large.

A bulk carrier or string of barges carries cargo that would fill flees of trucks or mile on mile of rail cars. The greener choice might be emphasis on water until we figure out how to make a “secondary” source of energy such as electricity, more condensed and portable. But if we were to rely more on water we’d have to kiss bye-bye to next-day and overnight deliveries.  

Following the Mississippi southward exposes things. Convenience and faster food has wiped out diners and small restaurants. Oh, there are some, but usually not on or too near the route of black and green stripes. Monotony is a suitable description of the efficient freeway system. Character or local color aren’t to be found on those roadsides.  

But, a Northlander might reasonably ask, what has that to do with us here and now? Perspective matters, especially with environment. Two centuries ago natives were busy selling beaver to European traders. Many millions of beaver were removed from the environment. Not living in multi-story units, beaver dwell on water, often by building dams. Every usable little rivulet was used by beaver. If we have 10,000 Minnesota lakes today how many small bodies of water were there in the past, 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000? All that water held back, slowed in its travel to great lakes or rivers, which back then flowed wider compared to today’s channeled, controlled waterways.

Much of the upper U.S. and lower Canada was beaver country with intricate water webs. This environmental history can be found in a few places, but while we recognize our fine roads and transportation systems we ignore what came before.

Nope, not saying beaver should be let loose to do as before, but if we want (claim, anyway) environmental friendliness we might want to see what it was. Modern haste uses green as a device. Ask yourself how many proponents have a solid grasp or would accept nature as it was, wild, messy and full of independent minded rodents.