- Historic Sites
Morning On The Upper Delaware
A canoe trip along a river not far from industrial America reveals that the footprints of human history have been all but covered over by what looks like a primeval paradise
April 1994 | Volume 45, Issue 2
A mystery that so lovely a wilderness should remain so neglected in the populous East. Port Jervis is only seventy miles from New York City, a hundred and fifty from Philadelphia. But rivers are mysterious by nature, and not just because you don’t know what’s around the next bend. The ancients believed that four rivers flowed from a single source in the earthly paradise, and could you but follow one of them toward the source and bathe in those purest of waters, you would remain forever young. There were rivers, in other words, that could reverse the inevitable wasting away that attends us, that were a metaphor not for life but for immortality. This river is no such miracle, but as a metaphor it will serve. We imagine our paradises to be natural now, not a garden but a wilderness, and here it is, unexpectedly restored to us so close to home. The panthers are gone, but not the bears. The water is low but still navigable. Perhaps we forget the history on purpose, since there is little noble about it; we would rather think this wilderness had never been tamed.
In a way it never was. Even the Indians didn’t settle on the upper Delaware. None of America’s great landscape artists ever painted it. It still looks a little raw, as if the glaciers had only recently receded. Its history has left little mark. Maybe this is indeed the way it was in the beginning, and the place can stand for all in the way of paradise we have elsewhere lost.