Doing the right thing

Posted 6/23/19

When people learn that I’m a columnist, they often ask what I write about. I smile and say, “It’s about me.” As a rule, I’ve always steered clear of religion, politics, and other hot-button …

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Doing the right thing


When people learn that I’m a columnist, they often ask what I write about.

I smile and say, “It’s about me.” As a rule, I’ve always steered clear of religion, politics, and other hot-button issues. That strategy has served me well.

But I decided to break that rule this week after Tyson Inc. in Hanceville, dumped thousands of gallons of pollution into Dave Young Creek which flows into the Mulberry Fork. That event turned MY river into a sewer.

Yes, I claim the Mulberry Fork as my river. I don’t actually hold deeds or other claims to the waterway, but I think history should count for something.

Since I was old enough to hold a cane pole, I’ve been going to where the lazy Mulberry Fork flows into the Sipsey Fork. It’s a magical spot. I caught my first bream on the banks of that river. 

I helped my dad build a family cabin on the water a few miles downstream from the Mulberry Forks. During the summer, my friends and I would load into my dad’s old boat and putter upstream past the Forks to fish. 

Switching off the old Evinrude motor, we’d drift down the river zipping our Zebco reels from one bank to the other. When it got hotter than a jalapeno from Hades, we’d reel in our lines, pull off our tee-shirts, and dive into the cool water at the Forks. 

After Jilda and I married, we found a spot of land in Empire. We moved here. One of the benefits of living on our small farm is that we drive by the Mulberry Forks almost daily. 

Three or four times a week, I wheel my truck into the parking lot behind T&R Grocery and ease up close to the water’s edge. Often, members of the “Liar’s Club” are there sitting in the shade and telling the news. When no one is there, I often sit for a long while listening to the sounds of the river.  It’s a beautiful place. My time spent at the Forks has been priceless.

Some reports after the Tyson spill on June 6 said an estimated 175,000 fish were killed. I’m not sure how they came up with that number. I watched dead bream, bass, gar, and suckers float down that river for days afterward. Did those fish get counted? What is the bloated carcass of a gar worth? 

What about the Black Warrior waterdog. This is an endangered species. If this pollution killed them, how would someone put a price on that?  

One of the first pictures I took with my new camera last summer was of a blue heron sitting on a log at the Forks. It was eating fish in the water flowing from the Mulberry Fork. That bird was majestic and as graceful as a ballerina. I’m not sure if the Tyson spill harmed the bird, but I can’t imagine it hanging around while bureaucrats ponder the extent of the damage. I haven’t seen the creature in weeks.

When I think of that river, I struggle to put a price on something that means so much so many people. How can one calculate the cost penalty when a company repeatedly pollutes an irreplaceable river? 

Only time will tell how long this latest spill will affect the Mulberry Fork. 

My hope is that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management ensures that Tyson Inc. does the right thing for the future of my river.

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book, "Life Goes On," is available on You can contact him via email at