There was a Perennial Spring….Where the Birds Once Sang

Whenever I take nature walks, I’m at times amazed at the quick change of the once breathtaking sceneries. Where thick canopied trees once stood in forested areas have been rendered bare almost bereft of any vegetation, with exception of few shrubs here and there or food crops where the areas had been farmed.

Taking a hike the other day to Dundori hills within Dundori ward in Nakuru County left me surprised as there was not a single stream or rivulet to be seen for miles within the said hills.

  Decades ago, the hills were hardly visible, as a green cover of thick trees hid them (however, from a distance, it was a blue cover. By the way, why do hills and forests look blue from a distance?). But today, though there is a regenerating forest, the hills are bare in many areas, with handkerchief sized plots where corrupt forest officials have given peasants permits to farm. Back then, there were few tributaries running like veins on one’s hand to join a swift flowing river that meandered out of the forest and traced its course down the villages, and checked its speed on three dams along its route before petering underground in the final stage of its leg. It is known as Dawani River, which today, together with its tributaries, is nothing but an empty channel in a Martian landscape only coming to life once in a blue moon whenever there is a heavy downpour.

  And somewhere in the forest, there were marshy swamps where clear water bubbled from the ground with the trickle from one forming part of a tributary, or, where the water seeped from the rocks, local communities, depending on where the spring was located, would lay claim to it and pipe its water first to a collection tank and eventually to their homes. Few of the springs are no more, and where the water is still available, it is pumped on a rotational basis to homes – once in a week to be precise and for few hours.

  The cultivation of forest land had not helped the matters as fertilizer rich soils are washed down the streams all the way to the dams during periods of prolonged rains such that dams are left carpeted in a mass of green aquatic plants within a short time. Other than its nutrients enriching the suffocating water weeds, there is no deniability the chemical fertilizer finds its way to the food chain through the use of the river’s water when domestic animals and plants are watered with the same. And what makes for a sick observation is where the peasants farming the forest elect to wash their knapsack sprayers on springs contaminating the piped water in the process!

  As I sat close to what was once a marshy spring (pictured above), I had the reflection when, decades back, during school holidays, I and a gang of village boys would come armed with pangas and harvest dry cypress branches and tie them into bundles to be used as firewood in our respective homes. There was a time we stopped at this particular spring and marvelled at the sight of the many birds making merry…and there were different varieties of avian life like long billed ones poking their bills deep to catch frogs, weaver birds jumping from reed to reed while chirruping, sparrows making near suicidal dives before soaring skywards, few parrots chattering….and so on.

   But there were no birds to be seen, barring the occasional one or two that flew past.

  And where the water once bubbled from underground was dry, though thick vegetation courtesy of rain water had completely enveloped the place.

  Whereas in the past it would have been suicidal to walk across the marshy area without sinking in the fine, soft mud, I had the luxury of walking across the dry though moist looking surface. If I had expected to see frogs jumping or croaking in their hideouts, I was in for a shock. The place was as quiet as a cemetery!

  It will take a miracle for the spring to regain its lost glory.

  During my days in the village school, we would draw water from the once mighty Dawani River and sprinkle it on the dusty floors of the classrooms. But now the teachers have resorted to asking the pupils to carry to school a litre of this precious commodity every school day for ritualistic libation on the floors before lessons commences. To say the river and one of the dams are just across the fence is to be economical with the truth.

  A day later, when I passed by the last of the dam along the river course, I was shocked by its state.  For one, its stale waters reeked high to the heavens. It was simply a giant frog pond and hardly a water pan! The malodorous water was mostly surface runoff from flash floods after a heavy downpour – for the river flows minutely with each heavy downpour. With no outflow of water owing to low volume, the little that had collected had in time turned stale. It would have rivaled Nairobi River in a stench competition, but whereas the Nairobi one is a river in the real sense of the word (irrespective of how toxic its waters are), Dawani is simply a dry bed that you can plant bananas stems on its entire course and market the fruits to the European market without health safety issues being raised!

  And Dawani was once a perennial river, just like the perennial spring where the birds once sang merrily.

More on environmental degradation here:


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