On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We place with joy a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
A green heron stands motionless on the bank of Emerson’s soft stream. In its beak it holds a fish, just the right size for this small cousin of the great blue heron. A feather-warming breeze rustles the nettles and the shoreline jewel weeds nod.
The votive stone still stands not far away, asking us to remember those who died here on the first day of the American Revolution.
My mind is disturbed by the gentle mingling of bird, water, fish, and history. Behind the heron is another sign. Perhaps you’ve seen one like it. No artist carved its design or chiseled its inscription. No poet was commissioned to write a hymn for the installation. Instead, unceremoniously placed, a bare steel shaft is imbedded in mud. It holds a rectangular sign with the international warning symbol emblazoned over the picture of someone fishing. The stenciled words call to us for a new revolution. They read: “Warning: Mercury. Don’t eat the fish.”