Susquehanna River

Oh! Susquehanna by Defiance, Ohio

The kids who populate these cul-de-sacs
Will never know what stood beneath those
cookie cutter houses:
Fields and streams and woods
"We walk on the paths at the banks of the mighty Susquehanna," begins Defiance, Ohio's exploration into the murky past and present of one of the United States' most ancient and symbolic waterways, curving through the northeast United States to the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. The Susquehanna is the longest river in the American east, and it is very important in the history of that region. The river was once of great spiritual significance to the Algonquian tribes that inhabited the area, as well as followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Today it is also America's most endangered river.

The Susquehanna River valley<br><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/aharrin1/11317643886/" target="_blank">Aaron Harrington</a>, via Flickr, CC 2.0The Susquehanna River valley
Aaron Harrington, via Flickr, CC 2.0
This song is about the marked change in the attitude of human beings to their environment, both as individuals, due to the shifting perspective that comes with adulthood, as well as in our society as it advances and places more value on expansion and development than preservation. The Susquehanna River is emblematic of this. The theme is explored with great range in only a few verses and a very spare refrain. A contrast is created between "the feet made muddy by... tributaries" and "strip malls and tar-mac, people swirling and teeming."

In a not-all-that-uncommon fashion, the band equates appreciation of wild things and a genuine communion with the natural world with childhood. Looking out over the river, the narrator remembers being a teenager in the rural South, wishing he was able to walk to the store. Well, now "there's too many stores." The innocence of childhood is often likened to the untouched character of wilderness uninterrupted by human interests. Paralleling this theme in the song, the Susquehanna, once a respected, noble waterway, is now a sewage-laden dammed pool of stagnant water.

"Oh! Susquehanna," despite its upbeat cadence and graceful rambling of strings, is a lament for all the things we are slowly losing as we somehow cease valuing them. The last verse of the song remarks, "the kids who populate these cul-de-sacs will never know what stood beneath those cookie cutter houses: fields and streams and woods. They'll sit in cars and wait for mom to drive them out of this boring neighborhood." How do we reclaim these things? Writing a song is a start. "Oh! Susquehanna" reaffirms the importance of holding onto the dearest things - the pieces of life that aren't "confined within a frame," whether they are the moments of our childhood when we felt the mysterious tug of the earth's rotation or an appreciation of something as ancient and wide as the Susquehanna.

Maggie Grimason
November 29, 2011

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