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Exercise serves as a reminder to keep environment clean: Susannah Gal

Posted 9/18/19

What do you do for exercise? I know that I’ve talked before about my love of walking and dancing as part of my exercise routine. I also like to do kayaking.

I first learned to kayak when I …

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Exercise serves as a reminder to keep environment clean: Susannah Gal


What do you do for exercise? I know that I’ve talked before about my love of walking and dancing as part of my exercise routine. I also like to do kayaking.

I first learned to kayak when I lived with a family in France the summer before my senior year in high school. They were real enthusiasts and lived on a small river between the very large Soane and Loire rivers in the center of the country. I remember learning to kayak that summer and do some pretty daring things.

Since that time, I’ve done kayaking only sporadically with other people’s boats. When we moved here, I thought I’d look into taking advantage of the nice waterways we have and look into getting a kayak.

One challenge is we don’t have a very large car and I’m not really tall enough to put a kayak on top of one. So I didn’t really think it was practical until a former colleague at Penn State mentioned that he and his wife used inflatable kayaks. I found these kayaks were not overly priced and seemed pretty durable. Some pictures showed large dogs sitting in them with their owners.

So I went ahead and purchased a two-person kayak with paddles and a foot pump to blow it up. It was delivered two years ago and I’ve used it several times since. I can roll it up and put it in my trunk and drive to the Middletown boat dock. I then haul it out and use the foot pump to fill it with air. That takes about 15 minutes so my leg muscles get exercise as well as my arms.

Sometimes I go out in the early morning instead of my walk or in the afternoon to cool off after a hot day. Most often, I head upstream first and see how far I can go in about 20 to 30 minutes and then float done for another 10 to get back to the place where I’ve put in.

I’ve only done the Swatara Creek around town, though I went with other friends along the Yellow Breeches Creek near Mechanicsburg last year, which was pretty wild in spots.

It’s also a time to enjoy our waterways and the nature around us. I’ve seen lots of ducks on the creek and sometimes some of the large fish swimming in the cool, clear water. I’ve also seen a blue heron a couple of times and last weekend I saw a beautiful white egret along the bank. I find it a really peaceful time to enjoy myself. I also loved to explore the small inlets and areas using the kayak, which seems to float over most obstacles needing only a few inches of water.

I wonder if we realize what a great resource our waterways are to our way of life in this area. I know many people in parts of the United States and overseas are getting way too much water. Others don’t have enough and may have to endure famines and fires because of it. We are so fortunate this year to have just about the perfect balance — rain and warm, sunny weather. Of course, the Susquehanna River allows lots of other types of boats for commerce or enjoyment.

Are we taking care of these resources as we should? Sometimes along the creek edge or even in the water, I see people’s trash — maybe a tire, or bottle or just a candy wrapper. I find that sad since it makes me feel like some don’t appreciate this beautiful, life-giving resource in our community.

Recently, we’ve heard of these huge floating piles of plastic trash in the oceans that are killing all kinds of sea life. I believe that the trash we might drop into our creeks and rivers can eventually lead to the ocean and add to that deadly floating island. I try to pick up what I can, although it’s not easy in a kayak by myself. It would be great if we were all a bit more aware of the damage we are doing to our waterways by being careless with our trash.

At home, we work hard to reduce, reuse and recycle — the three guiding principles of sustainable living. We do the first by buying the smallest quantities of things that we need instead of the huge amounts that will take us years to get through. We reuse lots of containers and even wash our plastic sandwich bags to use for other things. And what we can, we recycle — like newspapers, cardboard, glass bottles and plastic tubs and cartons. We rinse them out and keep the papers from getting wet before we put them in the new bins Penn Waste provided a few months ago. All these things help us to combat the impact we have on our environment.

If you are interested in learning more about what you can do, come to a couple of talks hosted at the Presbyterian Congregation of Middletown on consecutive Sundays — Sept. 22 and Sept. 29. On the first day, Dr. Jenn Sliko, Earth and geoscientist at Penn State Harrisburg, will discuss extreme weather events that can be attributed to current warming trends and actions we can take to reduce our carbon footprint and minimize further global warming impacts. On Sept. 29, Elizabeth Terry and her husband, Jim, will share how they led Market Square Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg through the process of becoming an “Earth Care Congregation,” joining more than 230 churches that decided to dedicate themselves to intentional care of our earth.

The presentations will be from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. in the lower level of the church at the corner of Union and Waters streets. You would be most welcome.

Susannah Gal is a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg, and is a member of the Press & Journal Editorial Board. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in 2015. She can be reached at