Saturday, March 31, 2007

A River Reflection

This morning, I trekked over to the Veterans' Memorial Park to participate in the St. Joe River Clean-Up. I was assigned to help clean the riverbank adjacent to the Martin's store on Ireland and Northside. The organizers said that area needed a lot of work.

Given the short distance, I figured I'd walk. As I crossed the bridge towards Martin's, I saw the area I was assigned to--"litter" doesn't even begin to describe the mess I saw. It was an eye-sore. There were people already there picking up trash. In less than 10 minutes, I joined the pack.

At first, I tried to mentally record the trash I was picking. There were lots of candy bar and junk food wrappers, cans, and beer bottles. But it didn't take long before my thoughts lead me elsewhere, back to my childhood. It's probably because the riverbank reminded me of the woods.

When we were kids, my brother and I would always play in the woods. We'd make up games, climb trees, and find unique rocks. And of course, there was that one time when we got lost in the woods. That was my fault--I wanted to explore the section of the woods that was considered "forbidden" to 4- and 5-year olds. I said to my brother, "we'll just trace our steps back; it's easy." Yeah, right. When we retraced our steps, everything looked different. To make matters worse, there was a fork in the woods. Did we come from the left or the right side?

Naturally, with a 50% probability, I chose the wrong side. Within moments, we were climbing up a waterfall! After the waterfall, we encountered quicksand. My brother lost his boot in it. "Come on, we have to leave your boot," I said. We scrambled out of the woods. I saw a road that I knew would lead us home. But, in order to get to the road, we first had to cut through someone's fenced-in barnyard. There were lots of goats and other animals; the only thing I remember was my brother getting chased by a goat. But we made it. We hopped the fence and safely returned home.

Of course, now we were a good 3 hours late getting back home. I wanted to somehow quietly get inside without drawing attention to us. No such luck. My mother locked all the doors. The only thing we could do was knock on the front door. We were in trouble.

When my mother opened the door, a flash of anger swept across her face, but that was quickly replaced by astonishment and concern. We must have looked like two rag-a-muffins. We were filthy, my brother now only had one boot, and we looked pitiful. So instead of getting in trouble, she bathed and fed us.

Ah, what a pleasant memory. I haven't thought about that episode in many years. But, back to the riverbank. I would say there were about 10 people working in the same section. And it was pretty quiet, which is probably another reason why I began daydreaming about my childhood.

But at one point, I observed the progress we had made, and began smiling. The riverbank was looking good. Someone caught me smiling. "It looks good," I said. Another woman piped up, "You know, I thought this was impossible because it was so dirty. But we're all doing a little bit, and it really makes a big difference." Everyone agreed. Yes, this is good.

Afterwards, I walked back across the bridge towards Wiekamp Hall. I stopped midway across the bridge to look back at that area. It did not look the same, not the way I saw it when I first crossed the bridge. It was clean. Each of us filled two bags of trash this morning, and it made a big difference, not in terms of getting points or recording it on my vita (which I'm not going to do). But it made a physical difference that I could see with my own eyes. And I got to think about my brother, whom I miss dearly.


Melis' said...

Michelle, thanks for giving the skinny on the river cleanup. I was bummed at not going!!! Next year...

Plus lol on being a woods monkey. I did that too!!!


Michelle Verges, Project Director said...

Yah, those were the good 'ole days when my family lived in Elizabethtown, Kentucky!

Giddyup, cowboy!

:0) M

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Michael and I come from New Zealand. Me and my fellow classmates of 13-14 year olds are trying to clean up our own local river (the Hautapu) it would be fantastic if you could write to us sharing more info about your experiences or any advice you may have, it would be greatly appreciated by us all! Cheers