June 6, 2007

Yankton, S.D. Clean-up - May 19, 2007

Little Hands in the Sand
text and photos by Ruthie Moccia

Destination Yankton, S.D. The 8 hour drive all day Friday in our van was reminiscent of a comedy club. Jokemeisters Karpowicz, Barrow, and Nigh continued with hilarity throughout the weekend at jam sessions around the bonfire. Add a couple of drums, guitars, a washboard, and other impromptu instruments (wire whisk brushing across the plastic feathers of our heron mascot) and you get some really cool sounds. Original music and lyrics were inspired by the Gilligan’s Island theme song audibly entwined with House of the Rising Sun punctuated by the voice of James Brown commenting effusively on strengths and weaknesses of the amazing riverbed mussel.

Racin’ Dave had staked out our campsite extraordinaire, a sandy island across the river from Benedictine steeple Caroline bells. Not a seasoned camper, I was in ecstasy to have sand instead of mud between my toes, witness the clarity and “swimability” of the Missouri River at Yankton, dine on exquisite food, and sense an atmosphere of safety and tolerance from much more experienced companions.

And that was just getting and being there.

Saturday morning we filtered through the Yankton volunteers over coffee and donuts introducing ourselves (for the record, Yanktonians drink their coffee black not even bothering to set out cream and sugar), happy to learn Yanktonians were genuinely grateful we had come to help with the cleanup. We arranged ourselves 2 to a boat in order to provide as much individual support as possible.

Karpowicz and I sat in our boat watching Yankton volunteers file by on the dock as a thirty-something dad approached toting 3 adorable sons. “We want you in our boat!” I hollered, and they complied. Just a few minutes earlier I had taken photos of them traipsing across the green in their newly acquired ankle length tees. I had become enchanted with the 3 of them.

But ultimately my heart was whisked away by the oldest most serious of the boys, 9 year old Jordan, who did not stop digging until he unearthed an ancient iron tractor wheel from the sand. Who knew how much time elapsed while he and I dug with sticks and rocks? We made timid conversation. We talked a little about the things we believed, about the things we had experienced, and even some about the river.

We had dug past the water table when a crewmate finally returned with a real shovel capable of removing real loads of sand. Finally, we were able to comprehend the wheel. It was 4 feet in diameter with double rows of thick decaying spokes, at least a foot wide where the rubber would have met the road. It took a line of guys on a rope to get that sucker out of it’s sandy hole and another couple of guys to roll it along the water’s edge into our boat.

Jordan posed in front of his find as we motored to the dock. It took 3 inmates to pick it up and load it into a trash truck.

I’m soon sending Jordan a certificate with blue ribbon attached. I’ll call it the “persistence” award. The certificate will say, “May all you have patience for never disappoint you.”

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