By Melanie Cheney
“One man’s trash is another man’s Treasure” –who ever said that, they were right on
It’s unsettling when you are just floating down the river or driving the beautiful river road for pleasure, and your mates call out, Refrigerator! Tire! Like raptors with a keen eye for their prey. Our group has definitely become familiar with the science of trashology on the Big Muddy since taking a 754 mile journey down the Missouri River in 2006. Mapping where trash accumulates, where the densest populations occur, and how it just keeps booking it downstream toward the Mississippi, then the Gulf, and then I imagine to the huge plastic gyres accumulating in the ocean. It’s a sad & daunting task being river cleaners, yet wildly gratifying at the same time. You are physically making a difference before your very eyes, and when hundreds of volunteers get together for one of our events, we literally pick up tons of trash, and recycle much of it when we can.
So the best part of being in a group like this are the adventures we take on this wild river. She’s definitely got a mind of her own, and you just have to know the river and work with her. The river rises & falls sometimes several feet in one day. It’s moving stuff around constantly, washing trash down, and piles of driftwood & debris build up to form big whirlpools that later settle down in an inlet, behind a wing dike, or trail dike. Here is where there is usually a big refrigerator or buoy mixed in with the big trees & limbs, tires, coolers, gas cans, light bulbs amazingly fully in tact, and a million plastic & glass bottles in the mix.
These piles are my absolute favorite thing to clean. Not only are they kinda fun to walk around on, balancing and carefully stepping on and over the debris, and carefully making sure you won’t fall through into the bottomless pitt of mud or water, but you can find some of the strangest treasures in there. Some of my favorite finds have been a glass jar sealed full of dry bay leaves (for that one I got the most fragrant trash award), or one time I found a full jar of after sun aloe cream, and after most of our crew got burned that day, we ended up using it for our poor fried faces. I found a magic 8 ball once, and my latest great finds were a coconut carved out into a monkey’s head and a perfectly intact bow saw. Once I was working the ramp and a girl walked off the river with a dozen yellow roses, real ones, and they were beautiful! You just never know what you’ll find out there, as disgusting as it can be, it is truly amazing at the same time.
One thing we are always sure to find on a clean up is a message in a bottle. In the last month, we have found a bottle with a $5 bill in it, and at least 3 other messages. Most of them just have a note that states their name & contact info. & where they threw it in, hoping you’ll write back to see how far it has traveled. Some however are silly or naughty. Those are rare, but the good ones. We found one once that said “Eat at Joe’s” then it had appeared as if someone had found it and wrote “Joe’s sucks” and threw it back in. Another message we had waited to read to the crowd at the Osage clean-up during lunch, upon opening it, much of it was too racy to read aloud, oh but the look on their faces, and the crowd laughing, that was priceless.
Stay posted on the blog for our ever so interesting trash tally’s post clean-up, or check out year’s past. Despite having fun finding these treasures and having full on job security with cleaning the Big Muddy, I hope our society will become more conscious of what they are sending downstream. To join a river clean up in your area, check out the stream team’s website to find one near you, they’re also coming out with a schedule in next month’s Conservationist Magazine, or form a Stream Team of your own and start pickin up that trash!