by John Brady
Right now I am in recovery mode. I am
home after some days on the Missouri River working with others to clean
up the river valley and celebrate its noble presence in our lives. The
last two days were a time of great effort for the volunteers and crew
members of the Big Muddy Clean Sweep.
We did all of our normal
preparation for a large scale river cleanup plus helping set up and
break down the structure for a River Festival. That work continues today
and most likely tomorrow with dealing with all of the trash removed. I
shall rejoin the effort in an hour or so.
But right now, between
the loads of laundry, I have time to write a bit and reflect on the
meaning and value of the events of yesterday. The cleanup was
extraordinarily difficult, as recent flooding on the river made
conditions a lot more of a challenge for our crew. As usual, they
adapted and found ways to accept and deal with all of the problems that
As I was piloting one of the work boats between running
cleanup volunteers out to the sites they would clean, running up the
wide and smooth river back to pick up another group, an image came to my
mind about what we were doing out there. It seemed to me for a moment
that today, the river was like a shark in the sea of our environment.
has been living, evolving and constantly moving through its valley just
as a shark roams the ocean, never stopping, always roaming on the move.
It is hungry for some things, taking them into its belly in a thrashing
feeding frenzy of flood. A river bank here, a fish camp there, it feeds
indiscriminately for its time of need and then goes placid, a benign
and serene beast, its awesome power hidden to the unknowing eye.
In the shark’s world, there has evolved a species of tiny fish that
maintain their lives by cleaning the bodies of the larger fish, the
sharks, tuna and other species of the deep ocean. The large fish lay
still in their presence, almost in a trance as these cleaner fish remove
dead skin, parasites and other things that attach themselves to them.
The cleaners even swim into the sharks great open mouths, fearless of
the awesome power within.
Today, the cleanup volunteers scrambling
up its banks seem to me to be like the cleaner fish that attend the
sharks in their shared realm, calmly tolerated by the mighty fish,
cleansing and beautifying its body as they remove the parasites and
vermin that infest its skin. In this symbiotic ritual, I can see how we
mutually benefit each other. In return for the many gifts the river
offers up not only to those that have no conception of how it enables
our lives, but to these cleaner fish who give back to it the gift of
The image dissolves in an instant as I give the tiller
a sharp jerk to avoid a just recognized floating log. I miss the log
and almost tumble my crewman from his seat. He looks back startled for a
moment and then realizes that I still have control and turns back to
enjoy this brief respite from the hard part of our work today. I too, am
back into the day, far richer for having in my consciousness this
vision of my value to my beloved river.
As we, this crew of cleaners
evolve into a group united by our love of and service to this great
resource, the river runs as it always has, a beast of great power,
unbelievable beauty and calm serenity. I realize again in this moment
how blessed we are to have this day, this crew and this river.