June 15, 2007

Post-flood trash scout

Cote sans Dessein Bend - Mouth of the Osage River
by Steve Schnarr
Scouting out the mouth of the Osage

A couple weeks ago, I headed downstream to Soda Popp’s Gas Barge on the Osage River. In the mid-May “Flood of 07”, Soda’s place was hit hard. Although the water barely made it in his house, it left debris scattered all over his beautiful riverside park. He and friends had been cleaning it up for weeks, gathering it by hand and with an old mule hayrake pulled behind a tractor and burning the piles of wood and cornstalks.

By the time I got there, much of the work was done, the ground was drying out but the mosquitoes were intense. The first thing he did when I hopped out of the van was hand me a bottle of bug spray.

The water was still high on the Osage. Excess water from Truman Reservoir and the Lake of the Ozarks was still being let out to the Missouri, and the lowest part of Soda’s land was still underwater. He was obviously exhausted, but in good spirits none the less.

We hopped in our 50 horse Grizzly (the “Karp”) and checked out the scene. We found a dump we had missed last year and a good deal of “floater trash” collected in coves alongside the Osage. When we reached the mouth, we hopped out to look at the point between the two big rivers.

The flood had scoured the underbrush clean along the point, leaving deposits of sand and mud everywhere. And plastic trash dotted the landscape on the Osage side. But not nearly what I expected in that spot.

We jumped in the boat and headed around the dike structure that keeps the Osage tight against the towering bluffs on the downstream side. Upstream, on the Missouri now, we cruised through a small chute on river-right. The flood had obviously collapsed the high banks of the island, but we could see no trash deposits here. But upstream a bit, where we pulled several boatloads of trash out of the woods last year, was another large deposit of trash.

Driftwood was piled high along the banks. Lining the top and cascading down the bank side was a collection of typical Missouri River trash – balls, plastic bottles, coolers, tires, a couple buoys and, as we drew closer, we noticed a refrigerator stuck in the rack pile.

“That one’s got your spray paint on it,” Soda pointed out. Sure enough…scribbled on the side of the refrigerator was a date (7/06), a rivermile (460) and our initials (MRR). On last year’s MegaScout trash survey, we had “tagged” each appliance we could get to with the rivermile and date, so we could track how far big stuff would go in high water. I admit I was a little amazed when I realized how far this thing had gone. “That’s up in northwest Missouri,” I said, shaking my head. Just above St. Joseph on the Mill Creek Bend, to be exact.

We were at about river mile 134. Soda snapped a photo with his cell phone. Here it is:

Here's Melanie last summer "tagging" the same fridge 326 miles upstream.

Soda and I were at about river mile 134 – 326 miles downstream. That refrigerator had negotiated the bends of western Missouri, where levees were popping like mad, swung east at KC and wound through the Grand Bend past the new chutes at Lisbon and Overton, through the Manitou Bluffs and past the state capital.

Right now is a fascinating time to be out on the river. The floods reshaped the banks and bottom, moved around trees and drift and repainted the landscape with human refuse. As the waters continue to drop (we hope, we hope), a new river landscape is emerging. It’s our new place of work and there’s a lot to do

You can watch the pulse of a river by watching the drift and trash. As the river and its many tributaries rise quickly, everything gets picked up and shoved downstream. At times the whole river seems so chock full of trees, plastic bottles and refrigerators that you could walk across it if it weren’t headed downstream at 7 miles and hour and constantly churning.

As pulses of drift move down, the channel where the river runs swiftest is actually higher than the slower water inside the bends and behind dike structures. The debris slides down the water slope and gathers in huge spirals in the eddies. This is why you can always find light “floater trash” on the inside bends. The river seems to sift it out. This happens every time the river goes up and down.

But in a raging flood stuff boogies downstream fast. Wing dikes don’t matter anymore and neither do river banks. This flood, at least in mid-Missouri, stayed at about the same level for five days, fed by record rains up the Grand River. A lot of stuff got moved on through and what is mainly left behind is stuck in drift and up on the banks where the flood scoured through the riverside forest.

Let us know what you’ve seen about the new trash scene on your stretch of the Missouri River. E-mail at riverrelief@riverrelief.org.

June 13, 2007

The Boatman's Lament

by John Brady

Inspired by the story of a difficult day in the life of our beloved Jeff Barrow. Brady claims every bit is true while Barrow denies everything.

I am a boatman through and through
Though that is not my trade
I spend my time at many things
At how my living’s made

But only on the water
Is where my spirit soars
For life, to me, is not complete
Except behind the oars

I came to motor powered boats
When I was fully grown
For motor craft I had no use
I paddled on my own

Still, time and life soon took its due
And so I came to see
That cruising on a powered craft
Was now the life for me

I studied it with all my skill
Each tiller arm and knot
At drift and draft and piloting
A novice I was not

In boating lore and boatmanship
I felt I held my own
And took the helm with jaunty air,
With styling all my own

T’was with greatest confidence
I headed out that day
Full laden down with teachers
On an education day

A sturdy craft with power plus
A captain sure and wise
We made our way up through the drift
Then came the first surprise

An underwater object, where others had found none
Ensnared the new propeller blades and took them one by one
My formerly courageous craft was left a helpless raft
As I became then quite unsure of how to guide the craft

O The seas ran dark and newly dire
As we drifted helplessly
Raw shame became my Albatross
As others rescued me

I swallowed pride and reaching deep into my sailor’s skill
Replaced the prop and launched anew to get my second thrill
With sober resolution, I shifted to reverse
The motor roared, no power poured
I came to know the worst

We drifted out upon the waves as I shifted to and fro
No matter how I flogged the thing, It simply would not go
I cursed and railed and prayed to gods, Yet nothing would avail
My passengers grew fearful, as down the stream we sailed

Stay Calm, I wisely told them
For I’m your Captain true
And sure as I’m your Guiding Light
No harm shall come to you

My words were scarcely uttered
And the crew to lose their frowns
When suddenly a woman screamed
“My God, We’re going down!”

Oh how I hate to tell it, the seas were pouring in
The plug that serves to keep them out was Out instead of In
The panic rose then with the flood, the passengers a mob
I feared a deadly mutiny as I fumbled for the cob

The sobbing wet humanity
Grew sober as we sailed
The plug installed, we drifted on
As several of us bailed

The crisis done, I mustered strength
And calmed the savage beast
As once again, my comrades came
And pushed us to the beach

A saying old as sailors holds that great waves come in threes
It’s true that boatmen curry luck and often bend their knees
That after all the practicing and studying is done
It takes a bit of fortune, if nothing’s to spoil the fun

Let this, then, be a lesson for boatmen great and small
That pride of craft and confidence do oft precede a fall
That even if you’re careful and do the best you can
The River gods will play their tricks and the s**t will hit the fan

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.”