September 24, 2014

Of Sharks and Cleaner Fish

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 cropped up.

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.

It 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 loving care.

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.

September 23, 2014

“The Boonville River Cleanup and Festival Afterglow”

Joan Read and Jennifer Davis were our local Boonville rally team for our 2014 series of events, part of the Big Muddy Clean Sweep. They both worked the community up and down to raise support, funding and volunteers from the community for our Boonville River Festival and Missouri River Cleanup. Joan writes a weekly column for the Boonville Daily News. She shared this article with us that will be published this Friday.

Thank you for everything Joan!

Here's her article -

“The Boonville River Cleanup and Festival Afterglow”
by Joan Read to be published in the Boonville Daily News - Sept. 28

Many of my friends now talk about “pulling a Joan” when they mine recyclables out of trash cans or pick up litter.  While some say I’m dedicated, or perhaps eccentric, my efforts now seem quite small compared to Missouri River Relief!

They floated into town on Tuesday and set up camp at Franklin Island Conservation Area.  The clean-up last weekend was especially challenging. We were at flood stage until Wednesday and the river dropped seven feet by Saturday! Scouting and identifying points of entry was difficult.  They boated up and down the river both Thursday and Friday assessing, and then reassessing bank access given all the mud and another foot drop by Saturday morning.   

As the week progressed, more and more core volunteers joined MRR’s team. Each evening after dinner, we formed a circle around the camp fire strategizing for the next day’s activities. Friday evening’s session was fascinating. After the huge list of tasks were assigned, the group sprung into action.  Timeline – The cook starts preparing breakfast at 5:00 am, boat launchers are to start putting five boats in the river by 7:00 am or earlier, and starting at 8:30 am all volunteers are to be registered, dropped off, picked up and returned by noon so they can head over to the Festival.

Saturday morning came early.  During the busy festival set-up, each time I heard a boat motor by the Isle of Capri parking lot I laughed. I knew the boat landing was buzzing amid activity and many volunteers were experiencing the river by boat for their first time! I laughed again when volunteers started showing up at the festival, wearing their muddy t-shirts and boots like a badge of honor!  Stories abounded and trash contest items appeared - 200 Volunteers!!!  The educational booths, kid activities, art car and truck, youth art, vegetarian wrap, and music were all wonderful!  Too soon, it was all over. It was surreal as I wandered around the parking lot in a daze.  As I searched for litter, savoring the memories, I was amazed.  I only found a partial handful of litter!

I again joined the crew and mosquitoes around the campfire that night. Each in turn shared their highlights of the day.  They were impressed with the turnout, festival and loved Boonville! I eagerly listened to their highlights during the clean-up. I could clearly visualize one volunteer searching for a 2x4 in the woods which was used to pry out a submerged metal love seat and another person laboring as she rolled a tractor tire ¼ mile to enter in the trash contest.  The crew found their strategically placed pallets did effectively get people up on the bank safely, but weren’t anticipating the slippery slide propelling volunteers back into the boat – still they kept everybody safe!  The stories were mesmerizing. When it was my turn, I shared my highlights while expressing my admiration and sincere gratitude for all their efforts.

As time allows, our activities will be updated on their website -  While you are checking out our photos and trash tallies under “past clean-up events”, consider a donation – As individuals and a river town, we need to keep these devoted River Stewards afloat!!