I just recently learned that June is officially Illinois River Appreciation Month! I read in the Chicago Tribune that there are activities going on along the Fox River, the Des Plaines, the Illinois, the Kankakee and many others, too.
And what a better way to appreciate our own Sangamon River, thought I, than to get out there on it.
So I set out down the Sangamon in my kayak.
It was a beautiful early summer day and, as usual, paddling the Sangamon was a tranquil and even relaxing experience. The water was up and flowing strong, carrying me along at a very nice 3 miles an hour. The winding, tree shrouded Sangamon is a beautiful escape from the flatness, fields and right angles of Central Illinois. Yes, I really appreciate this river, thought I.
I also couldn’t help but notice how amazingly thick and brown the water was. And I came across log jams where not only was the river backed up, but all the stuff that floats down it was backed up, too. And this included the empty beer bottles and cans, whiskey bottles, plastic water bottles, Gatorade bottles, styrofoam bait containers, coffee cups, and all manner of flotsam and jetsam.
And I also couldn’t help but notice along the banks where some landowners had used the river running through their backyard as a convenient dumping ground for their life’s debris: old bricks, tiles, washing machines, rusting bicycles and other unrecognizable stuff in a trail leading down the slope of the bank and into the river.
And I pondered River Appreciation Month. And I thought to no one in particular: what would the Sangamon River want?
Then I heard a soft voice speak out to me: “To be appreciated.”
Interesting. This was a voice I’d heard before. It had to be the River, I assumed, so I said “Well, at least that’s taken care of, because I really do appreciate the Sangamon River and all things associated with it.” And I felt rather smug.
“I know you appreciate me, but how many other people do?”
“Lots of people appreciate you! I know them personally! What do you mean, you don’t feel appreciated?” I asked.
“You just pointed out my condition. This time of year of heavy rains and plowing and planting fields, I’m the muddiest ever as all of that beautiful Illinois dirt that spent eons getting here just flows off downstream right along with me, in me, with the mussels and the fish and the turtles and the frogs…”
“Yeah, that’s true, but…” said I.
But the river went on: “And you just pointed out all of the discarded litter that people carelessly toss in to me. I guess they’re thinking ‘downstream’ means ‘gone forever’. Or maybe they just think, ‘out of sight, out of mind’? Don’t they realize that in a river, downstream actually means ‘just up around the next bend’?”
And I replied “Well, I know that sometimes people can seem careless, but at least they’re down here using you. Fishing, boating, enjoying the experience….”
The River interjected again: “And I get that, but sometimes it’s not enough. What about my condition? I’m jammed up and blocked with fallen trees in many places, so lots of people won’t even think of coming down here and paying me a visit. And don’t even talk to me about access points!”
“Well many people do get out here on the river…”
“Yes, I know, I know, but sometimes I need a little help from my friends. I can’t do it all myself, you know. Someone once wrote “I was here before you, and I’ll be here long after you’re gone” . So I realize I’ll get by one way or another, but sometimes I just need to feel taken care of; to feel loved. I just need to feel appreciated sometimes.”
Now the river was starting to sound a lot like my wife, Carol. And now that I thought about it, this voice did sound kind of feminine. Could the river be a woman?
And then it hit me: Actually, the River sounds a lot like me. Like, if it wasn’t perfectly obvious that this was the River talking to me, I might think that this was my own voice speaking to me inside my own head, expressing my own yearning for appreciation.
And then it hit me even further. This voice could be any of us, really. Because isn’t this basically what we all want? To feel appreciated by others? To get by with a little help from one’s friends now and again? To be taken care of sometimes? To feel loved?
And why should the Sangamon River feel any differently than any of us?
So this River Appreciation Month and, well, any other month of the year really, get out there and appreciate your river!
Don’t miss this month’s “Intro the Sangamon” short river trip through downtown Mahomet. Sunday, June 23 at 1pm. Check www.sangamonriver.org for details on this and other upcoming opportunities to appreciate your river, including Riverwatch river monitoring, river maintenance, Hazen bridge work days, highway cleanups and more!
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, June 13, 2013, by Scott Hays