Sangamon translates from the Potawatomie language as “the place where there is plenty to eat”
Coincidentally, I grew up in this same kind of place, even though I was in North Florida. Of course, growing up, I always just knew it as “home,” and there was always plenty to eat.
At home, the fridge was always well-stocked and a nice, three course dinner (meat, potatoes and vegetables) plus dessert, was served at the tidily set dinner table every night at 6 (never long after Dad walked in the door) while we watched Walter Cronkite on TV.
All this plenty was generously provided by – who else? – Mom.
Mom cooked the dinner, washed the laundry, cleaned the dishes, folded the laundry, ironed the laundry, and made out all the bills, too. All while watching evening TV out of her other eye. To me, it all seemed so automatic; almost magical. Our Mother took good care of all of us; she seemed to always be in perpetual motion, doing something. She provided the foundation for us: me, Dad and my brother and sister. And – that I was aware of – Mom never once complained.
Mom was a solid yet soft foundation that I always knew I had right underneath me, behind me, beside me. She’d let me go out on a limb, hoping I didn’t fall off. I rarely did, probably because I was confident that she was my safety net and would always be there, right behind me, supporting me, always on my side.
During my youth, I once read an article from a time management professional. He taught that time is our most precious resource and pointed to those areas in life where we waste too much of our valuable time. It was an interesting article, but the only piece that truly resonated with me was the one about the time we wasted making our bed every day. I cited this article numerous times to my Mom when she’d ask me about my unmade bed. But somehow she never quite seemed to grasp my essential point.
But she usually did make my bed when I didn’t, and did the laundry, and cooked the dinner, even after I was in college and still living at home. I always did very well in college, and I held a job the whole time, so I kind of felt like I was doing my part. The whole time Mom was proud of me, and she kept right on being Mom, always giving and always being there to support me.
I’m sure I took Mom for granted, usually doing next to nothing for Mother’s Day. One year, after I had my first job, I went out and bought her a palm tree, and I even planted it. She’s always remembered and appreciated that tree. And it’s still there, yielding an annual harvest of dates that fall on the ground that she has to go out and clean up, presumably reminding her of me.
Becoming a husband and father places motherhood in a somewhat different light. It’s given me a behind the scenes look at motherhood – or at least contemporary motherhood. I’ve learned to appreciate that a mother’s work is not only never done, it’s also work, and it’s really not all that automatic and magical.
Not only that, but the rules of partnership seem to have changed a bit. Now I do the dishes, and I cook now and again and walk the dogs and take out the trash. But more than that, I’ve discovered that in order to keep going, mothers actually need lots of nurturing, support, and appreciation, which their partners can provide. I need to pay attention to how she feels and to know how to take care of her, what she wants and needs, and not to take her for granted.
I think there’s a reason we refer to our planet as “Mother Earth” that is run by “Mother Nature”. Mothers provide a foundation, Mothers provide for us, and certainly, Mother Earth gives us plenty to eat and provides her bounty without questioning, without asking.
Mother Nature provides a solid yet soft foundation that I always have right underneath me; behind me, beside me. I’ve been out on her limbs, hoping I didn’t fall off. And – that I am aware of – Mother Nature has never once complained.
I’m sure we take Mother Nature for granted. Have we planted a tree lately? Mother Nature always appreciates trees.
Throughout our history, we have taken from Mother Nature. We have taken her trees to build homes, and she keeps on giving. We have taken her fossil fuels to heat and cool our homes and offices and to fuel our cars, with no intention of ever giving them back. Yet she keeps on giving. We use her bounty to continuously yield seemingly endless quantities of corn that we don’t even directly eat; we feed it to our cows that we eat. Or we convert it to less-than-healthy high fructose corn syrup or corn oils. Or we put her corn in our cars to run down the street to the mini-mart for a Mega-Chill. And then we toss the empty out of our car window. We let runoff flow into rivers and streams, and just dump trash right into them. Yet she keeps on giving, keeps on supporting us. Even as we may be killing her.
Paddling the Sangamon River and working with the USRC places Mother Nature in a slightly different light. It provides a sort of behind-the-scenes look at Mother Nature in our contemporary world. I’ve learned to appreciate that Mother Nature’s work is hard work, and it’s certainly neither automatic nor magical.
I’ve discovered that in order to keep going, like all mothers, Mother Nature actually needs lots of nuturing and support, which all of us can provide. Mother Nature needs supportive partners who can make her feel appreciated, who can pick up the garbage from the roadsides and from the river, who can monitor how she feels and and know whether she’s being harmed. And she needs those who know how to take care of her and know what she wants and needs, and not take her for granted.
Actually, all mothers need that, and if you give it, you’ll find that the seemingly endless bounty that mothers provide will keep on coming. So, Mom, Carol, Mother Nature, I appreciate you and all that you do, all that you do without questioning and rarely complaining.
And I have always appreciated the opportunity to live where there is plenty to eat.
Finally, I’m confident that my own Mother will get this message because, as loyal readers (hi, Mom!) know, Mom always reads my Notes from the River columns, and she’s always proud, always supportive, and that always keeps me writing. So, thanks Mom. I love you.
Corrections from the last column “Drinking the Sangamon”: Keith Anderson asked me to express the topsoil load of the Sangamon River as depositing 100 acre-feet of topsoil in Lake Decatur per year.