Monday, March 29, 2010

Mrs. Drake

I sent a link to a Times Republic link (Living History Lesson) about Mrs. Drake. The link is gone.

That's okay, the story was good, but it didn't do justice to what a great lady she is!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Iroquois River

Rivers are interesting.  Before trains and trucks, rivers were the primary means by which goods were transported. Rivers were used for travel. They were sources of sustenance for settlements and towns that sprung up throughout the Midwest. They could be irrigated to provide moisture for crops.  They acted as natural drains that kept entire areas of the Midwest from becoming swampland.

A while back I mentioned something about the "Iroquois River’s and Sugar Creek’s brown waters." A friend of mine here in Iowa (one of the folks who acted like I was inbred when I talked about our horse trough) got a hold of that. She grew up in Northeast Iowa, on the Mississippi River and a half-hour from some very clear rock-bottomed rivers and trout streams. She asked me: "What is so special about brown waters?" When she posed that she made a noise like she was kind of disgusted.
I thought about her question, and I didn't want to take her on directly, so I told her something like what follows:
Authors, songwriters, poets, filmmakers, and artists have always been fascinated with rivers. It's not a new phenomenon. Think about the Bible; the Old and New Testaments are full of river imagery.
There are Midwestern rivers (even the Kankakee in parts) that are crystal clear. They are lovely. Their banks could be the setting for fancy art movie picnic scenes. That can’t be said of the Iroquois. It’s a mud river. You can't see the bottom. It's murky and it's brown. There aren't many places to wade across it without getting muddy. Nobody’s likely to see fish swimming at the bottom of three foot pools of water. 
The Iroquois River winds through Indiana and Illinois. It isn't dammed by man. It doesn't have locks. It flows in its own natural channel. It's untamed and it changes course a bit over time; it adapts.  The Iroquois flows into the Kankakee River. The Kankakee is a tributary for the Illinois River. The Illinois winds its way into the Mississippi.  The Iroquois is part of something bigger than itself.
As it flows, the Iroquois picks up a lot of junk - mud, garbage, and chemicals. Some of these things it gets pretty well by itself; some things people contribute.  The Iroquois even picks up a little animal waste here and there. I used to see bulls wading and relieving themselves in it (some of you who canoed with me will remember them glaring at us).  

As the Iroquois winds through its life, some of the junk it picks up gets left forgotten along the riverbank. When the Iroquois gets temperamental (like when it floods) it throws that junk around and disrupts people’s lives. A lot the junk gets carried, then dumped, into the Kankakee.  Some of that junk gets taken to the Mississippi and probably ends up in New Orleans.

The Iroquois is full of junk and so muddy you can’t see the bottom - but that doesn't matter. In spite of the mud, garbage, chemicals and animal waste (or “b.s.”) - despite the fact that it floods, the Iroquois is a good river. It serves a purpose. The Iroquois drains the land so crops can grow. It also provides water in droughts so that the same crops can flourish.  It provided the basis for early communities that grew into thriving towns. It provides drinking water to the people who live in those towns now. It is home to fish and wildlife galore. It is its own eco system.  The Iroquois gives life and that's good.
At this point my friend looked at her watch and yawned; so I took her on directly. I told her:
Pretty rivers like where you grew up aren't all that special. Those pretty little streams aren't like real life.  The Iroquois is a perfect river because it is just like real life.
Like the Iroquois, we're all a bit untamed and part of something bigger than ourselves. We all adapt sometimes.
I rhetorically asked her: Can you think of a person in his or her forties who isn't like the Iroquois River?
We're all a little muddy. We all pick up our own share of junk and carry that - along with junk that others gave us (especially the b.s.).  When we leave a little junk behind we're a little cleaner - but we have to be careful not to dump it on someone else (like the Iroquois does when it floods).  We also have to remember when other people dump their junk on us (especially the b.s.), that they probably do a lot of good things too (like the Iroquois).

I think she got it.
Have a Happy St Pat's!
Tom
"Find some long river and follow it down to where our old sins have washed
up in New Orleans"
  Iowa Songwriter Greg Brown