A while back I talked about noticing how this journey of 90 days seems to relate to a human lifespan of 90 years. There are aspects of the river at each point that seem to match the stages of a human’s development. This is day 36. The river is working hard here. From my current vantage point on the Riverwalk in Muscatine, Iowa, I can see a lock and dam in one direction and a big industrial installation with silos and smokestacks in the other. As soon as I left the rugged “Driftless” area, the land flattened out and became seriously agricultural and industrial. The air is frequently pungent with the smell of grain processing plants. The river banks are frequently lined with strange-looking conglomerations of tanks and silos connected by giant tubes, the purposes of which are mysterious to me.
So think of yourself at 36, whichever side of that number you are on. For most of us, there is still a sense of being invincible, of being ok without much sleep or vitamins or planning for the future. We’re not careless or oblivious to those things, but there is still a sense of there being plenty of time. So, it’s often a time when we push ourselves, we keep going and keep using our resources because there is more where that came from. Often, we are becoming well-established and well-connected, feeling effective and powerful, getting the job done well, whatever our job may be. And, even though there is that little voice that says, “You really know better than this…” we multitask, over schedule, occasionally indulge in excesses and pat ourselves on the back for handling it all just fine.
That’s how the river feels to me now. I have no idea which of these industries are being responsible stewards of the resources. I’m sure some are and some are not. The river is being used hard, it is handling it, but it would be wise to listen to that little voice and take care of its health now.
Please know I am referring to how humans relate to the river. The river itself – its essence is untouched, unchanged by anything we do – just as the essence of each human is unchanged from birth to death. And please also know – I am not talking about the citizens of any particular town. I am talking about humanity. The story of human history is too often a story of greed. Before Europeans showed up, the Native peoples lived with the river and received its abundance daily. The difference, I think, is that the natural response to gifts of abundance from the Native people was gratitude. Very often, the response from the rest of us is greed – how much more can I get for me?
The vast forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin were virtually obliterated by greed. The fresh water mussels that thrived in the river were nearly wiped out by the pearl button industry. Such is the history of human development everywhere, but it doesn’t have to be. There is that little voice in each of us that knows what’s right, what’s fair, what’s healthy. It can’t effectively be legislated or coerced or demanded by any voice outside of ourselves, but we can choose to listen within.
I’ve been told that the river is healthier now than it has been in the last 60 years. People are listening. That makes my heart sing. The Mississippi River is truly one of our greatest treasures. It is the aorta of our continent. This is a very good time to do the right thing.
Thanks for listening. Gayle