In June 2006, our daughter Laura spent her 21st birthday wading in the muddy water of the Middle Rouge River. We'd signed up to work at Rouge Rescue, an annual clean up of the Rouge River watershed in southeast Michigan. The 127 river miles in the watershed included a stretch through our Southfield back yard.
During Rouge Rescue, volunteers break up log jams, pull out garbage, stabilize the streambanks, and remove invasive species. It isn't uncommon to find shopping carts or tires in the river.
The Rouge has many problems. Besides residential and industrial pollution, stormwater running over streets and parking lots fills the river with toxins, bacteria, and oil. Fast-moving runoff also causes the water to rise too quickly, eroding banks and washing away vegetation.
We remembered the aftermath of several storms when the floodplain behind our house completely filled with brown water. We carried our canoe down the hill and paddled among the trees. It was fun, but we knew the flooding wasn't good for the river.
However, after thirty-five years of Rogue Rescue, river conditions have improved. This fall twenty-five kayakers paddled the Lower Rouge Water Trail in Dearborn. They saw Great Blue Heron and evidence of beaver.
Sometimes people need the same kind of help that rivers do. In his novel, The Brothers K, David James Duncan said that there are some kinds of human problems that "gently rob us of just enough energy or faith so that days which once took place on a horizontal plane become an endless series of uphill slogs."
Some intractable problems, Duncan said, are like "high water working year after year at the roots of a riverside tree. [They] quietly undercut our trust or our hope, our sense of place, or of humor, our ability to empathize, or to feel enthused."
"We don't sense impending danger, we don't feel the damage at all, till one day, to our amazement, we find ourselves crashing to the ground." (page 429)
If some person or some place you love is getting undercut or is choking with debris, wade in the water. Put on your gloves, pull up your mucking boots, grab a chain saw if need be. Jesus said something like this:
"Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did it for me." Matthew 25:40
Play List: "Wade in the Water," Eva Cassidy, Songbird, 1997, 2006.