River Stories & the St. Croix
For the last few months, a group of people along the St. Croix River have been getting trained as River Stewards. This is a new program funded by the EPA to encourage citizens to learn about and be activists for the St. Croix River and its watershed. (www.stcroixstewards.org)
I was invited to bring the Talking Suitcases project to this training as a way to use art as a tool – for people to tell stories about why the river/watershed matters, for them to create visions for stewardship, and to encourage them to use art in their own projects.
Some River Stories:
Jean’s story is about an outing with her family – daughter and granddaughters – on the River. It was a beautiful afternoon, the sun reflecting on the water, when they piled into 2 canoes and a kayak. The girls were only 4 and 1 years old, and hardly ever got this chance on the river because their mother was always so busy. But what made this day special is a wild goose who suddenly appeared on the water (the little wood piece with brown bead) and adopted the family, especially the little girls. It followed them all afternoon, splashing along in the water beside them and staying with them when they stepped out on a sandbar to swim. The girls just loved it, especially 4-year old Abby, who was thrilled when the goose followed them up to Jean’s yard by the river. Now whenever Abby goes out to the river, she is hoping to see “their” goose again. And Jean remembers how everyone let go that afternoon; even her serious, busy daughter. Everyone just laughed and played.
Patricia tells of the beauty of canoeing with friends, and seeing sandhill cranes and herons right beside you in the water. She’s had reunions on the water with a group of friends for more than 30 years.
Jim tells about working with a group trying to purchase a cranberry bog to prevent it from discharging pesticides right into the River. He finally got one congressman to send an aide out to investigate. The aide was not interested at all, till Jim took him out to this little bridge over the St. Croix. Standing on the bridge looking down into the water, suddenly they spied what looked like a 4-foot log floating down it. Only it was no log – it was a sturgeon – a rare fish known as a “living fossil” because it dates back to the Triassic period some 245 to 208 million years ago. The aide was blown away and couldn’t stop talking about it. He went back to the legislature filled with passion for the river and desire to protect the River.
Robin’s story takes place at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, where she took her class out to look at the campus with the groundskeeper. He talked about the impact of water and chemicals and how it was showing up on a campus that is more and more manmade. And then he took them to his favorite part of the campus – a forgotten corner of scrub oaks. Unlike most scrub oaks, these had grown tall, and were probably over 100 years old. They created a kind of natural oasis that was cool and inviting even on a hot summer day. It was amazing to find this ancient grove unnoticed in the midst of their everyday life. Could we have more such spots in our lives?
The groundskeeper in the grove of scrub oaks.
Vision Boxes – St. Croix River Stewards’s visions for the futureVision #1: Outdoor trips with students learning about the River, on pontoon boats!
Vision #2: Getting rid of lead in our land and wildlife: no more lead shot, no more lead fishing tackle!
Vision #3: Children learning about the river through a novel about adventures on the River.
Vision #4: Teaching the importance of the River’s Edge – dangers of erosion and chemical seep, learning about solutions – rain gardens, native plants.