Outdoor Playtime | Writing

A River Runs Through Us – part 1

Mississippi River

I began writing my observations of the Mississippi River and how this summer’s drought and a river bank restoration project affected the river and woods. Observing this area close to home turned into a summer project, which I plan to continue for a while. Rather than present my observations with photos and explanations, I wrote a fairy tale. Below is part one.

Once upon a time, there was an old green witch named Moss, who walked the woods of Wiggle River. Her skin wasn’t green, like the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. What made her green was the magic she practiced. She believed wild places, undeveloped by man, were sacred. Unfortunately, there were few truly wild places left, so Moss has broadened her definition of what was sacred to any place where something with wild energy grew or lived. In other words, golf courses were not sacred, but a park or a garden was, especially one that contained dandelions and nettle like Moss’s gardens.

the green witch

Moss had no herbal cures or magic for the drought that had settled on Gaia and her people. All she could do was pray and when a bit of moisture fell, no more than a bit of spit on the ground, she still gave thanks. 

It wasn’t only the unusual heat and lack of rain that had brought on a juiceless hollow. Scarcity also appeared to desiccate people’s souls. They had forgotten how to live without snap-of-the-fingers gratification of their whims. Hearts had become as barren and hard as the soil outside. Moss wasn’t about to join them in their finger pointing. Anyone can sit around and criticize. What was needed was for people to dive in and help make things better. 

Moss shook her head as she removed a dog harness and leash from a hook. She was not blameless herself. It was hard to live in this world without doing harm. She fell victim to convenience as much as the rest, no matter how hard she tried. She prayed every day to do better.

The leash’s rattling brought a fox-like beast sliding across the floor and onto Moss’s feet. Fortunately, she’d been ready for the impact, feet spread, knees slightly bent. The furry being proceeded to bounce up and down in front of Moss as if on springs, but when she saw the green witch standing cross-armed, peering down at her, the creature stood still and waited. “I should have named you Espresso, rather than Latte—you are pure caffeine,” Moss said as she put on the dog’s harness. 

river dog

As they walked, Moss noted the condition of the plants and trees in the woods. One side of the path looked green and perky while the sun had burned the other side’s plants to a death-knell brown. Pointing at the perky side, Moss told Latte, “The soil must have enough humus or a higher water table than the other side. Still, the woods are a magical place.”

woods

Latte gave each side of the path a studied gaze, then crouched and pooped on the damaged side. “That isn’t how you fix the soil problem,” said Moss. “And I told you to go before we left home!” Moss pulled out a compostable poop bag and proceeded with her cleanup duty.  

As she bent to the ground, the green witch noticed what looked like a six-pack of empty beer cans by the edge of the pond Wiggle River fed into. She opened her backpack and pulled out a plastic bag (another thing she hadn’t found a work-around for) and her garden gloves and tossed the cans into the bag. 

beer can litter

“Thanks for doing that,” someone said to Moss. She turned and looked behind her but saw no-one. “Up here,” said the voice.

Moss turned her head up and looked at the trees around her. A crow sat on a branch, stretching and preening her wings. “I’ll never understand humans. There’s a trash can a few yards further down the trail,” the crow said.

“At least they didn’t throw the cans into the pond where I couldn’t reach them,” Moss said. She recognized the bird who had introduced herself as Nevermore when they’d met in the spring. Of course, that wasn’t her true name. A crow would never reveal that name to a human, not even Moss, and she wouldn’t have been able to pronounce it anyway. 

“How are you and your family faring these days? Finding food okay?” asked Moss.

“Oh, you know our clan. We’re very resourceful. In a way, we rely on humans tossing aside their leftovers. That means french fries, bread, and the occasional burger feast for us, and there’s never a shortage of roadkill with all the cars,” said Nevermore, hopping to a branch, closer to Moss. She reached with her beak and pulled out one of her tail feathers and extended it.

“What is this for?” asked Moss, reluctant to take the feather until she knew its purpose.

“To help you be resourceful and clever like me,” said Nevermore. “I wish I could tell you it gives you the ability to fly, but, alas, it does not. So don’t try jumping off any roofs. You should keep the feather in your medicine bag.”

Moss took the tail feather and thanked the crow for her gift. She opened the pocket on her backpack, reserved for such objects, and placed it inside. By the time she looked up again, Nevermore was gone.

Moss looked down at Latte, who was sitting obediently at her feet, a broad grin on her snout. She knew it hadn’t been easy for the mighty huntress to not jump at the talking bird. Moss praised Latte and gave her dog treats before they continued down the path.

sitting dog

The green witch and her dog reached the part of the trail that ran alongside Wiggle River. Moss gasped as she turned a corner and saw the path was barren—all the trees and brush bulldozed and cleared.  

river bank cleared of vegetation

The Village muckety-mucks had said they were going to do work to stabilize the river banks, but she’d had no idea they were going to tear out ALL the vegetation! They’d picked a good year to do it. The river levels had plummeted during the drought, leaving more of the river bottom exposed.

She wondered where all the birds, bunnies, wild turkeys, and fox had gone that she’d seen on her past walks. Moss had named the stretch Rabbit Alley; there were so many bunnies! Probably why the fox walked the area as well. Were the animals okay?

To be continued…

river bank stabilization project

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