I am still slowly letting go of the glory that is a three-day weekend. Thanks to Labor Day, my brain is readjusting, my calendar has to be taped to my eyelids so that I don’t miss anything, and my daily motivation is hard-fought for. I love long weekends. This weekend I spent time with family in St. James, Missouri and got to show the wonders of the Ozarks stream bed to my six-year-old cousin, Lexi. She is from Colorado and, along with my aunt, she was amazed at the diversity of weather, water, and insect life we have in the region. They were especially impressed by the evening soundscape, which they found deafening in the presence of cicadas and katydids. On the way back to Springfield, I was listening to Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. It is a bit of a homework assignment for a song-writing challenge coming up this month, but it is an agreeable assignment as I do enjoy some Twain. While listening to the book, I noticed how Twain spoke of the Mississippi River from many perspectives and viewpoints, using journals and books of fellow explorers and visitors. It got me thinking about Labor Day.

On Labor Day, we recognize those that fought hard for labor rights, when they were not easy to come by, and those who labor still today, pushing our country forward into progress and prosperity. While we get our fair share of manual work out here at the Watershed Center, I don’t swing a hammer all day. I don’t go to work at 4am. I don’t work all night on roads that are used during the day, but I am thankful for those that do. One of the names that Mark Twain used for the Mississippi, and this name was not one he

 came up with, was “The Great Sewer”. He found it a horrible name, and I tend to agree. However, it makes me picture the river as a laborer in our society, pushing us forward into progress and prosperity. The rivers happily work away at jobs that many of us do not want to do; jobs that are necessary and result in benefits to everyone. While I was at home, we watched an episode from the Dirty Jobs Marathon. I love the wit and humor of the show, but I would like to see Mike Rowe shadow a river for the day. He could start by cleaning our streets during a rain storm and carrying the contents to the next biggest river for us. Then, he could absorb hot or chlorinated water into himself from wastewater and electric generation plants. Then he could carry freight from Illinois to Louisiana for us. He could take our fertilizer, trash, and manure away too, while he’s at it. He could move acres of rich organic material from miles of river bank and deposit it upon a rich floodplain or wetland so that plants may grow. He could irrigate the crops that fill our tables, livestock, and gas tanks. He could carry us downstream without a care for the modern world; allow us to live like Huck Finn if only for an afternoon.

Our rivers are tremendous laborers. Long before we were here, they brought down mountains, carved canyons and valleys, left behind bluffs and lakes, and inspired myths and legends that live with us today. Our rivers are busy, they have work to do. We ought to let them do it too, for our sakes. There are jobs we can spare the river, jobs that require the river to be harmed by foul pollution or drying up. We should let the river do what it is best at, whether that be feeding a buried mussel, thinning the salmon gene pool, or carrying another listless wanderer down her sycamore shaded banks. We should thank our rivers and remember that they bring us water to live by. What do we do in return?

-Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

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