From snowbank to sea

One warm day in March, years ago, my son Chris and I were walking in Forest Hills cemetery.   Everywhere, snow banks were melting into rivulets, coursing down the asphalt.

Chris asked: "Daddy--Where does the water go?"

As I explained about the water running into the sewer, then into the lake, then into the Mississippi River, suddenly a thought struck: "Why not actually show him where it goes?  Why not?" 

So on spring vacation a few weeks later, we set out, planning to take the small highways always along the rivers, till we reached the Gulf of Mexico.  We stopped here and there.  In southern Illinois, Chris learned "there's no such thing as clean coal."

Abandoned strip mine for coal in southern Illinois.

Chris makes a new friend in the rain.

We visited a ghost town along the Mississippi, a place that had been abandoned when the river changed course and left a river town high and dry.  I was amazed to run into some Wisconsin beekeepers there--this was the winter home for their bees.

On a lonely road along the Mississippi flood plain, we found a box turtle crossing the road.

Chris admonished the turtle as he helped it to the side of the road: "Don't you know you could get hurt?"

Finally, we reached New Orleans, where Chris sat in a park, munching an apple.

Actually reaching the Gulf of Mexico proved a bit more of a challenge than I had imagined.  Because if you try to drive along the river, the road ends miles before you reach the Gulf.  We tried to hitch a ride on a mail boat headed to Pilot Town, beyond the road.  But they were full.  Later, I was able to hitch a ride on a private plane, that flew out an over the last spot of marshy land.

On our way back, we didn't feel obliged to follow the river, so we stopped at the Natchez Trace National Park.

A "living history" volunteer offers Chris a wild strawberry at the Natchez Trace.

I'm not sure who learned more--Chris or myself.  But it was a good chance for bonding, both father and son, and people with the landscape.  It was one chapter in my growing appreciation for our natural waterways.

Having seen the unbroken lifeline of waterways, from snow bank to the Gulf, it's not so strange to start thinking about the "chain" of runoff.   I'm talking about each step in the journey of a water drop, from where it falls on your roof, to... wherever it goes.

That's why it's natural for me to suggest a chain of many rain gardens in our greenway--not just ONE rain garden.

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