Leave nothing but footprints

The Mountain Man dragged us to a dam at the local river (Cape Fear) this weekend. By drag, I mean that the kids were buzzing with excitement and I was filled with dread and anxiety.

The River. For the MM, the river conjures up his Tennessee mountain memories of the Emory River and his MaMaw, who taught him to sit quietly for hours as that river's water lapped his feet, to patiently cast and re-cast as he sat on the shore or waded in to his thighs. He learned to swim in the Emory, spent long days drifting on makeshift rafts from one house to the next and the next until he was so far downstream someone had to go pick him up. In the days before his father died, my MM sat with him on the banks of that same river.
For him, a river is home and memory and tradition. He named our daughter after that river of his childhood home. And when he dies, he wants to be scattered into that same river.

For me? The river does bring up murky memories of fishing with my Papa (twice, and one of those times, he made my sisters and I sit at the shore while he paddled away in a boat to a quieter spot). However, the river holds many more unwelcome memories. Drunks who don't have the gas money to get to the lake. Trashy, uneducated people who cuss like sailors, smoke and drink to excess, and destroy everything in their paths. Nasty smells, filthy sights, and a wasteland of debris.

But who am I to deny my MM his day at the river? Especially when he packed up the cooler all by himself, spent an hour finding the exact spot of a dam he'd heard about, and then loaded everything into the truck by himself. I finally put on my swimsuit and climbed into the passenger seat determined to keep a positive outlook.

And I'm glad I did. While Bella and I would be content never going to the river again, our boys were in love. They splashed across the broken mussel shells and sharp-smooth river rocks until they were right on the dam. And then they climbed and slid and climbed some more. They frolicked and indulged our pig-tailed sprite and begged me to at least try the "dam slide" (which sent Javi into fits of giggles each time he heard or said it).

I made it halfway to the dam before I gave up and turned back. My once-hardened-by-the-country feet are not what they once were and couldn't suffer through the pain of trudging across the river bottom. But my time there wasn't wasted. I was right about the destruction "river people" leave in their wakes.

My family played; I cleaned. Beer bottles and cans, plastic plates and cups, fast food and styrofoam containers, paper and plastic bags, candy wrappers, old socks, a pair of ripped men's underwear. You name it and I found it down at the river.
And as I cleaned, a river dog came over begging for food. Of course I fed her everything we had. I felt almost purposeful in my work, and when the family came in from playing, they, too, picked up the purpose and ran with it. I don't have to tell you how they felt about the dog, right?
When we left, we took away 4 plastic grocery bags of trash. Despite our children's best efforts, we did not take away the river dog. But we did leave with a lesson in our hearts. We may not be the bad kind of "river people," but we do carry a river in our hearts. It is clean and safe and beautiful.
We will keep returning to ensure "our spot" remains that way. If we don't, who will?*
Next time, we hope to take nothing but photographs but we'll be bringing trash bags just in case.

*Please tell me you will. Tell me that when you see the end result of laziness and disrespect for our natural resources, you'll take 10 minutes to grab a bag and just clean it up. Because a broken beer bottle and a candy wrapper on the bank of the Cape Fear can become so much more once it hits the water. You're with me, right?

***This post is part of the 30-minute blog challenge and ShoutLaughLove.***


  • Jami

    The two pictures of Javi in the river made me a little teary. Save those for him. Frame them. :)
    And then the one of Bella and Daddy and the three of them playing...such sweet moments. If there is one thing I am really bad at it is jumping in the truck like you did. I tend to find reasons why I need to stay behind...and I miss those moments. Thanks for the reminder. I needed it. What great pictures... even better, the memories. :)

  • suzannah | the smitten word

    that looks like a damn fine dam slide and a wonderful day:)

    i'm totally the girl picking trash, too.

    (do not tell me it took you under 30 minutes to type this puppy and upload all those pics, because i don't believe you!)

  • Kelly Miller

    Haha! I had a trick up my sleeve. The pictures were uploaded already. :) I just had to type and plug, baby. I'm linking to you now since this post was a little shouty (though the environmentalist in me makes me think I could've been shoutier).

  • Anonymous

    We go to the river regularly and to be honest, I tend to pretend I don't see the trash hanging around. But, because of your awesomeness Kelly, I think I will take a trash bag with me next time and pick it up instead. Maybe it will make a difference, maybe it won't, but at least I know I'll be doing the right thing.

    Also, you are WAY stronger than I. That river dog totally would've been coming home with me. If only until it found a good home.

    And I agree with CrazyMom, save those pictures for Javi. :)

  • Cheri

    Kudos to you Kelly! If everyone would leave nothing but footprints, you wouldn't need trash bags. In the meantime, I'm glad you are taking them.

  • Melissa

    Good for you! That is awesome that you did all that cleaning... and it is sad that other people littered.

  • Kelly Miller

    Alright Anjie. I'll eagerly anticipate your first report back on how many loads of trash you carry out. I suggest you bring some hand sanitizer so you don't have to rely on river water to clean your hands after. Yuck!

  • Justine

    Yes, I will - thank you for bringing light to this. If each person does a small part, it will make a difference.

    I'm glad that your family had a good time at the river. I'm not very outdoorsy myself so I would be squeamish going into the water but thank goodness for kids and their fearlessness.

    This weekend we're heading out of town to accompany my guy's annual track days where he runs our car around the race track with a big group of people. The gathering of friends is fun even if I don't partake in the driving - your post made me think of it. The things we do for our men... :)

    (But so worth it since they often open our eyes to new experiences).

  • Lori Yoder

    Sounds like a wonderful day! I'm sure it will leave a great impression on your children.

  • TKW

    Kelly, not only did you do a good thing, but you imparted a lesson to your kids about taking care of this planet we live on. Yay for you. I love that picture of the little Miss and MM in the water. So adorable.

  • Kathleen@so much to say, so little time

    Good for you! For enjoying, and for cleaning. We have a drainage creek in our back yard and it's appalling, what comes downstream. We clean it up a couple of times a year. It's getting easier now that most of the erosion-control fences in our newish neighborhood have finally been washed downstream; it was backbreaking work to un-bury and un-tangle those.

  • Nina

    why would you clean the place up and leave the dog? not find it a better home? I don't understand that.

  • Anonymous

    This is so full of amazing: old memories, new memories, laughs, sun, water, summer, and even important lessons. What a perfect day!

  • Mrs.Mayhem

    Looks like a fun time playing in the water. It makes me so angry when to see trash lying on the ground, especially in such a scenic locale. Thanks for cleaning it up!

  • Courtney

    we dont really have a river here to do that on...i mean we have the missouri but you dare not get close to it, or you might possible see a body float by...not really or maybe.

    anyway I think its great you picked up I am not sure I could be so good but I get angry a lot at trash and how people think they can just dump it anywhere. makes me so freaking mad.

  • amber_mtmc

    I do not enjoy the river, either. The trash, the smells, the people. Yuck. But, like your husband, my husband LOVES rivers. So I go and try my best to keep my outlook happy. I think next time I'll do what you did: Pick up the trash.

  • Amanda

    The river looks like a beautiful place. What an awesome thing you did. Think I'll take a walk around my neighbourhood with my boys to pick up litter tomorrow. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Unknown

    What inspiration! I rarely get out and do things like that...not only do I need to take my boys to the river here and let them experience it more...but just getting out and cleaning things up - regardless of whether "I" put the trash there or not...something I definitely need to do.

    YOur kiddos are precious too!
    And MM - I didn't know he was bald (shaved)! My man shaves his head too. :-) They are keepers!

  • Sofia's Ideas

    What an inspiring post! I loved it through and through! I am so glad I found you; I think we have lots in common! We are also the family that picks up not only trash, but pick up the slack when neighbors don't curb their dogs!

    I'm stopping by through Steady Mom's 30 Minute Challenge. I hope you'll do the same! You can find me @ http://sofiasideas.com/

  • Unknown

    I will find a place to pick up trash this week inspired by you. Thank you for this post. Your kids are SO cute. I can't even stand that cuteness!

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