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Ma’am, step away from the tire.

Laura and Shawn at Whiskey Hollow

Let me take you for a ride. It might be a little wet and muddy and not quite what you expect. I have a complicated relationship with tires. As an artist I admire tires as plump, round, textured and dark. They conjure visions of adventure, dirt roads, and new beginnings. But they also leave behind a trail, an insidious legacy of filth. No longer made from all rubber, they have become a chemical cocktail whose material breaks apart, causing mayhem to the health of our rivers. When I find a tire, I cannot help but admire its pleasing aesthetic but I also want to remove its legacy.

Journey with me to the Missouri River Relief cleanup in Kansas City held April 9, 2022. As a deckhand, I enjoy guiding groups out onto the river for an adventurous spin on the water plus a chance to make the river safer for wildlife. My goal is to facilitate a positive experience with the river by inspiring a greater understanding of the creatures that rely on the river for life. Volunteers are given the opportunity to connect with the river by showing a little love through appreciation, gratitude and action. This could be admiring a rock, marveling at otter tracks, or picking up trash.

Trash Contest Treasures

In leading a group as a guide, I can become a teambuilding facilitator. The simple act of picking up litter with a group of people creates community. And I love being a part of this community! There are so many layers to this statement. There is the giant umbrella community facilitating the entire Missouri River experience; the crew, the sponsors and the public donors. Then there is the community on the boat, the group working together to cleanup an entire beach or perhaps working on a project, like digging out a massive tire. A good leader allows others to lead. A good leader knows when to move out of the way. Oh, but the lure of a giant tire, the fun of being part of the team that saves the river from a dire tire!

So here is the story:

Captain Boot and I dropped off a group of 12 tiger team volunteers, ready to lift, dig, and haul large debris. I led them to six tires buried in the muck and they made short work of extracting them. They want more. Captain Boot and I need to take another group back for lunch, so I suggest they walk upstream to look for more trash. When Captain Boot and I get back to pick them up for lunch, four of them have wandered about a ¼ mile upriver. We went to pick them up in shallow unscouted waters. One guy walks forward to greet the boat and sinks into the muck. The squilch squelch is audible. He is struggling. We need to help free Sinker. There is that moment when I realize they have no idea what to do so I instruct them to find large pieces of driftwood. We need to make a driftwood path to load people and trash. They scramble off, make the driftwood path and then present their treasure; a large semi-truck tire full of mud weighing about 300 pounds. It takes two of them struggling to push it upright. Muck is falling out so I instruct them to let it drop a few more times, get out your aggression and lighten the load!

Sinker and Kind Giant among friends.

There is an urgency to the loading because lunch is happening and we need to get back but I want this tire and they want this tire! How in the world were we going to get the tire on the boat without sinking knee deep in the mud? I run around for more driftwood to make a dock and we get the tire precariously balanced on the dock and leaning on the bow. Captain Boot feels the weight of the tire on the boat and declares he’ll never get the boat out with this tire plus 4 more passengers so he backs up. I’m left with a dock to nowhere and an expanse of river before me. I ask, “What do you want me to do?” I’m wondering if he thinks we should leave the tire. Captain Boot says, “I want you to get wet.” Ahh…so I reposition the driftwood dock, reposition the massive tire. One guy is on deck ready to leverage the tire back, another guy is ready to lift and I am right next to him, knees bent, squatting, ready to grunt. I’m pretty confident we got this. It’s going to be heavy but I have beat the mud out of a similar tire in Hinkson Creek and rolled that sucker out to the bank. Speed is of the essence though, there is no time for second chances. We are sinking fast and we are hungry. Then I hear a voice from behind, a reticent, polite voice, apologetic and commanding, “Ma’am, step away from the tire.” I turn around, look up and suddenly remember, OMG, let people lead, this is their experience, not mine and I need to get out of the middle of their story. Did I mention he is incredibly strong looking? I quickly step back, laughing at my muddy self, my dogged determination, and my gratefulness to Kind Giant for asking me to step away from the tire. My role is to observe the team, suggest clues to allow them to create a meaningful connection with the Missouri River. The lesson that a good leader lets others lead was crystal clear! Kind Giant and I maneuver through the muck, trading places. The tire is lifted. We slop into the boat, faces beaming in tired pleasure.

Team Muddy admiring a Bald Eagle nest.

When we get back, Kind Giant, joyful at his team’s accomplishment, is staging a picture with everyone and the river, plus the symbol of their commitment to the river, the gathered trash. I insist on taking the picture so he can join his team.

Later that evening, I recounted this story to the crew. It was so well received, an otter face appeared in the fire!

Otter came to listen to our joyful stories about helping over 150 people show a little love for the Big Muddy.

2 thoughts on “Ma’am, step away from the tire.

  1. Very fun reading this. It paints a very riveting story of fun and community and a spirit in like minded folks that can really get things done. I like it!


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