Paul DuBowy, environmental program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, shared this vision of the Mississippi River from t.s. eliot’s poetry. Eliot knew the River from his days growing up near St. Louis:
I do not know much about gods; but I think that the riverIs a strong brown godsullen, untamed and intractable,Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgottenBy the dwellers in citiesever, however, implacable.Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminderOf what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiatedBy worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.
Ironically, this passage does paint a common vision of the Mississippi and yet DuBowy contends that there are really five rivers. DuBowy’s presentation this morning at the Visions of a Sustainable Mississippi River Conference matched those of Gerry Galloway, Steven Kraft and Ken Lubinski in their calls for taking a longer vision and getting involved.
DuBowy says the Army Corps of Engineers is charged with creating a two hundred year vision for the Mississippi. Lubinski asked whether we all value the same ecosystem attributes. And Galloway stressed that there are new Principles and Guidelines and an Executive Order on Floodplain Management in the works right now.
Perhaps some of what we value and much of what we share about the Mississippi River can not be measured in engineering or economic models. Perhaps t.s. eliot has the more accurate measure of a River that means so much to the nation. Perhaps his words more accurately reflect what we all know about the Mississippi River and what we value. Perhaps the secret to the long vision is in what people feel, and we should spend more time talking to the people of the River to find the long vision for its future.