When the rain storm had passed it was time to meet one of this year’s Billy Mills Dreamstarters: Loren Waters. I was to join her and family members at a place, a “pin” in a message on my phone, somewhere in the heart of the Cherokee Nation. There she would be filming the last part of a movie she is calling, Meet Me at the Creek.
After passing through Vinita on Route 66, I turned south at the junction near where the new American Heritage Park is planned, and proceeded to Salina. As a bit of my own American heritage, my Cherokee grandmother used to ride with her family to Salina in a wagon once a year to get salt when she was a child. But when I got to Salina, with a quick turn east, on to the Kenwood Road, I followed the dirt roads of the Cherokee Reservation, finding goats and cows grazing together and a peacock guiding me down another.
During that afternoon by Saline Creek, with blue water and low-lying gravel bars where fresh water crest could be seen and then collected to add to an evening’s meal, the reality hit me. This is what our children are trying their best to create. They want to love water, to love being in it, to join friends there by the creek.
They are creating what I long for them to have. Loved water. They are loving it already. With every dam they construct, they are hoping to corral enough water to be deep for both they and the fishes to swim freely.
Why shouldn’t they have a stream to enjoy? They have every right to it, and the founding fathers and mothers must have known this was the plan. River on one side, creek on the other. What could be better?
The “Cliffs” just a mile into Kansas, where for decades summer afternoon swimmers found their way to the top of the precipice to dive into the deepest bluest water. It looked like Shangri La. That is what I called it. The water so deep and blue. Who tested the water? We did, at the time, all we could test was the lead, what you would except to find when sampling MINE WATER, which was exactly what they were swimming in.
There were no fees, no fences, no warnings, no trespassing signs. It was free-range swimming with a rigged-up rope swing hanging from a tree, and at times planks were found and used to dive into the water. We never saw anyone fishing. We never saw any fish or algae. But we found discarded underwear and, in the mornings, we would discover lots of empty beer cans left behind.
Back in the day, swimming was the way you got cool in the summer. And up that part of the country, it was a long way to actual swimming pools.
For a long time, there has been great concern about our kids becoming lead poisoned, especially since lead poisoning is totally preventable. This is why EPA is spending millions of dollars a year, removing lead in residential yards. We can prevent lead poisoning, first by calling the DEQ Hotline and asking for your yard to be sampled for lead. If your yard is loaded with chat it can be removed at NO COST to you and replaced with clean soil. But what if our kids are being exposed another way. What if they are swimming in Tar Creek? All that money being spent by EPA hasn’t fixed Tar Creek yet. If your kids are playing there, think: when you were a kid, did you ever really swim anywhere that you didn’t end up swallowing some of what you were in?
How much of that water does it take to poison a child? Or how much is on their lips when they pause to lick them? Or bite their fingernails on the way home, or walk right in with their wet socks and leave them laying around, leaving the residue in your carpet for the youngest to crawl over to find.
Lead poisoning can be preventable. It means having a serious conversation with your children. You can even sing a bit of the Rolling Stones:
No, you can't always get what you want You can't always get what you want You can't always get what you want But if you try sometime you'll find You get what you need
For us locally, we have Tar Creek which is still not safe for children, but if they walk just a ways they can get what they need at Miami’s Splash Pad. They can get wet with friends and they can help us speak up for the FIX we want for our creek, so we all get what you need.
And one day, we’ll meet you at the creek, for real.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim