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Off Duty

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Jennifer Little, the gift LEAD Agency got for Christmas arrived early enough to capture the seasons of joy and the stark reality of our environmental risks that impact us. She is a professor at the University of the Pacific and teaches photography and other courses there.

The children's choir sang and at

times we were allowed to sing along. The hometown came alive and mothers held their phones up in anticipation of the moment the lights would come on. I brought a harsh dose of reality to the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony. The Jeep Cherokee was dressed up with her Christmas lights and DON'T FLOOD US signs made perfectly to fit by the professionals in town, while wearing my festive red apron. The apron was packed with the postcards depicting Miami in flood stage. And conveniently pre-addressed to the only federal agency that could protect us from the lake level rise that will doom much of the city in the future floods that will come quicker and harsher. Many people took time and composed messages that evening as we all awaited the magic moment when the lights would be turned on. It was a lovely time. Saturday morning started like many other Saturdays, but the first Saturday of the month can find a transition occurring in Picher, Oklahoma. A disestablished town comes back to life for a brief time and this Saturday brought our DON'T FLOOD US message as both the Grand Riverkeeper and the Tar Creekkeeper lined right up to be part of the story. The floats filled with tiny children were both in front of and behind us and the delightful moment came after what seemed like hours when we began to move forward. Some children on floats were placed in Christmas packages and we had the advantage of seeing their mothers first pack them in with warm blankets. As for mothers, our team this year were mothers and sons. Mine with me and Martin Lively our Grand Riverkeeper with his mother, Lois. We wore our reindeer antlers and tossed all of our peppermint candy canes much too quickly and found ourselves left with only kind wishes and many Merry Christmases as we traveled the length of the parade. Such happy faces, so many friends, and several YES DON'T FLOOD US of recognition rang out as we passed by people who knew exactly why we bore those words. We parked along the road and became the crowd as the rest of the parade passed us by and got to experience the delight of becoming the crowd watching the Picher Homecoming Christmas Parade. What a treasure to be part of and take part in the joy of it. We looped back and caught the tail end of the Quapaw Christmas Parade as most had called it over and stopped to congratulate the Quapaw Environmental Department on their Santa's Workshop float bearing the Netta Street sign that we had lined up beside before the Picher Parade began, right aside the actual Netta Street! All these happy moments allowed me to know that the Miami Christmas Parade was hands off. Enjoy the lights, the floats, and strike up the bands. Even though there is an urgency in stopping the flood waters from coming and coming quicker than ever before, it was out of a great consideration of the right of a City and her people to have some moments of JOY that the ever harbinger of dread failed to show up. It was my privilege to give everyone the night off from a harsh reality, one night, since the reality you live with, the seriousness of place might feel daunting. You have shared much with me during these decades and these memories flood over me. It seems as if I adopted all of you. I grieve with your struggles and celebrate your coming home and the countless occasions of life we have shared. Yet there are wrongs you all have faced and still ride with silently and perhaps not yet grasping the environmental justice site you dwell in and the consequences it has brought to you. The metals that rest in your yards, that float down Tar Creek only to be deposited in your yards, what floats in the air that you breathe is the same as me, but not to the extent. I go home. Over these 45 years, I go off duty when crossing that Neosho bridge and go home to clean air, soil that has no contaminants. Service to this community was not assigned but became a duty. To serve and while allowed, know that then surely, "the future will take care of itself," as Andrew Carnegie would say. I just want to do my part in ensuring the future you get will provide for you and your family a safe, dry place to live. These efforts will continue when Monday comes around and duty calls. It all gets easier with more hands lifting and if you get 'round to it, signing one of those postcards, filling out the flood survey, telling your story. Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

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