Write to the River is a creative writing project to inspire artistic engagement with our river environment. Our next photo prompt and call for submissions will be included in our January "Mississippi Messages."
We are delighted to offer this special Write to the River edition featuring student writing from the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley.
A very special thanks to our young writers who contributed the works below, not to mention educators Hillary Wackman and Kim Colburn-Lindell for working with our next generation of environmental and river stewards.
These students' well-observed writing captures the connections between all living beings and the beauty of our watery landscapes.
The brook speaks a fluid language, one a passerby would not comprehend if they didn’t truly listen. But the trees are listening; they whisper soliloquies in response. The brook chatters about renewal as he hugs the curves of the mossy banks, soaking the soil for the plethora of plants. To an outsider the scene would seem serene, but nature is screaming here. She loves to share her stories and sentiments through babbling brooks and rambling rivers; Her children of water carry her legends and narratives.
His body ebbs and flows, gliding across slick mossy stones. His hands turn over sticks and carry leaves gently over his figure. But the water is not just kinetic, he is stagnant, pooling below the fallen tree I am resting on. His silvery soul curls and eddies against the log. It is here, I think nature is trying to tell me about death; the fluidity and journey of life coming to an end. Most humans avoid the topic of mortality but nature and her children embrace it. Here by the brook it is autumn and leaves rot by the hundreds. Being with nature without thinking about our existence seems impossible to me. We’re born, be, and then we’re gone. To us it often seems long, but to nature it is nothing but a yawn.
The wind has picked up now; the brook is less silky, his bones become rigid. Despite his quickened flow, he still connects with the pond the same as before. Life is like that; we all travel through life with gales or breezes, but in the end we all reach the same place.
The brook has said all of this, but if I simply walked past I never would have heard his call.
By Abbigale Maide
With the water like a mirror it reflects the sky,
Set aflame by the sunset,
It brings forth memories,
The water is neither good nor bad because of this,
It simply reflects the past to you,
It reminds you of the connection between all living things,
For a tree and a human aren’t that different,
We both need the water,
We are shells without it,
The water is a mirror that reflects both the flaws and the perfection of life.
By Rebecca Teuber
The River that flows both ways,
A never-ending cycle of constant movement,
The beginning and end,
Yin and Yang,
Salt and fresh,
Polluted in the past,
Clean in the future,
Sailing along the shore,
Wind dancing in people’s hair,
The beauty of the trees around,
Slowly turning as the change begins,
The death that’s needed for the new to begin,
Why does it create such serenity and peace?
The cool calming sense of the water,
Telling you it’s going to be ok,
That as long as the river flows,
The world flows,
The American eels come in waves,
The bald eagle,
All find peace in this beautiful river,
The calm chaos of the Adirondack Mountains,
Starting at Lake Tear of the Clouds,
Feeds into the calculated energetic chaos of the city,
Ending at the Atlantic Ocean,
Salt to fresh,
Fresh to salt,
Like switchbacks on a mountain,
The liminality of renewal,
By Eden Bruening
Along the water's edge,
One world meets another
Learning to coexist.
I see the joy of the trees who soak up the summer sun
While the squirrels scurry quickly across the ground floor
To climb the tree they call home.
Every life here is unique,
Every life here is beautiful.
The fish swim and jump for joy out of the water whose powerful presence
Gives so many a place to thrive.
We coexist in a melodic harmony.
Using each other’s resources to find new ways to not only survive, but live.
I run to the water’s edge eager to dip a toe into this magnificent substance.
Unable to control the fascination I find for it given to me by my father.
As my head submerged beneath the surface I feel the new world surrounding me.
Somewhere I can only dream of being.
As I return to the surface and take a deep meaningful breath of the air I breathe I just think. How different we are,
Yet how alike we can be.
I climb out of this foreign place and back onto the world I know.
Turning back, looking out at this lake that has taught me so much.
Thank you, is all I can think as I turn my back to the shore,
And I make my leave from the water’s edge.
By Malia Glenn
Wishing I could be
Staying in one place for all my life
Never moving, never seeing
Begging the gods to make me move
To be free as a bird
Wishing I could be the Mississippi
Always having the rushing trill of life
Whipping through my airy waters
Longing to be set in one place
To be a statue
Wishing I could be Thomas
Having to live with all the seasons
Winter, having everything still and quiet
Spring, blooming and thriving
Summer, having outsiders splash around in my waters
Fall, where everything dies
See what I have to deal with Mississippi
You are lucky Superior
I have to deal with all the seasons in one day
frigid cold in Minnesota to the blazing heat in the gulf
Surging energy flowing through me all the time
Yearning for a break
See what I have to deal with Thomas
I have to deal with watershed
I have to deal with pollution
I have to deal with high phosphate levels
See Mississippi I have problems
I have to deal with pollution
Just like you
See we have some of the same problems
Why am I not good enough to be a river?
For all my life I have been a lake
I want to be a river
To be free
Why am I not good enough to be a lake?
For all my life I have been a river
I want to be a lake
To be still
But look at us we are beautiful
By Nicole Cook
Birch Pond’s water is gently flowing.
When the wind blows across it, causing the clear liquid to ripple.
Inside dead leaves are submerged and look as if they are drowning.
The pond is growing, slowly but surely, trying to make its size triple.
The Vermillion River’s water is flowing, fast and steady, never truly resting.
The wet earth around it is being slowly carved by the rushing water.
Over time the river will change coarse and begin meandering.
The river never questions where it is going, like a hopeless wanderer.
The area around the pond, smells damp like a musty old house.
The wind blows through the tree branches and the autumn colored leaves.
There a few people talking, other than that you could not even hear a mouse.
As the wind blows it makes one’s skin cold as ice, stealing warmth, like common thieves.
The air around the river, is damp and cold, due to the recent rainfall.
The wind blows gently and makes one’s skin feel cool.
It is so quiet that one could hear a pin drop, or a distant bird call.
The air may be cold, though there is no need to bundle up in wool.
The trees around the pond look as if stuck between the fine line of life and death.
The leaves underfoot are damp and lifeless, being broken down by small insects and bacteria.
The dead leaves on the ground are blown in every which way, with the wind’s breath.
Some leaves are forced into the water by the wind, in a drawn-out hysteria.
Around the river, fallen tree limbs lay still on the ground like a corpse.
The tree limbs in the water reach out, as if begging to be saved from its watery prison.
The tall grass that surrounds the body of water, looks as if reaching for some unknown force.
Not knowing what lies ahead, never sure when it’s road will end, it travels into the unknown.
By Shelby Meaden
taking kindness yearly.
This entrance is open to all
Only a few can find it
The trees protect the descending staircase
The climb up seems to never end because of how the colors envelope me in a hug that I don’t want to let go
I feel too safe to let go
It's hard to let go
Steps made out of wood and gently placed in a messy fashion
Reminds me of my grandmother's staircase that leads you to what was once a roaring river right in her backyard
Made out of concrete, it’s easy to follow
Lead me to Birch Pond
Walk along the sidewalk all the way down to the edge of the ponds silent dancing ripples
Lazy logs sleep neatly in their pile
A rush of wind kisses my face
Small white flowers announce their presence among the calm shades of green
I sit and feel the crisp air
The Vermillion River runs smooth, racing towards what she hopes are new beginnings
Autumn dances through its falling leaves, Winter creeps its way with subtle frost sprinkled on top of the grass
A snow goose waddles happy, takes flight. Flying to a warmer location on our globe
It’ll come back when the leaves on the floor are gone and the trees have decorated themselves in different greens once more
Plants hug each other as the cold makes them discouraged to keep going
They must say goodbye first before they can say hello again
Birch Pond on the other hand
Water doesn’t have a destination here
Soft ripples and a gentle voice
Water sits and sings to me in a small voice
Leaves rustle. Debating about who should meet the ground first
Knowing it’ll all be gone
Snow will arrive and take its place
Ice will nest
I will miss the colors
White is beautiful
But a color palette sometimes pleases more
Adjusting to what is new can be hard
Don’t mistake being satisfied as being happy
She seems to always be happy
Running and running
Not giving up and having to leave an imprint on us all year round
We won’t forget her
We can’t forget her
Everything surrounding them says their goodbyes
Ready to be buried and reborn
It's hard to let go
But we all must
The trees greet the bright sky and I wave goodbye to the scene that I don’t want to let go
By Maria Romero
Le Sueur River
You are a small line in the earth's crust near the borders of Mankato
A little river bordered by little towns
A testament to the resilience of water even when shifted and shaped by humans,
Pushed into corners or paved and pruned.
Treated as if you aren’t alive yourself,
As if you, who has lived in this place long before people, and will live after them, are worthless.
How is that, to flow and not to struggle for it?
Or do you flow because you struggle?
You yourself are a poison on the land,
Dumping mud and silt into the Minnesota River.
A nuisance to the people on your borders
Eroding the boundaries of your home
Flooding basements and fields, carving out paths you weren’t meant to follow
It's not your fault you know, you did not ask for this, to be poisoned
You have existed before and will exist beyond
There are others, in moments of stillness,
LeMay, is, like you,
Sick, full of phosphorus, to live in it is a struggle
After rain the coontail grows and fills the lake,
Then it dies and the lake is empty
It must be strange to be surrounded by life, and yet lack so much life inside yourself,
The Le Sueur, with farmland
And LeMay with people and buildings and business, parking lots and playgrounds,
Progress to some, rivers would know progress,
Progress is in the ways that rivers continue to flow and push
Progress is in the ways that towns find themselves along the banks of rivers, gathering energy and life from the rivers
Not all rivers are made equal,
Some, like the Mississippi, are broad and long,
Flowing all the way from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico,
Others are just little streams trickling through the deciduous forests that speckle the Minnesota landscape
Running from pond to pond to lake and back again
By Elsie Porter
Sitting outside on this frigid autumn morning,
Everything slowly waking up around me.
Few birds sing,
My mind only consumed with the river’s voice,
Loud, but calming.
The water rushing through river allowing me to think clearly,
Drowning out the business of everyday life.
A sense of relief I didn’t know I needed.
I take everything in,
Noticing everywhere around me,
The ground is being hugged by the impersonator of snow.
Being hugged by a relative that they don’t know,
they say they’ve known you since you were born,
The crystals cover everything on the ground,
Not the trees and rocks,
They go unharmed.
The impersonator likes to play games,
The grass hunted in the game of freeze tag
Running with the wind but they caught them.
Frozen in time,
Trapping them in their spot.
The morning continues,
the grass waits patiently,
Waiting for their teammate to thaw them,
I want to be tagged,
To be still,
Why is it that everyone wants to be in the current of the river?
Running from one thing to another,
constantly flowing until the end of time.
Is that what success means?
To be busy,
To have no time for anyone or even yourself,
You’ve been tagged,
Let the river take your worries with them while you stand still
Don’t let the current drift you away.
Who needs to be tagged?
Return the favor,
Come back for me,
I’ll be in the current.
By Emma Schelonka
No path more strong
Than raging brown,
Than rapid-wrecked Mekong
It sees no sleep
To ever keep
The roaring as it’s song.
The secrets hiding
With the deep
Have monstrous mind of own
And those who pry
Will have to die
As many things have shown.
But within death
There’s always life
The Rage is no different
For decades long
Gifts, given strong,
To her people are sent.
The gifts of sustenance,
Are taken with respect
And those who see
No reas’n to flee
She wills to e’er protect
With water brown
And monsters deep
This river’s rather sweet
It’s rapids roar
With chaos at its feet.
And on the other
Side of all
There’s water not so strong
But filled with peace,
Vibe soft as fleece
It’s sat still for so long
The lily pads
They bob and float
Like vessel in a gale
But more, I say,
In graceful way
Like well a solemn whale
And when the sun
Begins to fall
The lake, mirror will be
The peaceful rage
Will turn a page
Reflecting birds, so free
This water, glassy,
Is ever loved by few
Though name unknown,
By few winds blown
It stays a treasure true
By Lia Hayes
Schultz Lake 9/13
Our walk here was calming. We approached a birch tree with six grand branches welcoming us. We reach the water's edge and realize it’s the perfect spot to observe. The vegetation was dense, plenty of different species to tell us how this ecosystem was thriving. Wondering far enough from civilization we are able to get a sense of how water quality, and water organisms play such a big role in our lives.
Wakan Trip 10/1
The mountains that sit proudly on top of the hill are used to resemble the bellies of pregnant mothers who are formed by the dead spirits of their ancestors. They are all in line, or in sync with each other. Here they are able to connect life and death into something with the greater purpose. They look over this hill and shadow over the pools below. The pools which contain the water spirit that warmly welcome new life into the world. And here, in this water we start again.
Wakan Trip 10/1
We walked past the cave that has been gated off from the outside world. Something so sacred, something that resembles the birth of something new. We are near the welcoming point, the pond that welcomes life. We have chosen to close this off and forget the history that this small section of land, and water holds.
Vermillion River 10/1
We always think of the larger organisms, such as fish or turtles. But we are so unaware of the micro life that coexists with us. This moving water is home to millions of creatures we overlook in our lives. When in reality they are the source, building blocks for any strong ecosystem.
October Birch Pond 10/23
The trees leaves are such vibrant colors. The reflection mirrors off the clear blue water below. Hardly no wind is present here in the tree cover, showing no motion in the powerful water. This moment I found myself in creates a tranquil environment for me, and to the unseen creatures crawling all around me.
Thomas Lake Park 10/25
Looking across this body of water you can sense the power that it holds. Even on what seems like such a calm day we are able to see how one gust of wind can add to the speeds of the water surface holds. The leaves glide across this glassy surface with years. You can feel the change of seasons in the air. The crisp feeling is the changing of our beloved fall to winter.
The water has always been a special place. It has been a place that lets me exercise, relax, think and make value memories. From the beginning I was destined to be a water child. My dad has always been fascinated with water, thought there was nothing better. So I had the privilege of spending quite a lot of my childhood along its edge. Up north I have a place of my own on a little lake called Blueberry Lake. So far into the woods that nature is the only place you can go. I’ve spent endless hours just staring at its glossed over surface wondering how the mystical world underneath is so different from ours. While I am not able to see their world clearly I do use their home in my own way. I do as many things on the water as I can. Whether that be inner tubing, swimming, kayaking, jumping on a lilypad or using our boat and stand up paddleboards. So many memories come from the most basic of activities all thanks to the magical powers of a body of water. One memory I remember clearly was this last July. I have never been super close with my extended family, just occasional meetups for holidays. But one day we all decided to meet up at my little place of paradise. That day I felt connected to them in a way I haven’t before. We spent hours in the water, using my giant lily pad to lay out and enjoy the sun's rays. We couldn’t feel anything but joy. Endlessly splashing in the bright blue water, smiles bigger than the sun itself. This day stood out to me because it lets me connect the relationships of nature to the relationships in my own life. How the trees need the sun to be happy and the fish need the water to play in. I saw my life wasn't different. I needed my family to smile the way I do. How I need that escape with people who I love to get my own playtime. Everything is connected to each other and my little slice of paradise created that for me and my family over the years I have spent along Blueberry Lake’s water edge.
Photo and prose by Malia Glenn
Falling in the River
The bubbling brook flows peacefully
laughing as it stumbles over the stones and twigs in its path
The water is joyful as it travels down from mountain top valleys
It mesmerized me
I was pulled to the river
As I slowly step in
A frigid chill travels down my spine
The water is cold as sin
I slip and fall
The water swallows me whole
Suddenly I’m submerged
I feel so cold
I am alone…
Trapped in the water,
the outlook is grim
My body goes numb
I can’t feel my own limbs
With a final effort
I breach the surface
Gasping for air
The river almost stole my life
But it is not to blame
Life begins and ends here
It is an endless refrain
By Madilynn Lyford