Home by the Water (essay)

In honor of publishing the 2017 Spirit of the Water Essay Contest, the Iowa Water Center staff have decided to join in and answer the chosen essay prompt for the contest.

This year, the prompt was: Think of a body of water that you are familiar with and the different kinds of benefits that it provides to the surrounding area. Why are places like that worth protecting?

Left Clockwise: Mississippi River in Davenport, IA; Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, IA; and West Lake Park in Davenport, IA. Photos by Amy Zank.

Home by the Water

Story submitted by Melissa Miller, Associate Director for the Iowa Water Center

The night before I left my hometown for my freshman year of college, I told my parents I was going for one last drive around town. I toured the familiar streets of my neighborhood, cruised past the busy big box store corridor where I’d held a couple of part-time jobs, then made my way down to the riverfront to say goodbye to the Mighty Mississippi. Growing up in a river town, it’s no surprise that water shaped my childhood.

For the first ten years of my life, I lived on a dead-end street that backed up to a stream. We weren’t supposed to play in the creek, but with my parents at work, an older brother and sister, and a neighborhood full of kids our ages, I spent a lot of summer days in and around that water. It was shallow enough for a six year old to splash around without fear, but deep enough to examine peculiar aquatic creatures and concoct creative means for catching small fish. The rest of the year, Candlelight Creek guided me home from school each day.

My fond childhood memories of water don’t stop at the end of the creek. Even as a city kid, I knew how to bait a hook by the time I was in kindergarten. My grandpa would take us to West Lake Park out at the edge of town and we’d catch bluegill and crawdads all day long. We feared the day we would be old enough to need a fishing license and worried Grandpa wouldn’t want to take us anymore if it cost money.

I never fished in the Mississippi, but I’ve always been drawn to it for reasons I didn’t try to understand. We watched minor league baseball at John O’Donnell Stadium (now called Modern Woodman Park, but old habits die heard); listened to concerts at the bandshell in LeClaire Park; took prom pictures with the Centennial Bridge in the background; worshiped at sunrise service near the banks on Easter morning; cycled along its shores on the bike path; admired (okay, envied) the historic mansions on River Drive. Those are all things you can do just about anywhere – but the river just makes everything better.

There are lots of reasons to protect the Mississippi River, West Lake, and Candlelight Creek – commerce, transportation, recreation, habitat and ecosystem preservation, to name a few – but my reason for protecting the water is simple. Water is home.

Not too far from the farm where I live now runs the South Fork of the Iowa River. I hope my daughters know the joy of wading to a sand bar hoping to discover wildlife and the comfort of setting up camp on the banks to sit in the peace of their surroundings. I hope on the night before they leave their childhood home to set off on a new adventure, they tell me, “Mom, I’m going to the river.” In the meantime, I’ll do all I can to protect the water, our home.