The Clean Sweep: "Becoming Scavengers"

"Becoming Scavengers" - Shift 7 of the Big Muddy Clean Sweep

Glasgow Boat Ramp, Skyline Materials, and Camp @ Jameson Island - Saturday, 9/25 - Thursday, 9/30/2021

By Laura Semken, Volunteer


  • 9/25- cleanup in Glasgow canceled, moved camp to Jameson Island! Barb and Stuart Elmore brought us dinner
  • 9/26- cleaned up at mouth of ephemerals at the top of the old silted in Jameson Chute… windy!
  • 9/27- cleanup.. 51 bags, daisy chaining it up the hill. County road 319’s trash.. Laura and Alyssa floating out in the current with floaties found on the river
  • 9/28- Anna Deka not working.. Steve, Stuart, and David digging out 500 gallon septic tank for 3.5 hours, Kristen Schulte bringing us food!
  • 9/29- pulled 3 refrigerators out of the river downstream from Glasgow, gathered more tires, filled the dump trailer with tires and appliances- celebrated in the evening with twice baked potato feast made by David Owens.
  • 9/30- said goodbye the Jameson Island!

The crew enjoying the sunset on Jameson Island and tasty tortilla casserole provided by Barb and Stuart Elmore. Photo by Steve Schnarr.

Shift Summary:

9/26  The core crew decorated the sand bar for the arrival of the ephemeral crew. I was greeted by creepy dolls. The camp was on a massive sandbar - part of the Jameson Island Unit of the Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge. We spent the day climbing like raccoons over driftwood logs near the top of the old silted in Jameson Chute. Our prize was pockets of plastic placed by a receding river. Our efforts were rewarded by a delicious Dutch oven chili topped with cornbread created by David Owens. While waiting for our bellies to be sated, Matt, Alyssa and I explored the exposed wing dike, looking for evidence of forests filled with other cultures- petrified wood and arrowheads. Evidence of life over time, much vaster than our age marked by fossil fuels. We sat in witness to our understanding of alternatives, our recognition of consequences and seeking consensus for a peaceful future for humans on earth, each of us scavenging in our souls for a way forward.

9/27 Turkey vultures were awake, drifting at sunrise, testimony to a windy morning. First one at 6:55 am, then 2, now 3 and 4 by 6:57 am. Are they spying on us? Do they recognize kindred spirits camping on the island? In our scavenger hearts, are we related? By cleaning up our decomposing civilization, are we helping stop the spread of disease? By 7:00 am I count 11 Turkey Vultures enjoying the early morning air currents.

Banjo relaxing on the "sacrifice rock" that sat right on top of the nearby dike. In the background, the crew is chatting in the camp kitchen while fueling up for the day to come. Photo by Laura Semken.

After coffee and stretching by the fire I gave a creaky intake of breath and stood up slowly saying, “Okay, ready”. This prompted Kevin to give a mellow cheer, “Ready, Okay…My name is Kevin and I’m here to say, let’s go pick up some trash today!”. The bottomland forest across from Jameson Island rewarded us with shade and solitude while we scavenged for plastic and other items that did not belong.

By lunch, we had 51 bags of debris to daisy chain up the hill to the dumpster that was placed at Skyline Materials, about 7 miles from camp.

That afternoon the Turkey Vultures witnessed Alyssa and I enjoying water currents on floaties found in the river. Ollie (Steve Olson) made us a wholesome vegetable pasta for dinner. Melanie helped us understand the magical tapestry of stars and planets.

The day was marked with joy: joy in working together, joy in playing together, joy in seeing life on the river, joy in following the spiral of the earth’s rotation by gazing at the stars.

9/28 The first nature surprise of the day: when I sat down in front of my tent to greet the dawn, 2 little peeps (small sandpipers) flushed from beneath the sand ledge. They find sustenance in the mud flats, bathe in the shallow pools, run with excitement in search of delicious morsels. And their call is like bells tinkling with merriment. Such wondrous little fluff balls.

Divide and conquer was our gift to the river today: Steve, Stuart, and David dug out a 500 gallon septic tank for 3.5 hours while another crew hauled trash, explored new sites, and scavenged around a wrecked sand barge. We found many balls of varying size and a handmade whale cane topper replete with a small marble in the mouth. Really cool! The third crew had the sad task of removing the Anna Deka from her river charge. She became ill and needed some R and R.

Steve Olson (left) and Stuart Elmore (right) removing the 500-gallon septic tank. Photo by David Owens.

Later that day the Turkey Vultures witnessed a baseball game. First base was a log, second base another log, third base was the poop tent, and home was a pile of scavenged balls.

Dinner was a delightful gift from Kristen Schulte, MRR's Education Director: red lentil curry, naan, salad and wine. A feast for angels devoured by scavengers.

A sense of urgency, almost desperation, fuels our acts to help the earth- to mitigate the folly of our actions. Alone we are only as strong as 1 but together, woven like a rope, our strength could forge justice. I am certain that cooperation, working together with unity, is the key to opening a path less destructive.

9/29 We are nine people living on an island for 5 days. Are we here to escape? Or are we here seeking clarity? I believe we can all understand the language of the river, the stars, the birds. We are here to listen but lightness has a call that’s hard to hear. “Closer I am to Fine” from the Indigo Girls was the theme music for my dreams last night. I find clarity in patterns; hearing the crow first, then the Red-shouldered Hawk. A chorus of woodpeckers, robins, kingfisher, killdeer. Then the swallows suddenly come swooping in above us. I hear coyotes howling and yipping every night and Owls in the pre-dawn time. I witness Scorpio set in the evening and Orion rise. I feel Kevin is the North Star and we are the constellations moving in unison on our clean sweep mission.

This mission takes stamina. Today we gathered all the rest of our hauls and ferried it to fill the trailer and the dumpster. We pulled 3 more refrigerators out of the river downstream from Glasgow and drop kicked one out of a tree. Stuart speared a freezer with a hay hook and we drug it to shore. In all the ferrying we spotted more tires and rescued the river from their nastiness. We celebrated this grand feeling of collective accomplishment with a feast of twice baked potatoes lovingly prepared by David Owens.

9/30 Last morning of shift 7.  It’s almost time to break camp. A crew member asks, “What’s for breakfast?” the chef’s retort, “An ode to Jamison Island! Everything must be eaten! The slaves must be freed!” -We devoured Huevos Rancheros ala David Owens.

A rich tapestry of sights, sounds and experiences has been woven this week. In our quest for clarity, we become scavengers. When we are not mimicking Turkey Vultures, we are seeking other treasures in the wing dikes. Alyssa finds remnants of recent human activity, a time marked by the absence of plastic. The glass she seeks has been carved by the artful energy of time, weather and the river. A reminder that what we cast away can become part of the earth once again without harm. Matt finds arrowheads and other remnants of more distant human activity- a reminder of when human civilization valued our forests, prairies and wetlands differently- a connection that tethers his soul to the river. I seek fossils and petrified wood, comforted by their story of tenacity and longevity.

There are so many “best” moments this week. I loved learning from each gifted crew member- each beautiful adaptation for survival: eating delicious campfire recipes, teaching cartwheels, swimming in the river like otters, lifting refrigerators. I was able to ask for other best moments before returning to land; Melanie loved being able to see the stars again and bathe in the river, Kevin loved walking in the woods of the Big Muddy Refuge, David loved the taco casserole brought by Stuart and his wife on his 1st night after paddling to camp. Each of us share in the wealth of the river community and each are compelled to give love back to the river. May we continue to scavenge for clarity among the ruins of our civilization and emerge transformed.

Stretch Results:

  • Miles: mm 225 – mm 213 (12 miles)
  • Volunteers:
    • Shift crew: 9
  • Trash:
    • Bags: 86
    • Tires: 23
    • Refrigerators: 4
    • Other finds: 500-gallon septic tank, 1000 L squarre water tank, door, bread crate, milk crate, sheet of tempered glass, wheel barrow, 2 sleds, kid's slide, pool lining, bowling ball, motorcycle helmet, 5 chunks of Styrofoam, 6 mineral tubs, 2 coolers, pool ladder

Breakfast of Champions. What a typical morning looked like for the Clean Sweep crew! Photo by Laura Semken.

Crew Highlight - David Owens

David Owens is a long-time crew member for Missouri River Relief. He is usually the master behind the mic during our Big Muddy Speaker Series, and was previously the executive director of KOPN. He has worked the most hours on the Big Muddy Clean Sweep project alongside the Clean Sweep core crew. For this stretch, David decided to paddle himself and his belongings down to camp, and also when we moved camp down river! He has been a vital part of this project, making many meals for the crew and working tirelessly towards the project's mission. He is the best at always keeping the spirits high! Photo by David Owens.

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