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2018-04-11 / Columnists

Just Bill

It’s Good to Have a Boat When You’re Near a River
Musings from the Mind of Bill Diem

In January, the river Seine flooded, rising about 15 feet above its usual level. In Paris, that meant the walkways, roads and quais (embankments) were covered, but the bridges were all okay.

The boats that take tourists around were moored safely. They couldn’t get under the bridges, so for more than a month people found something else to do.

Where I live the river flooded three feet of muddy water into the basement parking garage under our building, and the owners of about 100 cars had to find new parking places on the street. With the water, and then the cleanup, it lasted about seven weeks.

Winter was long and rainy, but it has finally turned nice, and last weekend two-dozen men and women from our village spent a long afternoon cleaning up the edge of the river.

Everyone has probably heard of the plastic sack problem in the ocean. The trees and bushes along the Seine in front of our apartment building kept thousands of them from reaching the ocean. And when the water receded, all that trash was hanging on branches in front of us.

About half the people wore boots and carried big plastic garbage bags along the Seine. The trash was everywhere, as the water was.

But the edge of the river here is a very steep slope, and willow trees and others grow out of the water now as erosion changes the shoreline. So the most visible trash is impossible to reach, except from a boat. Other volunteers crowded into five small boats, including mine, to clean up about 300 yards of shoreline.

A friend who lives on a houseboat in the river organized the event, and he had a relationship with the village and a charity that does cleanup from time to time, so he provided tools, trash bags and gloves. I put up signs in our apartment building offering the opportunity to get dirty while cleaning up the river.

Luc and Ludivic, two tall guys from my building, showed up to help, and I asked them to join me because, being tall, they could reach most of the highest bags in the branches without tools.

In five hours we had the boat full, five big trash bags at our feet, and there was not a spot that was not mud brown. After our end-of-theoperation glass of wine or orange juice, I spent 90 minutes cleaning.

My steel boat used to be the little thing carried on a big river barge in case someone needed to run ashore where there was no port. It’s something like a typical old-fashioned fishing boat on the Manistique Lakes.

About 15 feet long, it’s powered by a 3.3-horse Mercury two-stroke. I call her Kemi, after my granddaughter. When people asked me where I am from in the States, I tell them Michigan, surrounded by the Great Lakes. Having a boat is part of my culture.

I am glad that the Kemi and I were able to help.

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