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Red River flows quietly north without answering questions

"Jesus keep me near the cross, be my glory ever ... Till my fainting soul shall find rest beyond the river." That's what they were singing in church last Sunday, and my thoughts drifted over to the Red River. It's been a while, I thought, since I...

"Jesus keep me near the cross, be my glory ever ... Till my fainting soul shall find rest beyond the river."

That's what they were singing in church last Sunday, and my thoughts drifted over to the Red River. It's been a while, I thought, since I have talked with the river. It is time, I figured as I heard the last strains of the organ, for me to go over and have a stern visit with the Red. I have gone there often where the river bends below the road into Lincoln Park. And we have talked.

Most of my life, I have lived by a river. In South Dakota, I knew the muddy Missouri quite well. She flowed not far from my childhood home in Pierre. And she was there near me flowing ever toward the Mississippi when I was a student at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. I need a river. It's a place to stand, or sit, and commune with nature.

So, I said to the Red, the other day, "Chill out." There was a little ripple. I said, "You have been in the news for weeks, and you have not endeared yourself to the people upstream at Fargo. You have scared the living daylights out of them again. You have been absolutely lousy surrounding those poor people in Oslo, Minn. And now you are throwing an almost annual scare into Drayton and maybe Pembina, N.D.

"Can't you just flow north, no matter how early it is, and empty out beyond Winnipeg? Go peacefully to Hudson Bay. You know by now that the diversion system they have up there is too much for you to handle. You know that you are no match for our dikes around Grand Forks. Oh, I know, you get in your digs when you hit those people south of town, out by the Country Club.

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"You need to pay a little respect to the Greenway here in Grand Forks. It adds so much glamour to your path through our cities," I said to the Red.

"Yes, I know we expect the impossible of you, Red," I said. "We expect you to thread a needle as you go through our towns. And it was our ancestors and early settlers who chose this land. You attracted the fur traders. You were here to carry steamboats with people and goods when this land was settled. And you have drained our lands and given us water for hundreds of years.

"Oh, by the way," I said, "I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you sort of smell lately. You don't taste too good, either. I guess it's a natural springtime thing.

"I suppose you have noticed," I said to the Red River, "that the sandbags they are putting out nowadays are bigger and better than the gunny sacks they had in years gone by. I know that in the early days, the settlers just let you flood their basements and they waited for you to move on.

"You do have a checkered past. You have taken your toll of people from drowning. Sometimes the swimmers were foolish. Sometimes you were wicked. I guess there needs to be mutual respect. Nobody should even think of swimming in you because you have those treacherous undercurrents," I said. And then I started to walk away.

"Oh, sure, you are OK for catfish, and they are already making plans for Catfish Days this summer," I said. "I know the sled dogs loved their trails along your shores last month. If I were a Boy Scout, I would go on one of those canoe trips. They say you sort of swiggle back and forth, making many miles.

"I've got to go now," I said to the Red. "I have to check on my lift station on the corner of 15th Avenue South and Belmont Road. I'll bet you are glad we no longer dump our sewage directly into your banks. We have come a long way together. Maybe sometime this summer I will get someone with a guitar and we will sit on that bench along the biking trail in Lincoln Park. We will sing about the Red River Valley. And I have evidence it was written about you -- not that other Red River in Texas.

"So long, Red," I said.

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Reach Marilyn Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.net or by telephone at (701) 772-1955.

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