Last week's Memorial Day bike trip along the Mississippi from St. Louis to Quincy inspired me to pick up Chad Pregracke's book From the Bottom Up: One Man's Crusade to Clean America's Rivers(2007) off my bookshelf.
The author was in Chicago several years ago to promote the book, published by National Geographic, and talk about his lifelong project to clean trash from the great rivers of the Midwest.
The book tells the long adventure of how Pregracke formed the organization Living Lands and Waters to collect refuse, plant trees and educate the public about rivers. From his early experiences growing up swimming and boating on the Mississippi, the teenage Pregracke is inspired to spend a day cleaning up unsightly debris on the shoreline. Local businesses and neighbors take an interest and lend support to his DIY efforts, setting him off on a quest to build an organization and a fleet of garbage collection barges roaming rivers near and far to gather industrial flotsam and jetsam marring the shoreline.
Pegracke's enthusiasm for his mission comes across well in the book. The ups and downs of working on the muddy river and navigating fundraising meetings are buoyed by his single-minded desire to improve the great river. Perhaps the prose of the tale rarely strays from the main channel to explore tiny tributary tales, or steps back to examine the bigger picture, but instead the story drives steadily on as the organization faces challenges and successes each year. Indeed in the last chapters the team of river cleaners often find it difficult to find the garbage along river banks they've cleaned repeatedly in previous years. Will they soon find themselves out of a job? Forays into rivers of the urban East Coast uncover vast new bodies of waterlogged refuse for the energetic volunteers, waiting just around the bend!