Any river is really the summation of the whole valley. To think of it as nothing but water is to ignore the greater part. — Hal Borland
I am sure there are some great stories of what the St Joseph River has historically meant to South Bend. In fact, I am pretty sure the city is only here because of the River. But my love for the city has to do with what the St. Joseph River is today -- what it means to our city, to me, and to my children. The River has become central to the story of what South Bend means to us.
Here are some of my favorite things:
Wildlife in the Urban Context
I live in the middle of a neighborhood that has its challenges. We are an urban community, in the heart of our city, with occasional gun and drug problems. And yet, just this summer, my daughters were overcome with the giggles to see our fence trampled by two deer that found themselves trapped in our backyard as they wandered the several blocks down from the River. It's a really strange feeling to feel so intimately connected to city life, and yet see the beauty of God's natural creation. Several times a year, my children get to see groups of deer or foxes travel up and down the streets of my neighborhood seeking wooded areas close to the River, and it is magnificent!
Swimming & Kayaking
Call me old fashioned, but there is something really special about living in the city, but being able to walk down the street and take a swim in the River. My kids and my chocolate lab love our swim sessions in the summer. The River is special in ways that swimming pools and splash pads can never be. And being able to paddle to church with our friend Sam Lima (like freaking pioneers!) will be a memory my kids will take into adulthood.
(paddling to Church with our friends Bryant & Sam - photo by Sam)
Again, in a world and a Church that have lost authenticity, I love the Keller Park Church ability to be able to walk down to the River after service and Baptize in the natural waters! This year marked our second group service at the river landing just down the street.
(KPC Baptism 2015 - photo by Sam Lima)
The Riverside Trail
About 7 years ago, the City cleared the banks of the St. Joseph and built a walking and biking trail along Riverside Drive near where I live. It is probably the single greatest thing the City has done to improve my love for this City. It provides beauty, community interaction, and an outlet for family activities and exercise.
(Riverside Trail across from Keller Park)
The East Race
South Bend's East Race is the first thing that caught my attention about the City. When I arrived as a Bethel College freshman, I was captivated by the rushing waters of the kayak course and river dam. I've spent many nights with friends walking around, biking, or just sitting by the rushing water. I'm convinced its beauty even made my wife fall in love with me (I needed some serious help)!
(St. Joseph River dam, next to the East Race - source unknown)
South Bend River Lights
Just this year (2015), South Bend commissioned the River Lights project. It's a gorgeous, interactive light display. As much as the original falls captivated Robin and I, the lights have captivated the hearts of our daughters.
(River Lights - source unknown)
So, yeah, I love this River. It is a part of the story of our City, the story of my marriage, and will shape the story of Kali & Sophie's childhood.
Who would have thought we could have BOTH the best of God's natural beauty AND the amazing community life of our City?!