Photo by UIC Digital Collections

Yesterday was Earth Day! How did you celebrate?

Here at the office, we’re also celebrating the release of “I Believed Every Word” with the release reading at the Goodman Theatre (170 N. Dearborn) from 6–8:30 p.m. TONIGHT. All attendees will receive a free copy of the journal and get a chance to hear writers read their work.

One of the pieces being published is Helena Marie Carnes-Jeffries “Along the Shores of the Acidic River.” Similar to Jill Charles’s piece “Jarvis Beach,” Helena’s piece shows her love of the beauty and adventure of the Chicago River, despite its polluted state, while still making clear the desperate need to clean and revitalize the river. Jill and Helena’s messages are important ones to think about for Earth Day— by showing us how nature can be beautiful and meaningful even when damaged, we can more respect for its resilience and power. .

If Helena’s story about her magical childhood experiences along the “acidic river” inspires you take action to ensure that experience for every child (perhaps without fears of battery acid) today is a great day to start! On Saturday, May 12th, the Friends of the Chicago River will celebrate the 20th annual Chicago River Day. In honor of the twentieth anniversary of the event, the organization is also hosting Chicago River Day 20/20, a twenty day celebration of the Chicago River leading up to May 12th. The countdown starts today!

Helena Marie Carnes-Jeffries

As children, my older brother and I used to walk along the shores of the Chicago River, pretending to be great explorers and adventurers. We would go to Horner Park, located near Irving Park Road and California Avenue, and crawl under the gap in a chain-link fence that ran along an overgrowth of trees and bordered the edge of a large field.

We walked along the incline where the trees grew slanted, and we passed under dirty old bridges, listening to the rumble of the passing cars overhead.

“There are monsters down here,” my brother would say. “We have to be careful not to wake them up!”

We would struggle along the slopes with our dirty gym shoes, sometimes using large tree branches as walking sticks. As urban children of a great sprawling metropolis, we would pretend that we were out in the country. I always felt closer to God when I was in nature, and oftentimes felt lost among the tall city buildings and cement sidewalks of Chicago.

My brother would tell me stories about how the river was composed of battery acid. “Don’t fall in the water,” he would say. “You’ll burn to death! Sizzle!”

Sometimes I would slip on the slope and gravity would propel me forward toward the water’s edge. I would scream like a wild banshee and desperately try to stop my fall by putting my feet out to stop on one of the trees.

On one particular day, I was not able to stop myself from reaching the water. I yelled loudly as my feet landed in the river, with the rest of me lying on ground, looking at the overhanging branches above. I kept waiting for the burn, the sizzle that would tell me that my feet were now gone. It never came.

“Ha, ha, ha!” my brother laughed as he gave me a hand and helped me up. My feet and the bottom part of my pants legs looked like something ungodly, all covered in muck.

“Wow,” I muttered.

Later on, beyond the chain-link fence, back in Horner Park, we headed toward the play lot. We sat on the side and watched the setting sun. My brother pulled out his camera, held up a single Dorito chip against the darkening sky, and took a picture. It was a glowing orange triangle, a badge symbolizing my survival along the rough shores of the Chicago River.

My brother and I headed on home, me blushing shyly at the embarrassing spectacle of my muddy feet. “God, I hope the other kids don’t stare and laugh at me! But I will continue to hold my head up high; I survived. I survived…”

At home, mother serves dinner: canned green beans, warmed up, and Ia scoop of watery mac and cheese. She goes back to watching the news, oblivious to our little hiking adventure.

“Mom,” I say, tugging on her sleeve. She points to the TV. “Ah ah ah,” she squawks. “I’m watching the news!”

My older brother smiles before going to the TV in the other room and clicking on the Nintendo. Soon we are lost in a game of Super Mario Brothers. I wonder what I love more, getting lost on the virtual mushroom tops and disappearing down big green pipes or walking along the shores of the Acidic River. I think of the bubbling battery acid water and wonder why the hell it didn’t burn me anyway. I sigh, this urban child, I, looking forward to another mystical adventure.