The Red River and and Red Lake River literally define Grand Forks. The founders of the settlement situated it at the confluence of these two rivers anticipating that it would become a profitable regional depot for riverboat traffic moving north and south along the Red River. The Red River valley snakes its way across the now-vanished bed of the glacial Lake Agassiz forming a shallow valley through one of the flattest landscapes on earth.
As much as the river has defined the geography of the town of Grand Forks, it has also defined its history. A series of devastating floods in the 19th and 20th century, including the massive and highly destructive flood of 1997, have shaped the character of the community and many in Grand Forks reckon recent time by before and after the flood. Each spring, the town turns its eyes to the rising flood waters and the newly constructed flood walls. This spring, the flood hit 48 feet, but this remained well below the top of our 60 foot flood walls.
One of my favorite things is to walk along the edge of the receding flood waters. It forms a temporary beach wrack where debris pools and is stranded by the receding water.
The retreating waters leave behind lines of debris on tiny ridges marking the maximum extent of the flood.
Like the coast wrack in Norway described by Þóra Pétursdóttir in her 2017 article in Archaeological Dialogues, “Climate change? Archaeology and Anthropocene” (24, 175-205), the waters of the Red River leave behind of their journey along the Minnesota and North Dakota border. Some of the debris redistributed is clearly local like the blue bags filled with dog shit that people use to keep the trails tidy.
The river excavates and shifts subtly objects dropped on the golf course that stretches along the wet side of the flood wall.
The river also returned our love of plastic water bottles, aluminum soda and beer cans, and styrofoam and plastic cups.
It also reminds us how much we use styrofoam forms, extruded polystyrene, and other plastic objects – like PVC pipe – that float along on the river’s current until it drops this unintended cargo at random ports.
Over the last few years, I’ve been working along the banks of the Inachos River in the Western Argolid. Unlike the Red, the Mediterranean Inachos River is primarily a seasonal torrent that cuts deeply through the rocky landscape.
Like the Red River, the Inachos also carries trash during its seasonal romps through the Argive countryside. In fact, the force of the Inachos is enough to serve as garbage chute for communities along its path who discard trash into its bed which is carried away each winter with the rains.
If I had a bit more energy and imagination, there is a nice little comparative paper thinking about modern trash in the two riverine landscapes and two situations.