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Matt Blake

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Photo by Zac Loehr

Can you share a favorite memory or a few memories of The Blue River in your life?

I grew up on the Blue River, but I didn’t know it was the Blue River. We called it “the creek.” There was a dirt bike trail back there and we would ride our bikes and we built a jump from a dirt mount with a rope swing and it’s still there!

The Blue River was a big part of my life growing up, it was a part of all our lives. Back in the olden days we went outside and play and I wore my parents down with my constant nagging until I got my own dirt bike. We’d go as a gang down there and it was quite the journey, about a 20-minute bike ride from our neighborhood, and we’d do reckless things. The older kids showed us where all this stuff was, kind of a rite of passage. The river wasn’t super clean but it didn’t smell and there were fish in it, and snakes and all kinds of bugs and mosquitos. We’d be down there for hours and daring each other – who could jump? Who could do a flip? I couldn’t do a flip.

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Almost Famous,” it was kind of that vibe with the hair and the clothes. We feathered our hair and parted it down the middle, and [the river] was always something there that was accessible to us. It was never open or closed, it was just dependent on the weather. We would go down there after a storm and see how high the river went. Sometimes we’d get to the bottom of the hill and we couldn’t get near it because the river would be so high and were like “Wow! This is so cool!”

There’s been mystical stuff that happens when Jill and I are together working on things. One day it was a dreary, rainy day, and it’s hot, 85-90 degrees. And we come around the bend [of the Blue River] and see a bunch of people standing on the bank. They’re baptizing two girls, teenagers, and we had to stop and wait. What are the odds? That kind of stuff just doesn’t happen every day and then we float upon it and witness it? It’s weird, but it’s super cool!

That’s the kind of mystical connection nature provides for us if we’re paying attention. If we don’t pay attention that kind of stuff doesn’t matter. But if you know the wonderful, beautiful, exciting and bizarre notion that we even exist at all, and to have something like [the baptism] happen – it’s powerful. That’s why we’re shooting ourselves in the foot as a culture by not caring for or tending to and prioritizing our beautiful landscape. We have this idea of “who cares?” and it’s the disconnection of our spirit and the land and ourselves.

Photo by Sarah Hemme

What keeps you motivated to protect the Blue River?

Good always wins. Love always wins in the end. We’ll figure it out and that’s why we’re here. We’re here to learn these lessons. We can’t have things handed to us, we have to go out and get it. This is a big lesson of karma that we’re all experiencing now. The world is in dire need of a new direction and prioritization but we don’t’ have a structure to bring that to fruition. As an artist, that’s the thing I’ve tried to address, but it’s incredibly difficult.

It is very hard to get people to tune into the altruistic, benevolent, empathetic signal. Taking care of the Blue River and its tributaries, and in the larger sense the Missouri, and an even larger sense the Mississippi.

When/where have you found success?

Working with HCA and seeing the film that English Landing Films put out. I think Jill did a great job ushering that through. It’s incredibly hard work and value in a capitalistic-driven world is very hard to measure. But in regards to our spirituality and awareness, you can’t put a dollar amount on that. In my line of work people ask me “What’s in it for me?” and that’s the old, tired way of thinking that has brought us to this destruction.

When you’re disconnected and only focused on yourself instead of thinking “what is in this for all of us?” and “what can I give?” We need to be able to contribute. You have to tend to the garden. The garden doesn’t tend itself, especially if you’re using it all the time. It’s constant management, like the Blue River Cleanup. Every year there are more tires and there is no financial incentive for people to take care of their recycling or dispose of their stuff properly. It’s in their best interest to drive their mattress somewhere and dump it. But it’s also a testament every year, in the dead of winter [at the Cleanup] that hundreds of people show up and they get to work and they do their best to make a difference.

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