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The following is a guest blog entry by Shanna Head.

Kayaking the Pearl - Shanna Head - There is nothing like it in the world. A hot, breezy wind blows as a sticky sweat forms over your brow. The geese and egrets fly overhead and call out to the dusk as they make their way back to the trees. The birds and your paddle leaving the water are the only sounds before a choir of locust and frogs bellow in the early night.

As the dusk takes over, sets of beady eyes begin to pop up, almost as a reminder to keep your feet in the kayak. You’re in their habitat, but the alligators don’t seem to want to bother you.

You sit and wait without any movement atop the smooth-as-glass water. In that pivotal moment when the full moon rises over the trees, the largest moon you’ve ever seen, you know with all certainty that you are in the exact place you were meant to be in this world.

That is the joy of kayaking: Being one with nature in the company of the best of friends, having enjoyed summer sausage and cheese paired with a can of craft beer. Your reward is great for having paddled a few hot miles. And you swear you’ll never catch a sunset and full moonrise any other way ever again.

Sounds like perfection, doesn’t it? Because it is. Well, almost.

Go back a few hours before the blissful moment. As you and your comrades paddled with squinty eyes into the sun, sipping craft beer along the way, you made several stops along the journey. You snapped a few photos. Watched Mother Nature in full daylight. Or maybe applied more sunscreen.

But the stops you’ll make most often are to pick up what was left behind by other people who simply do not care.

Trash. It’s everywhere. And it’s quite unfortunate. There was a time I couldn’t snap a single photo without pollution taking subject-precedence over what should have been a photo worthy of National Geographic.

Fishermen, underage kids, boaters. Their evidence of having trodden before are very clear in the shape of Mountain Dew cans and Miller High Life bottles. What would possess a person to throw their trash in the water? Who do they think will pick up said trash? The first answer is they simply do not care. Because once they toss it, in their minds, it’s not their problem anymore.   

Cleaning up the Pearl - Shanna Head - McLaughlinPCDon’t worry, this story gets better. Again, who will pick up and dispose of this trash? You could call them angels, maybe. Or heroes and sheroes even. I call most of them “mafia” (short for Central Mississippi Paddling Mafia, my local kayaking/SUP/canoe group) but the majority are simply human beings who, quite frankly, give a shit about nature.

I came across an Instagram account two years ago called @Take2Miss. Behind the pictures of collected trash atop a kayak were the river scenes forever implanted in my mind. I drew the conclusion that this person was local and I loved their message: Every time you get out on the water, pick up at least two pieces of trash. If we all do it, we can make a difference in cleaning our waterways.

It wasn’t long after discovering the page that I started posting my own trash pick-up pictures with the hashtag #Take2Miss. And very soon thereafter, Abby Braman, founder of the Take2Miss movement, reached out and thanked me for my efforts and for following her account. Little did I know the snowball effect that would happen from her simple efforts.

Fast forward a year, Abby had become an advocate for local rivers and the creatures that dwell there. One day, Abby reached out and asked what I thought about doing a much bigger clean-up on the Pearl River and its tributaries. Obviously I was in. I told every person who I thought would be interested in helping with this effort.

Not long after, Abby became Mississippi’s very first Riverkeeper, the Pearl Riverkeeper to be exact. The Riverkeepers are a part of an organization that serves to protect rivers in the United States. As a result, Abby organized the very first Mississippi and Louisiana Pearl River Clean Sweep. I was thrilled that my local all-women’s craft beer club, the JXN Barley’s Angels, joined the effort.

(By the way, if you are a woman who loves craft beer, then you’ll want to check out this amazing group that meets monthly to enjoy and discuss craft beer in Mississippi and throughout the US. The Angels understood the delicate balance of clean waterways and craft beer and loved an excuse to get in kayaks on the beautiful water… and enjoy craft beer, of course!)

Many Angels are members of my local paddling Mafia group, so you can imagine the heart and soul that was put in to this effort. Along with the Mafia were other volunteers, Girl Scouts, fishermen, and hundreds of selfless, caring individuals who simply wanted to make a difference.

This year’s Pearl River Cleanup was just as successful as the first, and Abby continues to lead the way in encouraging and teaching others how to take care and fight for clean water in our state.

If I have learned anything from these past couple of years it’s that now more than ever is the time to fix what we have broken and keep our waters clean. Give a hoot, don’t pollute!

Shanna Head - McLaughlinPCShanna Head is a marketing manager, graphic designer, photographer, and avid kayaker from Jackson, Mississippi. She loves spending time on the water and encouraging others to help keep Mississippi waterways clean.

She enjoys being involved with JXN Barley’s Angels and Central Mississippi Paddling Mafia, and loves spending time with her husband of ten years, William, and their two wiener dogs, Conrad and Sookie.

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