Filming the Wabash River ‘as the crow flies’

The upcoming term in Argentina will mark my 52nd country, and every once in a while I’m perplexed that this whole world obsession and world tour started from a town of 11,000 in rural Indiana. I talk about this town often–one I haven’t lived in for 12 years to the week–and it’s a weekend like my last one that confirms its hold on me.

I continue to have those awe-inspiring moments in a place I thought I’d adequately covered.

Clean Out The Banks! is an annual event in Wabash, Indiana conducted by a volunteer group known as the Wabash River Defenders. If you were at Paradise Spring at 7:00am last Saturday, eating free donuts and preparing to wade in the silt, you’re likely a member…or a donut enthusiast.

This year’s 365 participants engaged in a community event for the benefit of their environment while spending time with that environment on a beautiful day. Being a recent student on the effects of community, I was eager to witness my first River Defenders event and document it for distribution.

The river stretches 19.2 miles across Wabash County from east to west, so my fellow documentarian, Chelsea, and I didn’t have to drive far to reach the many scattered clean-up crews.

Walking along the river in Lagro, we found an ATV or mountain bike track that looked like serious muddy fun. We passed by many groups of fishermen heading to the water. One of the teams had a kayak, and its slender shape reminded me of rowing sculls torpedoing down the thin and shallow river. My imagination was probably stretching the water possibilities on this Mississippi tributary, but the flanking land offered no such limitations to outdoor enjoyment.

Courtesy of the Wabash River Defenders

After a couple hours of tracking teams’ progress, I was extended the opportunity to admire Wabash County from above on an antique open cockpit airplane from 1927. I couldn’t stop relating myself to Snoopy. It was a beautiful aircraft, and it lifted effortlessly above the forests and farms to find the snaking river.

In the past couple years, I’ve had some very active shoots on land, while treading water, and even underwater with wild animals. Prior to this flight, I’d never had the chance to film from the air. The 90 mph winds pulled at the camera, but I had it strapped tightly around my hand, my arm anchored to my body. It was tough to shoot around the wings and stabilize with the turbulence, but the adrenaline rush from the open cockpit helped me achieve some awesome moments on film.

I wasn’t at all surprised that such a plane existed in a hangar at the Wabash airstrip. The town is full of eccentric characters who collect distinct items, create unique artwork, build hidden bars in their basements, and wrangle community support for every facet of life, culture, and sport. A trip home can be comforting in its predictability or reveal a unique opportunity unfathomable hours prior.

It was this mid-morning flight that determined the angle of my documentation, supplemented by the mini-revelations along the banks of the Wabash. I spent the majority of my childhood outdoors, but my backyard was only a small indication of what my surroundings held. I won’t always have an antique airplane ride to jostle my pre-conceived expectations of a place, but this one surely helped.

I’m currently in the process of editing a promo for “Clean Out Our Banks!” and will post once live. Here’s a news package from WTIU of the event.

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