During a delivery of fresh water to the pasture, I found a wet, crumpled dollar bill covered in what we will call mud. My child quipped, “And that is why we don’t put these things in our mouths.

”When I was very small, my parents would picnic along the Maumee River. Mom would hold my hand and perch us both on a large boulder. But we would never, ever touch the water. Other picnickers would try to skip stones across the surface, but there was such a crust of yellow-green that only the heavier stones would break through.

Just 50 years and a month ago, the Cuyahoga River burned. Just to be clear on the absurdity of this occurrence, Merriam-Webster’s primary definition of the word “river” is “a natural stream of water of usually considerable volume.” On June 22, 1969, MW’s secondary definition, “something resembling a river” was much more fitting. The Cuyahoga River wasn’t the only river to go up in flames to that point in time—it wasn’t even the first conflagration on the Cuyahoga River itself—but the 1969 disaster got nationwide press. Fifty years and 38 days later, the Upper Cuyahoga touts scenic river status and cattle egrets around Cleveland harbor are snowy white instead of oil-slick black.

My child, Mom and I kayaked recently from Cranberry Run to Riley Creek and on through to the Blanchard River. Near the mouth of the Blanchard, we portaged around a sludge of green goo, brown bottles and assorted aluminum beverage cans. My mom doesn’t try to dissuade me from touching the water these days, but none of us were tempted to light a match.