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In this series you’ll hear stories about the health of the river, its place in our local culture and history and the wildlife and the humans who’ve made the river their home. The interviews were gathered by volunteers from the Little Miami River Watershed Network – and they were made into our radio series by WYSO producer Jason Reynolds.

The River Speaks: Homeschooling on the Little Miami

A canoe floats down the Little Miami River in midsummer.
The Little Miami Watershed Network
A canoe floats down the Little Miami River in midsummer.

Heather Sabin talks about her life on the Little Miami River. Heather and her late husband spent 50 years together, and celebrated their anniversaries on the river. They also raised her children on the Little Miami, often canoeing and hiking and biking while homeschooling. Now, she takes her grandkids on the same trips down the river. Sabin told her stories to Rebecca Victor of the Little Miami Watershed Network…

Heather Sabin: I homeschooled my two youngest and to do a canoe trip or a kayak trip or even a bike ride down the river, the history is so rich. So, that would be some of our outings, what most people call field trips, and learning the history of the area and everything like that. You could start at one end of the river and follow Ohio history all the way down. So, I loved doing it with the kids.

Rebecca Victor: What was one of the most remarkable things that you learned?

Sabin: Making pawpaw pudding and picking the pawpaws and taking them home.

Victor: Is that good?

Sabin: Anything with sugar and is good to kids. It doesn't have a lot of flavor, kind of between a pear and a grape almost. But yeah, doing that. And I enjoyed the birdwatching because I love birds and the indigo buntings will be coming through and the warblers will be coming through in the spring, and you can really see a lot.

Victor: Have you noticed any changes?

Sabin: Not with the birds, but with the river itself. I guess because we've helped so much with the cleanups, we've seen a lot of stuff that you can't believe: inner tubes, washing machines, heavy metal plates. People just throwing them in—car parts and other strange things.

The latest thing is — we take a trash bag when we kayak or boat so we can pick up stuff as we go — and there’s a lot of masks lately, which really made no sense at all to me that you would have to wear a mask on a river, and then to throw it in the river. So, the changes with the amount of trash we see now is more than we used to. I'm not sure why, but we still see a lot of wildlife.

It's fun to take my four and seven year old grandsons and see the turtles and the snakes and the frogs. And I like it because you can always stop with the kids. There's always sandbars to stop on where they can get out and hunt for frogs and toads and turtles and snakes and everything little boys and girls like to get into. And yet it's a safe river for the most part if we are careful.

Victor: What’s one of your favorite places to take your kids?

Sabin: From the Narrows down to Washington Mill. It's about an hour and a half trip, and that's enough for young kids. But it takes us probably two and a half because we stop all along the way. The other thing I've noticed on the river is we run into a lot of different people from different walks of life, but everybody's friendly. You know, everybody's having a good time, even when it's raining or the weather turns on you. It just seems like they're helping people out, and so it's a whole different atmosphere that the river brings. And being around any water, I think, is my favorite thing to do.

Victor: So what do you notice? Are people becoming more friendly as a whole?

Sabin: On the river, people just tend to maybe relax more. And so every time I've been on the river from the early 60s all the way up until now, it just seems to bring out the best in people. They're just nicer when they're floating down a river now.

Victor: So, this particular river, of all the different rivers you've been on, what makes this one special?

Sabin: The memories. It’s absolutely beautiful. The Great Miami is just that. It's the Great Miami, and it's wide and it's big. And on this one, you're surrounded mostly by trees and by wildlife, it's the difference between a skyscraper and a cabin. And I'm a cabin kind of girl.

The River Speaks, an Oral History of the Little Miami is produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices.