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Getting to play God, making a difference

Island Lake, which I live close to, is unique in that its two outlets split the outgoing waters and send them in opposite directions. Thus, it is Island Lake -- and not the Mississippi as myth has it -- that likely forms the continental divide.

One of the outlets is a natural wetland, and the other is a system of tubes that allow water to flow under a road. If Island Lake is indeed the continental divide, you can imagine the havoc it would wreak on the ecosystem of the entire United States if one of these outlets should become clogged. We would probably all die.

Thus, you can only imagine the immense sense of power I felt when my dad told me the great opportunity life had thrown in my lap: removing, with his help, the dam of debris that had constipated the southern outlet, and set the stagnant waters free.

Humility and obedience are all well and good. But sometimes -- especially when one is feeling small and powerless and tossed around like a rag doll by the great powers of fate and circumstance, the human psyche needs nothing more than a good chance to play god. For me, this clog-clearing business couldn't have come at a better time.

It seems people are always trying to analyze and categorize me, waste my time with this or that state-sponsored test so they can tell me where to be and what to do with my life, make me sit through countless hours of teachers going through all the reasons why my opinions are wrong, explain why it's not safe for me to take an honest bathroom break during class. I usually do as I'm told -- it's much easier and I'm so committed to the system already that to do otherwise would be of no use. But I do get very bored sometimes.

But playing god was the last thing on my mind as I paddled up to the cage surrounding the tunnel that makes up the outlet and runs under the highway -- dressed in my leaky neoprene waders and armed with a hoe and a strange heavy claw-like tool I had borrowed from the neighbor.

Indeed, I felt as powerless and small as I ever had in my life. Evidently, the outlet had not been cleaned in quite some time. I worked for a solid hour on the project, removing clumps of seaweed, dirt and driftwood that had somehow gelled into a waterproof wall.

Nothing seemed to be happening in the way of progress, and I resigned myself to the impossibility of the task at hand. I would work for a few more minutes, pack up, tell my dad I had done what I could, and move on to the next chore.

But then I got lucky -- I pulled out a giant log, soaked with water that had apparently been holding the whole organic dam together. For when it was released, the outlet dramatically broke free and for one brief shining moment, while I stood there with the water tumbling beneath me like a stormy ocean, creeping up my legs like ivy, I was invincible.

And now I'm sitting in the woods -- amongst big trees, enormous clouds, and an infinite universe -- feeling small again. The ground is wet, birds are squawking, chipmunks are throwing acorns at my head, and there's nothing I can do about it.

But even here, I can see into the valley at the stream that I single-handedly created, and remind myself that I did make a difference, that I significantly changed the ecology of my environment.

In a couple weeks, when the tunnel I cleared is reduced to a sad trickle of water (which is just the way I found it), the lake will be a foot and a half lower than it was before -- and all thanks to me.

The life of a teenager is all about respect and obedience and being herded by the Great State-Sponsored Peon Plantation we call high school. But for one instant, God set me on his lap and let me get behind the wheel of Mother Nature, and it was a kick.

Now if I could just figure out a way to get out of two days of testing this week.

Nathan Kitzmann is a junior at Detroit Lakes High School.