Birth of a River Angel



I have spent (nearly) every day since April 2016 down at the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. I sit cradled under the cottonwoods, watch as eagles fly by, listen to the wind or shuffling footsteps. In this general state of observation, I find myself wandering the river banks, canoeing eddy swirls and witnessing change. Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes occurred last Tuesday (4/25/17) when I received word that my fellow river rat and friend Chris Stanley was missing in the Mississippi River only miles upstream from my usual dwelling spots.

Since then the wind has been carrying a cold breath, the clouds opting to block the sun and spill water as they please over the people gathering in groups for prayer and ceremony.

I continue paying daily homage to the river yet have been flooded with grief, confusion, and doubt. Where did Chris go and how has he not been found? How could a light so bright be turned off at the budding age of 22? What happens next? These unanswered questions cast shadows which permeate into every moment.

At this point, it’s important to introduce the concept of River Angels. These are special beings who go out of their way to support others, provide encouragement, and watch over the rivers. In the literal sense, they often provide rides into town for paddlers, a place to camp, or friendly conversation served with warm food. Beyond the literal, River Angels also exist in other forms- maybe you have met one. Sparing a miracle (and they do happen) it seems as if the river has birthed a new angel – Chris Stanley.

Chris and I both grew up in St. Louis Park, MN yet we became connected through the river in spring of 2016. At the time, I was working as a National Park Service ranger on the river when a young man donning bright greenshining a smile from ear to ear, approached me and began rapidly asking questions. These elements became the norm for our budding relationship:

bright green – that wilderness inquiry hat with Chris’s long brown hair flowing out the back / then there’s us surrounded by lush Minnesota summer days on the Mississippi / and Chris with his green aura radiating compassion, humility, groundedness, and respect. Bright green.

shining a smile – somehow his characteristic grin never disappeared, whether captaining a 24’ canoe on the river filled with rowdy 5th graders or teaching about nature. That smile

asking questions – quickly I learned of Chris’s intellect, inquisitive nature, and passion for the environment through all his questioning.  Conversations with him were full of life. So many questions.


 Chris, sitting in the back of the canoe, is the trusted captain on this Mississippi River day trip. *Photo captured by fellow river guide Jess*

It should be clear at this point that a common thread and backdrop for that summer with Chris was the Mississippi RiverIt was clear that when Chris was near the river, he could tap into its energy – charge up- and share that sense of connection with all.

This is part of the inherent giving nature of rivers. What humbles me is just how easy the river can take as well. Give and Take. Life and Death. Light and Dark. Cycles. With Chris’s disappearance, we are viscerally reminded of the impermanence, and to always hold a deep reverence for life, community, and the river.

Even if the person missing in the river wasn’t a friend and someone I admire, this experience hits close to home as Paul and I are gearing up for Adventure Stewardship Alliance’s 2017 Three Rivers Project. The focus of the project is a place-based exploration by canoe of the Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix Rivers. There is no doubt in my mind that Chris will be a part of these journeys in many ways. One way is through our intention to wood burn messages into our paddles to share with the water. With this act, we will be connecting with the rivers one paddle stroke at a time, praying for healing, and honoring our relations. Whatever method brings you comfort, may you keep your heart and eyes open for the river angels

Peace and Love to Chris’s community.


For more information on the power of sending healing messages to the water, check Dr. Masaru Emoto’s work on water crystals

More info on the Three Rivers Project

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4 thoughts on “Birth of a River Angel

  1. Beautiful share. I will always connect this mighty river with Chris. His connection to her as permanent and long as she.


  2. This is beautiful, Michael! I will save this forever! Thank you for sharing these remarkable words about my dear nephew, Chris! You are a gem!


    1. With kindness I thank you. So happy these words carry value and meaning for you. Continue love and support to you, Melissa, your family, and our guy Chris. Bless.


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