Mississippi River Dispatch No 446
Cycles of Sun Time
Thursday, Dec 21, 2017
Clarksdale, Miss ~ Helena, Ark
In this time of short days and long nights:
Big River Blessings on the Winter Solstice 2017 to everyone! Try to take an extra hour off your schedule today and sit outside an hour before sunset and experience the sensation of the shortest day of the year (which also happens to be the longest sunset). As a painter I love the low-angle light — and all of the rich colors and deep contrasts that are accentuated in its long duration, the sun arcing low across the southern sky, and slicing into the horizon at a steep descent which requires much longer to complete than it does at equinox.
Where will I be? This afternoon I will seek some quiet place with my sketch pad, maybe on the banks of the Sunflower River (which is flooding due to recent heavy rains) or maybe the Mississippi (which is very low right now). Either way, the East bank is the place to be for the best visualization, the clearest view to the West, and the largest expanse of sky plus best reflections from the open bod of water. But anywhere you are, and regardless of cloud cover, it will be a special experience, the way the colors change, the light is softly suffused, and darkness settles in, the way the flocks of birds move around in search of a safe place for their overnight, and the way fish surface and move on — all life in some way is effected by the experience, this climax in the cycles of sun time. (if you’re in the Southern hemisphere you’re experiencing summer solstice, the longest day of the year).
As we complete the 6-year Rivergator project, I want to take moment and thank everyone who assisted in helping us bring this invaluable resource to life. One million words describing the Lower Mississippi River did not come from my pen alone! In fact, you will see below, there were over 200 people involved in writing, editing, or fact-checking the Rivergator, including paddlers, biologists & other naturalists, pilots, writers, musicians & other artists, engineers, business people, industry leaders, non-profit leaders, and government leaders. (Note: some of the people listed below have changed jobs; as result any organizations or affiliations listed might have changed over the duration of the past 6 years.)
I had no idea what I was getting into 6 years ago when I began having conversations with potential partners about the Rivergator. The original vision came out of Saving Buck Island (2005-2011 - American Land Conservancy, Arkansas Game & Fish) and was a plan to simply describe the river from Buck Island to Choctaw Island, a 101 mile run down the wildest stretch of river on the Lower Miss. This happened thanks to Ron Nassar, then director of the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Commission. I put together a team of explorers to document and describe the river, and a panel of experts to review it. But when we completed that stretch in 2012, we realized that something was missing. While a great start, simply describing this remote stretch of river was too insular and isolated. We realized we needed to describe the river upstream to Memphis, and downstream to Vicksburg. Then we saw that Caruthersville to Memphis was needed, and also Vicksburg to Natchez. Like many big river projects, the Rivergator took on a life of its own, and demanded total attention (almost consuming my life at the same time!) From there it became a jigsaw puzzle of adding in the pieces to complete the whole: St. Louis to Memphis. Vicksburg to Baton Rouge. We added in the Atchafalaya as our recommended route to reach the Gulf (for many reasons — go to that section for explanation). But also recognizing the fact that many paddlers will continue down the main stem river through New Orleans, we added in Baton Rouge to the Gulf, via the passes of the Bird’s Foot Mississippi River Delta. And so it became almost encyclopedic in scope. It has consumed my life, my business, and for the past 6 years most of my creative energy. Now it is alive and functioning at www.rivergator.org. It is with some regret, joy and other bittersweet feelings of letting my baby walk on its own that I am setting the project to rest (and wondering what will come next!)
The Rivergator is not perfect:
The river is always changing. We might have missed some details, or made mistakes. And so ultimately it is up to you, dear readers, to help us get it right! As you read through the Rivergator you will notice “comment” boxes on every page where you can write directly onto the page you are reading, and make suggestions, corrections, or even add your own story or experience.
The Middle/Lower Mississippi River creates the longest free-flowing water trail in the continental United States, 1155 miles from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico. Rivergator is a mile-by-mile paddler’s guide written for canoeists, kayakers, paddleboarders, and anyone else plying the waters of the Lower Mississippi River in human-powered craft. The Rivergator was born in 2011 and is coordinated by the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. The name Rivergator is adopted from the best seller The Navigator first published in 1801 by Zadok Cramer, with the hope that Americans will rediscover their “wilderness within,” the paddler’s paradise created by the Middle Lower Mississippi Rivers.
Who is the Rivergator written by?
The Rivergator was written by paddlers for paddlers. Primary author, John Ruskey, has been paddling, photographing, and documenting the islands, landings and channels of the Lower Mississippi River since 1982. A host of big river experts reviewed content and added details including legendary river guide Michael Clark (Big Muddy Adventures, St. Louis) author Ernest Herndon (Canoeing Mississippi, Canoeing Louisiana), biologist Paul Hartfield (endangered species specialist for the US Fish & Wildlife), Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper Paul Orr, and his brother Michael Orr.
Big river guides Mark River, Zoe Sundra, Lena Von Machui, Chris “Wolf E” Staudinger, Layne Logue, Adam Elliott, and Braxton Barden all contributed important content from their unique perspective from the stern seat of a canoe. Much of the writing was made better by the intense editorial scrutiny of writer Boyce Upholt (Between the Levees). The Rivergator Project was coordinated by the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. The Rivergator website is made possible by hundreds of partners and sponsors, including the Walton Family Foundation, which believes in "conservationomics": lasting solutions that make sense for the economy and the environment. Special thanks to Ron Nassar, who agreed to host the original grant through the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Commission (now directed by Angela Rodgers). And also special thanks to James Cummins, Wildilife Mississippi whose critical 11th hour assistance helped us in completing this year’s Rivergator Celebration.
Lastly (saving the best for last!) the Rivergator project would not have been possible without the love, support (and great patience) of my wife Sarah Crisler-Ruskey and daughter Emma-Lou, who endured many months of my absence while we explored the Lower Mississippi River, approximately 4,500 miles of canoe expeditions over the last 6 years. Thanks baby(s)!
Panel of Experts
Each section of the Rivergator was overseen by its own Panel of Experts. We’ll start from the tippy-top of the Rivergator, in St. Louis, and work our way downstream through Memphis, Vicksburg, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and on down through the Bird’s Foot Delta to the Gulf of Mexico. Please let me know if I am missing anyone, and I will add on!
St. Louis to Caruthersville:
Dean Klinkenberg, author of the Mississippi Valley Traveler series; Dave Herzog, Missouri Dept of Conservation; Kimberly Rea, USACE Riverlands project director, Janet Moreland, big river kayaker; Amy Lauterbach, big river paddler; John Sullivan, canoe/kayaker, retired WDNR water quality specialist; Scott Mandrell, voyageur, teacher, historian; Betsy Tribble, big river paddler; Chad Pregracke, Living Lands & Waters; Janet Meredith, National Great Rivers Museum, David Hardesty, big river paddler; Cliff Ochs, big river researcher, University of Mississippi; John L. Hartleb, Wildlife Refuge Specialist, Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge; Bryan Hopkins, Water Resources Center, Missouri Department of Natural Resources; Ethan Engerski, Natural Resource Specialist USACE, Tom Uhlenbrock, Missouri Department of Natural Resources; Steve Schnarr and Melanie Cheney, Missouri River Relief; Greg Poleski, Greenway Network, Layne Logue, kayaker; Norman Miller, big river kayaker; Ernest Herndon, author of Canoeing Mississippi, Paul Hartfield, USFW endangered species biologist; Michael Clark, St. Louis river guide, owner of Big Muddy Adventures; Mark River Peoples, St. Louis native and big river guide; Braxton Barden, big river guide.
John Ruskey first descended the Mississippi in 1982 on a 12x24 foot raft, and has been taking notes, photographs and documenting the river ever since. St. Louis area Rivergator contributor Mike Clark has been exploring the Confluence and the Middle Miss for over a decade. He is considered the expert on running the Chain of Rocks. In 2002 and in 2006 Mike Clark and I spent 5 months exploring the entire Missouri River in dugout canoes, the second time as engages in Scott Mandrell’s “Then & Now” Lewis & Clark Re-enactment. Our experiences paddling dugouts to the confluence and over the Chain of Rocks are here in the Rivergator. In 2009 Mike Clark and I guided German film-makers from St. Louis to Caruthersville (and on down to the Gulf of Mexico) on a giant raft (actually a “canoe-ma-raft,” a 16 x 30 platform supported by 2 voyageur canoes as pontoons). Big Muddy Mike has made thousands of other Middle Miss voyages after the 2001 formation of his Big Muddy Adventures, which is based near North Riverfront Park in St. Louis (including a “Huck ‘n’ Jim expedition” where he paddled it all after dark just like Huck and Jim did -- this is not recommended).
Rivergator contributor Mark River Peoples was born and raised along the Mississippi River in St. Louis and East St. Louis. Mark River is now a full-time guide on the Lower Mississippi River, and writes a blog, appropriately called the “Mark River Blog.” Contributors Mark River and Braxton Barden explored St. Louis to Cairo one last time in the low water of Nov 2014 to verify everything. Braxton Barden was a full time guide and photographer on the Lower Mississippi River with Quapaw Canoe Company.
And so the Rivergator is the culmination of over 30 years of personal exploration and the experiences of other hardened river rats. I have paddled the Mississippi on anything that floats (including a log!). To verify all information I have been making refresher “exploratory expeditions,” (We last paddled this section with a team of explorers during the June rise, 2014 and then a second time in low water Nov 2014). I’ll try to keep myself out of it as much as possible, and let the river speak for herself. But I’ll also spice the journey with stories and vignettes from my adventures along the way, and others who have first-hand experience.
Other important Rivergator sources include the National Weather Service “Lower Mississippi River Gauge and Week Forecast,” the 2011 Upper Mississippi River Navigation Charts (Middle Miss), and 2007 Flood Control and Navigation Maps: Mississippi River (Lower Miss), Google Maps Satellite View, Marion Braggs’ Historic Names and Places on the Lower Mississippi River, Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, Great River Road website, Built St. Louis website, Charles Dee Sharp’s The Mississippi River in 1953, John James Audubon Birds of America, Parkman’s LaSalle, DeSoto’s Narrative, the Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge website, the National Wildlife Refuge Website, Eve Beglarian River Project Blog, The Riverlorian, Wikipedia, Quapaw Canoe Company and Wild Miles. See “Sources” for complete listing, links, and suggestions for further reading.
The Rivergator is made possible by many partners, in this stretch including Joan Twillman, Mississippi River Trail Association; Charlene Waggoner, Greenway Network; Kelly McGinnis, 1 Mississippi; Terry Eastin, Mississippi River Trail, Thomas Malkowicz, Washington University Videographer, the Missouri Division of Tourism, National Great Rivers Museum, Missouri Dept of Conservation; USACE Riverlands Project Office, Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, Water Resources Center, Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources, and Missouri River Relief.
Caruthersville to Memphis:
Dr. Ken Jones, big river pilot and Dyersburg biologist; Jim Stark, Dyersburg kayaker; Diana Threadgill, director of the Mississippi River Corridor-Tennessee; Keith Kirkland, big river canoeist, trailblazer and Wolf River Conservancy outdoors programs director; Bruce Van Wyngarden, big river pilot and founding editor of the Memphis Flyer; Joe Royer, pioneering Memphis kayaker and founder of Outdoors Inc; Dale Sanders, big river kayaker and adventurer extraordinaire; Terry Eastin, Director of the Mississippi River Trail; Colton Cockrum, river canoeist and founder of the Memphis River Warriors; Bayard Morgan, canoeist and river advocate; Tom Rhoem, Big River Engineering, John Gary, big river pilot and all-around river-rat; Mike Beck, big river kayaker; Mark River Peoples, big river guide, and Chris “Wolfie” Staudinger, big river guide, Braxton Barden, avid paddler and mariner.
Memphis to Greenville:
Bubba Battle, canoe builder and paddler; Rick Howe, structural engineer, river rat; Julia Malinowski, Helena Tourism Director; Kevin Smith, historian and big river paddler; Bill Branch, artist, curator Delta Cultural Center; Peggy Linton, Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi; Larry Jerrett Canoeist, river advocate; Kevin Pierson, National Audubon Society Lower Mississippi Program; Ernest Herndon, canoeist, author of Canoeing Mississippi and also Canoeing Louisiana, Paul Hartfield, biologist, pilot, big river expert; Bruce Van Wyngarden, big river pilot and founding editor of The Memphis Flyer; Joe Royer, pioneering Memphis kayaker and founder of Outdoors Inc.; Dale Sanders, big river kayaker and adventurer extraordinaire; Beth Wiedower, Arkansas Rural Delta Heritage Initiative, Terry Eastin, Director of the Mississippi River Trail; Colton Cockrum, river canoeist and founder of the Memphis River Warriors; Bayard Morgan, canoeist and river advocate; Sources include Historic-Memphis.com, The Tennessee Valley Authority, The City of Memphis, The Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee, Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man, Wikipedia, Quapaw Canoe Company and Wild Miles. See “Sources” for complete listing and suggestions for further reading.
Greenville to Vicksburg:
Layne Logue, Kayaker; Russell Reynolds, kayaker; John Keen, photographer, kayaker; Meg Cooper, Director Lower Delta Partnership; Tommy Shropshire, outdoorsman, kayak-fisherman; Dora Ann Hatch, Agritourism Coordinator LSU AgCenter; David Dupree, kayaker, Barry Boyette, kayaker, Dan Fordice, river air-rat; Wayne Pratt, kayaker, Bluz Cruz organizer; Tim McCarley, big river pilot; Angeline Rodgers, Director, Lower Mississippi River Commission; Bruce Reid, ornithologist, Lower Mississippi River Commission; Kevin Pierson, National Audubon Society Lower Mississippi Program; Ernest Herndon, canoeist, author of Canoeing Mississippi also Canoeing Louisiana, Paul Hartfield, biologist, pilot, big river expert; and Ray Acock, big river naturalist. Mark River Peoples, big river guide, Chris “Wolfie” Staudinger, big river guide, and Braxton Barden, big river guide. Sources: The Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee, Lower Delta Partnership, Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks, Greenville CVB, Vicksburg CVB, City of Vicksburg, LSU Agritourism, Explore North Louisiana, Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, John James Audubon Birds of America, Parkman’s LaSalle, DeSoto’s Narrative, Stan Finger Finger on the Weather, Wikipedia, Quapaw Canoe Company and Wild Miles. See “Sources” for complete listing and suggestions for further reading.
Vicksburg to Baton Rouge:
“Momma” Marylee Orr, the guiding light of LEAN and constant source of inspiration, Mike Beck, kayaking chemist; Nathan Beane, USACE forest/plant ecologist, Michael Jones, Visit Mississippi, Mississippi Outdoor Tourism Director, Paul Orr, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper; Michael Orr, Louisiana Environmental Action Network; Ernest Herndon, author of Canoeing Mississippi also Canoeing Louisiana; Paul Hartfield, endangered species biologist USFW; Ray Acock, big river naturalist; Tommy Shropshire, outdoorsman, kayak-fisherman; Dora Ann Hatch, Agritourism Coordinator LSU AgCenter; David Dupree, kayaker, Angeline Rodgers, Director, Lower Mississippi River Conservation Commission; Layne Logue, kayaker; Adam Elliott, big river guide; Mark River Peoples, big river guide; and Braxton Barden, big river guide. Sources include the National Weather Service “Lower Mississippi River Gauge and Week Forecast,” the US Army Corps 2007 Flood Control and Navigation Maps: Mississippi River, Google Maps Satellite View, Marion Braggs’ Historic Names and Places on the Lower Mississippi River, Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, The Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee, Louisiana Delta Adventures, Lower Delta Partnership, Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks, Greenville CVB, Vicksburg CVB, City of Vicksburg, LSU Agritourism, Explore North Louisiana, Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, John James Audubon Birds of America, Parkman’s LaSalle, DeSoto’s Narrative, Wikipedia, Quapaw Canoe Company and Wild Miles. See “Sources” for complete listing and suggestions for
Baton Rouge to Venice:
Charlie Poche, paddler’s best friend at Paulina, mile 149, Poche Paradise; Paul Orr, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper; Michael Orr, Louisiana Environmental Action Network; “Momma” Marylee Orr, guiding light of LEAN and constant source of inspiration, Mike Beck, kayaking chemist; Mary Ann Sternberg, author, Cleo of the muddy Miss, Layne Logue, big river guide; Adam Elliott, big river guide; Mark River Peoples, big river guide; and Braxton Barden, big river guide; David Dupree, kayaker, Angeline Rodgers, Director, Lower Mississippi River Conservation Commission;
Dean Wilson & Cara Leverett, Atchafalaya Basinkeepers, Bryan Piazza Nature Conservancy, photographer - videographer - writer David Hanson, Ashley Herrick Atchafalaya Heritage Area, Marylee Orr, Billy Howell, Linnea Goderstad, Dave Goderstad, ornithologist Melanie Driscoll, Boyce Upholt, Rory Doyle, Zoe Sundra, Paul Orr, Robert Landreneau, Michael Orr, Mike Beck,. Michael Clark, Mark River Peoples, Chris Staudinger, Layne Logue, Paul Hartfield, Ernest Herndon, Linda Bear Heart Brewer, Adam Elliott, Ernest Herndon, author of Canoeing Mississippi also Canoeing Louisiana.
Rivergator Celebration Expedition:
Thanks to Andy “Andigator” McLean, Tony Long, John & LaNae Abnet, Boyce Upholt, Rory Doyle, and Adam Elliott for helping us complete the Rivergator Celebration Expedition! In St. Louis thanks to the BMA Crew Mike Clark, Janet Moreland, and Roo Yawitz. Also joining us in St. Louis: Alicia Lloyd, and Tim Weybright. Dennis Van Norman joined in Grand Tower; in Caruthersville my sister Abby Ruskey and Alan Johnson; in Memphis Jenny Lyman, Nick Lyman, Christine Ingrassia, Emma Ingrassia, and Robin Colonas; in Helena Katherine Stewart, Zoie Clift (Arkansas Dept of Tourism), also Nancy Foley, Shelley Ritter, Bill Talbot and Corey Fletcher; in Clarksdale Katie Steinour, Rachel Bouer, Rory Doyle, Taylor Mitchell, Michel Varisco, Matt Sutton, Jane Sutton, Zak Sutton, Julia Olmstead, and Paul Helgeson; in Greenville Mike Beck, Erik Schultz and Linn Kincannon; in Baton Rouge Michael Orr and Paul Orr; at Bonnet Carre Julia Holmes, Jamie Lynn Miller, Robert Landreneau, Michael Orr, and Paul Orr. Thanks to all who met us in Algiers to celebrate with the rising Full Hunter’s Moon including Mark River’s brother, Michael Orr’s girlfriend, Lena’s friend Liz, also Chuck Rutledge, Ann Williams and Allison Stouse (and many others whose names I cannot recall!)
Rivergator Celebration: Rediscovering The Wilderness Within:
This August 18th celebration was made possible thanks to Jen Waller, Coahoma High Education Center, Kappi Allen, Visit Clarksdale!, Jennifer Ruskey, Mara Califf, Rachel Bouer, Becky Bobo, Fredean Langford, Yazoo Pass, Levon's, Stone Pony, River’s Smokehouse, Memphis Art Center & Supply, Copytime of Clarksdale, the LMRF Board of Directors Jenn Mohead, Erickson Blakney, Scott Shirey, Kevin Smith, 1 Mississippi, and many, many others in Clarksdale, Helena, Memphis, and elsewhere. Special thanks to Mark River Peoples, Lena Von Machui, Timothy Winter-Nelson, Boyce Upholt and John & LaNae Abnet for preparing for celebration.
Special appreciation to Tom Wilson, Susan Steele and staff at the Memphis Art Center & Supply for their consistent good advice and support of this project!
Thanks to Tim Richardson and Kevin Smith for early inspiration in realizing the need for a Lower Mississippi River water trail. Thanks to Ray Acock and Moira McDonald for "seeing the light" of the original vision. Thanks to WFF grant officer Morgan Snyder for diligently sticking through the ups and downs of the long journey with great recommendations, connections and very helpful criticism. Thanks to our sage, the grizzled river rat Paul Hatfield, for consistently keeping us focused on the all of the unique details that make the Lower Mississippi River the rich and dynamic place it is. Special thanks to Ron Nassar, who agreed to host the original project through the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Commission (now directed by Angela Rodgers). And also special thanks to James Cummins, Wildilife Mississippi whose critical 11th hour assistance helped us in completing this year’s Rivergator Celebration.
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