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Strangest Thing Ever? (Follow Up)
LMRD 675, Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Advance Note -- Sunflower Fest: Quapaw Canoe Company will be offering Festival Beach Specials 9am-1pm Thursday, Friday and Sunday Aug 9, 10 and 12th -- for round trip voyageur canoe adventures to nearby sprawling Mississippi River Beaches! Also, we are offering Camping along Sunflower River during the annual Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival, which takes place next week! See the end of this newsletter for complete description and info.



Turtle Responses:

Thanks to everyone who responded to the "turtle posting" last week. Kayaker Mike Beck shared some neat observations about the softshells:

I read somewhere, once, a claim that softshell turtles can swim faster than anything else in fresh water on this continent. When I visited the Chicago aquarium in 1992, one large display had such a crowd in front of it, I had wait to see what it was: two softshell turtles in the simple act of swimming, a sight more graceful than any human ballet. I've kept and released softshells, mostly spinys, as aquarium pets since childhood. (Remind me next time I'm up there and I'll show you how to find and catch them with your hands in shallow water.)


And Tony Heck (of Tony & Snoop-Dog fame) sent a correction: box turtles do swim!
Twice, I've seen box turtles swim across the Gasconade River. Well, One was 1/3 of the way across the river when I picked him/her up and took the terrapin the rest of the way across. On a different occasion, which was another very hot summer day, I was paddling down the Gasconade River and could see something up ahead just off the shore-line, splashing in the shallow water. As I got closer, the item making the splashing became apparent; it was a box turtle, who was cooling itself off in the cool water. That turtle was having fun, not just cooling off! If a turtle could smile, this one was. I hung out with that fellow for 1/2 hour, watching him (or her) splash and play. I picked up the turtle and for a moment put it into deeper water, to see if it could swim, like the other turtle had done, and YUP! the turtle could swim. After putting the turtle back at shoreline, I left, but I've never forgotten that happy little dude (dudette). That memory is a keeper.
Strangest Thing Ever? (follow-up with more photos, and a few corrections)


Strangest Thing Ever?

We big river guides often are asked "what is the strangest thing you've ever seen on the Mississippi River?" Images of skulls, twisted steamboat wrecks, and industrial protoplasm might inhabit the expectations of the inquirer. No, we have never found anyone tied to a sack of concrete after being thrown off a bridge -- although we have found many other carcasses -- all being remains from inhabitants typical to the Lower Miss, such as deer, coyote, turtles, and fish. (Note: You can't see the fish for the muddiness, but like roadkill you can get an idea of their density by those strewn about the beach in low water, when they get trapped in depressions). But no, none of these has been as strange.

Fact is stranger than fiction. The strangest things are often the common things you see every day in front of you, on your path. Maybe you've never looked close enough. Maybe you've never seen the "other" side of something you've been seeing all your life. You might be amazed at what you find, like seeing the dark side of the moon for the first time.

Such was the case with the bottomside of this creature depicted below. This is a common inhabitant of the Lower Miss... What is it? Keep reading. Maybe you have seen its topside. But probably (like me) you have never saw the other side of her body!



A Season of Turtles

It's been a season full of turtles for us, ever since the water started dropping from the seasonal high (47.5HG) in March. And not just tracks and sightings, but several turtles behaving strangely, moving slow, or not moving at all. Alive, but not running away as they most often do whenever we humans approach by canoe or foot.



Mississippi Map Turtle

One of the first encountered was a small Mississippi Map Turtle found near a blue hole on Island 62 in April. The young man above is not getting ready to eat him like a turtle-burger; he is looking into the turtle's face, its snout, and the innocent eyes peering back at him.




After communing with this turtle, we placed him back on the hot sand near the blue hole. He had a unique evacuation method. Usually turtles make a bee-line for the nearest water. This youngster dug himself a burrow in the hot sand and disappeared from view.



Box Turtle

Later in April I found a semi-comatose Box Turtle as the water was dropping from flood stage out of the forests near Montezuma. He was on shore at water's edge, but not moving. We brought him home for inspection and sketching. He lived a week before going cold. What his ailment was, I never knew. Maybe he was just ready to die.


Portrait of a Dying Box Turtle


Dying Box Turtle (Watercolor)



Another Box Turtle

In May we rescued another Box Turtle off a pile of driftwood. This one lived. It was a precarious moment. Box Turtles are not made for swimming like the others in this posting; they are rarely seen in the water, almost always on land. We discovered him partially submerged, clinging to a limb with half its body in the swirling currents alongside Buck Island, a steep 20' bank with fallen trees. He was hanging by one claw! We imagined this poor fellow had slipped over the edge and been unable to climb back up. What a river coincidence that we were there at that exact moment. Someone spotted him as we were paddling upstream along the edge of the island. We back paddled, and then draw paddled left to reach him. If he had let go before we arrived he would probably have drowned. But he was in fine shape at rescue, hissing at us with spirited vigor, and trying to bite our fingers. We let him go at the nearest next location upstream where the bank was low enough to make landing and encourage him in the direction of the forest.




Mississippi Stinkpot Turtle

We rescued this immature Mississippi Stinkpot Turtle crossing the road one day in June as we were headed out to the river.




He's not really that smelly -- his aroma is that of the wetlands. Poor guy got a bad name. But you wouldn't want him in bed with you; he does smell like the muddy bayous from whence he comes. This should be no surprise -- he lives in the swamp, he eats from the swamp, his days are spent wandering through the swamp.



Another Mississippi Map Turtle

At the end of May we found another slow-moving Mississippi Map Turtle, this one an adult. Again, contrary to normal reaction, she did not flee our presence. This made me curious. I gently pulled her off the bank and placed her in the canoe for observation. We stopped at the next island for sunset supper, and after some sketches I let her go. She seemed to recover the zest for life. She had no problem returning to the river.



Farewell Glance of a Mississippi Map Turtle


Portrait of a Mississippi Map Turtle


Smooth Softshell Turtle

Strangest Thing Ever?

So now getting to the point of this story. Maybe the weirdest thing I have ever seen on the Mississippi River was discovering this Smooth Softshell Turtle in June when we made a muddy landing at the top end of Scrubgrass Bend at Henrico Bar. She had dug herself a shallow basin in the mud.



Smooth Softshell Turtle

Softshell Turtles do not let you ever come close, but scurry away at a surprisingly high rate of speed. Their webbed claws are huge, and they react quick with lightning bursts of motion when approached. I think one could outrun a coyote, and most certainly outswim any other turtle in the muddy river. But this one didn't. Like the other turtles above she remained motionless at our presence. From a distance she appeared muddy green colored. But up close her smooth back became a constellation of colors and patterns, splotches of earth colors ochre, sienna, and umber with yellows and whites; a hardshell turtle is a frozen cliff face in comparison to this living miasma. This was illuminating, but the big surprise was yet to come. I petted her smooth back, and she let me clean off the dried mud. Then picked her up for closer inspection.




Everything about this turtle was bizarre, her head extended outwards like a dragon, her overall form could be that of an alien creature. Did she fall out of the sky? Is she intelligent life from another planet? No, she is a Smooth Softshell Turtle, one of the most common such on the Lower Miss.



How come I've never taken a photo or sketched a picture of one? Because we never get this close! Why did she not run from us? She did not have any obvious marks of injury or bodily harm. We picked her up and she gently accepted our attention, seeming to watch us with as much innocent curiosity as we did her.



The pattern on her bottomside looks something like Darth Vader's helmet with lightning bolts, and a frowning face below... or something like that... The discovery of this outlandish black & white pattern is probably the strangest thing I have ever seen on the Mississippi River. Maybe this encounter was exaggerated on a creature I have always noticed, but never beheld up close.

This experience makes me wonder what else I am not seeing in those things close around me.

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Quapaw Canoe Company

Summer Beach Special:

Aug 9, 10, and 12th

*During 31st Annual Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival*

In celebration of the Quapaw Canoe Company 20th Anniversary! —

$50/person includes everything you need for the river. In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Quapaw Canoe Company, we are offering 1/2 day round-trip Summer Beach Special to some of the splendiferous ocean-sized beaches in Coahoma County. Pack sun screen, snacks, lunch, swim suit and 2 water bottles (no disposable plastics please!), and meet the canoe at 9am Thursday Aug 9, Fri Aug 10 or 10am Sun Aug 12. We provide everything else for safe paddling. 6 peeps min to make trip, first-come, first served. Payment in advance by check or credit card (via Paypal).

Quapaw Canoe Company is located at 291 Sunflower Avenue (3rd & Sunflower) in downtown Clarksdale. Meet and drive your personal vehicle to landing.

Please write info@island63.com for more information, or call Mark River 662-902-1885, Lena H-Bird 662-313-6220, or Driftwood Johnnie 662-9092-7841.

*Note: All ages welcome, but minors (under 18) must be accompanied by parents or guardian. Must sign waiver. 6 minimum to make trip, 10 maximum per canoe. If more than 10 we'll add on more canoes.

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Quapaw Canoe Company Activities During Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival Aug 9-12th, 2018

Thursday-Saturday:

Sunflower River Camping

Canoe-Carving Demonstration & Workshop

LMRF — Paddling on the Sunflower River

1Mississippi -- Can the River Count on You?

Summer Beach Special: Mississippi River

All events will meet & take place street level 3rd & Sunflower in downtown Clarksdale all day 9 - 4pm every day Thursday Aug 9 - Saturday, Aug 11th, 2018. Closed Sunday, Aug 12, but we will be running the last Summer Beach Special from 10am-2pm.

For more information contact Quapaw Canoe Company or info@island63.com 662-627-4070, 662-902-7841, Mark “River” Peoples 662-902-1885, Lena Von Machui 662-313-6220, Shannon McMulkin 870-753-8954, or Jennifer Ruskey (208) 521-0476.

Sunflower River Camping

Quapaw Canoe Company is offering bathroom and shower access to persons camping along banks of Sunflower River in the City Park around our facility and in other places downtown. Bathroom and shower access is $25/tent/night for 2 people, $10 each additional person/night. Bring your own tent and sleeping bags. Don’t park on asphalt drive which the police use for access. Camping is in grassy areas of City Park to north of ramp, and any flat grassy places down along the river. Please don’t block gravel road access to Canoe Company. No open fires, but camp stoves, hibachis or small personal-sized BBQ okay. No smoking (city ordinance in public places). For more information contact: Lena Von Machui 662-313-6220, Mark “River” Peoples 662-902-1885. Quapaw Canoe Company 662-627-4070 or john@island63.com.

Canoe-Carving Demonstration & Workshop

Location: Quapaw Canoe Company, 289 Sunflower (Third Street & Sunflower, opposite GRIOT Arts). Contact: 662-627-4070 or 902-7841. Catfish Dugout Canoe carving from 3-ton cottonwood log. Partnership with Spring Initiative and GRIOT ARTS youth programs. This project supported by the Mississippi Arts Commission. All ages welcome. We provide instruction, tools and safety equipment. Children under 18 must be accompanied by parents or guardian. Contact: Quapaw Canoe Company 662-627-4070 or john@island63.com.

Paddling on the Sunflower River

9 am to 4 pm Thursday - Saturday (Pick your time and stay out as long as you want)

Canoe or kayak or SUP. Paddle the beautiful (and muddy!) Sunflower River through downtown Clarksdale with the “back-door view” of Red’s Lounge, The Riverside Hotel. Possible run through a Delta Wilderness with a take-out at Hopson Plantation. Meet Location: Quapaw Canoe Company, 289 Sunflower Third Street & Sunflower, opposite GRIOT Arts). Contact: Shannon McMulkin 870-753-8954 or 662-627-4070. $25/person includes paddles, life jackets and all necessary gear. Fundraiser for the Lower Mississippi River Foundation.

1Mississippi -- Can the River Count on You?

Quapaw Canoe Company

9 am to 4 pm Thursday - Saturday

In partnership with 1Mississippi - MRN - Mississippi River Network

Ongoing Exhibit and Southern campaign headquarters for the 1Mississippi River Citizen Program. Come on over and learn about how you can help protect and better the waters of America, our drinking water, swimming water & lifeblood of the nation. Become a River Citizen and join us in making the Mississippi River sparkle like the beautiful “Queen of Rivers” that she is. Contact: Mark “River” Peoples 662-902-1885 or email markriver@island63.com.

Summer Beach Special: Mississippi River

Aug 9, 10, and 12th. $50/person includes everything you need for the river. In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Quapaw Canoe Company, we are offering 1/2 day round-trip Summer Beach Special to some of the splendiferous ocean-sized beaches in Coahoma County. You pack sun screen, swim suit and 2 water bottles (no disposable plastics please!), and meet the canoe at 9am Thursday Aug 9, Fri Aug 10 or 10am Sun Aug 12. We provide everything else for safe paddling. 6 peeps min to make trip, first-come, first served. *Note: All ages welcome, but minors (under 18) must be accompanied by parents or guardian. Must sign waiver. 6 minimum to make trip, 10 maximum per canoe. If more than 10 we'll add on more canoes. Meet at base and drive your personal vehicle to landing.

Quapaw Canoe Company is located at 291 Sunflower Avenue (3rd & Sunflower) in downtown Clarksdale.

Contact: Please write info@island63.com for more information, or call Mark River 662-902-1885, Lena H-Bird 662-313-6220, or Driftwood Johnnie 662-9092-7841.



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The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch "Voice of the Lower Mississippi River" is published by the Quapaw Canoe Company which is celebrating its 20th Anniversary Year in 2018. Go to www.island63.com for viewing back issues of the LMRD.