Quapaw Canoe Company
wishing you a...
Happy Canoe Year!
Many blessings to you
& your friends & family
in this beautiful season
of light & wonder
In this issue the Quapaws
share with you
the seasonal magic of the river
(Mark River Blog)
and visions for the future
(New Years Full Moon)
and a delightful essay from
“Wolfie” Chris Staudinger
There are certain moments on the River that shine more brightly than others. When they happen, they’re sharp like dreams. It’s like the energy of the earth surges, rises from its core, and lights up something very small. Ditches, low fogs, rocks, and other unremarkable things become geysers of this glow. They make me sad or excited or nostalgic for something long gone like a holly bush that I used to hide in when I was five years old.
It’s hard to relive or relate one of these small moments. And because of that, it becomes difficult to tell other people why it is that I spend so much time on the River.
“Well,” I shrug, “It’s the willows.”
“The willows?” they say, and their eyebrows arch dubiously. I squirm. “They move in a strange way.”
A couple of weeks ago, I had one of these feelings. I was out with a group of river
people surveying the near-record low water. I was walking around after a long day of paddling feeling the way you might feel after work or school, when five o’clock comes, the sun gets weak, and a twinge of boredom creeps in while food simmers on the stove. There’s indecision of where to go next, both in your head and in that hard, darkening light.
We were on Willow Island near Vicksburg, Mississippi. It’s different from the other islands of the Mississippi, which tend to hover low over the water and sit off to the side, almost indistinguishable from the mainland. Willow Island, on the other hand, sits on a very narrow channel, so that it looks much more isolated. And it has a fifty-foot white sand bluff at its center, which makes it stand tall like a statue of a squat man with a big proud chest. I learned that the island had changed dramatically during the record high water of 2011. A channel had once crossed the far end of the island and was now filled in. A new one was carved out. I began walking to that end of the island, towards a lone stand of tall trees right at the edge.
Young, bushy willows cover the top of the big bluff, where I was camped. During the autumn, their leaves dry up brown and curve like dead fingers. When they fall, they make a brittle carpet that massages the bottoms of your feet. I followed the brown carpet, surrounded completely by these wispy willows that felt more like Christmas trees than their stern, tall fathers. I can linger in these stands, staring, for chunks of time, watching these mysterious villages move in the way that only they can describe. They surround you. They give off a bittersweet aroma. They creak in the wind.
The forest opened up into a very green, very still lagoon, which could have been carved by last year’s flood. It’s a “blue hole.” They’re carved out of the ground during flood stage when the river becomes angry and crashes into a bank. The lip of earth makes like a ramp and lifts the water up onto the land beyond. When the water falls, it falls hard, and it keeps falling for days until the flood crest passes. The force of the falling water creates a tumbling action that can dig craters 200 feet deep into the earth.
A day earlier, we had passed Mounds Landing, where the River broke through its banks in the Great Flood of 1927. The breach ultimately flooded about a fifth of the state of Mississippi. John Barry puts the levee break neatly into perspective:
“It was an immense amount of water. The crevasse at Mounds Landing poured out 468,000 second-feet onto the (Yazoo-Mississippi) Delta, triple the volume of a flooding Colorado, more than double a flooding Niagara Falls, more than the entire upper Mississippi ever carried.”
It left a blue hole that couldn’t be measured at the time because it was too deep.
Today, the lake spans sixty-five acres.
The lagoon on Willow Island was motionless. There were no signs of crashing
waters. A line of brush encircled it into a sanctuary. The main channel of the river was several hundred yards away.
The island’s belly, with its bluff and lagoon, is separated from its foot by a wide, uninterrupted plane of sand, and I started running. It wasn’t for exercise. Something just said, “Go get in that space.”
Molehill dunes and pelican feathers blurred on the sand beneath me. Feet made a chirping noise in the sand, chest heaved with all that air. And then I was there. I stopped at the shallow ravine that, one year ago, was a channel full of water. On its other side was a different space: what once was an island within an island. The willows here were much older. They were tall and wobbly like long legged schoolgirls. They were sparse, spread out, weathered and beaten. Roots were exposed where ground had been pulled from beneath them. Some leaned at dangerous, improbable angles. Some had fallen. Goose feathers dotted the ground, but no birds sat in the high branches. Everything was quiet save my breathing and the creak of the swaying trees.
The low hanging sun colored everything peach. I walked through the tuft of trees to see what was on the other side of the ridge that fell towards the backwater. Deer, turtles, and beavers sometimes prefer those boatless, calmer waters.
I looked over the slope, and the sand was orange with the sun. The backwater was muddy and almost dry. I started walking back to camp, but I turned to look again at those old willows. I saw watermelons at their feet. A whole patch of big, prizeworthy melons.
They were so perfectly still and tiny on that big river that I could do nothing but stand and look at them. Their silence was overwhelming. I was in a nursery. They were like newborns, hovered over by some invisible mother. About fifteen of them lay in grave-like divots on the soft sand. They were connected by thin, drying vines that still coursed with energy. A November warmth spoiled them.
It felt like stealing from a church. Or kidnapping. But I snapped two vines. I picked them up and left the rest with the big gray willows.
- Chris Staudinger
“Wolfie” Chris Staudinger is learning and living on the Mississippi River with Quapaw Canoe Company in Clarksdale, MS. One day, he will move back to his homeplace of Lower Louisana and establish a community of houseboats and container homes on stilts.
Mark River Blog:
Change Gonna Come
The year is winding down. I can't help but reflect and share my wonderful experience as a Mighty Quapaw and our high anticipations and expectations for the year to come.
I arise early on a sunday morning. I take a walk along the Sunflower River down stream from the Quapaw Canoe Company to a usual spot were I write, process information, and become one with nature hoping to be inspired by its blessings. Today's a great day. My holiday cheer kicked in gear by an incredible rendition of "The Nutcracker" co-starring Emma Lou Ruskey and her ballet class. It was great to see my number one River Citizen flourishing in a diverse environment giving us hope for the next Generation.
I sit underneath a mature sycamore tree marveling at the large community of squirrels frolicking and foraging in the trees, while I'm singing Sam Cooke's version of"Change Gonna Come", when a beautiful red tail hawk lands on the large sycamore branch above me. I thank the Creator for the sacred sunday sighting and choose a name for this piece.
"I was born by the River!", the first verse of the classic song, makes me beam with passion and pride. In my earlier years I had no idea the significance that this great river would grow to have on my life. It seems that all my athletic years of hard work and determination were merely training for my stewardship for the Mississippi River.
The great thing about change is that it could be good, bad, or indifferent. But if embraced properly you, you can see the big picture. Lately, I've been noticing the public and media attention on the Mississippi River. It's not about the 18 million people that the river supplies daily with water or the harmful agricultural run-off which effects the benthic community of organisms which ultimately effects all reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. The attention has been focused on the extreme low water levels and its effect on the barge industries and our countries economic health. I think this attention is great. I've been getting calls and emails from friends all over the country to discuss the drought.
Being a steward of this great river, my perception is different from most, but similar to many. I look at the river from a internal sense, not external. The Mississippi River's changing water levels are essential to it's health . It regulates the checks and balances of it's aquatic community as well as the species who feed and rely on It's bounties for sustainability. For example, this spring when the drought set in, I noticed a large amount of fatalities in the Asian Carp community, but I also noticed the animals that thrive from the fatalities. Eagles, herons, egrets, pelicans, gulls, hawks all benefited. Coyotes, bobcats,raccoons, turtles and other scavengers thrived also. So basically, it looked as if the river was cleaning and purifying herself.
The river also looks cleaner. The cleanup efforts from teams such as 1Mississippi, Living Lands & Water, KIPP-Delta schools, and the Mighty Quapaws seem to be making a difference.
I've also had the blessing of watching the Arkansas River change it's course creating a totally new ecosystem between the old mouth and the new.
What I'm trying to say is that the Mississippi River is a forever changing biodiverse ecosystem which has sustained life for centuries upon centuries upon centuries. The latest media publicity should bring to the forefront of the minds of the millions of people and the government that the systemic health of this national treasure should be held at the same level of importance for the country as the Great Lakes or the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean. With the impact the river makes on our economy alone it should be protected and maintained for generations to come. And for the levels of the water, the Native Americans embraced the change because they were one with the land. Lets get back to that.
Become a River citizen today. This winter, get to know YOUR river!
Mighty Quapaw Youth Leader Mark “River” Peoples is the 1 Mississippi Southern Region Intern. For more information go visit www.1mississippi.org
1926 - 2012
Our Paddles are up for voyageur, historian, and canoe builder extraordinaire Ralph Frese. Please keep him and his family in your river wishes and prayers.
In 1999 Ralph mentored me through the construction of our first big canoe, the 26 1/2 foot cypress strip Ladybug Canoe in 1999. Every voyageur canoe we have built since then has been somewhat indebted to his generosity, patience and unbending sense of ethics and historical accuracy. He scrutinized our artsy dugouts with a stern historian’s eye. I will always remember the first piece of advice he gave me: "Read, read, read! Read everything you can get your hands on" [about big canoes]. I have tried to follow his advice and discover the secrets of the ancient canoe practice in the stories and drawings of the peoples who lived and settled in North America and in between the lines written from thereof. Canoes are as much a part of our story as rivers are, something mostly forgotten or ignored. Trains, planes and steamboats are but a blip in the timeline of the North America, while canoes extend through many centuries, even millennia.
A giant tree in the forest has fallen with Ralph. A library has burned down. But his stories and canoes and everything he shared with us will live on forever on the rivers of America and the canoes that ply their channels.
We love you Ralph! Thank you for everything you have carved, created and shared with us! You have made the world a better place!
-”Driftwood Johnnie” John Ruskey
Quapaw Canoe Company
New Year’s Full Moon
After Christmas you might be ready to get out and feel the crystal clear cold air and experience the magic of the river moonlight -- and bring in the New Year around the blazing driftwood bonfire. If so, call or write firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Advance reservations required!
Thursday, Dec 27th Full Frosty Beaver Moon Float from Helena, Arkansas. Meet 411 Ohio in Helena 2pm. Back 10pm.
Friday, Dec 28th Full Frosty Beaver Moon Float from Memphis, Tennessee. Meet Memphis Harbor 2pm. Back 10pm.
Saturday, Dec 29th to Monday Dec 31st Full Frosty Moon Float and Sweat Lodge from Clarksdale
Get to know YOUR river!