Backyard Expeditions Arkansas Mississippi
Live Interactive Video Streams 2020/2021
Backyard Survival in a New World
BEAM-ing ways for kids (and adults) to survive the new world, with what they find in their own back yard!
Thanks to the generous support and partnership with the Walter
Anderson Museum of Art, Mississippi Arts Commission and The
Lower Mississippi River Foundation, we have created a series of live-streamed interactive video sessions for students and
communities, focusing on canoe carving, along with a myriad of
other survival skills, such as: transportation (bicycle maintenance,
carving dugout canoe); shelter (building a lean-to tent, setting up a
tent); food (gardening, gathering wild foods and cooking over
campfire); health (purifying water, ID and gathering of wild foods,
wild spices & herbs); animal identification (birding, tracking). We are
also sharing the tools, history and inspiration that provide
nourishment, sustainability and indeed survival for the soul!
Including home-grown & cultivated arts, plant arts, literature, poetry,
plein air sketching, and watercolors.
This launch of the BEAM project takes participants and viewers
aboard the Quapaw canoe up the Sunflower River, paddling through
downtown Clarksdale to the cypress tree that will be used as
dugout log stock for the new, hand-carved vessel that will be made
over the course of the year. Wilderness guide and canoe captain
John Ruskey will introduce key survival and cultural concepts, such
as the eons-old tradition of the dugout canoe, which dates back to
First Nations boat builders. Ruskey will explain the philosophy
behind locating the "spirit of the tree" prior to beginning the
process of building the canoe.
In session two, Leading Canoe GP, John Ruskey, will draw back the
curtain and reveal the inner workings of the canoe and just what
makes a dug-out tick! With his expert step-by-step guide,
participants will learn how to transform the bark of a tree into a
functional body and the surgical operations of clearing out the
airways of our blessed log, so that we may all breathe our collective
artistic vision into Grandfather Cypress and truly create a living
vessel of exploration! Chief Ruskey will bring out his chalkboard
and sketchbook and get everyone's creative hands and hearts
working as each participant begins creating their personal design of
choice for Grandfather, while we reflect on the insights and Spiritual
inspirations that were sent in by participants last month. John will
also share with our viewers his own recent Spiritual encounter with
Grandfather Cypress...and perhaps even summon a visit from the
Spirit for our audience to experience for themselves! You just never
know what we'll discover- and that is indeed the beauty of our
A discussion by the banks of The Sunflower River with our very
own Mark River, as he and the Quapaw team give you an insider's
understanding of the fish, snakes and amphibians that call the
Sunflower River home, and how the Sunflower's disconnection
from the Misssissippi River changed its diversity and habitat- making
it America's most endangered river.
Grandfather Cypress Falls!! (and comes home)
Our mightiest and endless thanks to Joel, Charles, Todd,
Dennis, Leroy and everyone as part of to the INCREDIBLE
team at Clarksdale Park Commission and Clarksdale Public
Works for making this dream come to life!! With a very
special and most heartfelt thanks to Liddell Houston whose
graceful precision, fierce tenacity and Heavenly inspired
strength saw Grandfather Cypress' journey from sky to soil
through with unflinching honor and courage. The journey of
transforming log to canoe begins! And though his bark may
no longer breathe, Grandfather Cypress' spirit is surely a
force of nature that shall sing out with stories and
adventures throughout the ages! As we embark on this
transformational new chapter of life- for Grandfather, us
Quapaws, and with our BEAMers- may we carry out the
legacy of our blessed Grandfather Cypress and all of the
miraculous life forms from our Creator with Big River Love
and Divine Devotion to cherish and preserve for our world
today and the generations to come. "We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed."
Our fourth BEAM session "Rio Abjao Rio: Carving Out the River
Within" in which John and the Quapaws will reveal the underbelly
of Grandfather Cypress by carving out the hull interior LIVE for
our viewers, exploring and magnifying the flowings of our cypress'
inner layers of life, and discussing the historical and architectural
perspectives of this indigenous art form. But wait- THERE'S MORE!!
We will also be announcing the WINNER of our viewer-submitted
"Divining the Spirit" design contest and begin the journey of
bringing the elected BEAMers vision to life for the next chapter of
Grandfather's life as a River made and community built dugout
"Grandfather is a Duck!"
Thanks to friend, naturalist and fellow paddler-artist, Robin Whitfield, we have a design for Grandfather Cypress!
The Vote is in: Last issue of the LMRD we sent out 25
choices for the design of Grandfather Cypress, our 170
year old cypress tree log that is sitting next to Quapaw
Canoe Company on the banks of the Sunflower River in
downtown Clarksdale. I received votes by email, text, FB
messages, and phone calls! English adventurer Emma
Karembo Cornthwaite was the last email, and my father
Gary "Gare-Bear" Ruskey-Halsey last phone call -- he
actually called in live, as we were about to complete vote!
Thank you all for your thoughtful submissions, and generosity in sharing. This
is what the dugout canoe carving tradition is all about -- community spirit. I
have printed and placed all designs in a 3-ring binder; we will use this
portfolio as inspiration as we continue along the journey.
We will incorporate the spirit of the new Mississippi flag (as Judy Belue asked)
and also the spirit in Dan Weibe's poetic input:
"The Alpha and the Omega. The Yin and the Yang.
Good and Evil. Infinity too. All the Old Gang. A
canoe for all times come before and those times in
The spirit of "the Swimmers" and the "Green Man" will be there. The
Crocodile, the Raccoon, the Whale, The Buck Deer, the Laying Deer, the Beaver,
the Loon, the Fish, the Old Man, the Dragon, the Cow-noe, the Water Turkey,
the Snake, the Owl, the Spiral. All will be in the new dugout. You all are now part of the canoe! Thank you for joining us in this journey,
and sharing your dreams and visions.
Also -- Abraham's name "Water Bird" got a lot of response, so "Water Bird"
will be in the name -- and the spirit!
In total, 312 of you readers responded, and
Robin's Drake Wood Duck got the most
Robin Whitfield, artist, paddler, naturalist, conservationist:
"I had a great time sitting with grandfather Cypress
yesterday. I saw a wood duck immediately and couldn't go beyond that. I tried.
I can just see it bobbing in the river with beauty and confidence like the wood
duck drake. Comfortable on both land and water. I saw sister Poke Berry on
the Hill up from grandfather Cypress. I enjoyed using her colorful berry ink in
the Canoe design. We had an awesome time paddling the Sunflower while
the sinking sun painted all the trees with golden light. We saw several deer,
Asian carp and lots of sparrows."
2nd most voted for: Moon Goddess Canoe
2nd most voted was Moon Goddess Canoe, created by my
older sister, Lorraine DeAndrea, artist, gardner, wife & partner of
the American sculptor, John DeAndrea!
I liked Lexy Canoe:
Lexy Canoe did not receive many votes, but this one was my
personal favorite, for its rounded qualities harmonious with the
shape of the ends of the log, and because it would be fun to
Giddy Canoe -- 9 votes
Water Bird (Abie) Canoe -- 15 votes
Orrie (Raccoon) Canoe -- 10 votes
Solly Canoe -- 11 votes Quapaw Laying Deer Canoe -- 3 votes
Moon Goddess Canoe -- 31 votes
Wood Duck Canoe -- 59 votes
Old Man River Canoe -- 13 votes
Fish Canoe -- 2 votes
Buck Deer Canoe -- 30 votes
Owl Canoe -- 16 votes
Lexy Canoe -- 9 votes
Beaver Canoe -- 14 votes
Whale Canoe -- 29 votes
Dragon Canoe -- 3 votes
The Cownoe -- 4 votes
Water Turkey Canoe -- 12 votesRiver Swimmers Canoe -- 7 votes
New Directions Canoe -- 6 votes
The Alpha and the Omega Canoe -- 3 votes
Crocodile Canoe -- 9 votes
Green Man Canoe -- 13 votes
Spiral Pattern Canoe -- 8 votes
Snake or Salamander Canoe -- 4 votes
= 312 votes total
Notes (and photos) from Canoe Drawings:
The first 4 choices come from our good friend Dahveed
Benson, Voyageur Canoe Camp director, Colorado
Springs School history teacher, youth expedition leader,
and loving father of 4 boys: "The Benson boys had a great afternoon
imagining and drawing dugouts - Thank you all so much for sending this fun
challenge out! Here is a pdf of their work and a few pictures of the process.
good health, peace, and positive vibes to you all, Dahveed"
1) Giddy (Crocodile) Canoe
2) Water Bird (Abie) Canoe
3) Orrie (Raccoon) Canoe
4) Solly (Loon) Canoe
5) Quapaw Laying Deer Canoe
Quapaw Laying Deer Teapot
Chris Lese, Marquette University High School:
"I searched online for Quapaw influences and saw a tea pot that I imagined
floating down the rivers and this made me smile. This was really fun to sketch
through ideas and see other's creations."
6) Moon Goddess Canoe
Lorraine DeAndrea, artist, gardner, wife & partner of the
American sculptor, John DeAndrea:
"Very rudimentary Sketch...
Moon Goddess Canoe?" (Lorraine is also my oldest sister!)
7) Wood Duck Canoe
Robin Whitfield, artist, paddler, naturalist,
"I had a great time sitting with grandfather Cypress
yesterday. I saw a wood duck immediately and couldn't go beyond that. I tried.
I can just see it bobbing in the river with beauty and confidence
like the wood duck drake. Comfortable on both land and water. I saw sister
Poke Berry on the Hill up from grandfather Cypress. I enjoyed using her
colorful berry ink in the Canoe design. We had an awesome time paddling
the Sunflower while the sinking sun painted all the trees with golden light. We
saw several deer, Asian carp and lots of sparrows."
8) Old Man River Canoe (Green Man Canoe?)
"The bow of the canoe could be the face of an old man
with beard and hair flowing back into the body of the canoe. The grooves of
the beard and hair would flow along the sides turning into grooves similar to
the trunk of a cypress tree, then smoothing out and ending with three cypress
knees at the stern. A rough sketch is attached. Love the work you do with and
for the river. Thank you."
9) Fish Canoe
Rambling Steve Gardner, musician, photographer,
creative wildman extraordinaire:
this is "Miz Sally and Big Steve
in a Fish Canoe. Oh, it is what I feel from here for sure! Set it free and let it
swim! All the best! And save me a dry spot on the sand bar! Wishes for safe
travels and smooth water!"
10) Buck Deer Canoe
John Ruskey, river guide, canoe carver:
An 8-point Buck Deer
visited me while i was sitting quietly sketching one morning in the heat of
August. We had a conversation, a sharing of buck snorts. He wanted to leap
across the Sunflower near where i sat, but i didn't want him to. After a few
minutes he turned tail and fled back through small woods below Clakrsdale
jail. I am fairly certain this was a real experience, but i also feel the this was
the spirit of Grandfather Cypress speaking to me."
11) Owl Canoe
"I saw a great horned owl across the river -- Owl Canoe?"
12) Lexy Canoe
"Craig's dog Lexy came for a visit. Lexy is on her last legs in life. She is 77
years old (12 years old in human years). She belongs to our good neighbor,
Craig Hatchett, of Sunflower Laundry, which he operates with his father across
the street from the Quapaw Canoe Company. They are an example of a
great father-son relationship."
13) Beaver Canoe
"My Daddy, Gary Ruskey-Halsey
, retired farmer, housebuilder, also
woodcarver and furniture builder, and loving, devoted husband to my mother,
visited, and saw a beaver -- Beaver Canoe?"
14) Whale Canoe
Spanish photographer Magdalena Sole
saw a canoe in the
shape of a whale -- "It will be powerful and wise..." Note: Ms. Sole is based in
New York City. Her photographic impulses have taken her across the world-
from Cuba, to Japan, to China, to Brazil, to Burma, to the Mississippi Delta,
anywhere she goes she's most drawn to the people and places on the
Other Canoe Spirit Sharings:
Spirit Voices -- "Danny V" Veshinski: "I read your
recent dispatch and it reminded me of a song by Paul Simon titled "Spirit Voices." I thought I'd share a
link for you to enjoy!"
"Wishing you well and excited to see the spirit
within the canoe come to form!"
Poem of the Woodcarver -- dynamic
educator and father
, Scott Shirey: shared a
Chuang Tzu poem that captures the very same
"River under River" spirit we are searching for as
canoe carvers, (and a similar spirtual practice --
fasting for clarity):
Poem of the Woodcarver
Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must beThe work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
"What is your secret?"
Khing replied: "I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.
"By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.
"Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
"If I had not met this particular treeThere would have been
No bell stand at all.
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits."
"Poem of the Woodcarver" by Chuang Tzu, from The Way of Chuang Tzu,
by Thomas Merton. © New Directions, 1965.
BEAM Session 5: The Quapaws' Exploration of Gratitude From Our Own Backyards to Yours!
Happiest of Happy New Years, dear BEAMers from near and far!
May 2021 bring us back home to normal, but a normal that over the
spiraling of years' past we have lost. Let empathy, faith, curiosity,
kindness, selflessness, community, healing, mercy and love become
our normal once more- that is our inherent truth. It is our God
given right to live in pure wonder of all that surrounds us, streaming
into and dwelling within ourselves and within every being we
encounter. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us.
BEAM Session 6: "The Nature of Words"
In our Sixth BEAM Session, "The Nature of Words", we embrace
the spirit of William Shakespeare's observation that "one touch of
nature makes the whole world kin," and explore how our
interconnectedness to the world around us acts as the bedrock of
truth in our understanding of ourselves and others. Mississippi
Appalachian native and Mighty Quapaw, Allie Grant, shares findings from her own backyard in Chickasaw County, while offering us an
emotive and experiential multi-cultural lexicon that includes unique
descriptions of nature, and language for otherwise indescribable
feelings of our relationship to the natural world, to integrate into
the free-flowing dictionary of our daily lives. As we conclude with a
special reading of a beloved tale for all ages, we discover that just as
seedlings are planted upon fertile ground, our words take root and
yield the crops of which our souls feed upon; that the stories we
tell hold the power to provide a lifetime of nourishment, healing
and community. And like the steady old turtle, we must always
persevere in sharing the whole truth of oneness.
"Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories
of the Wild Woman Archetype" by Clarissa Pinkola
"Old Turtle And The Broken Truth" by Douglas Wood
"Nature of Words" Vocabulary
-Solastalgia (Psychological Term)
Distress caused by environmental change (climate change, pollution
mining) that alters a person's home landscape without them ever leaving
-Shepherd's lamp (Cambridgeshire)
First star that rises after sunset
Sun's warmth in winter
The pleasant, distinctive small of rain in the air, sometimes detectable
before the rain has even begun to fall, and especially strong when the
first rain falls after a period of warm, dry weather
Intense stillness and humidity immediately before a storm breaks
A powerful feeling of both fear and fascination, of being in awe and
overwhelmed by what is before you.
Originally, this word refers to having a strong religious or spiritual
quality; but it can also be used to describe how you feel when you see
things that are so beautiful that you realise how wonderful the world is
and the small part you play in it.
The feeling of solitude and connectedness to nature when being alone
in the woods.
The feeling of butterflies in your stomach, usually when something
romantic takes place.
Referring to the wind, when it comes in unpredictable gusts
*From Quapaw Sister, Lindsay Kolasa's, daughter, Zoe
Someone or something that is kind, magical and good all around
BEAM Session 7- "Fire: The Indespensible Survival Tool"
In our seventh BEAM, we welcome renowned survivalist, Leon Pantenburg of Survival Common Sense,
aboard the big canoe to ignite the flames of your dreams! As a distinguished nature enthusiast,
writer and educator of over 20 years, Leon will be illuminating our curiosity and imagination as
he guides us through the wonderous art and intricate step by step process of creating a survival
necessity- FIRE! Live demonstrations included!
Survival Common Sense:
"Bushcraft Basics: A Common Sense Wilderness Survival Handbook"
BEAM Session 8- "The Gifts of Plants: Medicine, Material, Shelter, Food"
Quapaw and BEAM partner, Julian Rankin, of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art hosts Artist/Naturalist
Robin Whitfield and Herbalist/Naturalist Lindsay Kolasa as they discuss and investigate the myriad
ways that plants support human societies and self-discovery. They look closely at flora such as black
walnut, elder, dandelion, and cotton, illuminating the versatility of plants in art making and
craftwork, as well as the ways that nature's bounty shapes our conceptions of life on earth.