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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
No 253, Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chikat River Floodplain

Raucous River Bottoms

The 2014 Ruskey Family Reunion was held in my father’s homeland behind Vancouver Island: the Inside Passage, the Fraser River Valley. He built clinkers as a kid, and explored the muddy flats and estuaries of the mighty Fraser River. One of his uncles constructed a log raft from piles of driftwood and explored the Peace River in the early 1900s. This summer, in July, the Fraser was running fast and muddy. But instead of the rich browns common to the Lower Mississippi, it was running the color of cement, the color of glacial-ground granite, the color of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Take away then mountains and this could be a picture of the ice-age flooding of the ancient Mississippi

On the way up north I had the joyous opportunity to wander some of the rocky floodplain bottoms below a couple of big glaciers of British Columbia and Alaska. I was accompanied by my daughter Emma-Lou and nephew Gavin. The funny thing is that I could see the geologic history of the Mississippi in these mountain ice field valleys. Icefields a thousand feet thick oozed out like thick buttermilk pancake batter from high mountain plateaus as they were engorged with the copious snowfall typical of the coastal ranges. Glaciers emerged from the edges of the icefields and descended through steep canyons collapsing thousands of feet in elevation to finally level out in broad flat valleys below, often at sea level or just above it. It was in these flat valleys full of glacier melt that the imprint reminiscent of the ancient Mississippi could be seen. Every time I meandered along these raucous river bottoms I got a bad case of Mississippi vertigo. The valleys here are full of wild cement-colored whitewater bouncing out of U-shaped valleys into completely flat bottomlands stretched out like a gravelly ironing board between the steep cliff-faced mountains. Maybe it was just homesickness, but the shapes of these braided bottoms and the myriad curves of the tumbling glacial melt reminded me of the same patterns and shapes seen in the alluvial bottomlands of my beloved muddy river (as when the Mississippi is seen from the air, or on geomorphologic maps, like those drawn by Saucier or Fisk). You can see it in the flat valleys at the terminus of the Stikine River, the Chilkat, the Salmon, and the Bear River, and in the rivers emerging from the Columbia Icefields of Jasper.

Harold Fisk's 1944 Map of the ancient channels of the Lower Mississippi

Many millennia ago, perhaps ten to fifteen thousand years, the present day shape of the Lower Mississippi Valley was formed by the melting of the Continental Ice Cap. There were no canyons here, because there were no mountain ranges. And yet everything else is the same: icefields, melting ice, big volume meltwater, fantastic braided pathways scourging the earth, deep imprints left in the floodplain as the ice caps and then later the muddy waters receded. The maker is always revealed. The maker is seen in the rocky deposits, in the striations, in the loess bluffs, in the sedimentary deposits. In all places the hand of god is everywhere evident. Or as Jesus says in The Gospel of Thomas: “Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest… and nothing covered will remain without being uncovered…”

Children uncovering hidden objects in the present day Mississippi River Floodplain

But you don’t have to go to any exotic locales to find the creator; you can find this goodness wherever you are, simply by stepping out of the cookie-cutter patterns of mankind and into the organic landforms of nature. The Lower Mississippi offers a chance to find this turbulent and beautiful wilderness within, here within the busy bosom of a busy nation. All you need to do is get over the levee and the whole world changes. The transformational power of the river’s soulful landscape turns your personal expedition into a journey into the wilderness of your heart, and you find new pathways to places never explored, or grown-over from neglect. When we work with our youth, as we do with the Mighty Quapaws, the Spring Initiative kids, the GRIOT kids, and the Helena Canoe Club, we seek to find and clear out the weedy overgrown trails, the trails that lead to the heart. Along the way our youth share in the excitement of self-discovery, self-knowledge, exploration of beauty, and peaceful co-existence with nature.

-John Ruskey

“Driftwood Johnnie” John Ruskey is the Chief Visionary Officer of Quapaw Canoe Company, and director of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation.

In this issue...

Mark River continues the conversation about geologic history below in his blog titled “Low Water Treasures.” Annette Anderson shares “Still is Still Movin’ to Me” in which she reverberates with the music of the big river. Colton Cockrum describes how the river slipped into his consciousness so subtly and then so strongly that his wife begged him to get on the river and get it out of his system -- but he became firmly entrenched!

Also, see below for some wonderful river offerings coming soon, this fall, and in the next year, including several adventuresome Rivergator Expeditions, music on the river with the Memphis Music & Heritage Festival and the King Biscuit Festival (Helena), a race on the river with the Phatwater Mississippi River Challenge, and lastly Huck ‘n’ Jim Searching for a Healthy City,” a new way of experiencing the river through the eyes of Mark Twain, Herman Melville, TS Eliot and Charles Bell!

Amazon Smile: This newsletter is made possible through the Lower Mississippi River Foundation, which is dedicated to education and access on the Lower Miss for canoeists and kayakers and other human powered craft. We recently registered with AmazonSmile. You can now make your Amazon purchases benefit the Lower Mississippi River Foundation with a 0.5% donation (no charge to you) by signing up at On your first visit to AmazonSmile, you need to select a charitable organization to receive donations from eligible purchases before you begin shopping. Amazon will remember your selection, and then every eligible purchase you make on AmazonSmile will result in a donation. See below for more information.

Upcoming Paddling

and River-Related Events

on the Lower Mississippi River:


Aug 30-31

Memphis Music & Heritage Festival (Labor Day Weekend)

Downtown Memphis Tennessee

Dugout Canoe Demonstration. Daytrips on the Mississippi River in our Big Canoes with the Mighty Quapaws!

Aug 29-30

Mississippi River Naturefest

Tara Wildlife Preserve, Eagle Lake, Mississippi

Go to for more info.


Sept 20-21

Mississippi River Bear Dance

(send inquiry email for more info)


October 2-7

Huck ‘n’ Jim Mississippi River Great Books Seminar

A entirely new way to look at the river: through great literature, including Twain, Melville, TS Eliot, and Charles Bell.

October 8-11

King Biscuit Blues Festival

One of the world’s greatest blues festivals

On the levee of the Mississippi River

in downtown Helena Arkansas

October 11

Phatwater XIII Mississippi River Challenge

The Ultimate River Race on the Lower Mississippi!

This year you can paddle with a team of Mighty Quapaws!

learn more at:

October 14-15

Mississippi River Network Annual Meeting

October 15-17

Mississippi River Conference

October 17-19

Colton Cockrum’s Annual

Be-A-Man Expedition


Nov 15-25

Rivergator Celebratory Expedition:

St. Louis to Caruthersville

307 miles on the Mississippi River

Celebrating the Middle/Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


Dec 6-16

Rivergator Celebratory Expedition:

Vicksburg to Baton Rouge

207 miles on the Mississippi River

Celebrating the Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


March 2015: Atchafalaya River Expedition

From Three Rivers WMA to the Gulf of Mexico

via Simmesport, Krotz Springs, Flat Lake and Morgan City with lots of side trips down mysterious bayous, birding, amphibians, and exploration along the way!

April 2015: Rivergator Expedition:

Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico

including Plaquemines, New Orleans and Venice (bring your haz mat suits!)

October/November 2015:

Rivergator Completion Celebration Expedition:

St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico

1180 miles on the Middle and Lower Mississippi River! Start: Missouri River Confluence. End: salty waters of the Carribean.

Mark River Blog:

Rivergator Chronicles:

Low-Water Treasures

Millions of years ago, after the glaciers receded north, the Mississippi River Valley was covered by a shallow, warm, clear sea called Kaskaskia. It advanced from the south inland and reach the east and west boundaries of the valley. The period, between Mississippian and Devonian, was a time of thriving marine animals such as crinoids, brachiopods, coral, and bryozoans.

Crinoids seemed to be the abundant species during these periods. Over 260 species of crinoids have been found in the Burlington limestone which in places are 2000 ft thick reaching from Iowa to Alabama. Crinoids, being filter feeders, thrived in these warm waters full of dissolved calcium carbonate. Burlington limestone is unusually thick, coarse-grained, crystalline,crinoidal limestone, with thin cherty beds and cherty modules.

The flood of 1993 exposed many of these creatures in limestone beds throughout the Mississippi and Missouri River tributaries giving us a broad perspective of what life was in those periods. The fossils in these formations of limestone are entirely of marine life. Letting us know that life started in the sea.

Being a river guide on the greatest river of them all, I've built a budding collection of fossils . When the water recedes, gravel bars appear throughout the river channel exposing everything from petrified wood, mud and bones, to tabulate and rugose coral. Hematite geodes, agates, and the rare carnelian are also found in these cherty beds. With the inconsistent rise and fall of the River, these beds are resupplied frequently, making them valuable to collectors.

The summer in the Delta is in full swing as the River recedes and exposing life from the past. Gravel bars from Buck Island, Montezuma, Island 62 , Knowlton, and Island 69 are releasing treasures from the past waiting to claimed by exploratory minds and hearts. It's hard to believe that 400 million years ago these creatures where thriving and we get a chance to study their lives through petrified exoskeletons left behind. It is also clear that these limestone deposits are responsible for filtering our aquifers and springs, giving us the freshwater needed to sustain healthy, enriched lives.

With the fall coming rapidly, now is the time to plan a trip on the Mississippi River. The water is refreshing, the sandbars manicured, and the sky is full of glistening stars. The warm days are complimented by cool nights. The campfire roars, calming the souls of all, making the trip to your tent the hardest chore of the day. The Mississippi River is a haven for paddlers, fishermen, collectors, and outdoor enthusiast.

Go to and plan your expedition today!

-Mark River

St. Louis born Mark “River” Peoples is a river guide and youth leader with the Quapaw Canoe Company. Mark grew up hunting and fishing along the river with his father. Mark is the Southern Region leader for 1 Mississippi ( and also serves on the board of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. When not on the water, Mark mentors Delta youth and educates them on the importance of the protection and preservation of our national treasure for generations to come. Mark works hard on changing the perception of our great River and its tributaries. Through river trips, cleanups, and workshops, Mark’s goal is overall systemic health of the Mississippi River.

Annette Anderson

1Mississippi Blog

Still is Still Movin’ to Me

(Series Episode # 4)

Note: This is the fourth installment of my six-part blog series

“River Gator: Exploring the River, Expanding Ourselves,”

a recollection of my adventure on the Lower Mississippi River

For complete story with color photos, go to:

Out on the River, as you paddle, it’s nice to catch a rhythm with your boat mates. As you pull the water past you in sync, you feel how the sum is greater than the parts.

The boat glides with a seemingly effortless ease when the movements of the participants are in coordination. In that time of synchronicity there is a satisfying stillness as well. There is stillness in movement, and movement in stillness, I argue. Musicians seem to understand this concept and so I look to them to help explain.

“Still is still moving to me,” is a lyric by the great Willie Nelson that ran through my head while out on my River adventure. To me, it means though the surface seems still, there is a powerful current lying just below, on the River or in your thoughts.

A River as powerful as the Mississippi does require skill to navigate. To be safe on the River it’s important to study and be prepared for anything, but to enjoy the journey I had to let myself enjoy the ride as well. It’s great fun to go with the flow on the River, take a break from paddling, ride the current and be carried to a different place without doing a single thing. It seems to me, when we learn to listen to our instincts on the River about when to strive and when to be carried, we strengthen our ability to apply these life lessons to life itself.

Often as I sat on the shoreline of the big River, I thought about how I couldn’t possibly fathom just how much water was flowing by, but there is no mistaking the gut feeling of its immense power. The Mighty Miss carries an average of 593,000 cubic feet per second at its mouth, almost seven times as much water as the flow falling over Niagara Falls.

As I sat, content to watch the water flow by, I thought about where it came from and where it was headed. It reminded me of the song “Watching the Wheels” by John Lennon where he talks about his retreat from the “merry-go-round” of life and enjoying sitting on the sidelines. I felt this change in perspective sitting on the shore of the River. While watching the moving River flow by from the stillness of shore, we can sit and absorb a awareness of everything around us that we might have missed while whizzing by on the River – the birds, the flowers, the ancient tiny fossils in the sand bars.

When I talk to people about their experience on the River, it seems to be a common theme, and an ironic one at that, that going to a huge rushing River helps people find stillness, healing and themselves.

It is also a common thread that people sing on the River, about the River and next to the River and often they are singing the blues. Music out in the wild, filling the space between coyote howls and water rippling, is magical. That must be why there are so many great River songs: “Take me to the River”, “Black Water” and “Proud Mary” just to name a few. (For more songs about the River, check out the Mississippi River Travelers list here.)

Writing music requires inspiration, silence and time (all of which are plentiful on the River). This is a space of stillness where creativity happens – new songs are created and old songs are sung, just a man and his instrument adding his piece into the grand story.

One cannot possibly say enough about the impact of the River on music, especially on blues music. What I can say is that in my life, and my adventure on the River, there were hard times, challenges, questions and contractions. The blues may well be the best way to express the multi-dimensional ebbs and flows, the highs and lows of a complex environment like the River, and the Delta as a whole. By singing the blues, we can tell the truth about life’s hardships, transcend them and therefore not be destroyed by them.

Music in the Delta feels like it is haunted by ghosts, with the old guard watching over the new. My newest friend, Miss Emma Lou, my River guide’s daughter 6 year old daughter, sang “Rollin Stone”, a Delta blues classic, with all the grit of Muddy Waters. I watched in amazement as she sang, “I wish I was a catfish,” her old soul shining, moving and leading the next generation of blues lovers.

I think my favorite River song is “Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke who was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the same place as the Quapaw Canoe Company. This song holds universal truths and guides generations, providing solace during hard times. Mark River, Quapaw River guide and 1 Mississippi representative, wrote a blog some time back about this song and his observations on how the River gives us a powerful example that change comes in life. The River is a physical representation of that universal truth, with it’s constant reinvention of itself. That is one more reason to visit the new Rivergator map, to learn about the River as it is RIGHT NOW.

Listening to a voice, guitar or harmonica, sullen at times, sassy and sweet at others, I can be transported back to that time on the River where I sat and watched the water flow by. I can close my eyes and remember how stillness can create the space for a deeper kind of movement in the heart and the mind.

-Annette Anderson

Annette Anderson is the 1 Mississippi Campaign Manager. For complete story with color photos, go to:

Colton Cockrum:

5th Annual Be a Man Trip

Mississippi River Trip 2014

Every Saturday after my son was born, I would take him down to the River and he and I would sit on a park bench at the Greenbelt Park and watch the water roll by. We’d get there just as the sun was coming up and stay until it got hot. I’d feed him his bottle and he’d slip in and out of sleep and I’d slip in and out of daydreams…daydreams of exploring the River. I did this routine every Saturday for several months and would come home and say to my wife, “Casey, there’s something about that River that has a hold on me. I can’t explain it!” After saying these words many times she finally said, “I wish you’d just plan a trip and get it out of your system!” Here we are five years later and I still can’t get it out of my system.

It wasn’t that long ago that I first contacted John Ruskey to plan my first ever trip on the Mississippi River. Not knowing what to expect, I gathered a group of guys who were interested in doing something that very very few people in this world have ever done…canoe down the greatest river in the world in a wooden canoe. Over the years, as I tell people about these trips, I get a wide range of responses, from “Why would you do that, you’ll die out there” to “The River is nasty.” The Mississippi River has a way of changing people’s perceptions of her. She humbly sits back and waits for you to come to her and when you do, you are shocked to find this misunderstood river who has waited centuries to explain herself. Folks, this trip is awe-inspiring and you’ll see things out there you can only imagine. Strongly consider committing to this trip soon as spots are filling up. If you have friends who are interested in going, let me know!!

Here are a few reminders about the trip in case you haven’t read any of the previous 15 e-mails I have sent out about this:

When is the trip: Oct 17-19. We’ll meet at Quapaw Canoe Company in Clarksdale, MS on the morning of the 17th. We’ll be back in Memphis that Sunday night the 19th. Closer to the time, we’ll figure out carpool schedules.

Where are we going: We’ll let John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company determine this the day we leave. We know that it will be a 40-70 mile section of the river, somewhere between Tunica and Greenville.

What are we going to do?: Man stuff. Howling at the moon, feats of strength, sleepin under the stars, swimmin’ in the main channel of the River, arm wrastlin’ tournaments, tattoos by a dude named Rooster, explorin’ islands, piratin’, and just general hellraisin’.

-Colton Cockrum

Colton Cockrum leads the Memphis River Warriors, which organizes massive cleanups along the Mississippi River in the Memphis area. He lives in Memphis with his wife and two children. Colton has spent the past ten plus years working in higher education with experience in student affairs and academic affairs. While working in student affairs, Colton gained experience in Greek Life, Student Activities, Residence Life, and Wellness. In his over seven years of experience in academic affairs he has worked with the Hardin Honors Program at the University of Memphis and most recently as the Assistant Director of the Center for Academic Retention and Enrichments Services (CARES). In his current position, he works with ACAD 1100, Fresh Connections Learning Communities, and Living-Learning Communities.

Amazon Smile

This newsletter is made possible through the Lower Mississippi River Foundation, which is dedicated to education and access to the Lower Miss for canoeists and kayakers and other human-powered craft. We recently registered with AmazonSmile. You can now make your Amazon purchases benefit the Lower Mississippi River Foundation with a 0.5% donation (no charge to you) by signing up at On your first visit to AmazonSmile, you need to select a charitable organization to receive donations from eligible purchases before you begin shopping. Amazon will remember your selection, and then every eligible purchase you make on AmazonSmile will result in a donation. See below for more information.

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