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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No. 272
Friday, Jan 9, 2015

Thanks to everyone who sent wishes and prayers for my 16 year-old niece, Ariana Jo. I am happy to say that she is now on her way back home to Laramie with her family after a successful surgery. Ari Jo is a brave young lady who has accepted life’s difficulties with a lot of sweetness and grace. "Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound..."

A Muddy Guitar String 1,000 Miles Long

Rivergator Expedition: The journey continues with a series of early morning impressions from my journals kept during the Vicksburg to Baton Rouge Rivergator Expedition, Dec 2014. This is our Mighty Quapaw way of saying "Happy Ca-New Year" to you with a small gift of sharing. I hope in some way these illumnations bring to you a portion of the beauty and happiness we experienced in the soft early morning light. We have many things to be thankful for in the New Year including an expressive river to wake up to every morning, peaceful resolution of our 2009-2014 tax fight, and many great adventures with you. Good journeys to you wherever the New Years finds you. Photos and journal entries by "Driftwood" John Ruskey.

Monday, December 8, Bottom End Middle Ground. Willows reaching with outstretched arms as if glorifying the light grey-blue skies and the winter wind howling overhead, every branch raised in praise of this peaceful time of year, the time of long nights and short days, the regeneration of the atmosphere, our oxygen refreshed, the lungs of the earth need these deep breaths to recycle the old and reconnect anew with the primal patterns of the universe. Calm morning, three big tows pushed upstream hugging the bottom of the island, Grand Gulf billowing huge columns of steam into the heavens, a gentle roaring replacing the roaring sound of the wind through the trees, after blowing steady 10-20 mph for three days gusting to 30 out of the north the wind has puffed itself to sleep, and now the stillness returns to the river and the dark woods, all peaceful and still that is save for the grinding of the turbines and churning of drive shafts, first light filters in grain by grain replacing the dark blues with incandescent pastels, dark reds becoming dark purples on either side of the brightness, the black silhouettes of the trees become glowing silky silhouettes as if the lightness is coming from within (and perhaps it is) the first lightness infuses all with the glowing spirit, as the light gathers strength and softens the dark colors into glowing pastels, effervescent glowing, easter egg effervescence, pastel oranges, reds, blues, purples, greens, every section of the wrap-around forest has its own particular tinge of misty coloring, brightest towards the arrival of the source, darker away not by degree of blackness but by variation in color, yellows around the growing soul-source, reddening through the oranges away, tangerine, then cinnamon, then rusty reds, then plum purples, with splashes of cobalt blueness and pine needle green-ness appearing in washes glowing from surprising quarters, soft watercolor washes of the most dilute tones, the hills surrounding the Big Black breathe with an inherit mistiness that swells in saturation towards daybreak and gathers in sparkling crystalline dewdrops over the edges of the grasses and wets the roofs of our tents, as droplets congeal on the cypress strip voyageur canoe they begin to run down the gunnels towards the river where we have dragged up the sandy bank, and they slide down the rounded hull, and where the proud prow rises over the water’s edge gather in a line of diamonds, quivering slightly in the gentle air, and silently releasing themselves to fall into the wet sand below.

Tuesday, December 9, Skull Island. Looking down the misty channel towards Natchez, the high wire light flashing hypnotically, waves gently washing onto the shore, a big tow going up, two coming down, the second one an asphalt tow by the sounds of the extra motors on the barges. Running the neon blue bulbs bottom deck as seems to be popular with tow crews these days. Woke up at 3:23 the moon high in the mature willow forest I had laid my head down in, “lay me head, by the waterside, in my time, in my time, I will roll, roll, roll...” So many songs about sleeping by the river, beds by the river, and willows by the river. The river creates the most peaceful harbor for humans to open their subconscious to the resonate ripplings of dream-time. The willow trunks dark in their middles but silvery on their sides reflecting moonlight in ridged strips running vertically in their weaving pattern, like ripples on the sandbar or waves across the lake in a gentle breeze. Orion paddling his surfboard down into the western horizon, right arm outstretched and driving the paddle blade downwards into the tall cottonwoods lining the river over towards Vidalia. An oil well donkey engine thrashing the silence behind camp up through Fairchild Chute (Skull Island), so here ends this stretch of wild river? Finally finding my groove. A difficult transition this time, it took three days of cold wind, massive logistics, and hard paddling to reach this state of heavenly bliss where dream-time approaches day-time, the indigo-blue dark skies pregnant with the spin of the earth and the streaming sun waves which herald the work world. But now by the light of the driftwood fire and the cold grey-blue glow of my laptop I am finally finding my favorite place here on the edge of the ever-flowing, flowing-river, perched on the line between heaven and earth, this crossroads of time and place so delicate, and yet I keep finding paradise again and again here in this same place, strung like a muddy guitar string 1,000 miles long and reverberating in deep muddy basso-profundo, sometimes in gentle waves, sometimes in crashing waves of chaos, sometimes murmuring so finely and softly that only a canoe drifting down the face of her watery-string in the warm golden buttery light of a cold winter solstice afternoon could you perceive the subtle nuances, this kind of palpitations would be immediately destroyed by the firing of an outboard engine or passage on any motor-powered vessel.

Wednesday, Dec 10, Natchez Islands. Teardrop moon sliding over the tall willows on breadloaf Island (in the Natchez Islands) across the sky, masses of willow branches and their forks and fractal forks, and more forks upon other forks, all silhouetted in the moon brightened sky, the blob of orange moon rose over Natchez last night as Orion was doing the same over St. Katherine’s Wildlife Refuge, beavers slapping their tails defiantly, we scare them not, they have claimed the bar with a collection of scent mounds on both sides of the island, one within the big harbor the Grashopper is pulled up in, and a city of scent mounds on the backside, never seen so many mounds all laid out together so thickly before, they just keep their distance as the swirl and slap, swirl and slap, swirl and slap, one giant beaver and a younger one following, making dark wake-lines in the glistening dark blue water, Andromeda following the moon towards the western horizon, the winter moon following the path of the summer sun, as she arose over the Natchez Bluff and the Natchez bridge the moon cast a tangerine orange reflection perfectly etched across the blue-black waters, sliced and diced by boil and eddy lines, but otherwise perfect;y long and straight and even, a perfect orange rectangle etched on the face of the big cold river blowing around the Natchez Bluff and on downstream. Great horned owls making woody calls from over the backside of Natchez Island while towboats rumble upstream, three in a row chugging along as I awoke from my lonely peninsula, rolling dunes of sand peppered with spiral willow leaves freshly blown from the trees above and scattered artfully across Breadloaf Bar in various states of the spiral, but also a few half moons and a few S-shapes amongst the spirals, but mostly unanimously spiral, the willow leaf seeks the spiral, of this there is no doubt, ask anyone who has walked through a willow forest on a crisp fall day, or laid their pallet on a bed of willow leaves in the early spring, the first light now puffing its lungs and filling the air space over the Mississippi Loess Bluffs just before 6am shapes emerging from the darkness, long sharp zig-zag lines where the sandbar reaches into the water, a canoe pulled up into one of the narrow harbors, a driftwood log above, a tent placed nearby here, a another tent top end, maybe too close to the water -- I hope they are not getting water in their sleeping bags from the rising river!

Thursday, Dec 11, Palmetto Island. Chilly wind blowing over the top of the island. The air warmer than anynight so far, but the breeze blowing over the river cuts through many layers of fleece. Woke up with Orion and Canis Major setting over the back channel of Black Hawk Island (Artonish) Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area where the three rivers the Red, and the Ouchita all come together over the banks of the big river, and a portion of the Mississippi diverted nearby to combine with the others and together they equal one third of the daily average flow for the creation of the Atchafalaya River, America’s shortest big river. Mud bank expressions around Bougere Bend reflect the geography in reds and blacks, maybe the Mississippi mud layering intermixed with the mud of the Red, blue layers alternating with orange layers, opposites in the color spectrum creating a vivid display as we paddle hard out of Dead Man’s Bend and around Jackson Point, everyone bone tired from the long hard crawl all day, the river spreading wider and wider, fat and happy, everywhere you see the face of the river she looks excited and expressive of her joy, along the edges by the wall of willows she is boiling and rippling like a child, over the big belly coming out of the bend she sends gentle murmurs downstream as far as the eye can see like a contented parent. I like looking into the sparkling sun reflections and finding all of the fine lines of the boils and eddies dancing across the horizon like a stampeded of whirling dervishes, the greatest migration ever, the endless migration of motions and counter-motions, more constant than the motions of clouds which come and go, and the dust blowing across the earth which rise and subside, only the motions of the river remain the same, the touch stone for everything that makes us alive, the stairway to heaven, the steeple of the creator’s workroom.

Friday, Dec 12, Hog Point Towhead. Crackling willow pops and sparks firelight dancing yellow orange out of the blackness of the small dry logs we pulled out of the receding end of Hog Point Towhead, a bony ridge rising high above the main channel making a natural levee and ideal placement for a line of voyageur tents and hammocks, Nathan at the very bottom edge, then Layne, River and Lil’ Mike set their tents on the edge of a promenade entrance hall leading to the chapel of the willows, every Mississippi River island hosts such a chapel, where the spirit of god can be felt close at hand in the hushed atmosphere and inspirational light, the Orr brothers furthest up the ridge have erected their tent, and I laid my head in the curling willow leaves in between. Smoke being thrown swirling with a gentle easterly breeze into which the mesmerizing dance of the willow flames spins and sashays, swirls and curls, doubles over and stands upright, as a couple of fishermen turn into the embayment below us and bend over, stoop down, catch their nets, and then stand erect, and in the same fluid motion, pull them upwards and pick the thrashing fish off the line and throw them into a fridgerator cut n half at the bottom of the boat, and low puffy clouds slowly march through the half moon out of the northwest, a splotchy sky, like the foam on the rising river, the reflections of stars peeking out in between the white splotches, everything else silent and awaiting instruction from the concertmaster who is slowly approaching from the east, but is still far over the loess bluff horizon, the Tunica Hills, only a few ushers like the fishermen and myself and that tow pilot grinding up up through Tunica Bend, are awake and following the first steps in the dance of the day, but when the director emerges from over the hills the entire orchestra will awaken and begin to play, and the all of the willow chapels and cottonwood/oak/sycamore/sweetgum cathedrals will resound with the sound of dance and music.

Dec 2014, The Rivergator: Paddler's Guide to the Lower Mississippi at morning camp on the Natchez Islands with (L-R) the Lower Mississippi Riverkeepers (Paul and Michael Orr), BTS Riverview 360-degree camera (Ralph Pace), Layne's Log (Layne Logue), Mighty Quapaws (Lil' Mike, Mark River, and Brax Bar), Natchez Outpost of the Quapaw Canoe Company (Adam Elliott), The 'Sip Magazine (Nathan Beane), Mississippi Tourism (Not shown: Michael Jones), Idaho Xtreme (Not shown: Tom Claycomb), -- all on board for the mission of storytelling and documentation on the Great River. Go to for the full story! (Photos by John Ruskey)

The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

is brought to you courtesy of

The Lower Mississippi River Foundation

The Vicksburg to Baton Rouge stretch of the Rivergator:

Paddler's Guide to the Lower Mississippi River

*NOTE: This map is now available as a 18x24 poster!