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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No. 273
Thursday, Jan 15th, 2015

“I would love for this to open people’s minds to what an amazing sport this is. I think the larger audience’s conception is that we’re thrill seekers, out there for an adrenaline rush. We really aren’t at all. It’s about spending our lives in these beautiful places and forming these incredible bonds with friends and family. It’s really a lifestyle. It’s superhealthy, and the climbing world is some of the most psyched, great people around. And if that love can spread, that’s really a great thing...”

Is this one of us Mighty Quapaw River Rats speaking here? It could be us, right? We do it because we love being on the river. The river inspires good health. The river connects us to good people who feel the same as we do. Loving the river makes for a better world. But no, it’s not us. The above quote comes from rock climber Tommy Caldwell, minutes after reaching the top of El Capitan (Jan 14, 2015, New York Times interview). I am in awe of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson for their recent completion of perhaps the most difficult climb in the world, El Capitan’s Dawn Wall. I was struck by Caldwell’s statements about the climb, which are very similar to the reasons that we Mighty Quapaw river rats continue doing what we do on the Mississippi River. This is especially true with our youth, the next generation of river stewards.

As a way of saying "Happy Ca-New Year," we Mighty Quapaws have been sending out some river experiences to help warm your lives in the times of long nights and cold days. These are impressions from the Vicksburg to Baton Rouge Rivergator Expedition, Dec 2014. Next week we'll be sending out some of Mark River's journal impressions as result of the St. Louis to Cairo Expdition, of Nov 2014.

(*NOTE: Now filling seats in the big canoe for the March Atchafalaya Expedition, March 16-27th, Leaving from Fort Adams, passing through the Old River Lock, down the Atchafalaya, the River of Trees, America’s Largest River-Swamp, paddle to the Gulf of Mexico, take out in Morgan City).

We hope this email finds you in a time of health & happiness. We have many things to be thankful for in the New Year including a beautiful river to wake up to every morning, peaceful resolution of our 2009-2014 tax fight, and many great adventures with you.

Bittersweet Twinges in a Watery Wilderness

(The last of three LMRD articles, from the John Ruskey journal of Dec 2014)

The story continues: The Rivergator Vicksburg to Baton Rouge Expedition wakes up on St. Maurice Island, now sadly leaving the WILD MILES, and edging towards Chemical Corridor, evidence of which can be seen over the horizon from Baton Rouge.

Sat, Dec 13, St. Maurice Island. Caustic Carbonaceous air blowing up the back channel, maybe directly from Big Cajun II, the three smokestacks visible as we paddled around Morgan’s Bend and swung past Boie’s Point, I woke up gasping for air, for oxygen, the foul air making me hungry for clean air, my lungs bursting like being underwater and not being able to breathe, but also not wanting to breathe too deep, to allow the contamination in too far into my bronchi, breathing shallow limits the stain. St. Maurice Island is as wild as they come, but all around us you can hear the sounds of rumbling engines, accelerating cars, trucks grinding their gears, last night periodic gunfire shocked the air, bursts of repeating rifle or semi-automatic pistols, and the pressurized boom of something bigger. At Sebastopol big booms rang out across the river, in the very same place we ran into gunfire last spring. I felt like a bull’s-eye had been painted on my head, which made me paddle harder. Sebastopol is a scary place, a congregation of redneck hunting camps on stilts, home-made affairs, trailers and sheds jacked up in the air 20 feet, and a channel marker located in the middle of it all LBD 283.3. Just five years ago I noted on my maps that Morgans Bend was an isolated bend, good place for paddlers to stop anywhere along its perimeter for highwater camping. But now half a decade later a road has been extended with a power line following and trailer camps built alongside and this wild place has transformed into something you’d expect on the ragged edges closer to the civilized world. Gulp. I guess we are getting pretty close, it's just that we've been under the illusion that we weren't. As we floated along in the swift currents pouring out of Morgan’s Bend Adam and Layne and Brax started whooping and hollering and then listening for the echo effect, with great success, their hollers resounded seconds later off the close tree lined bank, and then several seconds later from far wooded shore until a man came down to the shore and fired his gun with a resounding sonic boom that hushed our merriment and reminded us of the tender nature of our precious wilderness.

But amidst the train horns, and the flashing lights, the airport lighthouse, the towers, the loud Ranchera music rolling up the back channel last night, the vicious barking of some dogs in the dark woods, the river rolls on un changed and uninhibited, not intimidated by the greedy decadent spoils of mankind which she is now entering and will be subject to in her final 275 miles to the Gulf, her minions the beaver splash their tails and can still be heard chewing their willow sticks purposefully in the darkness, the coyotes painfully crying in the distance, a wild hog squealing every once in a while, maybe these creatures are equally greedy and decadent in their own way, in fact it’s well known that coyotes do not like to share, but they all have their own checks and balances -- something we don’t seem to have, or don’t seem to exercise through our powers of self-reflection and self-control -- and none is destroying the very creation that sustains them. None that is except for one particularly successful and contradictory creature, the one who stands too tall on two legs. (And it is the “he” of his species particularly culpable. The “she” might be complicit, but it is the he who has the led the uncontrolled charge). And yet in the end he too must have his purpose in the grand scheme of things, some hidden meaning and some advancement in the general evolution of the timeline of the universe will surely result from his desecration of planet earth, to think otherwise is unthinkable. Only the tartagrades have survived all of the eras of the earth. But who knows, maybe some wily raccoons or the fisher king wanbli bald eagle will find some crack through the changing times for survival.

Sunday, Dec 14, Fancy Point. Beaver splashing in the back channel as a tow boat churns up the main channel and the Big Dog follows Orion paddling downstream river god over the bottom end of Fancy Point Towhead, catching waves as he goes, but riding them elegantly, the paddle becomes the balance pole connected to the velocity vectors of the water, the wind, the waves, gravity, centrifugal force spinning outwards, Orion grabs the center and uses all to his advantage, the resulting vector powers him smoothly over the willow wave of F.P. TH and downstream while the sun carries the planets and asteroids in a trajectory around the Milky Way (in the direction of Vega) the Milky Way pulling at a perpendicular towards the heart of Sagittarius, the resulting spin propelling our passage along with the millions of other stars and spinning objects spiraling around its center... Buckets of falling stars zipping down from the general area of Orion, some bluish, some reddish, some yellowish, the brighter ones make smoke trails, the few that burn near the water are reflected so it looks like two falling stars one burning into the river, one burning out of the river, if one ever fell into the Mississippi it would appear that two had met! Thousands of waterfowl on the sandbar when we made landing, all white-winged birds, gulls, sheerwaters and pelicans, all congregated on the edge of the water towards the mouth of Thompson Creek, this must be the ideal place. The tow passes into the darkness of the willow-covered island towards Hermitage and silence returns slightly, but as the tow engine recedes so the whining of Georgia Pacific increases, towboat waves now splashing against the shore in the shallow back channel, we hit it right, if it was four or five feet lower this would not be passable. If you watch a towboat rolling upstream in the darkness an unusual sensation overcomes your senses, you get this unbalanced feeling that the tow is running faster and faster across the horizon. I’ve had this happen many times, and every time I feel a little seasick.

The river, especially in winter, likes to play tricks with your mind. The warm air on a cold river will make alarming waves appear in the distance, they look like ocean swells on the horizon, if they were as big as they appear the canoe would be flipped over. And yet when we get there, they are gone. Something about the layers of air sliding over each other in great differential of temperature do weird things to your vision. Sometimes we get the lens effect, where objects appear much closer than they are, which is equally frightening. When I walked back through the woods, and in and out of two dry sloughs, one with filled with willows the other with swamp privet, three deer ran across my path, and then one other. I was awoken at the end of striking dream at 1:04am in which a horse was about to eat my mouth, a motorboat playing its lights up and down the banks of Fancy Point, very carefully looking into every inlet, and behind every clump of mud, and up and over the riverbank and into the trees... poachers no doubt. Even in the stillness of the dark night man’s madness never ceases to amaze me. The seventh day, and the river happily buoying us along in our passage, our ambitions, our thoughts, our dreams, forever inspirational and running deeper and deeper into my soul. Fog rolling in from over the Port Hickey Tunica Hills, the less-than-half moon high overhead with Jupiter in its pouch, Layne’s light on, he awoke and rolled out of his hammock and padding down the riverbank to join me at the fire, Orion’s belt now gone, his legs and arms flailing, only Betelgeuse still visible above the misty horizon, the paddler gone as if consumed in a crashing wave that flipped his boat and tossed him into the cold river, 5:55am and the first wisps of the light of the approaching day now making a presence only slightly brighter than the yellow-red glow of greater Red Stick, Baton Rouge. For a while, in the early morning hours, the wind calmed and the aromas of the pulp mill drifted our way, not a full onslaught, but enough to make me sick to my stomach, now the north wind has returned a a slight burnt coal smell is pouring down the pack channel over the waters, its source being the Big Cajun II. This is the big change at Baton Rouge. Previously upstream you can plan your camp according to wind speed and any power plants, paper mills, or other neighboring offenders of air quality. But below Baton Rouge no matter where you camp you are gong to be subjected to the nasty discharge of a dozen different types of industries, some which make coke smoke pale in foulness.

Monday, Dec 15, Glass Beach, Baton Rouge

Big wheels banging over the I-10 bridge above Glass Beach, the endless rush of traffic, the whining and snarling of engines, motorcycles down shifting to scream into the passing lane, truck horns, the heavy beating of rubber and metal, the endless roar from the distance, the river lapping the shore underneath, licking the wounds of the earth, mother earth is crying and the river is coming to her aid, but she too is becoming overwhelmed, another crossroads on the longest waterway in the land, countless crossroads, the paddler is presented with dozens of crossings like these, you can count them in your hands and toes, from the first bridge on the Lower Miss at Caruthersville, MO, down to the last, the greater New Orleans Bridge, and he would always chose to stay to the water, but alas every journey has its start and end, except of course for the journey of life, and so in a state of semi-shock, the paddler pulls to shore and stumbles up the bank, and is greeted by those on land who have no idea the changes made in the heart of one has been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, it is incumbent upon the one with the keys to share the beauty and the peace, and yet when he tries to speak the words do not come or are misunderstood, as he croaks simple sentences filled with feeling, but to the listener devoid of meaning, incapable of expressing the great depths of the muddy soul that dives to the bottom of the river, and the soaring creative heights of the glorious lights and colors and surrounding song-scapes, the Rivergator is one attempt to share the full measure of the breadth and depth of this landscape, or better said, riverscape, for all those who have any interest, I hope in some small way it comes close to touching the dancing waters of America’s big river in such a way that all who have eyes and all who have ears and see what us paddlers have seen and feel the bittersweet tinges of a powerful wilderness within the heart of our nation struggling for attention and our protection. (John Ruskey)

To enjoy the two previous installments (including photos) from this expedition, please go to:

Blind Faith in the Last Cold Light of the Day

Muddy Guitar String 1,000 Miles Long

The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

is brought to you courtesy of

The Lower Mississippi River Foundation