Close Window

Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No. 373

Winter Solstice Celebration Issue

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Saturday @ Sundown:
Come help us Celebrate Solstice!
Live music by blues great BILL ABEL

You are Invited: Saturday, Dec 17th, 5-7pm: Quapaw Canoe Company “We Survived the Flood” and annual Winter Solstice Celebration! We wll be celebrating the shortest day of the year — and also celebrating our successful recovery from the 2016 Sunflower River Flood. A big thank you to all who pitched in and helped out. We would not have been able to recover without your sweat labor and support. Open House with tours of the renovation. Featuring live music by blues great Bill Abel, with bonfire, food and drink. BYOB. Potluck supper: bring a dish to share. We have serving and eating utensils (silverware, cups, bowls, plates, etc). Starts at sunset (approx 5pm) and lasts until. Rain or shine! Storms in forecast. It will be warm (70s) but rainy -- regardless of the weather, the “house will be rocking!” Location: new base of operations, upstairs, street level, 289 Sunflower Avenue (3rd & Sunflower in downtown Clarksdale -- opposite GRIOT Arts). Enter location street level through glass door (behind big red canoe next to fountain). For music samples and more about Bill Abel, visit: (Note: the exact solstice is Wed Dec 21st).

Y'all come! Help us celebrate our successful recovery from the flood!

In this issue of the Dispatch:

1) WXXO 88.1FM — Roots Radio now broadcasting from downtown Clarksdale!

2) Paddling the Mississippi River: One of America’s great wildernesses sits, largely unnoticed, along the Blues River. (By Boyce Upholt. Photos by Rory Doyle.)

Check it out in the new online magazine Meridian:

3) Become a Charter Member of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation!

More information below. Or go here:

4) Standing Rock Canoes: Missouri River paddler Norm Miller reports that Standing Rock canoes have been assaulted with a chainsaw — something that hurts all of us paddlers to the core of our being. Canoe & Kayak Magazine is with him to document the crime. Go to for photos and stories. An online platform has been initiated to help the Standing Rock tribe replace its canoes.

5) Mark “River” Peoples: River Life

We Survived the Flood Update
(but we’re still rebuilding and recovering)

Nine months ago (March 2016) the Sunflower River rose to highest-ever levels in downtown Clarksdale and flooded several nearby neighborhoods. Quapaw Canoe Company offices were flooded out with chest-high water in the historic event, along with 250 other homes & businesses in the Clarksdale area. It is thought to have been a 1,000-year flood event.

We are still in the process of recovery and rebuilding, which will probably require another year to complete. We lost much in this flood, both directly through the flooding, and later through black mold. We are still rebuilding our offices, and unpacking boxes and sorting through piles of recovered stuff. We have had to extend many of our projects because of this catastrophe.

We learned many lessons from this flood. We will never move headquarters back to river level, in what we called “the Cave.” We are rebuilding our offices, library, outfitting & storage 30 feet up above the old location. What will happen with the Cave? It is evolving forward! We are converting it into a youth training center and interpretive center for Mississippi River fossils and driftwood. We still have our hands full organizing gear and rebuilding offices, storage, kitchen, library, and etc. The river rose higher than it ever has before, and it would be foolish to rebuild at the same low level we were at. These kinds of storm systems seem to run in cycles. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another rise of the Sunflower River within a decade. This time we will be prepared.

Flood Thank-You:

A thank-You to those who lent assistance to us at QCC in our recovery from the Great Sunflower River Flood of 2016. At the top of the list is Greg Barefoot (who cut us out through the ceiling and opened our route for rescue), and Clarksdale Habitat for Humanity who brought 15 volunteers from the George School (Pennsylvania) to help rescue QCC, Isaiah Allen "Kayaker Allen" who dropped everything he was doing in Memphis to come help out, Justin Riney who made it his personal mission to save my books and a lot of artwork that would have been lost, the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board who arrived in the middle of the torrential rainfall and rising waters with an emergency delivery of sandbags via canoe, and most importantly the Mighty Quapaws: Mark River, Zoe, Ellis, Woody, Sara, Popeye, DeShuntae and Xavier who donned wetsuits and later haz-mat suits to brave the toxic stew of sewer overflow and black mold.

Meanwhile across the big pond, on the River Wey in Surrey, England, a 24 hour adventure was organized in support of Quapaw Canoe Company: The #Quapaw24BigPaddle. Inspired by the outdoor leader Dave Cornthwaite, Chris Barnes, Andy McLean, David Ardill, Tamsin Shakespeare, and a host of others from over the Atlantic made a 24-hour marathon paddle on their River Wey in our behalf. Later this year Haley Brasile and Cody Presny (Amongst the Current) dedicated their 2016 Mississippi River Expedition to our cause.

Individuals to Thank: Greg Barefoot, Clarksdale Habitat for Humanity, The George School (Pennsylvania High School), Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board, Justin Riney, Riney Earth, Isaiah Allen, Jennifer Ruskey, Dr. Patti Johnson, Shonda Warner, Layne Logue, Quapaw Vicksburg, John Gary, Colton Cockrum, Memphis River Warriors, Coleman Cockrum, Ellis Coleman, Debra Smith, Possum Cauthen, Matt Sutton, Lautaro Mantilla, Yazoo Pass Cafe, Levon’s Ristorante, Oxbow Restaurant, New Roxy Theater, Charles & Fredean Langford, Billy & Madge Howell, Lee Quinby, Ping Wang, Marcheta Taylor, Jenny Ruskey, Sichendra Bista, C E Lawson, Greg Poleski, Gary & Lou Ruskey, Erin Lee, Chad Robinson, Julia K. Gill, Marilyn Sundra, Amy Lauterbach, Joey Dickinson, Edna Cooley, Paul B Cooley, Melissa Levy, Kathleen Quinlen, Michael Waters, Christine M Favilla, Marilue Maris, John & Lori Moore, Sandra Perry, Melinda Parkman, Charles Rutledge Jr., Mark Bix, Melanie Cheney, Steve Schnarr, Linnea Goderstad, Bill Branch, Kathryn Behm, Ellen Morris Prewitt, Snoop Dog & Tony, Margaret Pierrepont and Louise Loughran. Louise Loughran, Shelby and Steven Goss,Tom Roehm, William and Alexa Wilson, David Miller, Joan Twillman, Angie and Allie Grant (Intricate Productions), Deb Boykin, Bill Gregg, Rosemary Post, Delta Cultural Center, Tom Jackson, Libby and Paul Hartfield, Keith Kirkland, Dr. Gary Grant, Barbara Boss and Linda Brewer, Emma Crisler, Mary Ann Sternberg Ellen McDonah, Shonda Warner, Karen Kohlhaas, Sarah Bennett, Paul Orr, Jeanne and Eric Olsen, Alexandra Moyes, Jean Afterman, Betsy Tribble, Janey Attard, Cliff and Lucille, Astrid Shepherd, Vicky Cable, Andrew McLean, Luke Hull, Susan Ardill,Oliver Jones, Nigel Amos, Chris Barnes, William Heck, Wallie Bianci (Moose’s Saloon), Harry Freeman, Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, Melissa Levy, Jon Doolan, Rebecca Pellat, Mirko Buzelli, James Newman, Steph Stapleton, Dean Klinkenberg, Veda Gilbert, Jules Barnes, Jordan Hanssen, Robert Landreneau, James and Abby Tootle, Rebekah Pickard, Christopher Ruskey, Rex Miller, Michael and Marilyn Sundra, Amy and Jim, Emma-Lou and Sarah Crisler-Ruskey, and lastly many anonymous supporters. A Mighty Quapaw Shout-Out and Thank-You to you all!

Our paddles are up to y’all! We couldn’t do it without friends like you. It takes many hands to paddle this canoe!

Some Lingering Feelings:

It is with many mixed emotions that I share my feelings as we pick ourselves out the mud and keep on keeping on down the river. For so many years (since 1992 in fact) my identity has been at least partially tied up in the cave. My career as a blues musician and museum curator all evolved in the cave. The “Riverman” CD was produced there. Quapaw Canoe Company was born out of the cave. I met my wife Sarah living there, and later for a while, it was our 2nd home. (when she walked in the door for the first time in the new millennium, she remarked “I like the smell in here!” and I knew that I had found the woman of my dreams). Over the decades I have been accumulating piles of artwork, writing, family photos, and etc, etc amongst all of the tools of our trade, and equipment necessary to running a small business. I learned a lesson about hoarding last month.

I had to let everything go, and watched with pangs of bittersweet lightning bolts of emotion as memories were grabbed by the river currents and gently pulled away and swirled out of sight. I was grief stricken one moment, and then feeling peace the next. Curiously this experience brought me an odd feeling of resolution, seeing a place I inhabit fill with water, like a dream world -- even with stinky overflow from the stormwater/sewer system, and then everything loose floating away and disappearing in the mud. I felt peaceful, in a way, free of the old stuff I was hanging onto. Maybe the same feeling that comes from a spring cleaning. Spring cleaning, Sunflower River style. It hurts when you’re forced to do it. But it feels rejuvenating when it’s over. Justin Riney wrote a soulful piece about the same experience which you can read on his latest blog posting at Riney Earth.

And yes, this is a cause for appreciation. This all took place before Easter, in the time of rebirth and rejuvenation. We have been counting our blessings: To see the power of God. To be humbled, and then released. Every season is a new opportunity for life. Every day is a new day. We will pick ourselves up out of the mud and keep going. Our hands might be in the ditches but our eyes are on heaven.

And even as we have suffered through the awesome power of the natural elements, we have also simultaneously been allowed a glimpse into the soul of our community and the spirit of all of those around us. And this is one of the most beautiful results found amongst all of the destruction and loss. And we thank everyone in our community for your kindness and attention to us and the other hundreds who suffered the same in Clarksdale/Coahoma County.

River Life

Mark “River” Peoples

It’s mid June and the Mississippi River water levels are higher than normal. Back channels are flowing and the floodplain is thriving. Flocks of birds inhabit the archipelago islands throughout the basin. Beautiful indigo buntings , orioles, and yellow warblers frequent the forest canopies singing there unique songs and spreading seeds of life. The islands are pristine and new, yes new, as the landscapes are changing constantly with each fluctuation of water. The grasslands are littered with deer tracks feeding on the new fauna, while the desert-like sandbars are covered with turtle markings.

Willows and cottonwood leaves singing in unison as I stare out my tent on island 62. I’m camped on a bluff that is inaccessible during low water. It’s surrounded by trees, and I’m looking across at island 63, watching the incredible light of the sunset reflect off the water. A few mosquitoes hover around my tent door , as I successfully snatch them out the air. It’s not quite summer, so only a lethargic few linger. I flick them in a pile outside my tent door, amazed and astonished by the ants carrying them away one by one. Nothing goes to waste out here. There is a critical balance maintained out here that’s essential to life.

The sounds of freshwater flowing franticly downstream put me in a state of euphoria. Bands of coyotes yap from both sides of the channel , celebrating the setting of the sun. Sometimes the water sounds like shoals , sometimes like mini volcanoes erupting simultaneously, only to be engulfed by a bellowing boil. Turtles bob up and down in the surf looking for the right bluff to lay their eggs. Scavengers await for the morning to follow the trails and steal the eggs to gain strength to nurse their young. The turtles don’t miss a beat as these losses are part of nature’s complex balance. I once had a couple from Santa Barbara who envied the fact that we had so much water, missing the Sierra Nevada streams they grew up swimming in, that are as dry as a desert now.

I start the morning with bacon and eggs, and a long nature walk to the wild berry bushes. The blackberries are sweet and plump. Birds, turtles, coyotes, bobcats, deer, turkeys, armadillos, snakes, squirrels, and humans, all take part in natures annual bounty. I can tell by the scat found throughout the island. I feel my belly, and head back to camp, enjoying the connection you feel in wild places. The sacredness.

It’s early July, the Mississippi River is starting to recede to normal levels. The water is warming and everyone takes the opportunity to swim. The turtles, least terns, and red-wing black birds are mating in full force. The sandbars are full of baby terns fattening up for their Fall journey to Central and South America. It’s hot, but the water is still cold , so the southern winds feel cool, as they reflect of the surface of the water. I spend the day on the bottom end of Island 64, in the tall, willow forest. The sandy bluffs overlooking the main channel is one of the only spots along this stretch of river to have shade all day. I decide to camp here for the night. The tall willows emerging through the fine sand emulate the palm trees of the tropics, and the waves from the towboats give a feeling of leisure and relaxation as they crash into the bluff.

It’s 9:00 am in Clarksdale in October and I sit with Driftwood and Lena at our daily morning meeting. We start our day with a quote. We take turns, and it’s always something inspiring and humbling, which keeps us focused on our stewardship to the Mississippi River. We discuss the logistics of trips and divide the workload of the day, as well as plan menus, stage trips, and make sure we prioritize each adventure, because engaging people to the river is our foremost significance.

It’s November and a cool front moves into the Delta. The Mississippi River water levels are at its lowest of the year, exposing small blue-holes full of stranded bighead carp. The native fish have a way of fluctuating with the river levels, but the carp are still adjusting. Striations on the sandbars, from willow branches, are a sign of beavers preparing for the winter. During low water, they have to leave the water to find food and feed, leaving themselves vulnerable to predators. The deer are starting the go into the rut. Rubs from their racks appear along the tree line. The islands of the Mississippi River are a perfect place to hide for the hunting season.

With the state of our country and its contributions to global warning, nutrient pollution from farms, and the burning of fossil fuels, we must come together as a people to protect and preserve the environment . It all has an effect on the Mississippi River Watershed and the future of our country. These snapshots of my beautiful life could all be dramatically changed for the worse if we don’t do something now. Become a River Citizen today to help protect our Mighty River.

Mark “River” Peoples

1 Mississippi Outreach Assistant

Clarksdale, Mississippi

WXXO 88.1FM — Roots Radio now broadcasting from downtown Clarksdale!

WXXO is now on the air with 24 hour blues and roots. Simul-broadcast as WXXO broadcasts from downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi at 88.1 FM, and is streaming on, as well as iTunes and TuneIn Radio. The station features Blues and Roots music, including artists from the Mississippi Delta and the Mississippi Hill Country, with a healthy dose of R&B and Americana. It's the mixture of this music that makes the listener aware of the way that all of this music is connected, and that it all started with Blues” says Bill Bowker, Program Director. "Our concept is to make music fans around the world realize how special Clarksdale is to Blues music, and make them to want to experience Clarksdale in person." Bowker and Charles Evans visited Clarksdale with Bluesman Charlie Musselwhite thirteen years ago and fell in love with the town and its people. Bowker, long time radio personality, blues and roots concert promoter and the host of ‘Blues with Bowker’, has been a fixture on Northern California radio since 1979. Charles, a blues loving developer from Santa Rosa, California, acquired several commercial properties in Clarksdale, including the Delta Wholesale and Hardware Building, featured on the cover of a Charlie Musselwhite’s ‘Delta Hardware’ album, and The Clark House, a bed and breakfast located in the former home of Clarksdale founder, John Clark ( WXXO - XRDS.FM is a low power non-commercial station, owned by Radio @ The Crossroads, which incorporated as a Mississippi Nonprofit Corporation in 2011. (adopted from reports in the Clarksdale Press Register and the Delta Bohemian).

Upcoming Events:

Sat Dec 17th: Quapaw Canoe Company “We Survived the Flood” and annual Winter Solstice Celebration! Celebrating the shortest day of the year — and also celebrating our successful recovery from the 2016 Sunflower River Flood. A big thank you to all who pitched in and helped out! We would have been able to recover without your support! Open House with tours of the renovation. Live music, bonfire, food and drink. Starts at sunset (approx 5pm) and lasts until.

Sat, Jan 14, 2017: Film Release! Dale Sanders: Source to Sea at Brooks Museum of Art (Memphis, TN) This will be the first public and premier of the film. The movie starts at 2pm. But if you want free food and drinks, arrive early at 12:30’ish. Go online to purchase Brooks Museum Tickets — in advance. They are quickly selling out! (Dale Sanders, Grey Beard Adventurer, Source-to-Sea, Mississippi River Record, A Challenge to Cure, Juvenile Diabetes).

March 20 -May 10, 2017: Rivergator Celebratory Expedition March-May 2017. Now filing seats! You can sign up for the 6-week expedition from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico celebrating the completion of the Rivergator: one million words describing the Lower Mississippi. Your participation in this celebration will help make it a success!

The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

is brought to you courtesy of

The Lower Mississippi River Foundation

Our Projects:

Rivergator: 1Million words describing the Lower Mississippi River:

Wild Miles: 71% of the Lower Miss is wild according to river rats. Will it stay that way?

Mighty Quapaw Apprenticeship Program: long term apprenticeships developing personal character and young leaders through canoe building, big river guiding, and survival skills on the Lower Mississippi River.

LiNKS = Leave No Kids On Shore

LiNK-ing kids to the big river and mother nature -- with the passion of a LYNX.

Every LiNK in the chain is as important as the others. Real-time experiences for the betterment of personal health and environmental conservation along the Lower Mississippi River.

Friends of the Sunflower Rive

Established in 2005 for cleanups, paddle events and other educational programming on the Sunflower River.

River Arts

Youth program begun in 2012 as an after-school river activity in conjunction with GRIOT Arts.

Our Friends:

Quapaw Canoe Company: custom-guided wilderness expeditions on the biggest and wildest river in North America, in our hand crafted cypress strip voyageur canoes. Now with outposts in Memphis, Vicksburg, Helena and Natchez. Home base: Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Big Muddy Adventures: custom-guided adventures on the Missouri, Mississippi, Meramec and Illinois -- covering the Grand Central Station of America's rivers from home base St. Louis.


Paddles up to everyone who have stood strong in 2016. To you we send our Mighty Quapaw heartfelt thanks! We are deeply touched by this show of compassion for our losses in the Sunflower River Flood of March 2016. We at Quapaw Canoe Company are humbled and inspired by this act of strength and generosity from our friends and family in the greater paddling community. You helped us get back on our feet. We hope in some way... that further on down the river of time... that our work will help others find rejuvenation in the wilderness... what goes around comes around!

John Ruskey, Winter Solstice, Clarksdale, Miss
"The River Connects Us All"