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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No. 384

Friday, February 10, 2017

Arkansas River School: Learning Life’s Lessons in the Wild

Advance Notes:

NPR's Melissa Block and Elissa Nadworny canoe the Mississippi from Helena to Friars Point -- just yesterday! (Thurs Feb 9th) -- talking about the influence of the river on our hearts and souls, via Rivergator, Quapaw Canoe Company, and the Wild Miles!

Live 19 minute FB video can be seen here -- on the Rivergator!

Tomorrow, Sat Feb 11th: Mark “River” Peoples Featured: Chief guide and youth leader for the Quapaw Canoe Company, Mark “River” Peoples is one of the subjects for the Barefoot Workshop’s photography workshop led by Ron Haviv. Come join us tomorrow (Sat night, February 11th) for a FREE documentary screening including the Mark River Documentary by Meghan Wolfe. The screening will be downtown Clarksdale, MS, at Clarksdale Station Depot (326 Blues Alley) at 7pm. See below for complete description by Barefoot leader Chandler Griffin!

River School with Proctor Academy

by Mark River

Editor's Note: I dropped my trusty ol' camera in the Arkansas River on this trip! Oh no! Photo credits in this issue go to to Proctor Academy Mountain School students Sadie Slattery and Grayson Brewster. Thanks Sadie and Grayson for sharing your photos! Many eyes save the day!

Every year we embark on a journey with Proctor Academy of Andover, NH. somewhere along the Mississippi River. This year in particular, we decided to let the students pick the route of the voyage, which added a mysterious factor to the event. Democracy was put forward and the decision was announced. It would be the last 48 miles of the Arkansas River.This stretch of river from Pendleton Dam, to the confluence of the Mississippi River and then head upstream to Rosedale or downstream to Greenville. The Arkansas River is a favorite, but always unpredictable. It’s always cloudy, with Big Island to the left and many traditional hunting camps to the right, this place is wild and rugged. In the summer, this is one of Arkansas’s best fisheries. Boats line the dam fishing deep holes for catfish and buffalo. The state park is full of RV’s and tents, but this is winter, and only flocks of pelicans, cormorants, and thousands of ducks, migrate between the the White River Refuge, the Arkansas River, and the many oxbows throughout Big Island. This is a great time to be here. Just us and the wildlife.

We launch the Grasshopper canoe and two four person canoes. The day is cloudy, wet, and cold, but sounds of the waterfowl flying overhead helps me block out the elements. With the three hour drive from Clarksdale,MS, didn’t leave us with much daylight, so we quickly found a campsite just around the first bend. We find an inlet along the downstream side of a wing-dike and entered into a beautiful blue hole, with steep bluffs of sand and trees to protect us from the North wind. Everyone is excited as we gather firewood to prepare for a chilly evening. We are expecting a wet and cold evening, so we make a "morning pile” of wood, which we will cover and keep dry. The morning comes quickly, as various storms pummeled us throughout the night, but we notice our lovely oasis had changed. Our boats and all our gear was landlocked. The water had receded overnight, with no warning at all. There was a half-mile portage to the main channel. We where looking for answers. How could we have made this mistake?

We noticed many cranes and bulldozers aligned along the dam while we entered the park. My mind quickly takes me back. They usually only open or close the dam depending on electricity production, but this was drastic, with only a trickle of a stream for the main channel. We realized we were at the mercy of the river and that we would spend the day on land. No problem for the students from Proctor Academy. They continued their studies through continuous rain showers. We kept the fire blazing throughout the day and retreated to our tents during the heavier ones. We made a call to our land team, to try an get some information about the water release schedule, only to find out they had no plans to release water anytime soon. We could only hope for the best. Our shore day goes slow. Many nature walks up and down sand dunes, finding skeletal remains of animals. Examining deer rubs on trees, occasionally hearing gunshots from distant hunting camps. Marveling at the huge flocks of waterfowl constantly flying over camp. Restoring relationships with the wild, at peace with the weather and situation, and with yourself.

Patience and faith pays off. The heavy rains we endured forced the Corps of Engineers to release water from the dam and our boats were floating. What a relief. I was plotting all evening in my tent on how we were going to portage the boats and equipment to the water. When the water drops like it had, it leaves dangerous quicksand-like areas throughout the landscape. It would have been a monumental challenge. The sun opened up to the east towards the confluence of the Mississippi River, a familiar setting on the lower Arkansas River. This section of the river seems to have it’s own unique weather patterns. As you get closer to the confluence, the weather gets better. Having a rest day, the crew paddles hard to make up time we lost. As we come around a bend, the old rail bridge becomes the finish line for a unplanned race between boats. The Grasshopper’s aerodynamic design is tough to beat when everyone’s in sync and blows the smaller, lighter boats away. Enormous flocks of birds continue to cover the sky. The fish are in a feeding frenzy, as they surface around our boats, which happens whenever water is released from the dam. Large bald eagles fish from the tall sycamores. Cormorants dive deep enjoying the rise of the river. Herons swauk at us around every bend when we disturb their fishing. The colorful trees throughout the deciduous forest are highlighted by the sweet gums bright red leaves, giving us an incredible contrast of color only nature can accomplish. The days are really short, so we start to look for campsite around the next bend. We see a wonderful landscape of beautiful, pristine sand, with a large nursery of young willow trees. All of a sudden, we get confronted by a family of beavers, displaying territorial behavior. Splashing their tails around our boats, not showing any fear. We enjoy and admire their performance and persistence, and reward them by moving on to the next sandbar. These intimate interactions with wildlife are priceless.

The river has started to widen, as we get further from the dam. Sandbars that look like endless deserts, with the trees miles from the shoreline. Animal scat shows traces of honey locust and persimmons. Large plots of disperse sand show signs of wild hogs. This is wild country. The students continue their rigorous schedule. Exercise, food prep and cooking, cleaning, and a substantial amount of schoolwork-all done by organize groups. This is the future of education.

Proctor Academy is a coeducational, independent preparatory boarding school located in Andover,NH. It was established in 1848, on a 3,000 acre state certified tree farm, which they use to fund the school by selling lumber, and heat the dormitories in the winter. They also have a sugar farm where they harvest and sell maple syrup. Many of the facilities are run by renewable energy. The school goal is to unlock potential of students through rigorous academic courses to tap into individual creativity and passions.These students are part of the Mountain Classroom. Very unique I can say.

As we start the next day, you can the hear the towboats from the Mississippi River. A usual sign that we are close to the confluence. We plan to spend our last night at the bottom end of Cat Island, which is located at the confluence. The day is full of surprises. The river has continued to change its course since the 2011 flood, so we always see new landscapes and settings around every bend. The current starts to accelerate as we approach the mouth, so we float and enjoy this brisk sunny day. We arrive at our camp an hour before sunset. The sight of the Mississippi River overwhelms the students. They realized the different in size and strength. We take the time to go over safety precautions to make sure everyone’s in the same mindset. We start to prepare dinner for the evening when a friendly hunter in a boat stops and warns us that there will deer hunters arriving to hunt in the morning. We figured that, noticing two four wheelers parked behind some brush when we arrived. The students were excited. We had a few hunters in the crew.

The night is cold, but we were protected from a north wind by the trees. The sounds of towboats rocked me to sleep and the early morning sounds of four wheelers woke me. I put on my hunter orange and take a walk. The island is in constant change, so it is important to see and document the changes. I hear gunshots in the distant, so I head towards camp, wanting not to miss the hunters. They were hired by the owners of the island to thin the huge herd of deer occupying the island and to shoot wild pigs on sight. The meat from the pigs and deer would be used to feed families in poverty stricken rural areas of Arkansas. My instinct was right, the hunters had killed a deer and offered free venison, if we wanted it. Not having much room in our canoes, we had to take a raincheck for another day. The students connected with the hunters, as we packed our canoes. They made the decision to go downstream to Greenville. The day is sunny and cold as we paddle pass Ozark Hunting Camp. Big alligator gar roll in the middle of the channel. Large bighead carp take flight in the towboats wakes. The students celebrated the sighting of two bobcats exiting their den along a revetment wall. We paddled on pass the mouth of Lake Whittington, to Catfish Point, on down to our camp for the night, Choctaw Island. I noticed the teams moral had changed. This was no longer just school, but an adventure of a lifetime, something they have never experienced, that they will never forget, and will change their lives forever. Now that’s education!

We made camp at the bottom of Choctaw Island. A magnificent 8,000 acre island full of wildlife, trees,and sand. I’ve seen bucks that look like elk on this island. I’ve tried to walk the island before , only to turn around and say, “another day”. It’s to big. Our campsite is located on the bottom end on a bluff with plots of willow trees, with sandbars in between. The students are starting to really engage themselves with the river, but we have two days left, and that’s making some of them sad. The abundance of life, the sounds, the fresh air, and the overall majestic energy makes the Mississippi River, one of a kind.

The morning comes quickly. The plan for the day is to head towards the city of Greenville, were we will camp right outside of town for the last night. The Mississippi River saves the finally for the end. As we move along in the channel, we start to spot deer bedding and feeding in the brush along the cliff-banks. The students enthusiasm is at a all time high as they count the deer. We stopped counting around 30. The students were blown away. All I kept hearing was, “ I never thought the river would be like this! This is paradise”.

The evening before take out is mixed with sadness and achievement. The students have connected with this great river and relationships have blossomed throughout. We sat around the fire discussing the challenges the river faces, plastics and nutrient pollution, were at the top of the list. Many students expressed intentions to return, some realized how important the Mississippi River culture is to our country and how it shaped the United States. They met students in the Delta that were just like them, but grew up in a different social economic situation. A humbling and learning experience that will stay with them forever. They’ve seen wildlife flourish like nowhere else, in their travels, and understood what we mean when we say, “ The river connects us all”.

Become a River Citizen today and help save the wild Mississippi River!

Mark River

Mark “River” Peoples is the chief guide and youth leader for the Quapaw Canoe Company. He is also the southern leader for the 1 Mississippi Program, connecting people up and down the river for its long-term health. Mark “River” Peoples is one of the subjects for the Barefoot Workshop’s photography workshop led by Ron Haviv. Come join us SATURDAY night (February 11th) FREE documentary screening including the Mark River Documentary. The screening will be downtown Clarksdale, MS, at Clarksdale Station Depot (326 Blues Alley) at 7pm.

Led by photojournalist Ron Haviv

From Barefoot leader Chandler Griffin:

Hi Delta friends,

Barefoot Workshops is back in town. February marks twelve years of coming to Clarksdale to tell community stories through documentary filmmaking and photography workshops. Our participants have produced over one-hundred and ten documentary photo stories and videos in the Delta.

We consider this body of work a time capsule for YOUR community. On Saturday, the tradition of screening documentary stories back to the community continues with new material from our one-week documentary photography workshop once again led by master photojournalist and VII Photo Agency co-founder, Ron Haviv.

Our current team of documentary photographers are diligently working to make the Saturday screening deadline. We would appreciate all of you coming out to support, not only the photographers but also the people highlighted in the photo stories. These stories are a reflection of Clarksdale and the Mississippi Delta community.


Led by photojournalist Ron Haviv

FEBRUARY 11, 2017

326 Blues Alley
Clarksdale, Mississippi

Chanelle Beaumont
New York Hi Style - Clarksdale, MS
Corrie Boudreaux
Our Grandma's House Of Pancakes - Clarksdale, MS
Lorraine Castillo
Michael's Machine Shop - Clarksdale, MS
Carlos Detres
Stafford E. Shurden - Ruleville, MS
Caroline Gutman
Shankerman's - Clarksdale, MS
Carol McDonald
Erica Hamilton-Balthrop - Clarksdale, MS
Art Minton
Gene's Market - Clarksdale, MS
Adelle Walker
Revitalizing Clarksdale - Clarksdale, MS
Russell Walker
Sunflower Laundry & Dry Cleaners - Clarksdale, MS
Megan Wolfe
Mark River - Clarksdale, MS

A large crowd is expected so please show up at 6:45pm to make sure you get a seat.

We look forward to seeing all of you,
Chandler Griffin
Founder - Barefoot Workshops

Mississippi Delta Documentary Photography Screening
Barefoot Workshops is hosting a one-week documentary photography workshop in the Mississippi Delta culminating with a SATURDAY night (FEBRUARY 11TH) FREE documentary photo screening. The screening will be at CLARKSDALE STATION DEPOT (326 Blues Alley - next door to The Dutch Oven) at 7pm. The workshop is led by VII Photo Agency co-founder, RON HAVIV and assisted by Mississippi photographer, Rory Doyle.

Each year Barefoot Workshops offers several photography and documentary filmmaking workshops in the Mississippi Delta and Cape Town, South Africa for individuals with beginner through advanced levels of training. The aim of the Barefoot Workshops is to help create responsible photographers and filmmakers who care about the world they live in, and who have a desire to give back to their respective communities.

Founder of Barefoot Workshops, Chandler Griffin said, “One of the goals of the course is to provide an intense overview of the art of documentary photography and filmmaking. We do this in what seems to be a completely unrealistic timeline, which pushes the students to step up and take the challenge.” The recent workshop was conducted in and around Clarksdale, and lasted for one week. This is the thirtieth documentary workshop held in Clarksdale. Since 2005, over one-hundred and ten documentary film and photo stories have been produced in Clarksdale by the Barefoot teams with students coming from twenty-five countries.

Press Contact:
Chandler Griffin

Upcoming Events:

Ongoing throughout February and March: Dugout Canoe Carving Workshop. In progress: the Catfish Canoe. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 4-5pm except for when on river trips.

Sat Feb 11th Barefoot Workshops is hosting a one-week documentary photography workshop in the Mississippi Delta culminating with a SATURDAY night (February 11th) FREE documentary screening. The screening will be at Clarksdale Station Depot (326 Blues Alley) at 7pm. The workshop is led by VII Photo Agency Co-founder, RON HAVIV.

Sat Feb 11th February Full Moon is for lovers! Full Moon Night Paddle in the Big Canoe. Meet at 2pm at Quapaw Canoe Company and board our shuttle bound for the muddy banks of the Mississippi River. Paddle to remote sandbar island for supper and moonrise. Paddle downstream to next landing by the silvery light of the Moon. Bonfire and Potluck. Email for more details and/or reservation.

Wed, Feb 15th, PawPaw Booksigning at Quapaw Canoe Company. 4-6 PM, 298 Sunflower Avenue in downtown Clarksdale. We guided Andy as part of his pawpaw quest five years ago to a secret pawpaw garden we know about tucked in the forest of the Muddy Waters Wilderness. Come hear stories and maybe taste fruit samples with Andy and the Mighty Quapaws. We will have copies of the book available for sale. PawPaw: In Search of America's Forgotten Fruit. By Andrew Moore. Hardcover: 320 pages. 2015, Chelsea Green Publishing.

Thurs Feb 16th at 5:30 p.m. For the Love of Books Gala, a fundraiser to support the Community Book Talks series (Carnegie Public Library: the library with a canoe on its card!). Contact Sarah Ruskey at 662-624-4461 or Jen Waller at 662-345-3555.

Saturday, Feb 18, 2017: LMRF General Annual Membership Meeting. Our general annual membership meeting takes place at noon on the Saturday closest to Valentine’s Day. The 2017 meeting is 12noon Saturday, Feb 18th, at Quapaw Canoe Company Clarksdale, with a potluck, and Sunflower River Cleanup afterwards. Come join us, if you can. We will have canoes and paddleboards for the cleanup. If you can’t join us, then wherever you are -- love your river. And as we say around here: “May the River be with You!”

March 20 -May 10: 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!

April 20-23: Juke Joint Festival. Go to for more info.

Coming up in Fall 2017: Quapaw Canoe Company Artist’s Retreat! One week on the Mississippi River with your pens, paints, paper, guitar — whatever your tools of creativity are. Bring your gear, we’ll take of the rest including guiding, outfitting, meals and campsite. By hand-crafted voyageur canoe.

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. In coordination with schools and after-school programs in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Friends of the Sunflower River

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.

Would you or your business like to become a "friend" of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation? Please contact John Ruskey for how!