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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No 417

Know your Fish before Casting your Line

Thursday, Aug 3, 2017, Clarksdale, MS ~ Helena, AR

Paintings, photos, videos, and writing on exhibit, Friday Aug 18th, 6-9pm
at the Cutrer Mansion, Clarksdale (Coahoma County Higher Education Center)

Day 14 of the Fast: a Sunflower River scene: a blue heron lands next to a floating log which is hung up along the edge of the river. An empty bucket nearby, also floating, carelessly left behind by two fishermen who saw the commotion in the river yesterday when hundreds of big head carp thrashed the water as they harvested plankton. The excited fishermen (not understanding the nature of their prey) attached hooks and worms and threw them in. And then pulled the hook out, the worm still intact and no fish. How could this be, in a river so jammed full of carp there is more fish than water? The hook goes back in with great expectation. Still no catch. And then again. Same result. And then again. And again. And yet again, each time the hook is thrown more impatiently than the time previous. The carp continued flushing the face of the river with bumps and gulps of green river water as they swallow and then filter out mouthful after mouthful of fresh squirming plankton, the river undulating with molten glass mirror images in smooth rounded concentric rings, all roly-poly and blubbery, and pulsating rhythmically. The two fishermen became increasingly desperate in their attempt as the fish ignore their offerings. Fishing carp with worms. They might as well have been trying to catch wild horses with steaks. One fisherman impatiently walked up and down the riverbank dragging the hook through the water, as if the aggressiveness would somehow land a fish.

Meanwhile the heron quietly awaits by the snag. She knows her prey prefer the shade and the obstruction created by something like a log. She stands immobile the entire time I am writing these observations down, quiet, unhurried, awaiting the moment to make that one strike that will yield one fish. My thoughts are inspired by the juxtaposition of these two fishing methods. The moral here is obvious: know your fish before casting your line — or you will end up with empty bucket!

But there is more: the heron lives a sustainable life. She knows her prey, and her belly can only handle so much. She has no freezer to zap her fish for later consumption, nor smoke house. So she takes only what she needs. A fish swims by and quick as a blink she snatches it out of the water, shakes it once or twice, throws it up in the air, and opens her beak. Her presence is a model for us humans: use all parts of your catch, and leave behind only what is useful to others. She swallows the entire fish whole and draws life-giving nutrients and energy from most of it. What she later ejects becomes fertilizer for the riparian flora -- the grasses, flowering bushes and trees -- whose fallen leaves and decaying bark nurture the fungi that grow the bacteria that feed the plankton, ingested by the micro-vertebrate, filtered by the mollusks, eaten by the minnows and crustaceans, gulped by the small fish, eaten by the bigger fish who are snatched quivering with life by the heron, and the cycle is completed and begins anew. This is but one tiny slice of the myriad of cycles continually spinning through the passage of our paradise on earth. The owls, the kites, the other birds of prey all have their own spinning circles of life, some intersecting with the heron, some not. The songbirds have theirs, and the other waders and waterfowl theirs. The amphibians theirs. The insects are woven into the cycles of many of the above, and the bacteria into even more. Finally, the mammals operate within their own tightly woven cycles, the beavers and river otters, the deer and coyote and bear, all the mammals are harmoniously spinning within the same cycles of sustainable life. That is, all are harmonious save the incredible exception of one amazingly productive, procreative, and strangely wasteful oddity: and that is us. We operate outside of any other circles, most of the time. We take more than can be sustained. And the stuff we leave behind: the empty bottles and containers, most of them have no value to any other cycle of life, and many of them are damaging.

But unlike other creatures, we always have choices. The choice to make the world better, or the choice to make it worse. Every day is a new day. Every day and every action we take can be a sustainable action, or it can be a damaging action. The cycles of life. They're all around us. One step brings closer to the harmony of the whole. And one step takes you away.

Which step will you take?

Paintings, photos, videos, and writing on exhibit, Friday Aug 18th, 6-9pm
at the Cutrer Mansion, Clarksdale (Coahoma County Higher Education Center)

Update: My fast is over, I am sending thanks to those who sent well wishes and encouragements. Before I was the owner of a small business I used to make an annual fast, usually in the springtime. But this year mid-summer seemed to open up as the perfect time, and it was long overdue. As reported, I have been feeling bad for months, maybe years, something was wrong, and nothing seemed to fix it, including long periods of river time (which usually fixes everything!) Maybe my body was telling me it’s time? I don’t know, but I do feel better now. This was the longest I had ever done this, 15 days, 10 days liquids only, mostly water. Just being one step out of the never-ending loop of consumption for a couple of weeks was refreshing -- like being on a vacation of sorts.

My fast coincided with our summer break at Quapaw Canoe Company. Next week we will be back at base and on duty. Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival is coming around the corner (August 11-13) and then we are Celebrating the Rivergator Expedition on Aug 18th with a reunion of the adventure crew including videos and photos by "Black Magic" Chris Battaglia, writing by Boyce Upholt and paintings by John Ruskey.

Lastly, where will you be on Aug 21st, the day of the complete solar eclipse? How about joining us on the river? This might be a once in a lifetime opportunity... See below for details on these and more.

A fast is an interesting way to employ a control all of us have, but few exercise. You can choose not to breathe, but not for long; after a minute or two your automatic reflexes will take over and your lungs will gasp for breath*. You can choose not to drink water, and that will last a few days before you die of dehydration, especially in heat like summer in Mississippi. Most people think eating is the same way, that you will surely die after several days of not eating. My daughter is one of these people. This fast has been a source of endless curiosity for her. She has been sure that I will not survive for long. But this is not the case. I am still standing after almost 2 weeks. This is Day 13 of my fast, and Day 8 of liquids only, mostly water.

I started this fast as a spiritual quest, but also to help bring some sanity back to my world, which has seemed a little out of control. This helplessness for me spiked with the immoral decision to exit the Paris Accords. How is it that one man can irrationally make a decision that the majority is against, and negatively affects all of us? Not only the 317 million or so people that he is charged to represent, but all people on earth? 5 billion lives at stake? (Not to mention the bizillions of members from the 2 million species of other life forms still intact on this planet!) And not listen to the majority of us that did not want this?

For example, Mississippi River mayors, representing the interests of agriculture and industry in the heart of America, the bastion of his support, sent him a letter imploring him to stay signed on for economic reasons (Including mayor Jay Hallowell of Helena and ex-mayor Bill Luckett of Clarksdale). This letter is published below. He seems bent on repealing everything the previous president created, as if that was what made a good ruler, one who simply undid everything that was done before, regardless of whether it was good or bad, moral or immoral, made good sense or not. (See below for another example of this bitter crusade of repeals: the 2015 Clean Waters Act — and send a letter to your legislators asking them not to repeal).

Is global warming for real? This preposterous question gets endlessly bantered around social media. You could also ask: Is Delaware a state? The Delaware-sized ice shelf that just broke of Antarctica would seem to be shouting that yes it's for real. Unfortunately the people studying the situation are creating more than their share of CO2 and more heat as they drive giant machines around the ice, and fly back and forth long distances around the world. And yet it is not they to blame, it is all of us. This is one example of the many contradictions surrounding the issue. As the days get hotter, air conditioners run longer, leading hotter communities, leading to more air conditioning, and so on and so forth, the solutions making the problem worse. We need more shade, we need more trees to create shade and absorb excess CO2, we need more solar panels to absorb more solar radiation, etc, etc, etc. We all need to look deep down inside of ourselves and ask ourselves what kind of world we are leaving for our children, and what we can do to make it abetter world, not a lesser world. I have an internal conversation with myself in regards to my daughter, who is complaining more and more about the heat.

If nothing else, my fast reduced my personal consumption big time. Other practical aspects of this fast: 1) I lost 18 pounds -- down to 145 from 163, 2) quiet moments — I enjoyed more down time sitting, meditating, and journaling 3) reading — and also catch up on some reading, a great week to do that in honor of Thoreau’s 200th, 4) closer to mature — as a non- consumer you become less of a threat to nature, maybe because you’re slower, calmer, more inward, or maybe the animals sense that you are no longer desiring to eat them! 5) walking feels even better than it used to, 6) clearer thinking, 7) less fatigued (at least during the 1st week), 8) My senses are all sharpened, sense of sound, smells, and sights, I am more in the moment, 9) I feel a closer connection to my spirit, and 10) I am seeing more clearly. This fast has been remarkably easier than any previous. I have been alternating between light-headedness, euphoria, and dreaminess, a sleepiness that is more like meditation than exhaustion.

Thomas von Machui wrote -- "We love and support your commitment to strengthening the fight against climate change. In Germany too are the effects of climate change clearly noticeable. We observe *rising temperatures, more humid winters and more frequent extreme weather events like flash floods*"

Tony Long wrote -- "Wonderful to hear from you. I am so in awe of your fast. And to read in Dispatch 416 how it is affecting your perceptions and mental and physical states. It is hugely inspiring for others like me who can learn from your experiences. And on the subject that is causing you and me and others such anguish, Trump's unilateral dismembering of the painstaking Paris climate accord, here is something to lift your spirits to the skies."

Thomas Jackson shared a hopeful article from a cool online magazine I had never heard of:

Donald Trump may reverse his decision on the Paris Climate Accord? reported that France's president suggested that Donald Trump may reverse his decision on the Paris Climate Accord.

Solarize the entire US!

Also of note from Inhabitat:

The more days that go by, the more it seems like Elon Musk is going to single-handedly save the planet. The serial entrepreneur recently unveiled a simple plan to power the entire united states with solar energy.

Other Inhabitat News:

In other energy news, Indian Railways launched new solar-powered coaches that could save 5,547 gallons of diesel every year.

And a self-sufficient hydrogen-powered boat embarked on a 6-year journey around the world.

Oregon's legislature approved the nation's first tax on bicycles - and cyclists are furious. Researchers developed a rotating indoor garden that can grow hundreds of plants in any room. And an organic farm in New York donates all the food it grows to charity - 10 tons and counting.

Read all at

Earth Overshoot Day Aug 8, 2017

To avoid Earth Overshoot Day Aug 8, 2017, when we will have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year, go to the Global Footprint Network and Calculate Your Global Footprint to see how sustainable your lifestyle is, and read suggestions for small changes that make a big difference.

The mission of the Global Footprint is to help end ecological overshoot by making ecological limits central to decision-making. The Global Footprint vision is that all people live well, within the means of nature.

Arkansas Trails Council Annual Awards:

We won Advocate of the Year Award for the Rivergator Project from the Arkansas Trails Council! On behalf of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation, and all of our Arkansas partners, river rat Bill Gregg and I appeared in Fayetteville, AR, to accept this honor from the Arkansas Trails Council. Passionate video artist Bill Gregg is an example of the many people and partners required to complete such an enormous project as the Rivergator.

In Arkansas we have many to thank, including the Walton Family, Robert & Beverly Moore, Rep Chris Richey, Leah DiPietro, Zoe Clift, Katherine Stewart, Judge Parker, Kevin Smith, Scott Shirey, Stacy Hurst, Bill Branch, Katie Harrington, Jay Hollowell, Alana Pinchback, Cathi Cunningham, Joel & Amber Tipton, Terry Eastin, Dawna Parker, Greg Patterson, Norwood Creech, John Edwards, Debbie Doss, Bill Gregg and Rosemary Post. We accepted this honor from Toby Von Renbow and Mike Sprague, State Trails Coordinator & Project Officer, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

30th Annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival

For immediate release with thanks from the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, Panny Mayfield, publicist, 7/9/17

Six cool Sunflower acoustic stages will ‘Beat the Heat’

CLARKSDALE – “When temperatures soared to 105 degrees in August 2016, our Sunflower River Blues Association members pledged to do something about it for 2017,” says Melvita Tillis Presley, festival chair.

“The answer was more Saturday afternoon acoustic stages in air-conditioned facilities,” Presley continues.

Saturday’s six free acoustic stages on August 12 include:

1. The air-cooled VIP Tent, John Lee Hooker Lane: 12 noon – 4:45 p.m.

2. Levon’s Bar and Grill, 232 Sunflower Ave.: 2 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.

3. Crossroads Cultural Arts Center, 332 Delta Ave.: 2 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.

4. Stone Pony, 226 Delta Ave.: 2: p.m. – 4:45 p.m.

5. Hattie Jean’s, Corner of Delta and Third Ave.: 2 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.

6. Hambone Gallery, 111 East Second St.: 2 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.

The Sunflower’s Saturday Aug. 12 main stage kicks off at 5 p.m. with David Dunavant & continues through Charlie Musselwhite’s finale at 11:45 p.m.

Presley says Friday night’s main stage Aug. 11 opens at 6 p.m. and continues through back-to-back super-charged performers: James Super Chikan Johnson, Nathaniel Kimble, and O.B. Buchana.

At 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 13 a free Mississippi Bicentennial program “Conversations with Charlie Musselwhite” will feature blues guru Jim O’Neal interviewing the Grammy winning headliner in the Muddy Waters Wing of the Delta Blues Museum.

At 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 13, the free Sunflower River Gospel Festival opens in the air-conditioned Civic Auditorium and continues through 8:45 p.m. with The Eternal Light Singers.

For updates and complete lineups, view

Solar Eclipse of the Century — on the Mississippi River!

Solar Eclipse Daytrip Monday Aug 21st
Meet at 8am Quapaw Canoe Company, Clarksdale, MS. Occlusion begins at 11:51am. Max eclipse at 1:22pm. Eclipse over at 2:51pm. All paddle together in one of our giant cypress-strip voyageur canoes, no previous experience necessary. Back to town around 5pm. We will provide everything for the river, guiding and outfitting, lunch and shuttle. 1st come 1st served. Contact John Ruskey,, to reserve your seat in the big canoe, or for more information.

Solar Eclipse 3-Day Sunday Aug 20th - Tuesday Aug 22nd:

Avoid the crowds and join us for a spectacular viewing of the Total Solar Eclipse August 21st from the middle of the mighty Mississippi River! We will paddle to remote Mississippi River island and set up an eclipse-viewing camp to observe this incredible phenomena from the perspective of the biggest river in North America. Our location is within the band of total eclipse, which for us will last 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Rain or Shine. (Note: the effects of the eclipse will be seen and felt regardless of sky cover. In cloudy weather it will become even darker.) 3 days/2 nights. Contact John Ruskey,, to reserve your seat in the big canoe, or for more information.

Paintings, photos, videos, and writing on exhibit, Friday Aug 18th, 6-9pm
at the Cutrer Mansion, Clarksdale (Coahoma County Higher Education Center)

Other Upcoming Events:

Aug 18: Rivergator Celebration Exhibition: On Friday, August 18th we will be celebrating the Rivergator with paintings, photos, writing, film, music, food and drinks! Starts 6pm at Catalpa House in Clarksdale, Miss. 6-9pm. Featuring paintings by John Ruskey, writing by Boyce Upholt, photos & film by Chris Battaglia, and adventure stories from John and LaNae Abnet. Music TBA. Catalpa House is located at the corner of Riverside & Catalpa (110 Catalpa Street — across the Sunflower River from downtown Clarksdale). For more information contact John Ruskey,, Lena Von Machui,, or Mark River

Aug 19: Quapaw Canoe Company's annual Canoe, Kayak & SUP Safety Workshop -- in the Helena Harbor 12noon to 5pm. Meet 11am at Quapaw Helena headquarters 107 Perry St in downtown Helena, last building on levee headed to river. Open to public, $50/person for one-on-one instruction in what to do when your vessel flips over in the big river. Other topics covered include navigation, big river protocol, and emergency medical considerations.

Paintings, photos, videos, and writing on exhibit, Friday Aug 18th, 6-9pm
at the Cutrer Mansion, Clarksdale (Coahoma County Higher Education Center)

Nov 1-Nov 10: Continuation of the Rivergator Expedition: We will return to Bonne Carre Spillway in early November and resume the expedition to the Gulf of Mexico. More details forthcoming, but dates are approx Wed, Nov 1 to Fri Nov 10th, weather dependent of course.


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