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Watercolor by Robin Whitfield

LMRD 773 - Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
"Voice of the Lower Mississippi River"
Saturday, April 18, 2020 -- Paddlers who Paint

An artist's travelling studio -- Robin Whitfield

I am re-running this dispatch with a few corrections and new photos -- mostly scenes from Robin Whitfield's sketchbook and camera. On artist's retreat the mind slows down to island time, in concert with the rising and setting of the sun - and the rhythm of the natural kingdom - and you start seeing things you normally would overlook. (Re-sending with a few additions/corrections!)

Watercolor by Robin Whitfield

Maybe these will be a consolation to you, dear river rat readers, wherever you are holed up!

Cottonwood Tree Trunk -- Robin Whitfield

Report from the River: I am happy to report that even amongst the calamity being suffered by humanity the cycles of life in the grand batture of the Lower Mississippi seem to be continuing on unchecked and unchanged as they always have (at least in my 4-decade experience, since 1982). The Delta is sometimes prosaically nicknamed the "Cotton Kingdom," but we artists found ourselves a step deeper and further inwards from the never-ending ambitions of man, and more towards the true heart of the Mississippi Delta, that is, over the levee, in the "Cottonwood Kingdom!"

Cottonwood stamens from male cottonwood... Thick with bees, bumblebees, butterflies and birds! (Robin Whitfield)

Even amongst the chaos of civilization the life cycles continue unchanged over the levee... in the valley of the monster river... the dragon river... the powerful and magnetic and magical and magnificent Mississippi River.... here are scenes -- a mixture of photos, sketches and paintings from our cottonwood kingdom in full budding bloom, butterflies and birds in celebration... my cottonwood hammock camp became an "island amongst islands" in the rising muddy waters of the Lower Miss...

Found Materials Construction -- Robin Whitfield

Watercolor by Robin Whitfield

Alligator Shoals (Robin Whitfield)

The artist Robin Whitfield in her element

Go to Robin Whitfield Studio to see paintings and learn more about Robin's work and life's passion.

Creatures Seen in the Cottonwood Kingdom Biota:

Box Turtle (Robin Whitfield)

Species noted in the biota of the Cottonwood Kingdom: we saw or heard coyotes, fox, mice, skunk, rat or muskrat, beaver, river otter, bald eagle, white pelican, greater egret, great blue heron, canada geese, deer, several snakes, box turtle, mississippi map turtles, lots of butterflies (including viceroys, sulphurs, tiger swallowtails and monarchs), moths (including nessus sphinx moth), many insects coming to life notably bees and bumblebees, many and other birds (Note: this report made from eye witness views, tracks seen, or creatures heard singing!)

nessus sphinx moth (Robin Whitfield)

Young deer swimming back channel (John Ruskey)

Frogs singing to the Moon and Venus from wetlands (John Ruskey)

Red Winged Blackbirds (John Ruskey)

We noticed several winter migratory species still intact (white-throated sparrow) and approaching spring migratory just entering the lower valley (terns)... Also a giant flock of pelicans maybe getting ready to head north...

Canada Goose making noisy splashy touchdown (John Ruskey)

Canada Goose tracks in wet sand (as water steadily rises towards flood stage)

Froggie singing his dying song (John Ruskey)

Froggie goes for his last swim (John Ruskey)

River Otter turned and looked me square in the eye (John Ruskey)

Plants thriving in Cottonwood Kingdom:

Yellow Rockets -- AKA "Yellowtops" AKA 'Butterweed" -- Packera glabella (Robin Whitfield)

the tender young leaves of the cottonwood tree, as soft as velvet, but coated with waxy film

The dewberries were flowering, and mulberries leafing and budding... their berries appearing in tiny green state baby buds…. Soft, tender, effervescently glowing sap green, cottonwood leaves emerge encased in sticky waxy coating that protects the baby leafs from insects and frost, sticky as pine sap, the fallen bud cases stick to your feet when you walk underneath!

Detail of female cottonwood fruit (Robin Whitfield)

back channel sandbar: cottonwood, willow, hackberry (Robin Whitfield)

Yellowtop AKA Butterweed -- Packera glabella (Robin Whitfield)

Watercolor by Robin Whitfield

Big Mama Bear and Baby Bear (John Ruskey)

Report from Space: In addition to Libra and Scorpius, the dawn sky was sprinkled with the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars (Mercury was said to be visible, but not to us). For us night skies were alternately clear and cool and springlike, and muggy-warm-overcast. On clear nights the star show burst open over and above our island retreat in a showy brilliance including a sprightly Venus dancing in the vicinity of Pleiades and Taurus, Sirius found near the southern spillway of Milky Way with Orion, Lepus and Canis Major also nearby, and Taurus, and Auriga higher up, and Gemini the twins. In the northern sky Leo and Ursa Major are rising powerful shape-forces at dark, Cassiopeia setting early, Leo setting before first light, but the big she-bear Ursa Major crawling in all her profound display around Polaris all night long, she begins her crawl upwards at dark out of the NE sky, and rotates high overhead to dive back downwards SW in the first light before dawn. A mid-spring treat: readers, look to the West at dark for an enchanting view of Venus and Orion... which seem to be dancing together as the night develops... we are soon to lose Orion in the evening glare, but for now he inhabits his most striking posture of the entire year, wiggling his Elvis Presely hips and standing upright, his belt parallel to the horizon.

Moon passing through Orion and Venus (John Ruskey)

Bats in the backyard Venus and Moon (John Ruskey)

Libra, Scorpius, pre-dawn fire, Artist's Retreat 2020 Canoe Camp (John Ruskey)

(photo by Robin Whitfield)

All Aboard!

...For future adventures?
Please know we are booking trips for Fall 2020 and Spring 2021! We will make it down this most difficult of journeys. We send big river blessings to you, your friends, your staff and your families. You can help us stay afloat by making a reservation for a future trip.

Quapaw Canoe Company — Alternate Salutations in a Virus World:
(Thanks to Big Muddy Mike of Big Muddy Adventures for helping create this list!)

1) The Japanese Bow: Hands at your side, make eye contact, bend at waste towards the greeter. A slight bow forward, almost like a nod of the head, a slight online of the torso from the hip, and return upright! (unlike the old world bow of submission to your ruler).

2) The Indian Bow: Hands in prayer above heart, bow slightly and then arise with a smile.

3) Emma-Lou Jump-Up-And-Down: my daughter used to get so excited when seeing friends and loved ones that she would jump up and down repeatedly! Very effective!

4) Sailor's Salute: raise right hand to head, as exemplified in the US Navy.

5) Steamboat Captain's Salute: lift your hat in the air (or arm if not wearing hat) and wave back and forth.

6) Cowboy/Girl Hat Tip: Make eye contact, place hand on corner of hat, or if no hat pretend you do. tip hat towards greeter.

7) American Sign Language Love Sign: Make eye contact. Make fist then point your pinky and pointer and thumb up. Move side to side. End with a smile.

8) Paddler's High Five: on the water paddlers can high five with the blades of their paddles... SUP or kayak or canoe... approaching ships port to port or starboard to starboard extend your paddle blade and slap "high five!” (maintaining at least 6 foot distance of course!)

9) Heart Bump: Bump heart with fist and extend towards person: a heartfelt soul greeting -- for soul brothers and soul sisters.

10) Medieval Courtsy (Female) or Bow (Male): A gesture of respect or reverence made by bending the knees with one foot forward and lowering the body.

11) Swahili Fire Greet: Facing person maintain eye contact and run your palms together in rapid circular motion while saying "pasha, pasha, pasha!" and then throw the sparks outwards sweeping one hand over the other towards person, saying the words "chama, chama, chama!" (thanks to my sister Jennifer for this one!)

We're all Connected:

Ending here with Big River Love to everyone. Wherever you are, in on any of the seven continents, or on any of the seven seas -- wherever the passage of life flows onwards forever flowing -- we hope you are well and making good decisions for yourself, your friends, your family, and the future of humanity.

We feel you, and we are all in this boat together. Yours always, in service,

"Driftwood Johnnie"
John Ruskey