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LMRD 776 - Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
"Voice of the Lower Mississippi River"
Sunday, April 26, 2020 -- Where the Ridge Meets the River

Dear readers: like you, we are shuttered at home. But every once in a while we get a chance to get out and explore the emerging spring (with only 1 or 2 peeps at a time). We hope this series of photos helps ease the pain of isolation.

Several weeks ago we set out for an adventurous daytrip paddling the muddy waters following the highest spring crest (so far) on the Lower Miss (it rose to 44.5 on the Helena Gage). Normally this would be a cakewalk, but instead of paddling due east to open river, we decided to strike out north following the base of the ridge into deep flooded woods. We got lost, got found -- and flipped over twice... once after sighting a 10-foot gator!

At Quapaw Canoe Company, "Our Road Begins Where Your Road Ends," here in the depths of St. Francis National Forest north of Helena, AR. Notice the flooded woods on right, and dry ridge on left. This is Crowley's Ridge, which rises several hundred feet high and runs a hundred or more miles north up through the Arkansas Delta to Jonesboro, near the foothills of the Ozarks. Helena sits at its southern tip. Its woods are the most diverse in the state.

Approaching ridge from flooded woods. Our route meandered through the deep flooded woods, bouncing back and forth between the ridge and the bottomland hardwood forest of the Mississippi River floodplain.

From my notebook: a "Memory Map" showing our zig-zag route -- full of dead ends and turn arounds. We could have gotten stuck miles from civilzation in a muddy forest with fastly draining river water and hungry mosquitoes and gators. As is, we experienced 2 flipovers, 2 alligators, a heron rookery, giant hidden trees, and other amazing encounters and adventures. River had crested and was falling (43HG). No GPS used, no compass, no cell service. Strictly navigating by "sailor's senses" and dead reckoning. I wonder why they call it "dead reckoning?" Maybe you're dead if you reckon wrong?

We discovered many hidden treasures along the way -- not in the form of the gold long sought by early explorers -- but in the wonders of the natural world -- such as this giant double sycamore tree, 10' in diameter, which emerged from the water and split into two main trunks, each about 6' in diameter. One giant fork had fallen off and was nowhere to be seen.

A striking dead standing tree trunk (oak?) full of burls, found on ridge.

Muddy Mississippi River floodwater mixing with the crystal clear waters of Big Spring, the easternmost spring in the state of Arkansas.

A flooded bridge (Storm Creek Bridge -- along the low road -- St. Francis Nat'l Forest). Bike Route? Yes, this beautiful gravel bike trail is normally dry and surrounded by deep woods.

Phlox is my favorite spring flower (with the most succulent of perfumes). Grows on ridge, not river floodplain.

Cypress Tupelo Gum Swamp flooded with muddy river water. Near here we discovered a secret open wetlands with a great blue heron rookery at edge, and 2 alligators patrolling below.

Stowaway: A tree frog, camoflouged from the most recent flooded tree it had rested on, leaped onto one of our wetsuits and rode with us for a while.

After six hours of hard paddling -- dodging trees, brambles, poison ivy, dead ends, tangles of swamp privet, cypress kness and piles of driftwood -- we finally neared the mouth of the St. Francis River, and the open river beyond, the Mighty Miss.

Banded orange snake? No, this is the root of the mulberry tree -- found on sandy banks near main channel of river.

Mulberries coming into season.

Advance clouds from severe thunderstorms greeted us at main channel of river. These are the storms that slammed the region with 70mph straight line winds. We decided to high tail it back to town. What required 6 hours upstream through deep woods was only 1 hour downstream on the swift-flowing waters of the main channel. 9 miles in 1 hour of paddling.

Helena boardwalk became our dock -- final stop for a celebratory swim and a couple of beers. Helena Bridge barely visible in background.

Helena Harbor -- near our final takeout on the levee.

Thanks to Robert Cheek, sagacious proprietor of the Edwardian Inn, Helena Arkansas, for shuttle. 10% discount on Quapaw trips for any guests of the Edwardian Inn.

Recovering after flipover -- if you go: carry compass, map, machete, satellite phone, survival kit, 1st aid kit, emergency shelter, and enough food and water for 2 days. Also, pack your sense of humor and be ready for situations requiring creative solutions.

Redbush was also blooming throughout the woods -- but only found on the ridge.

All Aboard?

(photo by Robin Whitfield)

...For future adventures?
Please know we are booking trips for Summer and 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:

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