Close Window
LMRD 806 ~ Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
"Voice of the Lower Mississippi River"
~~~Saturday, Oct 31, 2020~~~

Walking into the Muddy Valley of Orange Death

lots of tracks in this landscape -- which to follow?

Sharing some select responses (names withheld) from the readership from last week's issue: lots of good input here. Might be helpful to others who witness something similar.

Thanks to all who responded! FYI: I took a few samples and am sending in for chemical analysis. This is good timing. The river is now rising, a fast rise from the precipiation effects of Hurricane Zeta. So soon all of the evidence soon to be covered... until next low water, that is...

Sharing responses in order received:


Hey John,
Take some soil samples!!! It costs in the vicinity of $5/sample to get soil tested for the normal nutrients that farmers want to know about. You can ask them about more tests as well. Here is a reliable company: Southern Soils of Yazoo City. Also the water board tests water samples for about that much as well and they can test for heavy metals. Would be a cool topic for a student looking for a science research project.
I hope all is well with you! I went out yesterday and paddled between Buck Island and Arkansas. Saw at least 5 different beaver slides and one lodge with a freshly eaten fish on a log. Also pelicans and I think a couple of flocks of coots that were group huddling in the roots of fallen trees on the banks.


Maybe collect a bucket or two of that orange ooze and take it to a soils testung lab or a state lab for testing. Industry today is extremely regulated about spills or dumping of anything. Industry today is extremely regulated about spills or dumping of anything. That’s not pretty...


That is not pretty.

I witnessed a fish kill last year in Tippo Bayou in the Tallahatchie National wildlife refuge.
I reported it to MEMA 1-800-222-6362
They seemed concerned...
Not sure what came of it.
It is curious, though it happened at almost the same time last year. Nov 3, 2019

Perhaps this cold front?
Do rivers "turnover" like a lake?
Sorry I am not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV.


Which state was it in? Ark or Mississippi? State lab may not charge a fee whereas independent soils testing lab may. Prolly mail in a sample to a state lab. Lemme know if I can help


[Answer is: The "Muddy Valley of Orange Death" was on the Arkansas side. Island 62 is cut in half by the state line, in a mid-island line parallel to the river.]


Hi John,
Thank you for your thoughtful and informative journals and photography. We know this unfortunate phenomenon is playing out up and down the Mississippi and likely most rivers big and small.
That's why we need river champions like you and Mark River.
I'm invested in our life giving rivers and the work to bring attention and change to the atrocities foisted upon and into them.


John, I do not have a ton of experience with water testing. these folks do our water testing.
NOt sure about DDT and other toxins, but a typical test for us is around $200. Just a fyi.
They are also very particular about keeping the sample in a cooler and less than 24 hours between sampling and testing.
So be prepared for complications, but fight the good fight.


thank you for the questions.


No answers, but I appreciate the visual report-though troubling, the questions, the forward look, and the core values.


This is so disheartening! So many beautiful turtles, choked out...may I share this on FB?


[BTW: the answer is -- Yes -- You can share on FB... Thanks for asking... If you can, credit me and Quapaw Canoe Company... I think of these newsletters as "public property" as soon as I hit the send button...]


Thank you for this, John. You are quite the writer and naturalist. Keep it up. Your work is important.


I'm not sure how to show my appreciation for what y'all do for the good of a greater community! You bring joy and solidarity to everything and everyone. As an old "kochem" (wise man) once said: "This, right here, is what it's all about!"


I grew up on a farm in Tennessee in the 50s and 60s. We sprayed everything including our garden with toxifene, DDT, Paris green poisons. Thankfully we stopped that, but it washed down every gully, creek and river to the Ohio and finally the Mississippi River. Now it’s industrial waste and metals. We need to wake up or loose the world we love. Keep up the good work John.the river and the planet needs folks like you and the mighty Quapaws.


The correlation between the President and your Orange Valley of Death was not lost on me.


Hey John:

Nice pics of tracks and life and death.

Wow, a potent and thought provoking entry to your series. Thanks for sharing. You certainly said it - those are deceivingly beautiful shots darkened by the harsh truths of the circle of life, and the possible disruptions of the natural cycle due to selfish human interests.
Your observations, intuitions and questions I think are spot on. In the environmental investigation and remediation field, we use those sheens, colors, and laminations in sediment as visual indicators of nutrient and contaminant composition of soil. Iron and manganese oxidation are common (and natural) components of many sedimentary materials. High levels of nitrate from anthropogenic sources is a common problem for surface waters (including the Big Muddy) and can be the cause of red algal blooms. And low water levels can certainly concentrate contaminations, change chemical conditions and provoke additional sorption or release to/from sediments. Would be interesting to have samples of some of the features you observed analyzed at a lab to test intuitions from visual profiling. Simple pH tests with litmus paper can give you some indication (see below figure).

Also - I found this EPA study that indicates evidence of elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, lead, DDT, and other contaminants in the sediments of the nearby Big Sunflower River, which I believe is just downstream from y'all. Each of the numbered and shaded features represents an "Area of Probably Concern" (APC).
It's absolutely heart wrenching to consider the magnitude of how many ecosystems, in our country alone, have been affected and devastated by industrial interests in such a short blip of time for the planet. And this map highlights just the few EPA knows about... Many others are likely. Surprisingly, there's not much data from the Mighty River between Chicago and NOLA... EPA may need you and the Mighty Quapaws to send them some samples!
I believe you mentioned an expedition you were a part of that collected water and/or soil samples along your canoe trip down the river. What did they find?
Here's hoping the best for you and the river rat Quapaws down the line. Stay positive!


Special Scary Halloween Issue:
A Muddy Walk... into the Valley of Orange Death...

...last week the trail took me into the valley of death...

...full of phantasmagorical, swirling shapes and colors in the muddy floodplain. recently the water had retreated in the low water conditions of the Mississippi, the lowest in years, down to 2.0 on the helena gage... was scary... dozens of dead turtles...

...trails leading to dead ends and turtle shell bodies, their spirits long departed, only skeletons remain... early halloween experience maybe?, not just scary, it was stinky, confounding, upsetting, the images and smell memories not leaching away easily like the colors in the mud...

...the very worst kind of scary experience... more loss of wildlife... life is becoming so precious.... everyday becoming more scarce and more precious...

...a death of species not to be ignored, i am was puzzled -- why?

...a deceivingly pretty place -- dozens of dead turtles surrounding this one particular low water inlet on island 62... everything stained orange...

...a pooling place, the water trapped between undulations in the sandy river bottom, metallic colors leaching into the pools, festering in algal blooms...

...other tracks mixing with trutles, heron, egret, some small shorebirds, lots of raccoon... i started wondering what metals oxidize what color, maybe heavy metals? maybe other substances?

A quick internet search revealed the following:


Tarnish Black




Pinkish red

Reddish Brown or Rust Color


...i was seeing predominantly oranges, yellows, reddish tones, maybe this was some kind of mixture of iron and chromium?

the metallic blues could be manganese and copper? what about lead and arsenic? what colors do they express?

...nothing but dead turtles, although we found a dead raccoon across the river on island 63...

...mud is known to absorb and trap chemicals, like the fat does in our bodies... you cannot dredge certain parts of certain rivers and lakes, for instance, because of the layers of DDT locked into the layers of sediment on their bottoms...

...wondering if low water creates some kind of reverse pressure on the muddy layers?

...sorry about all the questions, and so few answers...

life is a constant mystery unfolding before our eyes, wandering towards the light glowing on the horizon, maybe no easy answers...

...but if nothing else we can keep on walking...

any input from you readers?

...our movement forward post-pandemic, is on all our minds, and in the daily conversation amongst us river rat quapaws... how will we re-emerge and recreate a better, healthier, more sustainable world next year? and the year after? and all the years to come? as a team? as a business? personally and collectively, this is of great concern to us. we are hands-on, and all about doing, and crafting a better world through our canoes, our activities, our river trips — all in line with our 3 core values: balance, diversity, democracy.

we hope wherever you are, you can also explore yur low water wilderness, wherever it might be found, as we explore ours... and make the internal changes that are necessary for the good of the all...

yours, sincerely, in service of the big river and its many expressions,

driftwood johnnie
aka john ruskey


the lmrd, lower mississippi river dispatch, is published on an irregular, river-time schedule by the quapaw canoe company, which seeks regain balance by connecting homo spaiens with the rest of creation through the magic of the canoe


The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch "Voice of the Lower Mississippi River" is published by the Quapaw Canoe Company. Photos and writing by John Ruskey, Mark River and others. Please write for re-publishing. Feel free to share with friends or family, but also credit appropriately. Go to www.island63.comand click on "Quapaw Dispatch" for viewing back issues of the LMRD.


Unsubscribe: If you feel you have received this newsletter in error, or no longer wish to receive, please go to bottom of page and hit "Click to Unsubscribe"


The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

is brought to you courtesy of

The Quapaw Canoe Company


Our Projects:

Rivergator: 1Million words describing the Lower Mississippi River, overseen by the LMRF:

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

Our Friends:

Lower Mississippi River Foundation is dedicated to promoting stewardship of the Lower and Middle Mississippi River through deep engagement.

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

Our Range: