The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


Rivergator Appendix VII

John Ruskey Artistic Journal of Morning Impressions

as recorded around the campfire in the first light of day

Vicksburg to Baton Rouge, Dec 6-16, 2014


Saturday, December 6, Yazoo River


Set out from Vicksburg’s Yazoo Landing in a north wind (paddler's friend) with little to no flow in the Yazoo, a few hunters and fishermen, a few people came to see us off, Layne's mother, Alyson (Adam's wife), Michael's wife, My mother-in-law “Big Emma,” the Hollingsworth's and their grandson Tyler.  I breathed my first sigh of relief in weeks as we floated out of the Yazoo Canal and into the calm but powerful waters of the big river.  Everything always changes when you enter the big muddy river, no matter the tributary, even the giant Ohio is changed by the experience.  Even the Upper Mississippi is changed, the Big Muddy Mo creates the pattern way upstream and here on the Lower Miss the pattern achieves its purest and powerfullest expression, tattered clouds sliding across the big sky where the bluffs end in ragged layers hanging down like someone pulling the ticking out of grandma's quilt, somber colors greys and prussian blues and whites, the tree trunks black and bleak against the sky, downstream the big canoes slice through the cold thick water like a sharp knife through leather, the turbulence adds some resistance, the boils less, the alert paddler uses the whirlpools to his advantage, our minds freed from the entangling snares of the land as we carve the waters past the Walnut Hills Loess Bluff #1, and then on down past Delta Point through Centennial Cutoff (1876), Racetrack, finally making landing like a couple of geese at Reid Bedford Point, flapping our wings into a couple of eddies, and then out, in and out, out and in, none entirely satisfying the needs of the all the geese, we follow the bend all the way to the last point, there is a bit of trepidation about passing this last point (Reid Bedford Point), because the river curves eastward below into a series of hunting camps, with all landings exposed to full assault of the wind, but we carry on in blind faith in the last cold light of the day, the wind seems to be picking up speed, and are thankfully rewarded around the bottom end of Reid Bedford with a calm harbor and several choices for sandy landings.  We go for the more portected (but steeper) landing against the north bank, rising 30 or 40 feet up with a flat bottomed forest above, a perfect place on a cold windy night like this, with a long view downstream into Diamond Cut-Off (1933) and into Newtown Bend with a view of Grand Gulf cooling towers and the Big Black Bluff behind.


Sunday, December 7, Reid Bedford Point


Tucked into the protective arm of the earth in a cut-out place along the steep riverbank stacked sand and mud layers tell the history of recent floods, the trees crying starkly in the cold wind, which seeems to have picked up some strength in the dark hours before dawn, but I feel nothing where I sit in front of the fire far below the forest tops, even though I am fully exposed and wide open to the south, the southwest and the southeast, simple shelter created in the landscaping of the river, previous highwaters having sculpted out this little amphitheater and laid the soils for the roots of the tree trunks above and the life they support.  Good morning world from Reid Bedford Point with a full on view of LeTourneau downstream and across the river, Hennessey Bayou coming in from the left through the Hennessey Sandbar above the LT boat ramp at an extremely acute angle.  First bird: a least tern crying sadly in the wind.  Later a heron (or something) croaked weirdly.  Now other songbirds in the woods, a few tenacious leaves hanging onto the willows, some oak leaves higher up, a few stragglers in the sycamores, but no beeches (I wonder why they don't like the floodplain?), the trees reaching with outstretched arms as if glorifying the light grey-blue skies and the winter wind howling overhead, every branch raised in praise of this peaceful time of year, the time of long nights and short days, the regeneration of the atmosphere, our oxygen refreshed, the lungs of the earth need these deep breaths to recycle the old and reconnect anew with the primal patterns of the universe.


Monday, December 8, Middle Ground 


Calm morning, three big tows pushed upstream hugging the bottom of the island, Grand Gulf billowing huge columns of steam into the heavens, a gentle roaring replacing the roaring sound of the wind through the trees, after blowing steady 10-20 mph for three days gusting to 30 out of the north the wind has puffed itself to sleep, and now the stillness returns to the river and the dark woods, all peaceful and still that is save for the grinding of the turbines and churning of drive shafts, first light filters in grain by grain replacing the dark blues with incandescent pastels, dark reds becoming dark purples on either side of the brightness, the black silhouettes of the trees become glowing silky silhouettes as if the lightness is coming from within (and perhaps it is) the first lightness infuses all with the glowing spirit, as the light gathers strength and softens the dark colors into glowing pastels, effervescent glowing, easter egg effervescence, pastel oranges, reds, blues, purples, greens, every section of the wrap-around forest has its own particular tinge of misty coloring, brightest towards the arrival of the source, darker away not by degree of blackness but by variation in color, yellows around the growing soul-source, reddening through the oranges away, tangerine, then cinnamon, then rusty reds, then plum purples, with splashes of cobalt blueness and pine needle green-ness appearing in washes glowing from surprising quarters, soft watercolor washes of the most dilute tones, the hills surrounding the Big Black breathe with an inherit mistiness that swells in saturation  towards daybreak and gathers in sparkling crystalline dewdrops over the edges of the grasses and wets the roofs of our tents, as droplets congeal on the cypress strip voyageur canoe they begin to run down the gunnels towards the river where we have dragged up the sandy bank, and they slide down the rounded hull, and where the proud prow rises over the water’s edge gather in a line of diamonds, quivering slightly in the gentle air, and silently releasing themselves to fall into the wet sand below.


Tuesday, December 9, Skull Island.


Looking down the misty channel towards Natchez, the high wire light flashing hypnotically, waves gently washing onto the shore, a big tow going up, two coming down, the second one an asphalt tow by the sounds of the extra motors on the barges.  Running the neon blue bulbs bottom deck as seems to be popular with tow crews these days.  Woke up at 3:23 the moon high in the mature willow forest I had laid my head down in, “lay me head, by the waterside, in my time, in my time, I will roll, roll, roll...”  So many songs about sleeping by the river, beds by the river, and willows by the river.  The river creates the most peaceful harbor for humans to open their subconscious to the resonate ripplings of dream-time.  The willow trunks dark in their middles but silvery on their sides reflecting moonlight in ridged strips running vertically in their weaving pattern, like ripples on the sandbar or waves across the lake in a gentle breeze.  Orion paddling his surfboard down into the western horizon, right arm outstretched and driving the paddle blade downwards into the tall cottonwoods lining the river over towards Vidalia.  An oil well donkey engine thrashing the silence behind camp up through Fairchild Chute (Skull Island), so here ends this stretch of wild river?  Finally finding my groove.  A difficult transition this time, it took three days of cold wind, massive logistics, and hard paddling to reach this state of heavenly bliss where dream-time approaches day-time, the indigo-blue dark skies pregnant with the spin of the earth and the streaming sun waves which herald the work world.  But now by the light of the driftwood fire and the cold grey-blue glow of my laptop I am finally finding my favorite place here on the edge of the ever-flowing, flowing-river, perched on the line between heaven and earth, this crossroads of time and place so delicate, and yet I keep finding paradise again and again here in this same place, strung like a muddy guitar string 1,000 miles long and reverberating in deep muddy basso-profundo, sometimes in gentle waves, sometimes in crashing waves of chaos, sometimes murmuring so finely and softly that only a canoe drifting down the face of her watery-string in the warm golden buttery light of a cold winter solstice afternoon could you perceive the subtle nuances, this kind of palpitations would be immediately destroyed by the firing of an outboard engine or passage on any motor-powered vessel.