The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


Wednesday, Dec 10, Natchez Islands.

 Teardrop moon sliding over the tall willows on breadloaf Island (in the Natchez Islands) across the sky, masses of willow branches and their forks and fractal forks, and more forks upon other forks, all silhouetted in the moon brightened sky, the blob of orange moon rose over Natchez last night as Orion was doing the same over St. Katherine’s Wildlife Refuge, beavers slapping their tails defiantly, we scare them not, they have claimed the bar with a collection of scent mounds on both sides of the island, one within the big harbor the Grashopper is pulled up in, and a city of scent mounds on the backside, never seen so many mounds all laid out together so thickly before, they just keep their distance as the swirl and slap, swirl and slap, swirl and slap, one giant beaver and a younger one following, making dark wake-lines in the glistening dark blue water, Andromeda following the moon towards the western horizon, the winter moon following the path of the summer sun, as she arose over the Natchez Bluff and the Natchez bridge the moon cast a tangerine orange reflection perfectly etched across the blue-black waters, sliced and diced by boil and eddy lines, but otherwise perfect;y long and straight and even, a perfect orange rectangle etched on the face of the big cold river blowing around the Natchez Bluff and on downstream.  Great horned owls making woody calls from over the backside of Natchez Island while towboats rumble upstream, three in a row chugging along as I awoke from my lonely peninsula, rolling dunes of sand peppered with spiral willow leaves freshly blown from the trees above and scattered artfully across Breadloaf Bar in various states of the spiral, but also a few half moons and a few S-shapes amongst the spirals, but mostly unanimously spiral, the willow leaf seeks the spiral, of this there is no doubt, ask anyone who has walked through a willow forest on a crisp fall day, or laid their pallet on a bed of willow leaves in the early spring, the first light now puffing its lungs and filling the air space over the Mississippi Loess Bluffs just before 6am shapes emerging from the darkness, long sharp zig-zag lines where the sandbar reaches into the water, a canoe pulled up into one of the narrow harbors, a driftwood log above, a tent placed nearby here, a another tent top end, maybe too close to the water -- I hope they are not getting water in their sleeping bags from the rising river!


Thursday, Dec 11, Palmetto Island.

  Chilly wind blowing over the top of the island.  The air warmer than anynight so far, but the breeze blowing over the river cuts through many layers of fleece.  Woke up with Orion and Canis Major setting over the back channel of Black Hawk Island (Artonish) Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area where the three rivers the Red, and the Ouchita all come together over the banks of the big river, and a portion of the Mississippi diverted nearby to combine with the others and together they equal one third of the daily average flow for the creation of the Atchafalaya River, America’s shortest big river.  Mud bank expressions around Bougere Bend reflect the geography in reds and blacks, maybe the Mississippi mud layering intermixed with the mud of the Red, blue layers alternating with orange layers, opposites in the color spectrum creating a vivid display as we paddle hard out of Dead Man’s Bend and around Jackson Point, everyone bone tired from the long hard crawl all day, the river spreading wider and wider, fat and happy, everywhere you see the face of the river she looks excited and expressive of her joy, along the edges by the wall of willows she is boiling and rippling like a child, over the big belly coming out of the bend she sends gentle murmurs downstream as far as the eye can see like a contented parent.  I like looking into the sparkling sun reflections and finding all of the fine lines of the boils and eddies dancing across the horizon like a stampeded of whirling dervishes, the greatest migration ever, the endless migration of motions and counter-motions, more constant than the motions of clouds which come and go, and the dust blowing across the earth which rise and subside, only the motions of the river remain the same, the touch stone for everything that makes us alive, the stairway to heaven, the steeple of the creator’s workroom.


Friday, Dec 12, Hog Point Towhead.

Crackling willow pops and sparks firelight dancing yellow orange out of the blackness of the small dry logs we pulled out of the receding end of Hog Point Towhead, a bony ridge rising high above the main channel making a natural levee and ideal placement for a line of voyageur tents and hammocks, Nathan at the very bottom edge, then Layne, River and Lil’ Mike set their tents on the edge of a promenade entrance hall leading to the  chapel of the willows, every Mississippi River island hosts such a chapel, where the spirit of god can be felt close at hand in the hushed atmosphere and inspirational light, the Orr brothers furthest up the ridge have erected their tent, and I laid my head in the curling willow leaves in between.  Smoke being thrown swirling with a gentle easterly breeze into which the mesmerizing dance of the willow flames spins and sashays, swirls and curls, doubles over and stands upright, as a couple of fishermen turn into the embayment below us and bend over, stoop down, catch their nets, and then stand erect, and in the same fluid motion, pull them upwards and pick the thrashing fish off the line and throw them into a fridgerator cut n half at the bottom of the boat, and low puffy clouds slowly march through the half moon out of the northwest, a splotchy sky, like the foam on the rising river, the reflections of stars peeking out in between the white splotches, everything else silent and awaiting instruction from the concertmaster who is slowly approaching from the east, but is still far over the loess bluff horizon, the Tunica Hills, only a few ushers like the fishermen and myself and that tow pilot grinding up up through Tunica Bend, are awake and following the first steps in the dance of the day, but when the director emerges from over the hills the entire orchestra will awaken and begin to play, and the all of the willow chapels and cottonwood/oak/sycamore/sweetgum cathedrals will resound with the sound of dance and music.


Sat, Dec 13, St. Maurice Island.

  Caustic Carbonaceous air blowing up the back channel, maybe directly from Big Cajun II, the three smokestacks visible as we paddled around Morgan’s Bend and swung past Boie’s Point, I woke up gasping for air, for oxygen, the foul air making me hungry for clean air, my lungs bursting like being underwater and not being able to breathe, but also not wanting to breathe too deep, to allow the contamination in too far into my bronchi, breathing shallow limits the stain.  St. Maurice Island is as wild as they come, but all around us you can hear the sounds of rumbling engines, accelerating cars, trucks grinding their gears, last night periodic gunfire shocked the air, bursts of repeating rifle or semi automatic pistols, and the pressurized boom of something bigger.  At Sebastopol big booms rang out across the river, in the very same place we ran into gunfire last spring.  I felt like a bullseye had been painted on my head, which made me paddle harder.  Sebastopol is a scary place, a congregation of redneck hunting camps on stilts, home-made affairs, trailers and sheds jacked up in the air 20 feet, and a channel marker located in the middle of it all LBD 283.3.  Just five years ago I noted on my maps that Morgans Bend was an isolated bend, good place for paddlers to stop anywhere along its perimeter for highwater camping.  But now half a decade later a road has been extended with a power line following and trailer camps built alongside and this wild place has transformed into something you’d expect in the Georgia swamps or the Missouri Bootheel, or the deepest dark woods of the Mississippi Delta.  As we floated along in the swift currents pouring out of Morgan’s Bend Adam and Layne and Brax started whooping and hollering and then listening for the echo effect, with great success, their hollers resounded seconds later off the close tree lined bank, and then several seconds later from far wooded shore until a man came down to the shore and fired his gun with a resounding sonic boom that hushed our merriment and reminded us of the tender nature of our precious wilderness.  But amidst the train horns, and the flashing lights, the airport lighthouse, the towers, the loud Ranchera music rolling up the back channel last night, the vicious barking of some dogs in the dark woods, the river rolls on un changed and uninhibited, not intimidated by the greedy decadent spoils of mankind which she is now entering and will be subject to in her final 275 miles to the Gulf, her minions the beaver splash their tails and can still be heard chewing their willow sticks purposefully in the darkness, the coyotes painfully crying in the distance, a wild hog squealing every once in a while, maybe these creatures are equally greedy and decadent in their own way, in fact it’s well known that coyotes do not like to share, but they all have their own checks and balances -- something we don’t seem to have, or don’t seem to exercise through our powers of self-reflection and self-control -- and none is destroying the very creation that sustains them.  None that is except for one particularly successful and contradictory creature, the one who stands too tall on two legs.    (And it is the “he” of his species particularly culpable.  The “she” might be complicit, but it is the he who has the led the uncontrolled charge).  And yet in the end he too must have his purpose in the grand scheme of things, some hidden meaning and some advancement in the general evolution of the timeline of the universe will surely result from his desecration of planet earth, to think otherwise is unthinkable.  Only the tartagrades have survived all of the eras of the earth.  But who knows, maybe some wily raccoons or the fisher king wanbli bald eagle will find some crack through the changing times for survival.