The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


Sunday, Dec 14, Fancy Point.

  Beaver splashing in the back channel as a tow boat churns up the main channel and the Big Dog follows Orion paddling downstream river god over the bottom end of Fancy Point Towhead, catching waves as he goes, but riding them elegantly, the paddle becomes the balance pole connected to the velocity vectors of the water, the wind, the waves, gravity, centrifugal force spinning outwards, Orion grabs the center and uses all to his advantage, the resulting vector powers him smoothly over the willow wave of F.P. TH and downstream while the sun carries the planets and asteroids in a trajectory around the Milky Way (in the direction of Vega) the Milky Way pulling at a perpendicular towards the heart of Sagitarius, the resulting spin propelling our passage along with the millions of other stars and spinning objects spiraling around its center...  Buckets of falling stars zipping down from the general area of Orion, some bluish, some reddish, some yellowish, the brighter ones make smoke trails, the few that burn near the water are reflected so it looks like two falling stars one burning into the river, one burning out of the river, if one ever fell into the Mississippi it would appear that two had met!  Thousands of waterfowl on the sandbar when we made landing, all white-winged birds, gulls, sheerwaters and pelicans, all congregated on the edge of the water towards the mouth of Thompson Creek, this must be the ideal place.  The tow passes into the darkness of the willow-covered island towards Hermitage and silence returns slightly, but as the tow engine recedes so the whining of Georgia Pacific increases, towboat waves now splashing against the shore in the shallow back channel, we hit it right, if it was four or five feet lower this would not be passable.  If you watch a towboat rolling upstream in the darkness an unusual sensation overcomes your senses, you get this unbalanced feeling that the tow is running faster and faster across the horizon.  I’ve had this happen many times, and every time I feel a little seasick.  The river, especially in winter, likes to play tricks with your mind.  The warm air on a cold river will make alarming waves appear in the distance, they look like ocean swells on the horizon, if they were as big as they appear the canoe would be flipped over.  And yet when we get there, they are gone.  Something about the layers of air sliding over each other in great differential of temperature do weird things to your vision.  Sometimes we get the lens effect, where objects appear much closer than they are, which is equally frightening.  When I walked back through the woods, and in and out of two dry sloughs, one with filled with willows the other with swamp privet, three deer ran across my path, and then one other.  I was awoken at the end of striking dream at 1:04am in which a horse was about to eat my mouth, a motorboat playing its lights up and down the banks of Fancy Point, very carefully looking into every inlet, and behind every clump of mud, and up and over the riverbank and into the trees... poachers no doubt.  Even in the stillness of the dark night man’s madness never ceases to amaze me.  The seventh day, and the river happily buoying us along in our passage, our ambitions, our thoughts, our dreams, forever inspirational and running deeper and deeper into my soul.  Fog rolling in from over the Port Hickey Tunica Hills, the less-than-half moon high overhead with Jupiter in its pouch, Layne’s light on, he awoke and rolled out of his hammock and padding down the riverbank to join me at the fire, Orion’s belt now gone, his legs and arms flailing, only Betelgeuse still visible above the misty horizon, the paddler gone as if consumed in a crashing wave that flipped his boat and tossed him into the cold river, 5:55am and the first wisps of the light of the approaching day now making a presence only slightly brighter than the yellow-red glow of greater Red Stick, Baton Rouge.  For a while, in the early morning hours, the wind calmed and the aromas of the pulp mill drifted our way, not a full onslaught, but enough to make me sick to my stomach, now the north wind has returned a a slight burnt coal smell is pouring down the pack channel over the waters, its source being the Big Cajun II.  This is the big change at Baton Rouge.  Previously upstream you can plan your camp according to wind speed and any power plants, paper mills, or other neighboring offenders of air quality.  But below Baton Rouge no matter where you camp you are gong to be subjected to the nasty discharge of a dozen different types of industries, some which make coke smoke pale in foulness.

Monday, Dec 15, Glass Beach, Baton Rouge


Big wheels banging over the I-10 bridge above Glass Beach, the endless rush of traffic, the whining and snarling of engines, motorcycles down shifting to scream into the passing lane, truck horns, the heavy beating of rubber and metal, the endless roar from the distance, the river lapping the shore underneath, licking the wounds of the earth, mother earth is crying and the river is coming to her aid, but she too is becoming overwhelmed, another crossroads on the longest waterway in the land, countless crossroads, the paddler is presented with dozens of crossings like these, you can count them in your hands and toes, from the first bridge on the Lower Miss at Caruthersville, MO, down to the last, the greater New Orleans Bridge, and he would always chose to stay to the water, but alas every journey has its start and end, except of course for the journey of life, and so in a state of semi-shock, the paddler pulls to shore and stumbles up the bank, and is greeted by those on land who have no idea the changes made in the heart of one has been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, it is incumbent upon the one with the keys to share the beauty and the peace, and yet when he tries to speak the words do not come or are misunderstood, as he croaks simple sentences filled with feeling, but to the listener devoid of meaning, incapable of expressing the great depths of the muddy soul that dives to the bottom of the river, and the soaring creative heights of the glorious lights and colors and surrounding song-scapes, the Rivergator is one attempt to share the full measure of the breadth and depth of this landscape, or better said, riverscape, for all those who have any interest, I hope in some small way it comes close to touching the dancing waters of America’s big river in such a way that all who have eyes and all who have ears and see what us paddlers have seen and feel the bittersweet tinges of a powerful wilderness within the heart of our nation struggling for attention and our protection.


(John Ruskey)