Spend enough time on the river and you’re going to learn what a storm looks like. In the distance, in the big sky above the river, it’s just a shifting grey mass. Rain streaks down in ghostly tendrils. But from inside the storm it’s different. The water is scalloped by rain drops, and wind drives down in angles. The world closes in, grey and white and cloudy. Then, suddenly, it opens up.
As the turtles dive, it strikes me that while we’ve seen plenty of animals we’ve seen no one else in the batture all day.
Today I stopped counting miles, or worrying about when we’d hit the shore. Eventually, we just set the paddles down and drifted. I lay back on the bow of the canoe, backwards – with my feet on the seat and my head dangling over the water. It struck me that this river is at once very fast and very slow, though I’m not sure there’s anything meaningful in that observation.
That is what Thoreau loved about a wetland. “Hope and the future,” he wrote in Walking, “are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.”
Walker Percy wrote elegiacally of the river boats, whose sound, he said, “hangs inside your heart like a star.” But today riverboats tow on. This new breed of industrial brutes still possesses grandeur and magnificence; they are, after all, massive things.
Hidden behind the levees, the batture and its backwaters have been forgotten. That has given these woods an appealing loneliness — but we can’t forget to protect these places, too.
The willows budded overnight at our Birds Point camp; and today, finally, the water has warmed enough for me to take a swim. Clean and fresh—and awaiting campfire rabbit stew. Onward into springtime, with many miles to go.