River Photo Gallery

The river, too, is not something that can be owned. It is its own beast, wet and windy, and no matter our plans and our policies, it’s going to do what it likes.

Life along the river depends on the slow-moving, seasonal backwaters that thread through these riverside forests, now more than ever before.

I could feel at times the water, flowing beneath my feet, beneath the hull, could feel the slight resistance as the water split around the paddle: ah, yes: the river and the day came clear.

Out here—with my bed unfurled above the sand and below the stars, and listening to the wash of the water—to say I miss home would be wrong. Most of the time I feel that I’m home already.

Certainly it is more beautiful from afar than from within: from the river it is a stack of yellow lights, arranged in an array, reflecting out across the water. The reflections, I noticed, were cut by the riffles of the fast-moving water: and there, I realized, in the fast-moving river, was evidence of that otherwise forgotten past—and also the present, and also the future of this valley.

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.

I’ve known people that have chosen to live alongside rivers, in humble freedom, simply because they find it a better home. My days in this wilderness have taught me to sympathize.

There are many memoirs about expeditions down the Mississippi. None of them can be complete: Twain’s river, after all, is different than John’s; and the river traveled by La Salle and Marquette was different still; and the river paddled by Indian hunters and warriors and priests for thousands of years earlier was another place again. That’s just the truth in such an endlessly shifting place.

Nature includes life and death; it cycles up and down.

This is a messy sort of wildThe batture is the leftovers: the little bit that was left unconquered after we pushed out our levee wall as far as it could go.

On the horizon, we see vast complexes that look like the city of Oz, but merrily decked with a fringe of water and trees. But the weather is calm, and so we move forward. We take the days as they come.

Almost every night we heard the gurgling howls of coyotes, the splash of deer jumping, the slap of beaver tails against the water. The paradise I needed.

Our sense of time and history is often crippled by our short time on earth. Geologists, though, must think in the time of rocks, in “deep time,” a scale that spans the billions of years since a spinning cloud of molecules spit out this thing called Earth. The oldest river in North America has existed for just one-and-a-half percent of the planet’s history. Humanity? We’re pretty much nothing.

Downtown St. Louis sat just on the horizon, and as the sky dimmed, the city lights came up, their shadows trailing across the water. Twinkling there were thousands of people, and almost none of them knew what they were missing.

Birds sit watchful in the treetops; colonies of fire ants have linked their legs to form a fabric that floats on the water and shimmers as they move their legs. The natural world thrives in this water.

Floating on these slower waters, with the trees hanging closer, you can see each leaf, fluttering down on the wind, you can hear the hum and buzz of all the life inside the Big Woods.