Despite the urbanity of its city, the stretch of the Mississippi above St. Louis is some of the quietest and wildest you'll find -- and that's at least part our fault.

There's a landmark here called the Chain of Rocks, which I both understand too little and have too little space to explain fully. But, in essence, in order to provide St. Louis with water, we've lifted up an underwater series of rocks, which makes the river impassible in most seasons to commercial vessels, and even to larger pleasure boats. So it's just the birds and the canoes -- and the waterfall over the rocks themselves. (In the end they were anticlimactic, really: a foot or two drop that required the canes be unloaded and hundreds of pounds of gear to be portaged a few hundreds of yards; or hours of effort for a two-second thrill.

I'm sitting in my tent on a cutbank, and from the window I can see downtown St. Louis: this is the paradise we've created. The river, part industrial, part wild, is a complicated thing.