I've read before that on any expedition one eventually, inevitably reaches the point of despair. Though I forgot that concept when we launched, perhaps because I thought of this as much more of an -- I don't know, let's say a jaunt -- than anything like Shackleton's journey to the South Pole.
And let me not be woeful: I'm quite far from despair. But I have felt at times this week a sort of impatience -- a why-aren't-we-there-yet, why-isn't-this-campsite-perfect, does-no-one-have-their-paddles-in-the-water whinyness that I at least know to keep inside. These are the kinds of complaints I almost never make out there in the workaday world. Often it doesn't even occur to me to make such complaints; but maybe what I'm finding is that they're down there after all, and now they are closer to the surface.
But today I let that go. Today I stopped counting miles, or worrying about when we'd hit the shore. Outside the landing near Tallulah, Louisiana, 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.
Now we are camped at Delta Point, just across from the mouth of the Yazoo River. This, then, is the tail end of the Delta, and there is evidence here of its many pasts: there is a casino, just across the water, gussied up to look like a steamship -- a sort of boat that we so often forgot is emblematic of an era of cotton and slaves. There is the top tip of an obelisk, just barely visible on the bluff, our tiny view of the military park. There is the highway bridge, and the railway bridge, and a radio tower: modernity arrived. I thought for a moment that there was nothing visible, though, that represents the long past -- before cotton and slavery and war and cell phones -- the great Native societies that were centered in this valley, and long ago forgotten. (Perhaps I should note: I'm working on a magazine story about ancient cultures in the Delta, and so it's slightly less odd that my mind would turn to such things.)
Later, after nightfall -- before I dove into my humid tent, the only way to avoid the descending mosquitoes -- I found the lights of the casino's parking lot, strangely, one of the most beautiful elements in the tableau. Certainly its 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.