On updates

Just a note: I'll be posting here every few days now, whenever I have the chance for extended reflection. For more frequent updates, you should follow me on Instagram, where I'll be posting to my "story" more often.

Day 5: The creation

Low, flat, wet floodplains: these have become my home, and they are beautiful, and they are due more regard than they are given.

But then here I am, too, drifting down the Middle Mississippi, and remembering just how scenic a river can be. There is a floodplain to the east, carving out a few flat miles in Illinois; but to the west there is grandeur. Hills, bluffs, cliffs. The far, ragged edge of what becomes the Ozarks, towering above the water.

We are hunkered down now for a few days on the Illinois side, on a beautiful curve of sandbar beach of Salt Lake Island, waiting out dangerous gusts -- up to 40 miles an hour today -- and an approaching hail storm. We are already behind schedule after a late start yesterday, to wait out the rain. But there is a thing called “river time,” and that’s what we are on. The sun comes up, the sun goes down, and these are the markers that matter. I already have to stretch my mind to remember what day of the week it is. I’ve moved my gear in from the beach to avoid the blowing sand, and made myself a home in the woods. (I can hear the gusts on the beach, and am glad I’m settled here.)

Paw prints on Salt Lake Island.

Paw prints on Salt Lake Island.

Walking this morning around the upstream bend of our island I thought about what unifies these landscapes, east river and west. The answer was clear, because it was carved in the mud itself, loops and whorls of different shades of tan and brown -- dependent on its saturation -- and in horizontal bands etched through the cutbank above.

It’s no original idea; I’ve written this many times before; but: the river is a place where you remember that place itself is inconstant. The silt arrives; the sandbar grows; and somewhere else the water is carving away. When the river rises, the sandbar is swallowed by the floodwater. The bluffs are forever carved by wind and water. It’s a reminder that creation -- the Creation, if you want to get spiritual -- is not singular and past, but forever happening. We can lose that knowledge in the concrete world, but not on river time.

Day 2: Chasing waterfalls

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.

Day 1: There's worse things to smell like than whiskey

I'm camped at the confluence of two of the greatest waterways on the continent: the longest and the largest. It's an appropriately industrial space, given that it is essentially the nexus of two historic highways. We can hear barges passing, and trains honking, and airplanes overhead, and we can look north to one of the nation's largest refineries. 

But it's also wild: a collection of logs, washed up here from who-knows-how-far up towards Minnesota, or Montana; a clean stretch of sand; the rim of water catching the starlight where it washes ashore. Even the soft glow of St. Louis to the south does not look so bad.

Today was about working out the kinks: learning not to keep glass bottles of whiskey wrapped in your clothing, where they will shatter and make everything you own smell. What to back in which bag to make life easier. How not to let so much damn sand blow into your tent. Six weeks out here is going to have to teach me a thing or two.

Coming soon!

We will be departing Monday, March 20, driving to St. Louis and launching at the bottom of the Missouri River. Check back soon after for updates!