Stories from the Mississippi

  • Platte River
    Aerial view of the Platte River, a river I've canoed many times.

    Rivers Run Through Our History and Lives

    Long before the world was connected through the Internet, rivers once helped link people.

    Rivers provided access to regions before roads served as avenues for moving commerce. Throughout history, rivers have played an important role in the development of a country or a culture. In addition, they often provided an important source for food.

    My own personal attraction to rivers, in spite of my poor swimming skills, is the fact that they are constantly moving and changing. These are qualities I have found to be invaluable for my own growth during my life's journey. I tend to agree with the school of thought that the human spirit's truest nature is to constantly expand and grow. And so it is for a river's journey, a route of expansion and growth until it returns to the sea from where it once began.

    Rivers never stay the same. And in spite of our attempts to tame them, rivers remain wild at heart and occasionally leave their banks just to remind us of this fact. It's true we have made the main river systems in the United States more predictable but, as we learned in Nebraska with the Missouri River not long ago, only to a point. Researching the length of the Mississippi River produces different results depending on the year the length was calculated, as the Mississippi changes its course from time to time in high waters.

    So it is with this sense of a kindred spirit that I set off to explore the Mississippi River over the next two months.

    This is not my first river journey in my home country. Growing up in Nebraska, I often canoed the 15-mile stretch of Platte River from North Bend to Fremont. Side channels generally offered a chance to get close to wildlife. And as long as there was enough water flowing, it made for a very pleasant day. It was the closest thing to adventure I could afford. At one point I had floated the Platte River so many times, I started to get bored with the route and needed a new challenge. My answer to this was to attempt a night solo float down the river. Somehow I convinced my brother, Dale, to drop me off at the Platte River bridge in North Bend at 9 p.m. Two things made this a bit more of a challenge than I had bargained for. First, I miscalculated the rising of the moon. Second, clouds rolled in and blocked whatever moonlight there might have been.

    Floating down the river alone in the quiet night was at first a bit spooky. Several times I was startled by the slapping noises on the water's surface near my canoe. After a few minutes of contemplation, I figured out this was the display of beavers that swam up to investigate. Most likely, they probably slapped their tails with laughter at the sight of this lone canoeist paddling in the darkness.

    Often I couldn't see the river; I had to listen as it guided me to the right places. Too much rippling sound indicated a sandbar and shallow water. Quiet water offered depth and clear passage. I remember occasionally shining my flashlight across the open flat Platte River and seeing the glowing eyes of deer staring back at me. Once I completed the brief adventure, I felt a sense of accomplishment as I pulled my canoe onto the shore near a good friend's house. The 15-mile trip took me four hours; I never once left the canoe.

    The Mississippi River is somewhere around 2,300 miles long. I will not canoe the entire stretch of the river, only a few sections where it is young and welcoming. My intent is to experience a moment of the essence of the Mississippi River. To look into its waters and listen to the stories it wishes to share. To celebrate its subtle beauty and encounter the people who call it home. There are over 1,500 historical sites along its shores and countless moments of natural beauty. More than enough opportunities for a new adventure.

    Dean paddling his canoe
    Canoe Test 1: Testing out the new canoe on its maiden voyage down the Ottertail River in Minnesota.

    Fremont Tribune

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