Stories from the Mississippi
The St. Louis skyline glows in the twilight.
People, Places Mark a Wondrous Journey
"Why are you doing this?" The radio DJ asked this question over the phone in St. Louis.
I was doing a live interview for a local station as I passed through during my Mississippi River adventure.
It seemed like a strange question at the time. I refrained from asking, "Why are you a DJ?" Why do we do almost anything we do?
I guess it's a fair question for those who want to attempt to put a person into some kind of box of understanding. But my life just seems to refuse the idea of being put into any type of "normal" box. Whatever "normal" really is.
Life is such a gift, and the time we are here is but a blink. From my perspective, the better question to ask is: Are you happy? That question never came up in the interview and rarely does. Maybe it's because when I share what I am doing, my voice is filled with such passion that they just don't ask.
As I continued to make my way down to the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico, I continued to think about that question. Why are you doing this?
Throughout my journey, different answers to that question were constantly revealed during the encounters of amazing and ordinary people along the way.
"This car next to you paid for your $15 ferry ride across the river," said the worker on the ferryboat as we started across the Mississippi River.
I had earlier met the passengers of that car while we waited in line to get onto the ferry.
"Thank you. That was very kind," I said as I approached their car.
Roger Burns of Sikesten, Missouri, with his wife, Pat, and grandson, Chet. "What you are doing for kids is important. Showing them a healthy way to be engaged with the world, verses getting lost in drugs. Often they don't have a clue what really brings joy. What you do is showing them a way."
Roger Burns of Sikesten, Missouri, replied: "What you are doing for kids is important by showing them a healthy way to be engaged with the world instead of getting lost in drugs. Often they don't have a clue what really brings joy.
"What you do is showing them a way. I want to support that. Think of it as paying life forward," Burns concluded.
In Union, Tennessee, I found a local diner where I could grab some lunch one afternoon.
"Can I see your ticket?" Ashley Martin, my waitress, asked the question.
I handed her the ticket and she promptly tore it up, smiled and said, "My contribution to the kids. What you do is cool."
After a long and emotionally exhausting day at the National War Museum in Vicksburg, Mississippi, I sat at a river overlook. I was watching the sun go down.
"You look like you need a beverage. Take one of ours," said a gentleman standing not far from me and looking at the same view of the Mississippi River with his brother.
Rodney Hibbler, wore several hats as a local judge, store owner and preacher. He refused my money for a Snickers bar.
A few days later in Lula, Mississippi, I met Rodney Hibbler who wore several hats as a local judge, store owner and preacher. He refused my money for a Snickers candy bar.
"I can't imagine a more beautiful and peaceful place than the Mississippi River," Hibbler said. "Let me be a small part of helping you share this beauty with kids."
At the end of a road in southern Louisiana is the small town of Venice. The road following the Mississippi River goes no farther.
I sat in a restaurant and enjoyed a seafood meal to celebrate the end of my long journey. The river is too dangerous to canoe at this point. Large ocean-going vessels enter or leave here on their way to some distant destination.
"Where are you from?" One of the two men at the table next to me had asked the question.
"Nebraska. I'm just celebrating the end of a long journey exploring the Mississippi River," I replied. "I had hoped to get to the mouth, but it's not safe to canoe."
Captain of sport fishing boat "After U," Ken DeZauala (left), who went by the nickname of Rhino.
"We'll take you there. Meet us at our boat tomorrow morning at 7:30. We'll take you to the Gulf of Mexico in my sport-fishing boat called After U," declared Ken DeZauala, whose nickname is Rhino.
"Happy to contribute to your adventure," DeZauala replied.
The next morning, I arrived at the dock and we set off for the true mouth of the Mississippi River. A 20-mile float brought us to the place where the rolling waves of the Gulf of Mexico meet the Mississippi River.
For the first and only time during my float on the river, a rainstorm was brewing in the sky. The wind blew as the rain swept across the top of the Mississippi River. As the cool rain fell, a misty fog rose from the river.
It seemed the spirit of the Mississippi River rose to say goodbye.
Storm clouds approach from the Gulf of Mexico as our boat reaches the end of the Mississippi River.