Sunrise again. An instant ten degree rise in temperature. The walls of the tent change from light gray to orange. All night long towboat and train engines have been rumbling.
Yesterday we passed under the bridges of Baton Rogue and encountered our first ocean freighter. Tied empty alongside refineries it hung high over the river. Towboats and barge-that once seemed so huge-darted around its steel hull.
Even with all the smokestacks and refineries around Baton Rogue we found a clearing amongst some twisted sycamores in the bottoms along the river. Though between the towns, factories, and rising water campsites are becoming scarce.
Driftwood is also harder to find since much of it has decided to take its own trip towards the Gulf. The branches left seem to burn faster. There was nothing but ashes left from last night’s fire. Beneath them the sand was warm enough to heat my hands while I prepared breakfast.
The sun’s just risen. First sign of a clear day since Saturday morning. The frost on our boats and the trees is already steaming.
The river continues to rise. Each night I mark the waterline with a stick, only to find it drowned by morning.
Our camp is on a small bluff on a bend in the river just above Baton Rogue. Grape vines, kudzu, and sycamores protect it from the wind. Judging from all the yipping last night coyotes like it too.
With some dry branches I reignited the embers from last night’s fire. Using it to warm my hands and our breakfast.
The river was alive with movement yesterday. Waters from northern rains push it nearly a foot higher each day. Driftwood raced along beside us towards the gulf, offering floating roosts for ducks. Terns and otters searched the brown water for tiny flashes of silver. Atop sand bars hundreds of white pelicans gathered, thankful, at least for the day, not to be turkeys. Under their huge webbed feet the sand slowly slipped below the rising river. Silken strings filled the air as thousands of young spiders were carried by the breeze over the river. The bow of my boat offered a landing spot for countless little aracnids.
Arriving in Nachez, Mississippi at sunset we (Julia, the spiders, and I) are greeted by new friends. After being treated to a feast aboard an old riverboat casiso we sit along the river and watch logs drift in the light from the highway bridge. Full from the kindness of people on the river, thankful.
Around 11 this morning we finished repacking our boats and prepared to leave our floating camp aboard the “sweet olive.”. Helping us launch was a kayaker from the United Kingdom and a towboat captain from Southern Lousiana. The river, as always, the muddy thread tying us together.
cold air is back, promising a tailwind as we leave the hospitality of our new friends, and the shelter of our temporary home aboard the Sweet Olive-the town’s river tour boat- here in Vicksburg.
The river is finally on the rise as water from the Ohio valley trickles down behind us. Hopefully pushing us along the next 300 miles to NOLA. Unfortunately my computer has met an untimely end. So only short post’s from Julia’s iPhone until the gulf.
Island 84, above the bridge. Greenville, Mississippi
The fire’s burning down beside us. My socks dry in its fading heat. A south wind keeps the smoke from our eyes. Ten feet away waves from a passing towboat are crashing against the soft sandy cliffs. Dinner digests. We put 33 miles behind us today. We traveled the rising river with ducks on driftwood. Above us white pelicans and cormorants flew south. Now stars fill the sky. The wind has just turned cold and my fingers remember this morning’s frosty air. I hope things start to warm up soon.
I put a call in this morning to the caretaker of the small hunting camp that kindly let us store our boats during the last few windy days. He had offered to give us a lift back over the levee and through the floodplain in his jeep, thus sparing the undercarriage of my friends’ VW Golf. His road report suggested we wait until tomorrow.
An excerpt from our conversation.
Me: So, think we can get in today? Caretaker: Well. Rain quit this mornin’ bout 4. But, it’s shitty. Me: Shitty? Caretaker: Yeah. It’s a mud pit back here. Shitty, shitty. Me: Shitty, shitty? Caretaker: Shitty, shitty.
So the river waits another day. And today we rest, read, and cook a little more.
My straw hat just went airborne. Hit the beach and started rolling. I darted after it. Pinning it to the sand a few hundred feet away. Forty mile per hour gusts. Highs in the 80’s. For four days. It’s times like this I wish I was in a sailboat, heading north.
Sunrise, Mile 591.
Any hopes of progressing down river all but stopped Saturday. Only now, after thunderstorms swept through late last evening, can we move again.
Normally wind storms would mean sandy days inside our nylon shelters, but as luck would have it two old friends from school in Maine moved to the southeastern corner of the natural state earlier this year. They opened their new home to us as a place to wait out the storms. It’s been wonderful to reconnect with them in such a different place.
Back to the river.
First there is the sound of metal on metal. The spork’s titanium scratches across the steel bowl. An arm raises and soup is transferred from bowl to mouth. Yum. Warm and spicy. Then the inescapable crunches that come with dinner on the Lower Mississippi. Sand in your soup. Your teeth. Your clothes. Your hair. Your tent. Your eyes. And when the wind blows, sand in the air. Huge abrasive clouds that blow around the river’s sinuous bends. The sand is stripped from underneath willow trees and continuously reorganized into new bars and dunes.
The same winds that blow so much sand have paused us on this island just below where Arkansas’s White River enters the Mississippi.The week since Memphis has been a mix of windy days and clear cold nights so a warm day with no paddling is appreciated.
Two nights ago we camped on the downstream tip of an island. Arriving to see a yellow moon rise opposite the sunset. While our fire burned down we watched barges scan the shore with their spotlights. In the island’s back waters beavers and herons used the moon lite evening for their own devices. In the cold morning that followed I watched the sunrise opposite the setting moon. I took my time with my morning tasks and lingered over a second cup of coffee finding it hard to leave that point, stuck between the sun and moon, surrounded by the river.
City after city I see people who want to work their soils, taste clear water, own their lives, and share with each other. Memphis is no different. It’s sprouting down here at the edge of the delta, may it grow strong.
Back to the river.