A glimpse of my world


Approaching the town of Grand Tower I came across a flight of what appeared to be geese.  One finds flocks of Canadian geese further up in Minnesota.  Their flight pattern was so incredibly intricate I wanted to shoot but as luck would have it, a barge had just passed and the river was topsy turvy.  Later on I saw where the group had landed.  I started to count but lost my count after three hundred.  At first I thought they might be simple seagulls but then I noticed the flapping – and the bills.  As the crowd stood, they flapped their wings, like unto a plane winding its propeller down.  Not sure if it was a sort of a dance or a mating ritual.  My canoe spooked them and again they took to the air.  Which is when I shot this short piece.  I laid right back in my canoe and pointed my camera at the sky.  Am not sure if this video connects the sheer excitement of the moment.  This was the very first time in my life I have seen an actual flock of pelicans.  Normally you see them one by one at the seashore.  But here they were wild.  I latched onto their wildness, for only that moment, and with them, for a little spell, felt absolutely free.  


I met the Mayor of Grand Tower, Ill, without knowing it.  He was the manager of the RV campsite perched over the Mississippi River.  A nice older feller in overalls.  He shook my hand and I asked if I could camp down on the sand by the river.  He said yes and asked if I needed anything to eat.  An SUV he had been deep in discussion with volunteered to take me to dinner.  All I had said was that I was canoeing the river.  Randy Ellet was in the passenger seat and his wife, Linda, was at the wheel.  Together we drove thru the sleepy little town of Grand Tower, population 750.  Randy spoke of his work at the plant and how the old folks of the town were quite busy dying off.  He told me he’d lived in this town for 51 years, and that this was how old he was.  He said he loved the river more than anything, and then he told me he used to be the mayor.  Directly thereafter sharing the secret that I had already shaken hands with the sitting mayor – the gent at the camp.  Small world, this Grand Tower.  Pointing across the river, Randy asked if I’d noticed Tower Rock – a solitary steep rock lording over the ebb and flow of the Mississippi – complete with old growth trees up top.  I said I had and that it looked both old and mysterious.  “It’s both,” replied Randy.  “Loads of stories about that island.”  

The following morning I awoke early to get out on the water – but couldn’t – due to dense fog.  Which was exciting in a literary sense – considering I’m headed for Cairo, Illinois.  Got myself packed and ready and as soon as it lifted, I set out, taking one long glance at Tower Rock – which was when I heard the train coming.  Grabbed my camera – and this was the shot.  Note: Tower Rock is the round island the train passes – in time.


Back on the Minnesota-Iowa boarder when I filed the story “Islands in the Stream” I thought that one barge pushed by a giant tow boat was exciting.  Down here it’s a different story.  This one was five barges wide and six barges long – note: you’ll count four across from the video but there was a sixth row hiding behind the furthest one.  A lot of barges.  Only one thing to do when the river is as narrow as it was when this tow passed.  Get off the water.  Hard to describe the power of such a machine unless you see it first hand, knowing full well it has within it the power to flip my canoe silly.  Later in the day I’d pass an even bigger haulb by the name of “E. Robinson Ingram” – seven barges wide x seven barges deep.  That’s 49 times larger than my friend’s operation outside of Brownsville.  After such a beast passes, the river becomes a giant roller coaster of non-stop waves.  Takes me back to being a kid learning how to surf in Hawaii.  Nothing to be afraid of – you just roll with it.


Filed under On the Mississippi, Wanderlust

2 responses to “A glimpse of my world

  1. Ben

    Hi Neal,
    I hope you are doing well on the river. Those barges look massive. How is the weather? Getting cold? I really enjoy the videos on the blog. Anyway, paddle safely. Ben

    • flashriversafari

      Hey, Ben – thanks for the comment! All’s well weather wise – although I’m expecting rain for tomorrow. Got down into the 40’s last night with thick fog. Couldn’t take off until it cleared around 9am. No need for my winter gear on the river – yet – the paddling keeps me pretty warm. Highs in the 70’s. Cool part about this trip is the sun follows you south. 20 miles a day, so I’m told! Not too shabby! Hope Taipei’s treating you well. All best, Neal

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