ON THE MISSISSIPPI

FROM MINNESOTA’S WILD NORTH TO NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: COMPLETED: 2225 river miles. The goal was to take myself out of my comfort zone, to have a bona fide adventure. And come what may – hell or high water or dangers or paradise – I’d have no choice but to confront it and experience it all. The following is a collection of experiences from my time on the Mississippi River:

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DECEMBER 1, 2009

Four months, Twenty-Two days later – New Orleans!

Fought severe weather to guide “The Andrea” safely into New Orleans. Wind and waves and rain and a plethora of barges and tankers as well as borderline hypothermia couldn’t keep me from this fine town. Here’s some final thoughts on the journey of a lifetime. My sincere thanks to everyone – could not have made it without your encouragement and support.

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NOVEMBER 29, 2009

Neal Moore canoes the Mississippi

MISSISSIPPI RIVER

I’ve been at this now for going on five months… my quest to canoe the Mississippi River from the source at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, to New Orleans. Here we have some random video footage shot en route. Am planning to make New Orleans Tuesday, December 1st, between 4pm and 5pm, if the weather cooperates. If all goes well, the next blog should be from NOLA… Once again, here’s to adventure!

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NOVEMBER 16, 2009

Transcending sand dunes

I first met Sath Kandaswami at the Windsor Hotel in Cairo. We had both just arrived into that city and immediately struck up a friendship over breakfast, identifying each other as fellow adventurers. Sath had come in overland from Morocco and I had arrived via plane from Cape Town.

Eager to experience the country, we booked ourselves onto a bus bound for Bahariyya Oasis, Western Egypt, where we heard rumors of a dusty frontier museum full of golden mummies. From Bahariyya we continued onward, hiring a duo of Bedouin guides who took us out into the proper desert for a good handful of days. Here we experienced the Black Desert, Emerald Mountain, the Mummies of the Magic Spring, and the White Desert, camping out under the stars. The sand dunes stretch forever. Sath would climb one and I would climb up the next, sitting there at sunset, surveying a most glorious land. You look and you look and at the exact moment when the sun disappears, there’s a magical puff of air. You sit there on the dune and it blows directly into your face. From the desert back into Cairo, we again joined forces for a trip down South – hopping on the Wagons Lit Sleeper coach. I jumped off in Luxor while Sath continued on to the end of the line – Aswan.

From Egypt, Sath travelled down into the Sudan, crossing the desert between the countries in a rented 4×4, later taking pictures on the streets – a practice that was banned and thus brave.

I met up with Sath again in Washington DC – a city we traversed in the odd down time between working actual jobs. From here we shook hands and went our separate ways.

The moment I realized I was going to canoe the Mississippi, one of the first people I contacted was Sath, who was now based in Dallas, Texas. At that time he thought he’d either do the first half or second half of the river with me, but as I reached St. Louis, Sath said he might be game for Oxford, Mississippi. I had given him the hard sell a couple of times and didn’t want to push him, so when I got to Oxford, I didn’t contact.

Two days ago I got back on my canoe from Quapaw Landing, Mississippi, and paddled south. From the river I found a sand dune, right out in the middle of the mighty Mississippi, and readily made for shore. The dune was highlighted by the sun and even though it was an hour before sundown, I thought I’d stop here and make camp and enjoy the sunset. My map said Island 67 and after setting up camp I checked my email and found a note from Sath’s sister, Chithra. The sun was on its final descent when I read the news that Sath had died suddenly, in Texas, back on October 30th.

I couldn’t sleep that night and I couldn’t contact anyone from where I was. My phone had no reception and my email became spotty. It was a hard night, full of memories, and as the sun rose the following morning, I shouted out, “You could have been here… Look at this sunrise… You should have been here!” Which was when I realized that I was a fool. Of course Sath was there.

First light on Island 67, Mississippi River

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OCTOBER 21, 2009

The first tow of the morning

SunriseTunicaHighWoke up early this morning in preparation for a 50 mile river run from just north of Tunica, Mississippi to Helena, Arkansas. Was in the water before the sun first broke, and when she did, I passed my first barge of the day. This photograph captures a glimmer of the scene. The entire hour before this barge I was in absolute wonderment over how beautiful the sky was. On this trip, it’s times like this, when nature quite literally surrounds you, that all of the pain and struggles wash away. Today there is a current and today is a very good day.

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OCTOBER 20, 2009

Status Update: Mississippi in my sights

Departing Memphis with the Great State of Mississippi now in my sights. Doing grand – loving this trip – excited for the many stories to come!

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OCTOBER 14, 2009

Solace in suffering

LOWER MISSISSIPPI RIVER

The difference in river currents post Cairo, Illinois, has been, to put it mildly, dramatic. Am now facing rising waters that two nights ago, could have taken me under – while in my sleep.

Had camped on a patch of sand known as “Moore Island” approximately 30 miles south of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and come midnight, was forced to pull up stakes as the waters were lapping at my tent. Moved the tent to higher ground – back into the sands below the elevated trees, as high as it actually went on that island – but by 6am, the waters had climbed to the point where it was time to vacate. The water had actually risen five feet in total Sunday night, but it certainly felt like more. Still in the dark, my lantern, blowing in the wind like a hurricane lamp, guided my movements of bringing goods from tent to canoe as I was in essence evicted off the island.

Now in the river, I was greeted by raging waters, dangerous waves, monster barges, wind, and dark.

Made it to the first boat ramp I could find to get off the river where I met and befriended the pilot of the ferry service tug that operates between Missouri and Hickman, Kentucky. Edward Fuller has been on the river for some time, and had some ominous words regarding my mode of transport – pointing to a spot just across the river where a giant eddy has been known to spin full sized boats, as he put it, something silly.

After listening to my story, Edward told me, “I’m not sure if I should call you crazy – or praise you”. Edward gave me one of his bright orange rain slickers for good luck (so the barges could actually see me) along with some snacks and extra water. We talked shop while we waited for the next car to arrive as well as for the waves to calm down. During that time, I learned a number of good strategies to deal with the remainder of my trip: Hug the right side of the coast (at least for this portion of the river); get completely off of the river when a monster barge approaches; but do not step foot onto Island No. 8 (a large island approx 5 miles down from Hickman, KY), as “it is a hunting island where they will shoot you on sight.”

As luck would have it, I had to make two emergency stops onto Island No. 8, as two monster barges, one after the next, hugged the same stretch of coastline, immediately to my left. As Edward had explained, “hunters down here don’t care about Christmas. For them, it’s all about the start of hunting season. They stock that island with deer and if you land on their island without an invite, they will think you’re a poacher, and they will shoot you. They shoot on sight.”

Just before landing, the first time, I did see one deer who jumped out of my line of sight the moment I laid eyes on her. Laying low on dreaded Island No. 8, I was happy and quite fortunate that these were the only set of eyes to have seen me.

Am now talking with tug pilots whenever I get the chance to check out the rapidly changing conditions on this river. The waters continue to rise and it is now rare to find an island with a sandbar at all. Most islands are simply comprised of the top half of trees. I’d take pictures to show you but while I’m out on the river these days, I’m too busy concentrating. The river current has picked up to at times clock in at ten to twelve miles per hour. That’s up from two to five miles per hour prior to joining the Ohio River at Cairo. At such speeds the dangerous part of the river is not what is on top but indeed what is just below the surface. Logs, driftwood, and buoys. And at times, a medley of the three.

While that first morning out, post Moore Island, spooked me, the waves have not reached the levels that they did that day. I take solace in my suffering. There is still the nature. There is still the adventure. At this stage of the game, I am quite literally fighting to tell these stories – to make it to these towns. Upon landing at Cairo, at going on 10pm last Wednesday night, the good Reverend Kelly Cox asked, “Is this really worth the story?” To which question I answered honestly – without even thinking, “Yes, absolutely!”

Even with the rains, there are still the birds. Small birds with bright blue inner feathers, skirting about the canoe, as if to check it out, dipping and diving, always coming back for a second look. Today, the rain was sort of cool, scattered at first, like unto heavy sprinkles. But then it droned on and on, picking up steam, until it turned into a downpour. Cold rain that drives at you, in the case of today – all day long. Was so cold when I pulled out at Caruthersville, Missouri, late today that I checked myself directly into a hotel – with the kind (and essential) assistance of two new friends who live here locally. A wise investment for the hot shower alone. And now – at long last – for the bed. A bed that come morning, knock on wood, will not have floated away.

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OCTOBER 5, 2009

A glimpse of my world

FLIGHT OF PELICANS

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.

TRAIN PASSING ROCK ISLAND

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.

MONSTER BARGE PERSONIFIED

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.

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OCTOBER 5, 2009

Status update: Beaver Island

BEAVER ISLAND

Spent a scenic night on Beaver Island. My tent was positioned on a sand dune overlooking the river as well as the ascent of the moon. Was sure it was a full moon, but alas, no. Shot this video just before taking off the following morning.

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OCTOBER 3, 2009

St. Louis safari

ST LOUIS, MO

It’s the middle of the night and I’m writing to you from the deck of the sailboat “Adventure”. The wind has been gusting as of late – which is why I’m not further down river. Launched out Friday at approximately 4pm but was forced back to Hoppie’s Marina due to high waves – coming the wrong way. Almost swamped the canoe in the process. A fellow traveler and owner of said “Adventure”, Tug Buce, who was heading into town for the night with friends, was kind enough to offer me use of his deck for the night. First night out under the stars on this entire trip. Stars so clear. Moon appearing full. Lull of the water, for once sleeping directly over the water, a dream.

Many thanks to Darla and Lloyd, of St Louis, for joining in on the spirit of “safari” – complete with pith helmet and raccoon hat – launching me out in fine fashion via a moving serenade of “Old Man River”. I sincerely appreciate your assistance and well wishes… Am safe and sound and come the morn, will be ready to set out yet again.

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SEPTEMBER 23, 2009

Status update from the Great River Road

Currently paddling strong – bound for the great city of St. Louis…

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SEPTEMBER 15, 2009

Status update from Keokuk, Iowa

KEOKUK, IOWA

Departed Nauvoo, Illinois last evening at around 5pm. Spent two days in Nauvoo and will be bringing you a story shortly from that fine town. Out on the Mississippi in these parts, where the river is famous for being deep, wide, and extraordinarily treacherous, the conditions couldn’t have been better with a subtle wind that helped push me right along. I hugged the Illinois coastline around the bend and crossed the river, dodging a barge. I could tell the sunset was going to be epic, which it most certainly was. The entire scene was so surreal and picturesque that I stayed out on the river well into the dark – not wanting to give up that feeling of pure exhilaration and joy. The lights of the Keokuk Yacht Club beckoned and I answered, keeping my sights on the lights of the marina until I at long last arrived. Although a private club, the friendly staff welcomed me and let me pitch my tent along the breakwater for the night. Next stop: Hannibal, Missouri, to be followed by an extended stay in the great city of St. Louis.

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AUGUST 21, 2009

Islands in the stream

BROWNSVILLE, MINN

A number of habitat islands are taking shape in the Upper Mississippi River just below Brownsville, Minnesota near the Minnesota-Iowa boarder – islands in the stream now being reclaimed for wildlife that were once prevalent before the Corps’ locks and dams were introduced back in the 1930s. The project is an effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with Fish and Wildlife, and Minnesota and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to “restore lost and diminished fish and wildlife habitat in the pool by restoring islands.”

According to Jesse Weymiller, a local tow-boat sub-contractor tasked with moving rock via barge to help construct the approximate 22 islands in the project, the work is moving along well – now in phase three of three phases.

IslandAJesse represents three generations of river-men who presently man their set of two tow boats and multiple barges – a local family run business who represent over 100 years of experience working the river between them.

“I started working when I was 15 – first working summers,” explained Jesse, now age 29. “I guess my future was pretty well set out before me.”

Jesse’s uncle, Tim Weymiller, who has worked dredging, towing, and construction on the river with his father from the age of 12 likes the idea of local workers included in the project. According to Tim, most jobs go to out of state contractors and sub-contractors, up from Mississippi and Louisiana, with locals making up about 20% of the current workforce. “But that’s really okay – because we also travel. We go where the work is. It just so happens we’re now working local.”

IslandFThe islands are comprised of a layer of sand which is dredged from up stream in the river, a layer of rock, followed by the planting of native grasses and rows of willow trees to help buffer the island while attracting a number of waterfowl, turtles and fish.

I spoke with local resident and fisherman Jody Sonsalla who talked about the cost involved – stating it was a very good thing. “A number of years ago, the Mayor of Brownsville – Tim Sears – stood up and told the different people at the [town] meeting – ‘You know, $100,000 worth of rock in 1980 would have saved us $15m today’ – and it’s true – and you know, it’s one of those things that if we wait till tomorrow its just going to cost us more.”

While I canoed through the three-mile construction zone taking shape in the middle of the river, it was pleasing to see a return of the waterfowl that were once so prevalent in these parts. I noticed bald eagles, pelican, seagulls, as well as a great egret who stood watching the cranes, tugs, tow boats, and barges, busily re-creating a once-lost habitat.

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AUGUST 11, 2009

Arrival into MSP

Arrived into Minneapolis-St. Paul Monday, Aug 11, at approximately 8pm following one month and one day on the Upper Mississippi River. Will spend a handful of days here to rest up and chronicle stories for CNN. Officially I now have 494 river miles behind me with 1970 to go. Here’s to adventure!

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AUGUST 10, 2009

Status update: Will make MSP tonight

Just sat down for breakfast at Elk River’s Olde Main Eatery en route to Minneapolis – 29 river miles away. Started today’s journey at 6am back in Monticello. Fine town, Monticello – friendly fisherman gave me a small-mouth fish he’d just caught whilst literally taking his hat off to the adventure! Camped on the lawn of a very friendly couple with a river home next to the main park. Currently on the move again… Will make Minneapolis by tonight. Sincerely looking forward to it! All’s well here on the Great River Road! Next stop: MSP!

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AUGUST 9, 2009

Reality in retrospect – one month on the Mississippi River!

I wanted to speak a little bit about how the journey is going on this my one month mark out on the Mississippi River. Putting the idea of such a sojourn into practice takes planning and will-power and courage but I’m here to say that once you do it – the nervousness ends and the wonderment begins. From that very first moment on Lake Itasca I was in heaven – I knew I had made the right choice and I knew that I would be able to follow it through.

It was Hemingway who talked about the importance of the casual acquaintances that you bump into along your path in life leaving a deep impression on your psyche – the people you’ll think about, often at the oddest times, for many years to come.

Out on this trip there have been many such people, one of the first being the Mayor of Bemidji, Richard Lehmann. I came into his office for an interview but ended up spending a couple of hours just talking life – all about the journey – where we are and where we think we’re headed. Such an encounter was a pleasure. Here you’ve got the mayor of the “First City on the Mississippi” and we’re talking the world.

There was a boating accident on Blackduck Lake while I was in town – one that I ended up getting myself involved with, to a little extent. This made a great impact on my thinking about life in general as well as the importance of such an expedition. To while we can, actually get out there and live.

Down the river a spell, I knew I wanted to do a story in Little Falls due to the fact that three of the four boaters from the tragedy on Blackduck Lake came from that town. I didn’t want to interfere with their families or with their grief but I did want to experience their town in an effort to see where they had grown up, where they had spent their lives. From my experience the best way to accomplish such a task is to tell a story as you meet the players of a town, moving from contact to contact, getting a pretty good idea of how the place ticks.

While portaging Little Falls I met Daryl Legler who took me in and gave me shelter. I had been paddling for twelve hours straight – through heavy headwinds and upon Little Falls, a steady downpour. And here comes a local resident in a four wheel drive with his hand out and sincere smile on his face. Somebody who just wanted to help.

I started the trip not wanting to ask anybody for anything. I didn’t go after sponsors, I didn’t ask for a free ride. But as the journey unfolds and the reality of the harshness of such a trip makes itself manifest at certain intervals, I’ve since learned that when a local offers you advice – you take it – and when they offer you their help, you accept. Not to do so would be rude.

Out here on the river people are just great. You see and experience little snapshots of life that are just priceless. Early this morning I met a Taiwanese family who have moved to the St. Cloud area and have taken up fishing. The little kid was so excited that his dad had caught two fish he could hardly stand it. “Superdad” was how he was introducing his hero to everybody, all the standerbyers he could find.

Big smiles, loads of well wishes. You see kids fishing and they’re very serious about it. When a kid asks you how far you’re going and you tell them New Orleans the first thing they’ll say up here in Minnesota is “Holy crap – that would be great!” You meet college kids, like last night (St. Cloud is a college town) and they’ll say the same. Their faces just brighten up when they contemplate such a trip and they’re immediately your friend. As well as the elderly. I went to visit one of Daryl’s old truck-driver friends who is hold up in hospital – battling cancer. His roommate was an old veteran who perked up when he heard about the trip – asking if I was “really, sincerely planning to make it all the way down”. Multiple people up here say they’ve dreamed of this particular trip, but have never gotten around to it accomplishing it.

This is the reality. I am surrounded by nature. Surrounded by good, hard-working, decent folk. I am at peace and I am happy.

The reality is the journey and I’m happy to be along for the ride.

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AUGUST 5, 2009

Call of the loon

UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER, Minnesota

One comes across loons from the very beginning of the Upper Mississippi River and it is forever a delight because when you whistle they will call right back. You’ll find them in small groups, in pairs, or out on their own, like unto this fine example. In Minnesota’s Wild North the loon is readily identifiable by a black head with black and white plumage. They will dive for long spells and rarely let you get too close. For some reason this particular loon did not immediately dive – instead wetting its whistle to call and then call again.

This particular otter came scampering down the embankment quite near to my stalled canoe – its mouth so full of grass it did not even notice me. It swam and swam and as I rounded up my camera it unloaded the grass into a new building project before swimming off in the opposite direction – as seen in this short clip. This is the first and only otter I have to date witnessed on the Upper Mississippi.

I came upon this doe teaching her two young fawns the art of eating fresh river grass. At this stage in their development these fawns still retain their trademark spots which differentiate them from first year yearlings. The fawns try the grass but appear more interested in suckling with their mother. It’s quite a long clip but interesting to see the young family out for a meal and a drink on the Upper Mississippi.

Canadian geese resemble the Egyptian geese in their colors, size, and habits. Here you’ll see a little intro along with a delightful collection of approximately three families. Canadian geese are common in these parts but to date on my expedition, not in these vast numbers.

Truly, quite a delight.

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AUGUST 2, 2009

Mississippi bliss

Brainerd, Minnesota

It’s hard to describe certain words like “strong” or “brave” out here on the road until you meet, quite unexpectedly, a person like young cancer survivor Austin Price. And such it is with how one attempts going about putting into words, or even video, how it makes you feel inside to traverse the Upper Mississippi River.

The word that came to me yesterday morning (just previous to a fierce wind storm), was the word “bliss”. To be out here on the river, at certain spells, is quite simply a blissful experience. It takes your mind away from all your challenges, away from where you think you have to get yourself off to. There is no rush. There is no hurry. The current of the river takes you, here in the river’s boyhood (as Eddy L. Harris said, “where he’s getting muddier and wilder by the mile”) and gently sweeps you into a situation where you are quite literally surrounded by living nature in all directions that you look. In the river itself as you follow the underwater reeds that point the way forward, with fish darting this way and that; along the banks, where one will find deer and painted turtles and beavers and all sorts of wild fowl; as well as up above, as the clouds and the wind hold sway with the with crisp, ever-changing sky.

Such a moment I have just felt and against my better judgement I will attempt to put it into words, to shoot a little to let you see, for a moment of my trip, what I see.

We just portaged the paper mill dam at Brainerd, Minnesota. I use the collective “we” because I hope that you are enjoying this sojourn extraordinaire right along with me.

Met a fellow traveller named Dick Conant who is also going to be canoeing the entire Mississippi River – although he’s headed to Norfolk, Virgina. I’ll be bringing you a very short interview of Dick and his trip a little later. Every year a very small handful of people do the Mississippi – incredible to meet one this early on. Just amazing!

The river has a refreshing, very welcome current here following the dam and I wanted to try to capture what I’m experiencing – right now. I’m editing and uploading this short piece on my canoe as the rain just begins to come down.

In a true, quite phenomenal moment of bliss.

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JULY 30, 2009

A Monkey’s Wedding in Minnesota’s Wild North

UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER, Minnesota

Having spent many moons out in the hinterlands of Southern Africa it came as a surprise to catch on video here in Minnesota’s Wild North a true manifestation of the fabled “monkey’s wedding” of that region. A monkey’s wedding, or “sunshower” is when you experience that rare moment when a rain shower collides with the brilliant, baking sun. According to Wikipedia, in meteorological terms “A sunshower is an unusual meteorological phenomenon in which rain falls while the sun is shining.” Here we have a blue heron enjoying a monkey’s wedding out on the rocks of the Upper Mississippi River, sunning herself whilst enjoying a shower all at the same time.

Traveling down the Mississippi River via canoe one is surrounded by nature at all times, especially here in Northern Minnesota. You can go for days and days and not come into contact with another human being, which is refreshing but at times a bit lonely. Lacking human contact, one starts to whistle with the birds, which if fine because they in turn will whistle back.

Included in this compilation piece is a blue heron, a painted turtle, a family of geese, and a young family of deer. I did come across one 10-point buck but he was too quick for me, bouncing up and over the brush before I could reach for my camera. Another night, a fox, that I saw as I was coming up just before camp, slaughtered a goose just outside my tent. So far, no wild bear, moose, or wolves. Although they are most definitely around!

Truly enjoying Minnesota’s Wild North. Per usual, I can’t say enough about it!

Here we have a little history of folkloric names around the world for the “sunshower” phenomenon provided by our friends at Wikipedia:

“In South African English, it is referred to as a “monkey’s wedding,” a loan translation of the Zulu umshado wezinkawu, a wedding for monkeys. In Afrikaans, it is referred to as jakkalstrou jackals wedding, or also Jakkals trou met wolf se vrou as dit reen en die son skyn flou, meaning “Jackal marries Wolf’s wife when it rains and the sun shines faintly.”

In Hindi it is also called “the jackal’s wedding.”

In Bengali it is called a devil’s wedding.

In Arabic, the term is “the rats are getting married”

Bulgarians speak of the Devil’s marrying.

In Korea, a male tiger gets married.

In various African languages, leopards are getting married.

In Kenya, hyenas are getting married.

In the American South, the “devil is beating his wife”.

One animal, the fox, crops up all over the world from Kerala to Japan (Japan also refers to it as ‘Kitsune (the fox) takes a bride,’) to Armenia; there’s even an English dialect term, “the foxes’ wedding,” known from the south west of England. In Calabria, Italy, it is said that “when it rains with sun, the foxes are getting married.”

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JULY 27, 2009

Tentin’ out

UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER, Northern Minnesota

I’ve had it happen several times now. I’ll be in a bar or a tavern or a church, nowhere near my canoe or my gear. Somebody will take one look at me, tap the shoulder of the person next to them, turn back to me, and then say it: “You’re doing the river. You’re gonna go all the way, aren’t ‘cha?”

I don’t know what gives it away. I always leave my Muck Boots in my trusty Old Town Charles River. It must be that look in my eyes. Wanderlust. The State of Being out on an expedition; a safari – the State of Being at one with nature whilst totally and thoroughly enthralled by everyone and everything all around.

The next set of questions up here in Northern Minnesota from the very start up at Lake Itasca have been the same, in the exact same sequence (and thus in order of importance), from fishermen meets children on the river to the odd, inquisitive observer:

1) Are ya fishin’?
2) What ‘cha eatin’?
3) You’re tentin’ out, aren’t ‘cha?

While I don’t have the correct answer for the first two questions I most certainly do for the third. The tentin’ out principal makes up for my lack of backwoods experience regarding the first two – always said with a knowing, appreciative smile.

Tentin’ Out along the Upper Mississippi River is a load of fun. There are state-maintained river access-only campsites set out strategically all along the Upper Mississippi, complete with wooden bench, fire ring, and spectacular view of the river, usually perched just above. The correct tent is key. Your tent shelters you from mosquitoes; the tent protects you from wind and from rain. Which is important because it’s rained just about every night since I’ve set out. The lightening strikes strike all around so brightly at times they illuminate the interior of the tent even with the storm shelter exterior draped overhead. And yet you feel safe and secure.

If you shift your thinking inward, the tent becomes your personal domain. You can block yourself off completely from the world or zip, zip down the 4-season screens and let the world and the sight of the river in, giddy with excitement to be a part of nature personified as the grumblings up in the clouds above go about their grumbling.

I thank you, Mr. Moss, for a tent well made. Having the time of my life here on the Upper Mississippi. I can’t say enough about it!

——————–

JULY 15, 2009

The wilds of nature

UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER, Northern Minnesota

I woke up just past dawn for my third day on the Mississippi River. It had rained heavily all night and as I was launching off from a campsite called Coffee Pot the sun came out in full force, creating steam off the cold river. The scene only lasted for a minute or so and I was able to capture it on video. Enchanting would be how I would describe it.

From here I soon encountered a family of mallards preening themselves on the side of the river, out in the late-morning sun. Malards, the most common type of duck, abound in North America. They took little notice of me whatsoever.

Next up you’ll see the Libellula depressa, which are most certainly your friend. What set these apart from the numerous dragonflies you’ll find in Northern Minnesota along the Upper Mississippi River is that they have two sets of wings and a solid white body. Sort of like an old vintage de Havilland Tiger Moth bi-plane, circa Blixen’s Out of Africa. They love to sun themselves on the rocks in the stream as well as you’ll see, on my old Duluth Canoe bag. The first night whilst setting up camp at Wanagan Landing, Mr. Butler, a six-generation homesteader, spotted two which he referred to as Mosquito Monarchs, who had together in the early evening sun perched together on a log. He had said, “Now that would make a picture, because you rarely see two together like this.” And for the next three days out on the river this would be true. I would only ever find one Libellula depressa at a time.

The next bird you’ll see is a long-legged wader called the Great Egret. The egrets are funny because they will watch you and then fly a bit further down the river. And then watch you again and as you approach, fly a bit further. As if it’s a sort of game. What’s great is this cat and mouse scenario enables one to get one’s camera ready as you can see where it had landed. They come solitary like this one or in small groups. They call out when there’s more than one and then they start flying. Really beautiful as they fly – this one, having gone just up river several times, never did come back. Going it alone, sort of like myself, out in the wilds of nature.

——————–

JULY 13, 2009

Successful Headwaters Launch

My niece Janet and nephew Forest took me to Lake Itasca for a successful launch last Friday. It was such a perfect day. The day before the lake experienced severe thunderstorms in the morning and afternoon, large hail, and severe wind. So I decided to wait a day! Will be posting more video and still shots of the first four days of absolute solitude here shortly…


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19 responses to “ON THE MISSISSIPPI

  1. Let us know when you are close to Memphis. I would like to paddle with you some of the way and clue you into some of the great things that are happening in our community. Not sure if you have read this article but it is a good one written by a local gent who has managed to make a career from his writing.

    http://outside.away.com/outside/destinations/200710/swimming-across-the-mississippi-river-1.html

    Best Regards,

    Tom

    • flashriversafari

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the great message and excellent article. I’m in contact with John Ruskey and hope to highlight some of his work in Clarksdale, MS. The painting of the canoeists on my front page is actually by him. Super nice guy. Would love to meet up come Memphis. I’m planning to be a couple of days in the city before heading inland for a handful of days in Nashville. Will definitely be in contact!

      Cheers!
      Neal

  2. L.

    Hi Neal,

    I love this concept and will enjoy following your progress. I think your interview and filming of “Passing on the Dance of the Ojibwe” is an extremely interesting piece of documentation. I linked to the video (with the proper credits) hope you don’t mind because I’d really like to share your work.

    Thank you,

    L.

    • flashriversafari

      Hi there – thanks for your interest in this story and willingness to pass it on. This is what the story is all about! All best, Neal

  3. Lois Malek

    Neal, I have obtained the addresses of the German couple biking along the river. Angie.Saam@gmx.de
    Also may follow their travels @ mississippi-river-trail.blogspot.com/ Lois from Little Falls, MN

  4. Dad and Amanda

    Hi Neal, we enjoy all your documentation as you progress down the Mississippi River. Looking forward to the coming months of your trip. It is so exciting.
    Dad

  5. Gwen Elliott

    Hi, Neal,

    I understand you have been staying at the house I inherited from my parents in Giard, Iowa. Hope you have enjoyed the accommodations! Your project sounds very interesting. Are you going to include any information about Basil Giard, now that you have seen our little village? Good luck on the rest of your journey! Gwen

    • flashriversafari

      Hi Gwen — Really enjoying my stay with your family. The house is so wonderful – really a grand pleasure. Working on several stories here all revolving around Greg and his circle of friends. Will strive to get the low down on Basil Giard. Thanks for everything!

  6. Neal,
    We have shared your comments about Cohasset, MN with our community and appreciate your capturing both our intent in welcoming you and the essence of community we possess. Best of luck on your journey and we will continue to follow you down the river. Your report has helped create even greater civic pride and Ron Floria is pleased to be elevated to “tavern” status. Thank you and visit us again.

    • flashriversafari

      Hi Susan – was a great pleasure to meet you and to spend some quality time in Cohasset. One thing for certain – I’ll definitely be back! All best, Neal

  7. Cindy

    Hi Neal,
    We live in Clinton Iowa which is located just south of the widest part of the Mississippi River. Our sons are grown up now and live and work in Chicago but come back often to enjoy the river and all it has to offer. In fact our oldest just purchased 80 plus acres north of Sabula Iowa that is bluff and farm land that overlooks the back waters of the Mississippi! Enjoy your journey!
    Cindy

  8. Luke

    Hi Neal
    Happy to hear about your journey. I have also been planning to do that exact same thing for several years but an injury kept me home. I hope all goes well, stay away from the barges. Also- a tad envious!
    Luke

  9. Scott Koether

    Neal,
    Just thought I’d check on your progress. Looks like everything is going good. I’ve enjoyed your stories. Keep up the great work.
    Scott

    • flashriversafari

      Hey, Scott,

      So great to hear from you. Was such an honor to get to spend some really good, quality time with you and your family. Just great! All’s well out here. Loving every moment! Stay well and all my best. Do say hi to everyone for me! Neal

  10. Marcie Anaya

    Hi Neal,
    Just heard what a great adventure you are on by Amanda, she is my cousin. Wow, this is so exciting to hear what your doing. My prayers are with you, keep up the great work and stay safe. God bless you.

    Marcie Anaya~

    • flashriversafari

      Hi, Marcie – many thanks for the kind email. Having the journey of a lifetime. Hope all’s well for you where you are. All my best – Neal

  11. Hey Neal!

    Hope all is going well. How’s the weather treating you? Staying out of the way of those mega barges we were looking at in New Orleans?

    Stay safe and warm, bro.

    bill

  12. Scott

    Neal,

    The canoe trip on the Mississippi is awesome. I would like to watch all the videos in order as sort of a daily journal in sequence. Will this be made available and if it is already available, where can I find them?

    Many Thanks

    Scott

    • flashriversafari

      Hi, Scott — thanks! If you look at the side of the blog site you’ll see the “Archive”. If you’d like to start from the beginning, I started writing and thinking about the trip in May of this year and actually launched on July 10th. Many thanks and enjoy! Neal

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