Ageless River--The Mississippi

by Ahalya Baguio / May 11, 2011 / 0 comments



I breathe deeply as I stand on the bank of the majestic Mississippi River. I feel a lapse in time and space as though I were a modern day woman seeing an indigenous Elder for the first time. The phrase, Still waters run deep, comes to mind. Meeting this stately river is like standing before a wise sage that commands my immediate respect. I remember the words of the song, Old Man River, he just keeps moving . . . I have always thought that song was referring to the idea that no matter what happens in life, we need to keep moving forward.

      This river is often called the Great Mississippi. He’s formidable—wide and strong; his very presence speaks of endless secrets and history, known and unknown. Mark Twain, Huck Finn, steamboats with gambling Clark Gables and mysterious heroines, slaves who crossed him to freedom.

      But today, as I stand at his edge,

Mississippi Stop SignOld Man River quietly flows downstream, expanding over his usual shore boundaries to slightly flood the parking lot where we stand and admire him. The rainy day, accompanied by a soft breeze, makes the water lap at the shoreline and as I walk closer, I wonder just how deep it is near the edge. The cloudy day turns the waters dark and foreboding. I have the sense that this is a serious river and I should not get too close. Even on a bright sunny day I doubt I would feel compelled to jump in.

      I stand and watch the waters flow around two mature trees submerged to about three feet up their large trunks.  I wonder how they can stay standing against the current. Obviously, this submerging of tree trunks has been

going on for a very long time; their roots must go very deep. My friends and I stand watching the lapping water at the shoreline until it’s time to cross over the river and head north up the scenic river road.

Mississippi CurveStanding at the river’s edge felt like meeting an Elder, but impersonal. On the scenic drive, however, I see another side to the old man’s nature, more patriarchal and benevolent to the communities that make this river their home.

      As we drive up the two-lane highwaywith the river on our left, the water flows close to the road, and we can see the ripples on the surface and the length of the grass and the cut of the tree trunks along the bank. On the right, the land rises upward where houses sit high up on the sloping hills overlooking their personal panorama of history.

      Having just observed the Keokuk parking lot slightly flooded, I wonder how often this road we are driving on is covered with water. For a moment I picture in my mind this road disappearing as the pavement and the present shoreline becomes a submerged extension of theriver. To think we are driving in a place that later would be under water is an odd sensation.

      Here and there houses sit on the riverside and I think of the Russian River at home in California and how people build on the water even when they know it will flood. That human tendency has always seemed strange to me.

      The houses on the upward side of theriver would be safe from flooding, but I wonder how the residents get out when the road is submerged, which surely happens in the rainy season. Maybe the residents have boats. But then what? My thoughts carry me away. If I lived in one of those houses, I would have a barge so I could drive my car onto it and float to the next open road. A modern day Huckleberry Finn.

      I will always think of the great Mississippi as an entity, alive, and changing, both nurturing and destructive to those who choose to be in relationship with this incredible river. I know that I would need to pay attention to the transformation and the joy this natural force of nature offers. Like life, the great Mississippi River offers us the opportunity for both.