It has been almost a year since I have devoted one of these columns to the Mississippi River. And at least several river-loving readers are becoming restless. So once more we will return to that powerful, timeless, hard-working stream and its beautiful valley.
When I was just a youngster our family sometimes drove to Cassville and took the ferry across the river to visit our Iowa relatives in and around Holy Cross, Rickardsville, and Sherrill. The distance was considerably shorter than was a highway jaunt down through Dubuque.
The original Cassville ferry boat was a far cry from the present craft. I imagine it was owned by the Klindt and Geiger Canning Co. and its main purpose was to carry men, horses, wagons, and machinery across to the Turkey River bottoms and to haul back loads of sweet corn, cabbage, and peas the company grew there.
I’ve lived all of my life within a dozen miles of the river, but never became a real “river rat.” Oh, I’ve done some fishing out there on the peaceful lakes and sloughs. I’ve never kept score, but the worms and night crawlers I’ve drowned would most likely outweigh the pounds of fish caught.
I’ve enjoyed some pleasure boating. My attempts to learn to swim and to water ski were none too successful, but I’ve enjoyed many good times on the Mississippi and its sand bars. I’ve also spent a number of sad nighttime hours in a boat helping search for an unfortunate person who did not return from a day on the river.
These days I’m quite content to just sit on the shore, preferably on a warm day, and in the shade of a large friendly tree. The Big River can be mirror-smooth and peaceful on a calm day, and appear wild, rough, and angry on windy, stormy days. Its surface can appear blue as a lake, or silver, or the color of lead, depending on the sky above. Or it can be wearing its plain muddy brown work clothes. For me, the bank of the river always seems a good place to do some thinking; an ideal surrounding for coming up with a good new idea or two. Also for rethinking and enjoying a few older thoughts and memories.
NIGHT FINDS THE RIVER
Bright sun seeks the west horizon,
Prepares for the coming night.
Blue skies mirrored on the river
Become pale, then silvery white.
I watch trees on the far island
Turn from green to inky black.
Downstream, I soon can barely make
Out the old fisherman’s shack.
In the distance I soon see the
First faint lights of a far town
On the smooth, calm, waiting river,
Night comes softly settling down.
The bald eagle has returned now
To its cliff-top aerie high.
An adventuresome nighthawk darts
Out across the darkening sky.
There’s a scurry on the shoreline
Near small stumps beavers have chewed,
Where a hungry raccoon family
Washes clean some new found food.
Out on the main channel all of
The big fish are not asleep.
A loud “slap” tells us they’re feeding
Where the water’s swift and deep.
Somewhere, far off in the distance
I hear a strange wild bird’s cry.
In the east, a full moon rises
Up to rule the nighttime sky.
Silver moonlight rides small ripples,
Bright, nearby, then fading, faint –
Such a living, moving picture,
I know I could never paint.
High up on the hill, a horned owl
Calls out loudly to its mate.
I must be moving along now
As the hour is growing late.
This big, mighty Mississippi,
As it rolls along its way,
Is a constant source of beauty
Any time, both night and day.
Such splendor – all we must do is
Look around us, here and there.
In this river valley we’ll find
Beauty almost everywhere.