We take a ride to Montezuma Landing to watch the rise of the river and breath the fresh air while the songbirds create the score to this beautiful natural setting. I put my boots on to wade through the shallows to get to high ground to get a closer look at the river. The rise is continuous, but the sound of the songbirds make the rise a celebration. It’s spring and this part of the natural order.
I sit back and enjoy the rays from the sun and watch large trees get caught in the eddie that has developed along where the landing usually exist. They take a ride around and around until they are release back into the channel or lodge between the large cottonwoods along the bank. I see one large tree coming directly towards two very large cottonwoods. I brace myself as the trees collide and make a powerful sound of mass and energy. I think to myself, “they do make sounds when no one is around…” I start to think about the four women from Montana who accompanied us on a River Gator excursion weeks prior. The trip started with a shuttle from Clarksdale, MS to Helena Harbor, AR. On the way we drove through the historic Stovall Plantation where the great blues legend Muddy Waters was raised by his grandmother who was a sharecropper. We continued down highway 1 with levee in the distant the whole way.
Jill, a nomadic bartender who avoids the long Montana winters by flying like a songbird to Mexico asked, “Are we still in Mississippi?”
I replied,” Yep, until we cross the bridge, the only bridge you will see for the rest of the trip!”We get to the bridge and the ladies marvel at the pure size of the River. We continued on to the harbor stopping by the levee to see the new Quapaw outpost.
We launch the “Ladybug” Canoe into the harbor and we are off. Our crew consists of myself as first mate and Wolfie the River Otter as captain. Our guests are Walli, avid kayaker and owner of Moose’s Saloon in Kalispell, MT. Julie, a outdoor mom and full time dental hygienist. Dee, an entrepreneur and triathlete. And the boisterous Jill, who never missed the opportunity to sarcastically ham it up with the crew.
We glide through the harbor discussing the barge industry and the commodities transported daily on the River as we move underneath the bridge headed for our first campsite which will be on Island 61. The River is rising so we know there will be plenty of campsites along the beautiful treeline on Island 61. Just a year ago during low water the sandbars were so long that the trees seemed miles away. We get to Island 61 and it doesn’t disappoint. The songbirds are in full throttle and the weather is beautiful.
Dee says immediately, “I’m putting on my wetsuit!”
They all frantically change into their wetsuits and go for a swim as I stay back to start a fire and prepare for dinner. I watch in the distance as the playfully swim out to a sandbar that’s probably not going to be there in the morning. They walk with excitement in their voices as the myths of the River disappear before my eyes. Dee, a triathlete from Idaho, plans to train for the Coeur D’Alene Ironman Triathlon when the trip’s over, and starts her training now as she strongly swims the channel with ease.
She comes running up, “That was wonderful! I thought the Missisippi River was nasty! I’m totally blown away! I can’t wait to tell my friends!”
I smile and say,” Make sure you tell them all!”
We assemble for dinner. Blackened catfish with mashed potatoes and campfire sweet corn. We laugh the night away watching shooting stars and listening to the sound of the River. We are off to a great start.
We start the morning with bacon and eggs, fruit, and oatmeal before we start our paddle to the next campsite on the beautiful Island 64. We make a call and plan to meet our shuttle driver at Quapaw Landing for a resupply of goods. With the River rising we were able to take the back channel of Island63 to the landing. As we paddle around the bend a wild hog stands it’s ground on the bluff curiously watching us float by. Probably protecting it’s burrow full of piglets. Great blue herons screech at us as we disturb their fishing. Large gar surface for a small yups of air.
We make our stop at Quapaw Landing and continue through the chute headed for Island 64. The day is sunny, but overcast, as we head down the main channel. In the distance we see rain clouds approaching fast. Suddenly, one half of the River is experiencing a down pour as we watch it headed right for us. We brace ourselves for the drenching as we yell, scream, and celebrate the relief from the sun. It lasted all of 4 minutes as we paddle through it, but it was a great memory.
We approach Island 64 and with the River rising we take the back channel to find a campsite that would shield us from the wind. We stop for a break and Walli hollers, “Look!” There’s two river otters fishing and they are surprised by our presence. They continue with curiosity by bobbing up and down checking us out while they enjoying their meal. It was a great sighting.
We agree upon a campsite in the trees full of songbirds and an angry beaver splashing it’s tail throughout the night as we sit around the fire enjoying our last night on the River. It was wonderful to see the hard working ladies relax and enjoy their vacation along our great river.
We rise in the morning with a weather advisory on our minds, so we pack up and head towards Desoto Lake chute which is located on the left bank between a series of wing dams. The River is rising so the oxbow lake is filling as we float through the chute approaching the lake. We come to the lake and immediately dip into the flooded forest full of cottonwoods and willows. You can literally smell the fish as the crappie and bass wait for the water to heat up a couple more degrees so they can start their spawn. Jill and Julie, avid fisherwomen, wonder at the fish activity and simultaneously say, ” I’m bringing my pole next year!”
We see our landing in the distance and the separation anxiety sets in. The ladies start to back paddle not wanting the trip to end. I make a deal with them and we head to the landing. We decide to eat lunch on the landing while the ladies change into wetsuits and take their last dip. Ellis, our shuttle driver, nephew of the late bluesman” Big” Jack Johnson and the brother of bluesman James “Super Chikan” Johnson coaxes the ladies out of the water with an invitation by Red Patton of “Red’s Juke Joint”.
Overall we spent two nights and three days on the River. According to the River Gator, we covered 40 river miles. At the end of the trip I was excited to hear the ladies say, “Thank you Walli, I’m so glad we came.”