I rise as the sun barely illuminates the sky above the canopy of the cottonwoods, willows, oaks, and sycamores across the channel . I take the long way to the fire to walk the shoreline to see what the River has released during the night. By the time I get to the fire, the sun has cleared the trees and started to warm the landscape as chaperones and students wander out their tents and head for the fire. My first mate Elliot meets at the fire, shirtless and shoeless, and asks a question.
“What’s for breakfast?”
I answer, “What else – bacon and eggs!”
He smiles and starts to spread the word throughout camp, as the contingent moves even closer and start to gather. Marcus, the EAS leader, rallies the troops. “Everyone get your journals.” They start their school day as Wolfie and I prepare breakfast, while the chaperones discuss the coyote serenade during the night.
We eat our breakfast in great spirit, with the students well rested from their previous day of fun and exploring. With their “paddle wings” restored I knew we were in for a great day.
The Quapaws gather for our team meeting before we load our canoes. Driftwood Johnny draws a map in the sand, as we start to gather, and explain the route we had taken and what’s in store for the day.
We launch our fleet and I thank the Creator for this wonderful day. The River is pristine and calm, with the sun reflecting off the water creating a setting of infinite beauty. The students are laughing and singing, poking fun at each other, while the temperature continues to rise. We meet in the middle of the channel to make sure everyone is hydrated and protected from the sun rays when Oliver asks, “Mr. River, can I jump in?” I respond, ” Sure, as long as you wear your life jacket.” In goes Oliver, then Lars, then Bruce, then Kye,then Popeye, then oLIVER- and before we know, it’s a pool party! The students and chaperones are swimming between the boats and marveling at the fact that they are swimming in the middle of the mighty Mississippi River. I choke up knowing Quapaw Canoe Company is changing the myths of the Mississippi River.
We stop to take a break along the Arkansas side of the River. It’s a gravel bar full of crinoids, fossils, hematite, chert, granites, and petrified Mississippi River mud. The students load up on treasures, hydrate, and have a snack.
My first mate Elliot asks, ” What’s for dinner?”
I laugh, “Whatever’s left in the cooler.”
We continue on, headed for the beautiful peninsula, Smith’s Point. Located on the LBD right above Rosedale Harbor where we will end our journey the following day. The day has been sacred. The River always tests your intestinal fortitude, forcing you to work together, and then reward your team with a day like this. The students and chaperones have been won over completely by the River.
We pull into the Smith’s Point chute, which is only open during high water levels, and I hear cheers, screams, and chaos. I look around and a forty pound Silver Carp has jumped in one of our canoes.
I scream,” Leave it there, I’ll get it.”
Excitement roars through camp as I lift the massive, beautiful fish.
The students ask, “What are we gonna do with it?”
Driftwood Johnny chimes in, “We either eat it or set it free.”
I string up the fish to the boat to keep it fresh and alive while we set up our last camp of the trip. Morale is high. Driftwood Johnny draws a map in the sand for the students’ last assignment with the total River Gator route of the trip. Including all the oxbow lakes and islands we encountered and explored along the way. The students and I get our journal. We enjoy the last day of class on the River. I explore the surrounding area and bring skeletons of animals to be identified by the students.
After that, Driftwood Johnny shows the students, chaperones, and Quapaws how to filet a Silver Carp. Then we thanked the River for the blessing and have a incredible last supper of garlic, rosemary chicken, infused with vegetables of all kinds, rice, fried fish, and garlic bread. By the way, there was no fish left.
We end the night around the fire singing songs, and “digging down low”, and Wolfie and I acted out the story, ” the legend of Mark River.”
The morning comes fast. It’s our last day on the River and morale is high as we head towards Rosedale Harbor where the shuttle drivers await our return. I look at the “Grasshopper” canoe in awe as we cut through a shortcut, that’s only open during high water, and say to myself, ” We did it!”
According to the River Gator, we accomplish approximately 76 miles in four days.
To end the trip, the Mighty Quapaws set up a evening of southern barbecue and Blues music at Red’s Juke Joint. It featured Clarksdale’s teenage prodigy’s “Kingfish” on guitar and “Hollywood” on drums. The Quapaw family, students, and chaperones enjoyed the food and music, while Red Peyton, the owner, marveled at the appetites of the students.
Recently, during our morning meeting, Driftwood Johnny handed me a card to read. It was from one of the EAS students named Kye. The one thing that jumped out at me was the fact that he said, “Thank you Quapaws. The River changed my life!”
I say to myself, “That’s what school suppose to do.”
Get to know the River. Go to your nearest (River) School!
– Mark River