I wanted to report that Saturday night, in our absence, there was apparently a “bit of a blow” here, accompanied by record rainfall (four+inches) the result of which found one of our most stately landmarks, a giant cottonwood tree, on the approach to the Phatwater Phinish, torn from its underpinnings and left for devouring by the course of Father Time and Mother Earth, and the resounding sweep of tropical maritime conditions. Upstream of the Phatwater Phinish, river left—the Mississippi side—at about 2.25 miles distance from the Phatwater Ramp, there stood for the past two-hundred and a dozen+ years this enormous vault of timber, its skeletonized footprint of tendrilagic roots describing an imagery familiar to anyone for whom the Greek Gorgon, Medusa and her head of serpents dared to suggest a certain notoriety. We came upon her yesterday, somewhat dejectedly, at evening, in the twilight hour, as we made for the ramp beneath a yellowing angular light and a sky ribbed in tones from sanguine to salmon, tinged with an opacity of multicolored scuttering clouds prancing above us in the fashion of feathers adrift, marking time, though aligned in a row like so many proper English school pre-pubescents, awaiting the opening trials of “Hereford’s Introduction To Human Sexuality”. She bowed and fittered in the current at the edge of the sandbank, just as those despondent minnows chasing time in a styrofoam bucket in the days of my youth, fishing with my too soon departed grandfather, before being summarily plucked from the shadowed waters and run onto a barbed #9 hook in the fashion of Vlad the Impaler’s victims, so many centuries long gone. Sadness attended the moment in the gravest possible manner. I found myself to a degree withdrawn on the instant, beneath what was becoming an otherwise exquisite sunset. This giant of a vast history passed its days spent, possibly, ‘neath the gunnery of a Civil War naval bombardment. Possibly as witness to the legend inspired by the Bowie Knife. She was, or rather still is, a remarkable tree. Though her architecture has been arrested by the gravity of our time, her feet still refuse to fully yield their place ashore; yet, the day shall come, just as did the day of her downfall, when she shall be set adrift once and for all, and our anemic Universe and place within it shall give not so much as a farthing nod. But I am saddened by her passing, all the same, for I have known her in her majesty, the past twelve years and on, as I have paddled in her shade and glory, time after time, both upstream against her antagonist, and downstream in its confident push to the Gulf, and beyond. Farewell, good friend. Know there was at least one sentimental fool who shall mark your passage.
All For Now—KB
Keith Benoist was born on a pool table in Fukuoka-Ken, Japan. He is a member of Natchez: Friends of the Riverfront, and founded the legendary Phatwater Challenge canoe and kayak race on the Mississippi.
Upon studying the justifications and implications of the degradation of our wetlands, a differing perspective was inspired. A perspective that is unique in that it attempts to create a sense of kinship. Regardless of flora or fauna; there is life. This shared life on earth creates a symbiotic relationship, interdependency.
Limbs of Bark and Flesh
To be a tree,
How would it be I ask..
Dealing with monotony and melancholy,
That they are certain to bask..
Imagine all they endure,
Stress, injuries and death..
Culprits may appear to be obscure,
For it is not as dramatic as Macbeth..
Regardless of bark or leaf,
Rock, clay, sand or loam..
They all are subjected to similar grief,
And bound to a stationary, earthen home..
Roots deeply entangling the soil,
Allowing them not to make a run..
Exasperated for their sap must boil,
Yet, coping must be done..
Facing these tribulations,
Created by that of man and nature..
Imagine the desire for retaliation,
Still they resort not to an inferior stature..
Scarred and splintered they are,
Obvious by their knots and irregular posture..
Deformities apparent from afar,
However, beauty and strength is all they foster..
Staircases of crowns on the horizon,
Stretching to the heavens and Milky Way..
Crowding those stars that glimmer like diamonds,
Signing to the Gods for their branches have a purposeful sway..
Origins of their courage are unknown,
Whether garnered from those sacred bonds..
Rings acquired as they have grown,
Much we have to learn and much to get beyond..
As commonalities appear to exist not,
So, why shall man bother relating..
Our existence is a product of what man begot,
Their meager beginnings are of not equal creating..
Other than the bearing of nuts,
Emphasized are those traits of difference..
That which the true similarities could rebut,
Only if we rid ourselves of ignorance..
Our spirits were placed in these vessels at birth,
Covered with that of bark or flesh..
For all our days on Earth,
Should are actions not be refreshed..
Told we are to love thy neighbor,
Poisoning, mangling and even decapitation..
Contradictions that can be halted with little labor,
Reversing those acts of manipulation..
Would we not want the same,
If we were the restrained and oppressed..
Speak they cannot or they would exclaim,
From their deep pith, vibrato would resonate with distress..
Conservation on their behalf must be taken,
Ending this needless infliction..
A burden of which we are laden,
If sustainment is to be sought over that of destruction..
Our limbs should extend to those covered in bark,
For we now hold the truths and reality..
Before that of timber and pulp, death must be embarked,
Gratifying our indulgence at the expense of life and morality..
Knowing what it is to be a tree..
May they be thought of differently,
And our actions adjusted respectively..
Bobby Childers is a father, teacher, and environmental advocate from the Arkansas Delta town of DeWitt. Growing up, he and a friend were regularly dropped off in the White River National Wildlife Refuge for weeks at a time without any means to contact the outside world. Those experiences, among many others, inform his unique perspective on the riches of the Delta environment.
Photos by John Ruskey