It was the twentieth day of January- weeks removed from the Polar Vortex that descended upon our universe by surprise as I sit underneath the railroad bridge. The Sunflower River looks to flow backwards as the prevalent South wind blows warm springlike air from the Gulf of Mexico. The Polar Vortex, which was slightly predicted by The Farmer’s Almanac, has seemed to speed up the seasons by forecasting an early spring through the activity of the wildlife along the Sunflower River.


Iced Sunflower
Photo: Braxton Barden

I start my day out reporting to 9 am meeting with the Mighty Quapaw’s to discuss the days challenges only to be reminded by Driftwood Johnnie,

” River, it’s MLK day brother!”

Instead I’m blessed with a impromptu ballet performance by our favorite ballerina 6 year old Emma Lou featuring the music of Joni Mitchell, while sipping on homemade ginger tea sweetened by local honey.

I take the opportunity to retreat to my sacred spot along the Sunflower River. Flocks of birds are bathing while others forage for seeds along the banks of the river. I’m amazed by the bright red and orange Cardinals. The water had recently receded from the heavy rainfall and snowfall run-off from the northeast and the warm wind has caused patches of grass to germinate. The grass show evidence where common and grass carp have picked clean, taking advantage of the rare winter rise. The other spots look like fresh winter wheat the first week in March. This river is full of carp. I witnessed the numbers one day this summer as I stood on the bridge waiting on the sunset. The mowers had worked the small buffer zone along the river projecting clippings into the channel. The channels where full of clippings as I watched hundreds of carp rising just underneath the surface inhaling microorganisms by filtering the soup through their mouths. A lone great blue heron stalk the shallows, while a female red tailed hawk patrols the trees attracted by the playful young squirrels practicing their acrobatics. The larger squirrels cling on to the weak branches trying to reach a small yellow pod at the ends of the tree limbs. It looked like the first day of spring.

This place, my favorite place, along the Sunflower River is where I’ve processed tons of information from our adventures on the lower Mississippi River. It’s where I can find a natural place right on the edges of downtown Clarksdale and experience the wonders of the natural world. I recall the day I witnessed a grey fox scavenging for turtle eggs. It appeared to be foraging with his head down looking for a meal, but immediately stopped in it’s tracks and started to dig with intention, occasionally stopping to sniff as my scent occupied the air. It would look in every direction -but up. I curiously watch wondering what the prize would be. Then suddenly, it buried its head so far in the ground and pulled out a small egg. I sat on that bridge for over a hour watching the fox feast on turtle eggs. I counted thirteen total. This observation let me know that the turtles were laying eggs on the muddy banks of the Sunflower River nightly. The next morning I took pictures of the turtle eggs and shared them with the Griot kids.

Cold day in Clarksdale. Photo:  Braxton Barden

Cold day in Clarksdale.
Photo: Braxton Barden

I jump on my mountain bike and head downstream along the Sunflower River. I pass Red’s Juke Joint, while Red’s sitting outside his place.

“Where you headed River?”

“I’m going to check out the weir.”

His response, “backed by the River, fronted by the grave!”

The weir is the reason why the Sunflower River upstream is booming with wildlife. The deep pools it creates upstream holds large amounts of fish, which is a major food supply for many predators. It attracts birds of prey as well as scavengers. It makes the downtown channel of the River more spectacular. As you head downstream from the weir,you encounter beautiful braided channels with islands and peninsulas around every bend. Cypress trees bask in the sun along its meandering channel. Large flocks of mallards and wood ducks frequent this area. The shallow water attracts large populations of herons and egrets as well as huge herds of whitetail deer as you get closer to Hopson Plantation. When the waters high, my favorite trip is Quapaw Canoe Company to Hopson Plantation. It’s a nice scenic paddle.

Hawk by the Sunflower

Hawk by the Sunflower
Photo: Braxton Barden

It’s hard to imagine that this small beautiful river flows through Clarksdale meandering its way 250 miles to Vicksburg were it meets the Mississippi River. Whatever we do to this beautiful river affects the overall health of the Mississippi River. It creates a flourishing environment and habitat for many species of wildlife. It’s an important tributary to Mississippi River and should be treated as such. It’s perfect for canoeing, kayaking , and paddle boarding running right through our city. With this month being “Friends of the Sunflower River” month, we should take the time to enjoy and appreciate our little piece of tranquility and preserve and protect it for generations to come.

Get to know your River! Mark River