Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Mississippi River Fascinates

How long is the Mississippi River?  That’s something of extreme interest to anyone wanting to paddle its full length, but it’s hard to get a firm grasp on a set number of miles.  Since the river is constantly changing, the first issue is how old the measurement is that one is quoting.  Then there are a lot of cut-offs and side channels, so did the person we are quoting measure the shortest distance, or the center of the shipping channel?  According to Jim Lewis’ research before his trip, the length of the Mississippi is listed at 2,552 miles by Itasca State Park, at 2,300 miles by the U.S. Geologic Survey, at 2,300 miles by the EPA, and 2,350 miles by the Miss. National River & Recreation Area office.   So, pick the number you like, or don’t worry about it.  As Pooh pointed out, “Rivers know this: there is no hurry.  We shall get there some day. “ 
The river doesn't just flow from north to south, but hits every degree of the
compass in between.  If you look at the scars in the forest, you can see where
the river used to be before cutting new channels.

Actually, if you paddled the river twice, you’d undoubtedly come up with two different measurements.  The river will frequently find itself winding in and out among a number of islands, thus creating three or four different channels of different lengths.  As one channel goes fairly straight, another makes a bow, and a third takes off on its own and creates a huge dog-leg.  All the channels eventually take you to the same place, but how you travel between A and B to get there can give new meaning to the expression about “the long and short of it.”  If a figure is incorrect, no worries.  Like fashion, the old measurement may again come in style.

Called oxbows because of their shape, the river creates a loop, but erosion
makes the throat smaller and tighter until the river just cuts the old channel
off and leaves it behind to create another oxbow elsewhere.

The Mississippi is huge.  Its drainage basin covers 1,250,000 square miles of North America.  The river slithers and creeps about to make new channels, cuts off ones it no longer has use for, while at the same time carrying 500 million tons of soil into the Gulf of Mexico each year.  That is enough to extend the length of Louisiana 300 feet further south per annum.  Mark Twain wrote that a man can go to bed in the State of Mississippi, and during the night an oxbow can break through, and he will wake up to find himself in Louisiana.  Waterfront towns that built themselves on the commerce of the river have found before long that they were country farm towns with no access to the river at all.  At other times, such towns would be swallowed to become part of the river.  Nearly all of the Mississippi River that LaSalle paddled in the 1660’s is now dry land.  Twain wrote of the town of Delta, which at one time was three miles south of Vicksburg, but after some reworking of the land by the river, was two miles north of Vicksburg. 

This is the Clark Oxbow, south of Palisades, MN.  The yellow follows the
new river channel.  When reaching the fork, if you followed the wrong channel
you would be taken miles out of your way.

This is the Maydale Oxbow.  Except for a small cut, the throat has been
completely cut off, making for some great day paddles through the forest
and out of the current.  Older oxbows are visible with four old channels
being visible in the same area.

Here you can clearly see how the oxbow is created.  Like annual rings in a tree,
you can see the concentric lines around the bow.  Each represents a heavy flow of
water from storms or spring run-offs where the outside bank is cut away, and eddy
currents fill land back in on the inside of the bends.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Illus. Credit: Amazon
I had an immediate reaction to Jim Lewis’ story about his trip down the Mississippi, but when considering writing skill, it was a gross injustice to read his book immediately after reading Sigurd Olson.  By no measure can that be considered a level playing field.  The fact that the book was self-published is evident in the poor proofreading that missed the incorrect word usages, errors in punctuation, and questionable structure.  The negative aside, the book is still worth a read for what it offers for anyone interested in the river or making a similar trip.  The greater points are that he decided to paddle the length of the Mississippi, accomplished his mission, and succeeded in publishing a book about the adventure---all successes. 
While many plan and anguish for years over the decision to paddle the third greatest river in the world, few make it, while the author and his friends simply decided on the trip over cups of coffee.  They are the members of the Itasca Kayakers, a paddling club formed in 2003 in Grand Rapids, MN.  At times the book seems to have been published for the club.  A lot of time is spent on who did or didn’t paddle each leg, who missed some of the trips and had to make up the miles on their own, and how the shuttles were accomplished.  However, for anyone unable to commit to a non-stop, through-paddle, they offer a model for doing the river in stages.  They completed the trip down the Mississippi in 12 legs over four years (2005 through 2008), and with some incredible runs, the longest of 87 miles in a single day.
Buried in the text of nearly every page is a quotable quote.  Both the importance and value of the trip and book are revealed in three of them that I share here. 
From an unknown writer comes, “I heard somebody say the wealthiest places on earth are not Fort Knox or the oil fields of the Middle East.  Nor are they the gold and diamond mines of South Africa.  Ironically, the wealthiest places on earth are the cemeteries, because lying in those graves are all kinds of dreams and desires that will never be fulfilled.  Buried beneath the ground are books that will never be written, businesses that will never be started, and relationships that will never be formed.  Sadly, the incredible power of potential is lying in those graves.”
“A man is not old until his regrets take the place of dreams.” Yiddish proverb
Lastly, from Yoda, “Do or do not.  There is not try.”
There is no spoiler here on what the book’s title means.  I had to read the book to solve that mystery, and so will you.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Take Me To The Water

The Oklahoma Travel Guide
For those of you in Oklahoma, (or from elsewhere, if you’re headed this way) if you have a “Oklahoma State Parks and Outdoor Recreation Guide” that’s more than a week old, the Dept. of Tourism has just received the new 2015 updated edition from the printer. Also, the Oklahoma Travel Guide for 2015 is a real beauty, with a reproduction of a tooled-leather cover done by Minco artist, John Rule.  The form for ordering free travel brochures is at:
If a guy believes one kernel of corn is the same as an entire corn field, he’s a Republican and understands how to spin “truth” so one kernel of truth becomes the whole truth, like the Keystone XL being good for the American economy (all 1% of it) and creating thousands of jobs (well, actually only 35 of them).  So, when I saw this following line in my current issue of the outdoor recreation guide, I had to wade into the corn field and check it out.  Under paddling activities, it reads, “More than 600 major creeks and rivers mean Oklahoma has a river ride to suit your taste.”  After a call to the Dept. of Tourism, they had their in-house kayaker call me back.  I told her that the guide advertised 600 major creeks and rivers, but then listed only four.  If there was a guide listing creeks and rivers that are actually paddleable, I’d love to get a copy of it.  She admitted, “I don’t know about that,” but said she would get up with their fact checker, and call me back.
 To her credit and the tourism office’s, she spent over an hour or more checking for more information for me, even doing an internet search.  When a state agency spends part of an afternoon serving the interests of a single individual, it has to be appreciated.  When she called back, we concluded that there may be 600 creek beds and riverbeds in the state, but few are major and fewer still have any water in them.  She offered one site you may wish to look at:  This brings up the Oklahoma page, but in the left margin are the links for all other states you may wish to check.
The tab for “Stream and River Levels” shows daily readings for all reporting stations.  For those in this area, I’ve found two other good sources for Oklahoma to be: and
Keep those paddling dreams alive.  Warm weather has to be getting closer.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Singing Wilderness

Image credit: Univ. of Minnesota Press
The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd F. Olson (pub. in 1956 by Alfred A. Knopf, repub 1984 by Eliz. D. Olson (wife) and in 1997 by Univ. of Minnesota Press, 245pp.)
My son and daughter-in-law gave me three of Sigurd Olson's books for Christmas.  These are part of the nine volumns written by Olson, which accompany the countless stories and articles that appeared in many publications across the country.  (This title was published in 1956, 12 days after the author's 57th birthday.)  Seven of the nine books have been most recently republished as the Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Book Series in paperback.
The Singing Wilderness was the first of the three titles I picked up to read.  This is a delightful book that is broken into four sections that enable Olson to guide the reader through the Quetico-Superior canoe country during each of the four seasons.  In each season, the chapters are broken into 6-8 page essays or short stories that cover such things as timber wolves, the trapper's cabin, campfires, the way of a canoe, and a continuing index of 33 topics.
This book works on two main levels.  It is not a novel that you would gulp in one or two sittings.  Each short essay is a literary gem that carries you down a river, along a dogsled trail, or through the wilderness and leaves you sitting there to savour the experience.  To continue on would break the spell.   I was so sick when I started reading that 6-8 pages was as much as I could manage, but as health slowly improved, I found I still read only one essay a night, and turned the light out to continue hearing Olson's fire crackling in the fireplace, or squirrels scampering up and down the cedars, or the sound of a stream chuckling among some rocks. 
The writing is so good that Olson doesn't tell you about the experience as much as sit you right in the middle of it, and this is the second level on which the book works.  This book is a must for anyone who writes or dreams of writing.  The word-craft is so clear and artful that images in your mind become as clear as any painting or photograph, to which he also adds the sounds of the wind, snow, birds, and every creature of the wilderness.  Don't miss this one.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Near Impossible

Brian Keel is also waiting for spring, but at least he's out and about.

Wow, the reader numbers really dropped off!  I thank those that faithfully returned again and again, but I understand the lack of interest in constantly returning to an old post.  We were just recovering from the month-long sick-out when I tried to submit a new post, and the computer crashed, as in totally dead.  It wouldn't even start. 

The computer went off to the support tech, who administered the last rites.  In discussing options for a new computer and program, he said that a new Windows 10 was about to be released, but at the present my options were Windows 7, which is being phased out, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1.  He added that a lot of people don't like the 8's, so that quickly narrowed the field.   The one that would involve the shallowest learning curve in a desktop would involve us going from our old Vista to Windows 7, so that was what we did.  I know the younger tech-heads will frown, but when I saw the salesman flipping pages, expanding and contracting the screen on the new program, my immediate response was, "No Way!"  Plus, it seemed that would involve buying a new monitor as well, since the new computer didn't come with one.  Part of this response is my resentment at the tech companies for not supporting what their customers are doing and needing, but rather constantly pushing people into things they have no need or use for just to feed their sales greed.  Since the majority of the public is more than happy to lust after the latest fad-oriented gizmo, I know I'm the voice in the wilderness, but I kind of like the wilderness anyhow.

I'm slowly getting this new Dell up and running, and will get back to some new adventures for us to share.  We did have one warm, light wind day, and I was anxious to get back on the water.  I rolled out early one morning, pulled the canoe off the rack and got it tied down on the pickup, put lunch and some gear in the back, and suddenly realized I was pushing it faster than my body could keep up.  I was already exhausted and coughing.  I was feeling better, but stamina was yet to come.  After a rest, I put everything away again and watched the rare good weather pass me by.  Oh well, spring is but a few short weeks away.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

So This is Winter

While I look at pictures of friends resting on a Florida beach, for contrast, this is life in Oklahoma. My wife and I have been sick since the 4th of January--a full month. We were trading illnesses for awhile, a week on and a week off. The advantage there was that one of us was up to care for the other one. Then in a moment of near well-being, we decided to celebrate a day of freakishly warm weather, 70-deg, by taking the granddaughters to Great Salt Plains Lake for a day’s outing and picnic lunch. While it was warm, the wind blew 49 mph all day. The air was continuously filled all day with dirt, leaf mold, and whatever airborne bacteria and viruses were about, and we both crashed at once. We, like the groundhog, have just crawled out long enough to see our shadows.