Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Life on the Mississippi, Redux
The mighty Mississippi begins its journey southward about sixty miles from my home. The Pine River, seen above, which runs along the northern boundary of my home is a tributary of it. The Mississippi is a part of my life story. As a child we would visit its headwaters, walk across rocks to the other side and then back again. We liked knowing we were crossing this river which held an almost mythical place in our lives. In the summer, when we attended Camp Jim (yes, Jesus Is Mine), part of our week long activities was a walk down to the river for a picnic and a few skits put on by the somewhat older campers. To this day I love crossing it as I regularly do living in this part of Minnesota.
Like so many other book lovers and river lovers I followed it through the life and stories of Mark Twain. What book-loving child didn't want to ride on that raft with Huck and Jim as they lived for a while in the freedom of the river?
I've encountered the river many times in my travels, as I've driven southward, and once had an opportunity to ride on a riverboat known as the Delta Queen, eating jambalaya, listening to a jazz band, and watching the lights come on in New Orleans as we moved down the river. It was calm and peaceful.
I've never encountered the Mississippi that is now bearing down on the delta at what looks to become record levels. Stories of flooding, of ruined homes and lives, were the things of news reports but it never touched my life directly. I felt sheltered from the storm.
When Hurricane Katrina hit all that changed. For the first time in my life I more fully understood the havoc that too much water and too little protection can wreak. Watching Justin Webb of the BBC return day after day to the body of a black man floating in the water with no one willing to retrieve it and bring it home left an indelible impression on me. It left me feeling angry and ashamed. I can only imagine what those who endured its aftermath felt and no doubt still feel.
Randy Newman's song about the Louisiana flood of 1927 brings up similar feelings. There's something so plaintive about his melody and words, not to mention his voice. He understands what living in Louisiana can mean at times, the sometimes harsh and bitter reality. Evangeline is a parish in Louisiana, and also a Longfellow poem which is where my last name came from. But, that's a story for another day.
Once again we are facing images of this river doing what rivers do. It means no harm. As with all aspects of nature one thing leads to another and suddenly everything changes. And breaches in levees is a story becoming all too commonplace.
My yard work is almost done, the wash is on the line and drying in the sun, it seems all is right with the world. But, folks in Memphis and all along the river are facing some very difficult times. I'm not sure I have the right to talk about their lives, the troubles they are facing as I sit here along the Pine River in relative tranquility. I do it, I suppose, because I need to know I will not let the troubles of those farther down the river seem too far removed from my own life. And, I do it for the man who was my neighbor downriver, whose body floated face down for six days in the waters that covered New Orleans back in August of 2005, a man I hope I will never forget as long as I live.
Here is Randy Newman and his "Louisiana 1927."