“The river captured my imagination when I was young and has never let go.”
— Eddy L. Harris, Mississippi Solo, 1988
That trip was undertaken by Neal Moore, a friend of my oldest son, Ben. Neal set out from Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi in northern Minnesota, on July 10 and arrived Dec. 1 in New Orleans — a journey of four months and 22 days.
Neal and I had communicated via blog and e-mail before and during our respective journeys. We had toyed with the unlikely notion that we might meet in St. Francisville, in southeastern Louisiana, where our bicycle caravan crossed the Mississippi River on Nov. 4 on our transcontinental journey. (See Nov. 4 post, The “strong brown god.”) But Neal, a citizen journalist for CNN, was still upriver in Oxford, Miss., doing video stories for CNN and his blog, Flash River Safari.
He’s now back in Oxford working on a book about his adventure. Neal sent me a draft of Chapter 4, tentatively titled “The Wisdom of Wildness.” It’s about the first legs of the journey on the Upper Mississippi in Minnesota, before the river becomes constrained by locks and dams and widens into an industrial thoroughfare.
“It represents most probably my greatest day on the river, hands down,” Neal wrote of Chapter 4 in an e-mail. “I hope that you enjoy it!”
Throughout Neal’s book, Mark Twain chimes in with observations from his work that echo what Neal is writing about. A description of a spectacular thunderstorm on the river, for example, is followed by an account of a storm — indented and italicized — from Twain’s Life on the Mississippi.
“There’s a connection to this river that is impossible to explain unless you’ve lived it, or lived along it, or opened yourself up to it,” Neal writes in the chapter. “There’s a love affair that begins to emerge and at this stage of the journey, the river was starting to talk to me, to whisper sweet nothings, to tell me her stories. I offered an obliging and eager audience.”
As one who was born and grew up in Alton, Ill., on the Mississippi just upstream from St. Louis, I’ve had a love affair with the river since, as a child, I lay in bed and listened to the horns of the towboats in the approaches to Lock and Dam No. 26. That river, I knew, flowed all the way to New Orleans — and from there to the wider world beyond that I one day hoped to see.
Aside from Twain’s Life on the Mississippi and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, much has been written about the river.
A few of the books in my own library: Old Glory: A Voyage Down the Mississippi, by Jonathan Raban; Lower Mississippi, by Hodding Carter; Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, by John M. Barry; and Mississippi Solo, by Eddy L. Harris, a chronicle of a journey by canoe that served as inspiration for Neal.
Judging from Chapter 4 of Neal’s book, it promises to the a worthy addition to the romance and lore of the Big River.