“The river. What it doesn’t know is not worth knowing”
(Kenneth Grahame, Wind In the Willows)
In our visit to Dubuque, Iowa on our spring road trip visit,Ruth and I spent Sunday afternoon learning about America’s longest river at the National Museum of the Mississippi River/Aquarium. Our three hour tour of this “hands-on”, modern facility would end with a leisurely trail outside the museum, on the south bank of the river. Gazing in solace at a picturesque overlook, I imagined how a candid conversation with these omnipresent waters would take place.
“Tell me old river. What do you know? So many times we have passed by your meandering wildness from the far north of Minnesota to the bayous of Louisiana without bothering to stop and listen to your story. We feel your determination to flow strongly south and reach the Gulf of Mexico. We realize that sometimes you shed water on land in great floods when you are angry or sad. How fortunate it must feel to know that your murky waters offers abundant life to so many living things. What else can you tell us about your long and storied past?”
“ I am a very old river, more than 100 million years old. Yet you probably know me best as a historic, American ideal. Many brave explorers sailed me with great curiosity and found an unknown route to the sea. A bearded man named Audubon once sketched strange bird to gain my attention.That statued writer you were sitting next to on a bench today was Mark Twain. I vividly recall him telling me how excitingly free his imaginary Huckleberry Finn and runaway slave felt back then in rafting my waters northward. Further downstream in Mississippi in a place called Vicksburg, a turning point battle in your Civil War was decided. I now proudly harness new energy for important cities like New Orleans, Memphis, and St.Louis along my surrounding shores.”
“Picture Dubuque, Iowa as a personal favorite place of mine. The generous citizens there bestowed a treasured museum on my behalf to show my past and present glories. I also imagine that my gentle flow provides a pleasant sight to look at from the mansioned cliffs above the old town. The grand steamboats and Dixie river paddlers may be largely gone but I remain strong to serve this city well.”
“You might find inner solace by floating on me for awhile. Witness how well I can nurture the fond forest memories of your childhood at every curve along my path. Wander offshore as you please for I am in no hurry for you to cross the bridge to your next destination. Linger awhile and notice how many birds, fish, and wildlife depend on my watershed to survive for food. I accept all who nourish me in my long path through the heartland of our country to the sea. Allow me now to escort you on another day to the green pastures and forests of Wisconsin and Illinois on my opposite bank shore.”