As I sit here singing Sam Cooke’s version of “Change is Gonna Come”, a beautiful red tail hawk lands on the large sycamore branch above me. It is a fitting song since Cooke was born here in Clarksdale, Mississippi, not far from where I sit now watching the River ever changing. I thank the Creator for the sacred Sunday hawk sighting and borrow the song title as a name for this piece.

“I was born by the River”, the first words of the classic song, make me beam with passion and pride. I’ve been reborn by the River; in my earlier years I had no idea the significance this great River would eventually have on my life. Now it seems all my athletic years of hard work and determination were merely training for my stewardship for the Mississippi River.

The great thing about change is it can be good, bad or indifferent. But if embraced properly, you can see a bigger picture. Lately, I’ve been noticing the public and media attention on the drought’s affects on the Mississippi River. What the press is not talking about are the 18 million people the River supplies daily with water or the harmful agricultural run-off which affects all of us: people, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. The attention has been focused on the extreme low water levels, the effect on the barge industry and our country’s economic health. I’ve been getting calls and emails from friends all over the country to discuss the drought. From where I sit, I’m glad for any attention the River gets; it needs it so badly.

Aerial pictures taken by NASA in August of each year.

Being a steward of this great River, I look at the River from an internal sense. The Mississippi River’s changing water levels are essential to its health. It regulates the checks and balances of the aquatic community as well as the species that feed and rely on its bounty for sustainability. For example, this spring when the drought set in, I noticed a large amount of fatalities in the Asian Carp community. I also noticed many animals thrived from the fatalities. Eagles, herons, egrets, pelicans, gulls, hawks all benefited. Coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, turtles and other scavengers thrived also. So basically, it looked as if the River was cleaning and purifying herself.

What I’m trying to say is that the Mississippi River is a forever changing diverse ecosystem that has sustained life for centuries upon centuries upon centuries. The recent media publicity should bring to the forefront of millions of people’s minds and our government that the systemic health of this national treasure should be held at the same level of importance for the country as the Great Lakes. The impact the River has on our economy alone should be reason enough to protect and maintain it for generations to come.

As for the different levels of water, Native Americans embraced the changes because they were one with the land and knew “Change is gonna come”. Nothing expresses that fact of life more than the River. Life has to change as does the River. Change is the only thing consistent in life and we gotta flow with it or we wear out resisting it. The River gives us this powerful lesson about life.

Become a River Citizen today.

Mark River
Mighty Quapaw Youth Leader
1 Mississippi Southern Region Intern

Photo Courtesy of John Ruskey, Quapaw Canoe Company