It’s mid June and the Mississippi River water levels are higher than normal. Back channels are flowing and the floodplain is thriving. Flocks of birds inhabit the archipelago islands throughout the basin. Beautiful indigo buntings , orioles, and yellow warblers frequent the forest canopies singing there unique songs and spreading seeds of life. The islands are pristine and new, yes new, as the landscapes are changing constantly with each fluctuation of water. The grasslands are littered with deer tracks feeding on the new fauna, while the desert-like sandbars are covered with turtle markings.
Willows and cottonwood leaves singing in unison as I stare out my tent on island 62. I’m camped on a bluff that is inaccessible during low water. It’s surrounded by trees, and I’m looking across at island 63, watching the incredible light of the sunset reflect off the water. A few mosquitoes hover around my tent door , as I successfully snatch them out the air. It’s not quite summer, so only a lethargic few linger. I flick them in a pile outside my tent door, amazed and astonished by the ants carrying them away one by one. Nothing goes to waste out here. There is a critical balance maintained out here that’s essential to life.
The sounds of freshwater flowing franticly downstream put me in a state of euphoria. Bands of coyotes yap from both sides of the channel , celebrating the setting of the sun. Sometimes the water sounds like shoals , sometimes like mini volcanoes erupting simultaneously, only to be engulfed by a bellowing boil. Turtles bob up and down in the surf looking for the right bluff to lay their eggs. Scavengers await for the morning to follow the trails and steal the eggs to gain strength to nurse their young. The turtles don’t miss a beat as these losses are part of nature’s complex balance. I once had a couple from Santa Barbara who envied the fact that we had so much water, missing the Sierra Nevada streams they grew up swimming in, that are as dry as a desert now.
I start the morning with bacon and eggs, and a long nature walk to the wild berry bushes. The blackberries are sweet and plump. Birds, turtles, coyotes, bobcats, deer, turkeys, armadillos, snakes, squirrels, and humans, all take part in natures annual bounty. I can tell by the scat found throughout the island. I feel my belly, and head back to camp, enjoying the connection you feel in wild places. The sacredness.
It’s early July, the Mississippi River is starting to recede to normal levels. The water is warming and everyone takes the opportunity to swim. The turtles, least terns, and red-wing black birds are mating in full force. The sandbars are full of baby terns fattening up for their Fall journey to Central and South America. It’s hot, but the water is still cold , so the southern winds feel cool, as they reflect of the surface of the water. I spend the day on the bottom end of Island 64, in the tall, willow forest. The sandy bluffs overlooking the main channel is one of the only spots along this stretch of river to have shade all day. I decide to camp here for the night. The tall willows emerging through the fine sand emulate the palm trees of the tropics, and the waves from the towboats give a feeling of leisure and relaxation as they crash into the bluff.
It’s 9:00 am in Clarksdale in October and I sit with Driftwood and Lena at our daily morning meeting. We start our day with a quote. We take turns, and it’s always something inspiring and humbling, which keeps us focused on our stewardship to the Mississippi River. We discuss the logistics of trips and divide the workload of the day, as well as plan menus, stage trips, and make sure we prioritize each adventure, because engaging people to the river is our foremost significance.
It’s November and a cool front moves into the Delta. The Mississippi River water levels are at its lowest of the year, exposing small blue-holes full of stranded bighead carp. The native fish have a way of fluctuating with the river levels, but the carp are still adjusting. Striations on the sandbars, from willow branches, are a sign of beavers preparing for the winter. During low water, they have to leave the water to find food and feed, leaving themselves vulnerable to predators. The deer are starting the go into the rut. Rubs from their racks appear along the tree line. The islands of the Mississippi River are a perfect place to hide for the hunting season.
With the state of our country and its contributions to global warning, nutrient pollution from farms, and the burning of fossil fuels, we must come together as a people to protect and preserve the environment . It all has an effect on the Mississippi River Watershed and the future of our country. These snapshots of my beautiful life could all be dramatically changed for the worse if we don’t do something now. Become a River Citizen today to help protect our Mighty River.
Mark “River” Peoples
1 Mississippi Outreach Assistant