Words by Mark River
Photos by Keith Benoist
There are many iconic natural wonders in this world that have been explored, documented, and conquered by many walks of life. These wild places are disappearing rapidly, though: some by depletion and exploitation of resources, some by
After the Missouri and Ohio Rivers joins with the Mississippi River, the river starts to return to its natural existence full of wetlands, estuaries, and floodplains — essential environments for the flourishing of the natural world of organisms. The Lower Mississippi River ecosystem is wild and intact. With the nearest dam some 500 miles upstream from us in Mississippi, and not very many highly populated cities directly on the River, the meandering Lower Mississippi is the wildest wilderness in the continental United States, in the middle of North America. Forever changing, with hundreds of Caribbean-like islands and beaches, it is one of the last unused, unappreciated, and unexplored places in the country. You can paddle over a hundred miles in places and not see a bridge.
Water was the most efficient way of travel for the Native Americans and explorers alike. These waters were viewed as trade routes with wellness and wealth buried in the massive forested areas lining its shores. Civilizations were built along these natural highways — the rivers weren’t seen as dangerous and spooky, but rather as wonders created by a higher being. Somewhere along the way, the River gained a reputation as a villain who was unpredictable and forever changing, slowing wealth and prosperity by doing what it does naturally: flood.
However, this is the River’s way of replenishment and rejuvenation, a self-made power washing and dilution strategy. The flood is the healthiest cycle of a river’s lifeline.
Here at Quapaw Canoe Company, we have employed the tradition of French
The River crested here in the Delta at 49ft (on the Helena Gage). All islands are buried underwater. Regardless, we have enjoyed day trips of paddling through the flooded forest between the River and the levee, performing clean-ups in the flooded landscape and other activities to promote engagement with our great River.
The deer are mixed with the cows grazing on the levee as if we can’t see them. The Eagles are spending a lot of time in the nests with plenty of hunting grounds in the flooding forests, providing an abundance of food.
The oxbow lakes are replenished and restocked. Various species of water snakes and frogs rest in the canopy as we float by with
Herring gulls and coots float down the main channel. Wood ducks are pairing off in the flooded forest. Migrating birds sing in the trees, gathering materials for their nest-building.
The male least interior terns have shown up early to practice their fishing techniques. While the River drops, they will fret and toil until the sand and females appear; then they will win a female, and the island bars of the River will become nurseries for their young. None of these amazing cycles of nature occur without the rise and fall of the Mighty Mississippi.
We Mighty Quapaws join the rest of creation in celebration….
As we wait for the River to reveal the new landscapes, sandbars, channels, wetlands, blue holes and uncover shipwrecks, artifacts, and fossils, we celebrate the rise and fall of the river and its bountiful benefits to nature and humanity.
Keith Benoist is a Natchez-based photographer with a special feel for the wildlife and wild places along the Lower Mississippi River.
Mark River is chief guide and youth leader for the Quapaw Canoe Company. He is also southern coordinator for the 1Mississippi River Citizen Program connecting people who care about rivers with people who make decisions about them. Go to Lower Mississippi River Dispatch for more of Mark River’s blogs!