Note: This is the third installment of my six-part blog series
“River Gator: Exploring the River, Expanding Ourselves,”
a recollection of my adventure on the Lower Mississippi River.  

Returning home to Chicago after my trip on our Mighty Miss, I marveled at the bright lights of the city with new eyes. From being in the wilderness, where at night the only lights were your headlamp, the moon and the campfire, the dazzling neon signs were startling. Imprints of human ingenuity were everywhere. What a stark contrast to the deeply wild place I had just come from.

silouette in the river at night - cropped

For the next few days I parked my suitcase in the corner; I had no energy to unpack and I guess part of me felt once I did, the trip would really be over. But after a couple days, I decided the time had come.

Photo Credit: John Ruskey

Photo Credit: John Ruskey

When I finally opened up my bag, a pungent odor made me realize pretty quickly everything inside needed to be washed. The smell of campfire permeated the air. These were the clothes I had paddled hard in, swam in, played in and gotten sweaty along the way. I pulled out clothes I line dried after getting completely soaked on the final day. I found rocks in my pockets and sand just about everywhere. A few little burrs pricked me one last time as a reminder of the day we explored a back channel.  In these clothes I had drawn pictures in the sand and pulled firewood out of the forest. And standing there at the washer, I had a huge grin and a strange sense of pride in just how smelly and dirty I had gotten!

Exploring the back channel

Exploring the back channel

It took awhile to clean everything, myself included. It seemed like every shower I took the next week smelled less and less like campfire. I don’t know if it was actually atoms of smoke aroma escaping my pores, or just the memory willing itself into consciousness as to not be lost. It didn’t matter to me.

As I washed my scarf in the sink and saw the dirt and smoke cloud the water, I watched with a tinge of sadness as these tactile reminders of my days on the River slipped away down the drain. In that moment, I realized though the physical reminders of the trip were being washed away, the River had lodged itself into me. I remembered a moment on the River before breakfast, sitting alone on the sandbar–it was though a chunk of the iceberg moat that protected my heart had broken away and fell into the River.

Early in the morning, Photo Credit: John Ruskey

Early in the morning, Photo Credit: John Ruskey


The River washed it away, flooding in the newly vacant space. My new River moat lifted my spirits and reassured me its wisdom was at my disposal from now on.

The sand, rocks, soil and dirt that covers the planet, covered me too, displacing my human-made shell with one made of Earth. Then, as I stood washing away the last bits of the safety of my River layer, I sensed that some of the strength of the River was still within me and, like a snake shedding its skin, I felt renewed and it felt good.

Photo credit: John Ruskey

Photo credit: John Ruskey

Throughout the River Gator website, interwoven with practical knowledge of campsites and maps you will find tidbits of the big impression this big River gives to us humble travelers. For example in the introduction John says:

“For the paddler this largesse can be at turns enlightening, frightening and overwhelming. It can inspire you to new perspectives and motivate life-changing decisions. It can subdue you to the point of boredom, and leave you confused and utterly alone. You’ll never feel more challenged; you’ll never be more humbled.”

Real Compost in hands

With all this talk about dirt, I think it is important to mention, that dirt is really just soil, it’s the Earth; it’s just our perception that makes something clean or dirty. There are 70,000 different types of soil in the U.S. and each tablespoon contains more organisms than people on Earth. So it’s fair to say we are a bit outnumbered! The only “Dirt” I really know of is a Courtney Cox movie.




Annette Anderson

  1 Mississippi Outreach Coordinator







Continue reading the rest of the series!

How the River Raises You to Be Your Best – Series Episode 1

Fresh, Simple, Spicy, Saucy – Food on the Mighty Miss – Series Episode 2

Good and Dirty – Series Episode 3

Still is Still Movin’ to Me – Series Episode 4

Maps: You Are Here – Now Get Lost! – Series Episode 5

Gifts from the River, Gratitude from the Heart – Series Episode 6

Plus a bonus blog:  Top 10 Most Awesome Things About Quapaw Canoe Company