Interviewsand Articles

 

A Moment Along the Mississippi River

by Paul Van Slambrouck, Jun 27, 2011


 

 

You get arrogant on the coasts.  Having lived on the west, east and Gulf coasts, I know that superior attitude that believes "sea to shining sea" sums up America's essential beauty. 
 
I stand corrected. 
 
For the past six months I have lived within walking distance of the bluffs of the Mississippi River.  Each morning, I walk my dog to those bluffs and gaze down at the big river, sometimes placid, often muddy, recently churning up white caps, and always, always moving.  
There are frequently large branches and pieces of timber gliding past.  They look- half submerged-like big brown alligators, giving the river a certain subtle menace.  This morning a lone tug pushed an impossibly long barge of some type of raw material, upstream, against a powerful current.  
 
On the radio I heard that the river had reached its highest mark since the 1920s. Homes were swallowed near Vicksburg, Mississippi.  I was there a year ago for a wedding and recently just happened to be watching a segment of Ken Burn's Civil War documentary, an episode focused on the key battle, or siege, of Vicksburg.  As I stood on the bluff here in Illinois, I realized Cajuns were abandoning their homes because of what the river below me was sending their way. 
 
For six months, I had looked at the river as a natural artifact.  Today, it came to life- almost as if its undercurrents had pushed up through its banks leaving me with a sense of vertigo. 
 
There was a little light-headedness and it was not solely at the power of what I was seeing, but also as if I'd been asleep and had just awakened.  Am I so out of touch with nature, I thought, that it took this long for the power of this natural wonder to hit me? Perhaps there's another factor.  Powerful as it is, the Mississippi River doesn't come at you like the waves on a beach.  It glides past you.  You are in its peripheral vision.  Your significance, you sense, is small.  And maybe it takes longer to grasp its extraordinariness, as it moves with relentless pursuit of the lowlands of the south, past you, always past you.  
 
In the end, the Mississippi makes me feel small, incidental, a witness rather than a player.  As I turned my back to the river this morning, it felt good to have finally met the river, understood some small part of its meaning. Then, I walked home with my dog. 
 
 

About the Author

Paul Van Slambrouck retired as the chief editor of The Christian Science Monitor. He also served as chief editor of the San Jose Mercury News. An avid photographer, he is currently teaching journalism at Principia College in Illinois.

 

A Man Impossible to Classify One of my first experiences in San Francisco was of being flagged down by a ... Read More 710572 views


The Dumpster      “We can’t use these. They look like ... Read More 130176 views


Remember to Remember - Nicholas Hlobeczy I had the pleasure of getting to know the late Nicholas Hlobeczy over a ... Read More 87827 views


A Conversation with Silas Hagerty I met Silas, a young man in his twenties from New England, at a servicespace.org ... Read More 56205 views


A Conversation with Taya Doro Mitchell Taya Doro Mitchell July 3, 2007 Oakland CA I heard about Taya Doro Mitchell ... Read More 110976 views


READ MORE >> 

A Man Impossible to Classify One of my first experiences in San Francisco was of being flagged down by a ... Read More 710572 views


Interview with Bill Douglass—Jimbo's Bop City and Other Tales At the time I'd first gotten to know the widely respected jazz musician Bill ... Read More 359057 views


Greeting the Light It was thanks to artist Walter Gabrielson that I was able to get in touch with ... Read More 289285 views


Interview: Gail Needleman Gail Needleman teaches music at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. ... Read More 178911 views


Interview: Stephen De Staebler John Toki encouraged me to interview his old friend and mentor, sculptor Stephen ... Read More 148752 views


READ MORE >>