Chris Markham: Mississippi Odyssey, excerpt 8

My downriver journey had ended. In a little more than three weeks, I had come from the cool placid waters of Lake Itasca, mother of the Mississippi, to the rolling and choppy waters of the sea.

It is difficult to come to such a journey's end, and it was reluctantly that I followed Captain Levine down the ship's ladder and boarded the tiny pilot boat that would take us to the bar pilot station. Though there wasn't much time for celebration, Captain Anderson had the deep throats of the ship's horns blast a congratulation, a victory, as we slipped away and headed into the mouth of the river. From the wooden planks of the last outpost on the Mississippi, I waved my thanks and farewell.

It was time to go home. A crew boat from an oil rig came into the river later that day and a friendly riverman known only as "Cowboy" let me thumb a ride with him. There was still a lingering mist as we headed upriver toward dry land, but I could see beyond -- all the way to the northern woods and the canoe trails. There were the locks and the dams, and the oxbows and the levees. On the river in my mind were the johnboats and the houseboats, the towboats and the tugs, the pirogues and the ships. I could see clearly the Chippewas and Scandinavians, the Irishmen and Germans, the French and Spanish. All are sharing their lifeblood with the lifeblood of the nation -- the Mississippi, America's Father of Waters.

Copyright 2004 Chris Markham, All rights reserved.