Source to Sea

Different Currents Now
by Mark Downey -- August 23rd, 2012

At large.

The morning after we reached the salty blue ocean, the team turned around and started paddling back up the Mississippi River. A massive thunderstorm swept in from the Gulf, drenched us, and pushed us north despite the River’s current. Some of the crew members were anxious to hitch a lift back to Venice, back to the road, from passing fishermen and cargo ships, but it never happened and I was grateful for one last day to sit with the Mississippi, all my paddle strokes little prayers of thanksgiving. We held on to a buoy to keep from floating backwards back into the Gulf, ate the last bag of B-NUTS we’d been saving since Iowa, weathered one last captain’s declaration that we don’t belong – and by this point all I do is laugh, wave back. They don’t know; they probably think the River begins at Lake Itasca.

There is nothing in me desiring this trip to end. The River holds everything we need so that there’s nothing left to want. Water, shelter, food, friends, adventure. Quietude. Energy. And we can get ice cream in the riverside towns. What the River lacks is stress, schedules, rent, and taxes. It has sucked our plans and gear into its perpetual drought storm flood mess, and when it rains, maybe we get wet, but so what?

Yet then there we are, back in Venice – now the first outpost of human development – loading our boats onto a trailer and frantically sorting the gear, this is mine this is yours, saying hasty goodbyes. At this point there’s both too much to say and also nothing to say, so a hug and see you soon are enough. The team is dispersing. Off to jobs and school and fiancés and who knows. We load into different vehicles, drive away, and these friends that have sat a canoe’s length away for two months straight go blazing through fields like the four winds themselves, watching trees and rivers and parking lots fly past, a full day’s paddle in less than an hour.

We’ll spend the next week readjusting (or not) to life on land, sorting through pictures, cleaning up our journals, and reconnecting with family. The temptation is to make sense of the trip already, to name it and recite it, call it done and move on to the next thing.

But I can’t leave the River yet (it’s not leaving me). I’m taking Rachel back to Clarksdale, Miss., quiet little home of the Delta blues, to freelance with a guide company there, to keep paddling, swimming, floating, laughing in the River, sharing the Mississippi with others. At least until I’m washed away again, lifted up and deposited elsewhere on down the River.


  1. Ginger
    Aug 23, 2012

    A song I love that captures some of your thoughts…
    The River Is Here
    Down the mountain the river flows
    And it brings refreshing wherever it goes
    Through the valleys and over the fields
    The river is rushing and the river is here

    The river of God sets my feet a-dancing
    The river of God fills our hearts with cheer
    The river of God fills our hearts with laughter
    And we rejoice, for the river is here

    The river of God is teeming with life
    And all who touch it can be revived
    And those who linger on this river’s shore
    Will come back thirsting for more of the Lord

    Up to the mountain, we love to go
    To find the presence of the Lord
    Along the banks of the river we run
    We dance with laughter, giving praise to the Son.
    [ Lyrics from: ]-

  2. kat
    Sep 6, 2012

    dear friend, your posts, like you, are moving and spiritual and mystical. There is a cadence to your words that speaks to my soul. It makes me selfish, wishing we lived closer, but it doesn’t really matter how far apart we are. You are one of those treasured friends with whom time is but a placeholder — as soon as we talk, it’s as if we’ve always been there, talking, laughing, sharing, growing. Thank you for taking me down the River with you through your posts and I can’t wait to hear what you’re up to next.

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