Sunday, July 29, 2007

Perhaps it is fitting, that for our final post the collapsible keyboard has given way, the Treo inexplicably failing to pick up its signal, and so instead I am typing this with my thumbs. It is 2007, and despite the advances of mankind, we still are far from getting it right. It is, ultimately, an age of transition. One where you can blog from the Mississippi, but still rely on the graceful simplicity of your thumb. This, I think, is perhaps not a bad thing.

We have been in New Orleans for three days now, exploring the city and doing our laundry, indulging in the comforts of the civilized man. Earlier today, we went to the Arena Football League Championship Game, ArenaBowl XXI, in the New Orleans Dome on national TV, sponsored by ADT, Discover Card, and Sirius Satellite Radio, among others. The game was between the San Jose Sabercats and the Columbus Destroyers, and the Sabercats won, 55-33. There was confetti, and a trophy, and cheerleaders, and it was so air-conditioned and mesmerizing you had no idea that anything else existed, no idea of what the weather was like outside. Now, when people ask us why we paddled the Mississippi, we will finally know what to say: it was a pilgrimage. We paddled the river because we had to see ArenaBowl XXI.

New Orleans is a wild destination, a strange and appropriately American endpoint for the journey that we've just finished. Two years after Hurricane Katrina, the city is so far from fixed it's embarrasing, but you would have no idea, drinking beer and wearing tinted glasses, waltzing through the French Quarter with a buzz. At a barbershop Danny and I visited, rap videos split time on the tv with public service announcements from, highlighting the fallout from the storm. In one, a Hurricane Katrina Bus Tour rolls through the 9th Ward, past an impoverished African-American, holding up a sign that reads, "This is what you paid to see, isn't it?" There is the voiceover: "If you like looking at it so much, maybe we shouldn't fix it." And there is a song by KUSH, cut with footage from the scene, poor black people crying for help on rooftops, wading through the streets, looting stores because they have no food, because the government is nowhere to be seen. But it is the!
MC's fin
al words that are the most chilling. "This is the realest line I ever wrote," he says. "We'll never get on top because we don't vote."

Everywhere, there are signs of the storm. A fountain recently restored. Hostels hosting relief programs. The side of a building, crumbling in upon itself. There are stories of fires and bucket brigades, and holes in roofs, and looters stripping houses down, all the way to the doorknobs. And then of course there is Bourbon Street, and beads, and beads. As I said, New Orleans has been a fitting end.

Amidst this all, the river sits there in memory, already receding, already fading away. We were out there a long time. Yet before you know it, it is gone, like a dwindling cigarette, like a dream, until you look back on it and wonder if those trances were real, if those sandbars and rivertowns existed, those bends in the river, until you look back and wonder how it all could have been. Did it all really happen? Did we appreciate it as it passed? Was it worth it? Am I okay? I imagine these are the types of questions we ask ourselves at the end of our lives.

Thank you to everyone who has checked in with this webpage, to everyone who has followed us along. It has truly been a pleasure relaying to you our travels, and I hope you all have been able, in some small manner, to take something away. We are off now, onto the rest of our lives, and I suppose you all are too. We always are, after all. I hope you pursue something that makes you feel alive. Please remember that this moment is what exists, that everything else is relative, and that this moment is here and then gone. Please remember that we live in a possible world. If nothing else, this trip has at least shown that. Best wishes as you carry on.

the mississippi project

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Well, here we are. Our last night out on trail, we are camped on the levee, forty miles outside New Orleans. Below us, the Baton Rouge/New Orleans port bustles into night, the hum of a generator rumbling down the way. For dinner, we ate cold-cut ham and 89 cents apple pies while drinking chocolate milk, having hitched a ride to the nearest store with a guy who had dogshit on the backseat, driving with an open beer through the town of Lucy, Louisiana. The landscape was impoverished, dismal, and the store lights blared out into the parking lot. Six or seven old men milled around, looking for a fix, and the "Coors Light" sign shone in the window. "See that?" said the driver with a sweep of the hand. "That's nothing."

The trip is ending perhaps as it should have: ragged, hot, surreal. We paddled sixty miles today through the port, which I am told is the fifth largest port in the world. All day, we dodged barges and oceanliners while deckhands and pilots honked horns at us, pointed to various moving ships, waved. Two deckhands unhooking a barge container shouted, "Row, boys, row!" A towboat driver came outside and yelled, "Go fucking home! You're gonna fucking die!" And over the loudspeaker, a funny man in a large boat with tires lined along the sides chanted, "Stroke. Stroke. Stroke."

All told, it capped the last few days fittingly. From Natchez to here it has been one last trance of heat and paddling, of daydreaming, and bayous, and industry. We have spoken to a man with a handgun in his lap, and been yelled at by casino security guards. We have spread ourselves out on a beach and basked away a whole afternoon in the sun. In West Feliciana, we hitched out of town with a guy who, when told of our trip, said, "Y'all bring any reefer? You need a lot of reefer to do a thing like that." We hitched into town with a guy who spoke to Ryan through the window while we sat in the truck bed in the back. "What did he say?" we asked him, and Ryan shrugged. "I don't know," he said.

South of Natchez, we came upon a huge, run-down plantation coming up from shore. We walked a quarter mile through grass and shambled buildings, wondering if it were perhaps a historical preservation, before finding the owner's house at the far end of the property. Two dogs came flying out from under the steps, one going blind, barking like they might kill us. The owner came out, an obese, older man with "Police Chief" on the license plate of his truck, and asked us if we were lost. "We're coming off the river," I said. "We were wondering if it might be alright to pitch a couple tents down by the water." The man shook his head. "There's nothing for you here," he said. "This is private property." I tried again, he shook his head again. "This is private property," he said, staring into the air. "There's nothing I can do for you." Walking back to the canoes, he followed us out in his truck, his dogs running alongside. He pulled right up to shore and parked, not saying a word, !
and watch
ed as we loaded our things and paddled away. He must just have wanted to make sure.

By contrast, Jacob Savoie put the four of us and Mippi up in his Baton Rouge apartment, and didn't even know our names. He got a call from his friend Marianne, and saved my number in his phone as "*needs help." We pulled into the city and he picked us up right after work, still in khakis and tie, and said, "Shit, this is weird!" He drove us back to his apartment by way of LSU, stopping to point out the tree he vomited on one night back in the day. He made us drink whiskey, and gave us a shower, and took us out to a bar. "These guys," he said to everyone we met, "Are paddling down the Mississippi River! I don't even know them! How fucked up is that?" He woke us up before work, and drove us back to our canoes, and shook our hands. "Gentlemen," he said, and drove off.

Yesterday you already know, and today as well, and now, we are on the levee, too exhausted to fully acknowledge that the thing is essentially done. New Orleans will hit, and at some point we will figure it out, glean meaning, draw lessons. But for now, it is one last night on the river, in the tents with the mosquitoes buzzing, and forty miles in the morning, to a city that none of us know.

Stay tuned everyone. We'll holler back. The trip is far from done. We hope you're all doing well. Until New Orleans, goodnight.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hello everyone. Apologies for the delay between posts, and apologies in advance for the post that is about to take place, as it will be brief and sharp. We are camped 90 miles outside New Orleans, having stayed in Baton Rouge last night, and the trip will be over in two days. We are all very tired, and are planning to wake up at dawn tomorrow and paddle roughly sixty miles, a distance we have never done. That said, we are in good spirits. The last few days have been one last foray into the trance, full of people and heat and stories, of which I will tell you all tomorrow. But for now, today was especially surreal, and I thought I'd clue you in, as roughshod as it might be. Thank you for your tolerance, and thank you for reading. We hope you're all leading wonderful, impactful lives.

We woke up at seven A.M. in the living room of Jacob Savoie, a 22 year old LSU student who none of us know. We ended up there through the sister of a friend none of us know, who was notified of our trip by another friend who none of us know. He took us out drinking and we watched Old School on dvd. Obviously, quite accomodating.

But that is a story for tomorrow. What matters now is that we woke up at seven so Jacob could drive us before work back to our canoes, which we had stashed along the Baton Rouge bank, next to the Hollywood Riverboat Casino. Jacob drives an old, white Eclipse, and the five of us squeezed in, Danny's head pressed against the ceiling and Mippi stinking as usual in my lap, and we drove down the river bumping Juvenile, which Jacob swore he'd taken out solely to reminisce on his middle school years. Not sure if I believed him. Got down to the river, said goodbye, and headed for the casino to find food. Nowhere opened before eleven, however, and so we ended up wandering down an industrial, waterfront corridor for twenty minutes before realizing we were unlikely to find a sunshine cafe, or starbucks, or anything really besides gravel heaps and piping, and really, our lives were futile. We walked back to the casino. There, the woman at the front desk told us that the other casino, do!
wn the ri
ver, had a breakfast buffet. We paddled down. Got out of the canoes and left Mippi in her cage, walked up and passed a shady looking character, a vagrant maybe, sitting on a bench on the levee, eyeing our things. I introduced myself in the interest of self-protection. Turned out his name was Dodd, and he was a homeless Jehovah's Witness. I asked if there was any way I could help out, and he said a coffee would be great. "Watch our things," I said, "And I'll be back in forty-five minutes."

Ate breakfast, got Dodd a coffee, walked back. Talked with Dodd about Sodom and Gomorrah, said goodbye, walked down to the canoes. The second we get there, Mippi lets out a screech heretofore unheard, a sound terrible and tortured and angry, a noise you'd never imagine she held. I pull her out of her cage and she is panting with her mouth open, frothing at the mouth. Dehydrated maybe? Heat exhaustion? Food poisoning? I have never seen a more feral, savage looking thing. Her whole cage was covered in piss, shit, vomit. She wouldn't take water. So we dunked her in the water to cool her off. By then, it was later than we would liked, so despite her pained protests, we stuck her in the canoe and pushed off. She went crazy. Started stumbling around like she'd lost it, letting out the worst noise you can imagine, whimpering, hyperventilating, acting like she might die. Fifteen feet from shore, she climbed up onto the gunnels and jumped clear out of the canoe, and started swimming!
for shor
e. I jumped in after her, shoes and paddle going everywhere, and pulled her out.

Back in the canoe, she still wouldn't stop, like something was not just awful but intolerable, and we are feeling awful because we are awful owners, we are bad people, subjecting a poor kitten to such torture. We actually talk about simply pulling over and calling the Animal Humane Society and having her taken away, accepting our failure and her right to a better existence, but eventually decide against it and instead pull over to shore and let her get her bearings. Slowly, sanity returns. She huddles in the shade as if hiding from the trauma, the demons receding, that hideous noise reduced to a whimper, me petting her and trying to get her to drink, until she is somewhat calm and we can go again.

By now, it is quite late, too late to make the miles we had planned, but off we go, paddling down the river, doing that thing that we do. It is hot and we've run out sunscreen, and we paddle into the day, past barges and oil refineries and now huge ocean-going ships now, with chinese lettering on the sides, tranced out on plans for the future, where we will be, what we will do, about New Orleans, what we will do, the people we will see, about the river itself, drawing now to a close. Stop in a town, the name of which is eluding me, and go on a grocery and sunscreen run, and fill up our water, meeting a man in the process named Stan Richardson who shows us a rusty tap and takes our picture and says, very slowly, "Well! Minnesota! Wow! Now ain't that something!" We load up our things and go.

On the water, we hug the shore while the barges haul up and down the main channel. There are wakes all day. They crack against the front of the canoe and toss us up and down, Mippi recovering but obviously displeased with the inconvenience, trying to sleep the whole thing off. She is more displeased though when a sudden, violent and acute rainstorm blows across the river, drenching the whole damn scene. It is the bizarrest thing in the world. All around there is blue sky, on the other bank of the river there is blue sky, and then there is us, in the middle of a ridiculous rainfall. It rains so hard. The bottoms of the canoes fill up with water, and the raindrops hurt. Danny and Ryan charge into it, singing knock-off Irish shanty songs, blinded. We are in the middle of it, the wind blowing, water falling, it's absolutely crazy, etctera etcetera, and then suddenly it is gone, there is no more rain, it is blue sky again. The sun is setting behind a cloud. So picturesque. In fac!
t, I stop
and take a picture. Aw. The Mississippi River. Etcetera etcetera. Like that, our things are drying, the moment is gone. Then suddenly behind us, emerging from the fog, the Chinese ocean-liner. It comes steaming down the river like a ghost ship, emerging from the fog as I said, not a crew member in sight. Ryan and Danny are so close to it that they actually have to pull off to shore. Kevin and I paddle down to a flat spot and stand gawking at it as it silenty rumbles on, in a language we don't understand, going somewhere we couldn't possibly know. I take pictures. It takes no notice, and on it goes.

We decide to camp where Kevin and I stopped. We pull up the canoes, and let Mippi run around, already oblivious to the fact that this morning she thought she was going to die, that she in fact almost did, taking a suicidal leap into the river from the canoe with a terrifying screech, meow she went and in, and now prancing about, scratching her claws on a stick. We make dinner quickly and set up the tents with the sun setting, wondering at the whole damn thing and how this river does that, how it just throws you every time. We finish eating and sit in the dusk, thinking little, except to note that gosh it is all soon to be over, that there are two days, and then New Orleans, and July, hardly come and already gone so soon, and we go straightaway to bed.

And so we continue on.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Mississippi River is the spine of the nation. This is not a unique observation, but a metaphor that is drawn again and again. Taken literally, it describes a country that has no head, one that is sprawling and overweight, that defacates on the lower Americas and shakes its fist at the Old World, all while sporting a curious peg leg in the lower right that keeps influencing the actions of the rest of the body. But of course, only metaphors, only metaphors.

We spent the last two days in Natchez, Mississippi, visiting antebellum homes and drinking too much, resting our weary arms. Paul Hendrickson came to visit and put us up for the night in the Days Inn, alternately interviewing us and drawing meaning from our travels, talking baseball, talking life, and telling us of the fascinating secrets Mississippi has to share. We visited the Rosalie antebellum home, which sports fine china from 1847 and glass chandeliers, and rugs over 150 years old. From the second floor patio, we looked out over a sprawling estate of oak trees and manicured hedges, a world of slaveowners and slaves, its reverberations still being felt all too strongly today. "Sit out here and have a cup of coffee, it's a porch," said the elderly tour guide. "If you have a mint julep, it's a veranda. If you don't have anything, it's a shame."

We took the advice to heart. After PH left, we sat in Fat Mama's Tamales, drinking stiff margaritas at two in the afternoon. Ryan and I played three separate sets of rock paper scissors to five, me ultimately coming back from two down to win in the final set, tearing up the driveway with my arms overhead, the crowd going wild. We progressed from there to the Under The Hill Saloon, whose owner, Andre, was nice enough to store our gear in his alley. We made it up to him by buying copious amounts of beer and feeding the foosball table with quarters. We went from there to drinking at dinner, and from there to drinking at Bowie's Bar and Grill, taking tequila shots and flirting with every girl in the place, me ending up dancing twice to the live band with an older lady in a red shirt who managed to catch her catch later, a spry, older man in a pink polo, who led her out by the hand like he'd done it a million times. But it was all too much. At one table, a woman asked me how old !
I was. "T
wenty-one," I said. She replied that she was thirty, and I asked if that meant she thought she was better than me. "Not better," she said. "Just smarter. Wiser." "Well," I said, leaning in. "In my opinion, a truly wise person doesn't lord their wisdom over those who aren't so wise." That shut her up pretty good.

You could see us falling apart, crashing. Kevin kept staring out from blood-stained eyes and running his hands through his hair. Danny went outside to talk on the phone. Ryan and I engaged a pair of waitresses all the way until closing, when they stood us up while we waited on the corner. The alcohol pounded through my head. We kicked around and made feeble attempts at shooting the shit, failed, and walked back to the tents, the comforts of the Days Inn already past and gone, the air conditioning nowhere to be seen, and the sun, in the morning, pounding unflinchingly through the screen.

We didn't get out of town until three o'clock the next day. We had to eat breakfast, and go to the grocery store, and get a ride there from a couple named Keith and Melissa, learning along the way about the Phat Water Kayak Challenge they organize annually on the river, and how one of these years they're going to get enough participants to shut the barge traffic down for the day . Our groceries purchased, they dropped us off. "Nice to meet you," Keith said. "Have a nice life."

When we finally got on the water, the world had become a sauna. We sweat from every pore, sweat rolling down our bodies and dripping into our eyes, beading in the creases of our postures, until it felt that we might just evaporate altogether and completely disappear. You sweat like that and it is oppresive, it is awful, but more than anything it is cleansing, everything pumped through and out of you, until nothing from before remains and you are left with the pure, real thing. We paddled twenty-five miles hardly saying a word. Natchez receded into the distance, the binge and the night before pushed back with every stroke of the paddle, until it was just the four of us again, paddling along in two canoes, living simply, simply living, a mere week of the whole thing left to go.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dispatches from Mississippi:

Stop in Vicksburg for the afternoon and wander around. Originally, we had intended to visit the site of the famous Civil War battlefield that, in conjunction with Gettysburg, turned the tide of the war in the Union's favor. The site, now a national military park, features rolling fields of grass where Americans once fired upon and killed each other, as well as tributary monuments from 28 states - all of whom were represented in battle. We soon find out, however, that to tour the grounds you need a car. So instead we flirt with the cashier at the coffeeshop and check our email at the library. Oh to be twenty-one, and traveling by canoe.

Vicksburg is a quaint little town though. Its main street is made of cobblestone and is fully equiped with WiFi. There is a haunted antebellum home which was closed when we tried to visit. An old antiques and novelties store has a sex shop in the back (it buys back magazines), and nestled between folk art galleries, there is a swanky lounge straight out of New York City, bathed in cool blue light and adorned with flat screen tv's.

Along the river, several casinos sit in artificial moats, taking advantage of Mississippi's relatively recent waterfront gambling laws (ridiculous; too complicated to explain; a post in and of itself), and inside with all the blinking lights, you'd never know, or care, that Union ships fired on these shores before starving the city out for nearly 50 days. I knew about it, but I sure didn't care. I sat down in the poker room and lost twenty-five bucks.

Close to these cities, the barge traffic and pollution always picks up, but these influences are becoming increasingly noticeable in the wilder areas of the river. A week outside New Orleans, the Mississippi River is finally dirty. It was never clean, mind you, but now it is distinctly filthy, beer cans floating upside down, eddys of garbage and sticks and froth, smoke from riverside industry pouring ominously into the air. The water is so polluted, in fact, that it has turned the bottoms of my feet to a sort of worn, elastic leather, and between my right toe and index, the skin has split open, leaving a fissure that opens and closes when I stretch. There is nothing to do, however, other than acknowledge that it is there.

In general, we are knicked up, banged up. Danny's feet and ankles have been bleeding on and off for weeks now, the sores a combination of scratched mosquito bites, cuts from his sandals, and a constant resubmergence in the water. Fire ants spent a day or two building ultimately doomed empires in our canoes and food containers, and we all bear little welts from the warfare. And Kevin's shirt, which he has been wearing the entire trip, smells so bad that it rivals the cat, who pees on herself.

To distract ourselves from such trials, Danny and I kill bugs inside our tent. The way it works is this: we both pile our sleeping bags and pads inside the tent, and then throw ourselves inside, violently pulling the screen door closed behind. Then, we sit with our flashlights scanning the tent sides like strobes, anticipating our prey. There's a mosquito! we cry, and spring into action. One of us keeps a distance and holds the light steady. The other creeps up until their hand is only inches from the unsuspecting, inferior species. Then, when the moment is right, we kill, employing the pinch (thumb and index), the swat (with object), the clap (two-handed), the clap (one-handed; more difficult), the push (employing the tent side), the chopstick (index and middle), or the snap (self explanatory; relatively impossible). Once, we captured a mosquito and slowly dismembered it, wing by wing, leg by leg by leg by leg, and then stinger, and then abdomen, allowing it to flop helples!
sly on th
e ground, crying out, "Let this be a lesson to you all!" before finishing it with my thumb. Guts stick to our fingers. Juicy ones smear blood along the walls. The stains stick for weeks. You have no idea how rewarding this is.

The mosquitoes dead, we lie down and try to fall asleep. We do this in Vicksburg and the train rolls by, crying out with the romance of a different time. How thrilling that might be, I think, to climb inside that thing. But of course I am forgetting the year, and that certainly you would die, fighting for a boxcar perhaps, or strangled by a serial killer, or clubbed in the head by a sad, startled man. Maybe next summer. For now, paddle down a river instead.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Some simple observations:

We are in Louisiana now. We crossed over from Arkansas yesterday. We have now been out here for fifty days, and have paddled through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and now Louisiana. We will be in New Orleans in two weeks or less.

One thing you learn after a while is that the river always flows fastest around the outside of a bend. Even though it may seem faster to take a shorcut and paddle straight across, or hug the inside of the turn, it's almost always the other way around. This is something you simply come to accept. Yet even though we know this, we still will manage to mess it up. We stare across and the other shore looks so close, and we think to ourselves that if we just cut across here, we will save ourselves such trouble. And so we cut across, and the current dies, the other canoe flies past, and we relearn the lesson all over again. The interesting thing is that the person most likely to forget all this is the person steering in the back of the second canoe, playing catch-up to the first. They see the bend, and the first canoe so far ahead, and a chance to make up lost ground. And in doing so they fall even further behind. This is what is called a metaphor.

It is still humid, but slightly cooler now, balmy even, and there are pelicans, and you can feel the ocean in the air. You are getting closer! it says, you are so close you are almost there! Meanwhile, water levels have risen dramatically, to the point where most sandbars have disappeared, and bends in the river have turned into bays. The Arkansas River poured in at floodlevels, carrying the load of the thunderstorms down, the water a strict and muddy pink from the caved-in shore. We paddle alongside branches of trees, logs, the trees themselves, still living, bobbing in the froth of the current, and Ryan tries to climb one. He fails, but in his attempt he tilts the canoe enough that Mippi's cage slips off and into the water. The cat floats with a panicked look in her eye, wondering how she ended up with owners so stupid, bewildering really, and perhaps also if this is it, if this is how she is going to die, slowly and helplessly sinking into the Mississippi River, goddamn t!
year old idiots, keep me locked in this cage all day and can't even keep the cage out of the water, and now I am paying for their carelessness, with my life, no less, how horrible, how fitting and horrible, bastards... We fish her out and she settles down. In half an hour, she can't even remember what happened. And the tree keeps floating downstream.

P.S. to the Marrinin's: if you are reading this, please email danny so he can get his sweatshirt back. He appreciates this greatly! His email is

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hello everyone. Coming to you bright and early on the morning of our 49th day out here, Sunday, July 15th, 2007. We are camped at an RV campsite in Warfield Point Park, just outside Greenville, Mississippi, and it looks like it is going to be a quiet, overcast day. Mippi runs around, chasing after pieces of grass and sniffing in holes, as if to say, Check me out, I am growing bigger, I am becoming more self-sufficient by the day.

Last night, we found a ride into Greenville and went to Doe's Eat Place, a steakhouse famous for making its customers enter through the kitchen and being Bill Clinton's favorite. We met all sorts of good folks and chatted it up: a guy who'd moved here from Boston and liked it even though everyone is racist, an older woman who loved Kevin's blond curls and blue eyes, a pretty young woman who told me she was married. "What are y'all doing here?" one group asked another as we sat down to our table. "Taking my dad out," was the reply. "He just had open-heart surgery. Thought I'd treat him to a 32 oz steak."

At dinner, we meet two National Guard servicemen, Sean and James, who have served in Kuwait and Iraq. I ask them what they think about the situation, and James says he supports it, one hundred percent. "What else are you going to do?" he says, "When the Twin Towers fell, just let yourself get attacked and just clean the thing up? We had to go occupy somewhere." "I'm not going to say I'm a Bush fan," says Sean, "But what I admire about him is he's principled. He's not chasing this poll or that." I suppose that's true, I tell him, when your approval rating is hovering at 25%. "Hey, we'll judge it all in fifty years," James says. "Until then, there's no way to tell." He says he has bought three million Iraqi dollars as an investment for his children. "Well," I tell him, "It can't go anywhere but up."

We originally heard about Doe's two nights ago, when we pulled off the river looking for a cheeseburger and met a man named Frank Smith. "There's nowhere around for fifteen miles," he said, and explained that we were on the grounds of a private (and wealthy) hunting club, Catfish Point, whose members flew in via their own private airfield. "Come on," he says, smiling. "I'm gonna cook for you."

Frank's cabin has a beautiful screened-in porch, raised foundation to guard against floods, and a huge cabinet full of guns. While he barbeques chicken and drinks whiskey, we talk about his life as an investor, his college days playing baseball for Raleigh College in Florida, and how when we get to Greenville, we have to eat at Doe's. "Doe is my brother-in-law," Frank says, and he gets Doe on the phone. "Doe!" he says, "I've got four knuckleheads up here at Catfish Point who want to eat at your place tomorrow night. How long you think it'll take'm to make it in canoes?" "Canoes?" comes the response. "We've got motors around here."

Frank tells us to grab beers and says that in the south, meals are a social activity. We talk about the Mississippi River bottoms, how sometimes it looks like a certifiable jungle, how the cotton plantations of the 19th century have relented to the forces of the river and been replaced by corn and heartwoods: Pecan, oak, cottonwood trees. We talk about flood regulation and Frank tells us about the 1927 flood, when water from the river spread 50 miles east, 100 miles south. "It's bad for human beings, but we're not the main players here. We need to learn to let nature do what it needs to do and get out of the way." He tells us about his daughter, working in the PeaceCorps in China, and about the wild world he saw when he visited her, about pollution so bad in Beijing that you never see the sun. "The world is changing," he says, "And we'll see it in our lifetime - not necessarily bad, but not all of it good, and we'll have to get used to it as Americans."

After dinner, he says we might as well spend the night, seeing as he has four beds to share, and in the morning he is waiting with grits and coffee to send us on our way. "Well if you've got that sort of spirit, you can't keep it bottled up," he says, and wishes us all the best. We shake his hand and climb in the back of his truck, and he drives us back down to the river.

And on the topic of hospitality, did I ever tell you that in New Madrid, Missouri, a man named Joe Porter met us at the boat landing and invited us back to his house for dinner, where he cooked up huge steaks, texas toast, and beans? That is the whole story, there is hardly anything to it. I never reported it in the first place because of that simplicity, worried that for such a basic act you simply had to be there, a gem uncut, that such a thing could never translate through the internet wires. I'm still skeptical, but look! Joe Porter cooked us dinner and let us watch tv! And he didn't even know who we were! Incredible! Thank you Joe! And thank you Frank! Talk about restoring your faith in humanity! I mean seriously: restore your faith in humanity.

As Frank put it, "We've got a lot of bad eggs, but there's a lot of good people in this country."

And so we head south.