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.



mikepam said...

Hi Gabe & TMP,
You all sound pretty beat up, and tired, but still wonderfully enchanted with what you are doing. Good for you. Two more weeks before you fly back to the ordinary. Stay safe; watch out for those silent big ships as you get closer to New Orleans.

Since the river is so dirty and can cause some nasty infections, maybe part of your evening ritual (along with mosquito slaughter) should be to put some antiseptic/ antibiotic ointment on all your battle wounds? Just a thought...

famille stoa said...

I agree with Mikepam about instituting another evening ritual, i.e, taking care of your battle wounds.
Bon voyage for the rest of the trip!

Kris said...

Howdy from the northwoods of Widji...if you aren't too sick of dip, dip, and swing, you could always head on up for an august intro lake and rocky shore...I shall return once more...
Safe travels! Sounds like quite an epic trip...

Tom and Kris

Martin said...

hi dudes,

I've been reading since the beginning (thanks for the heads up email kevi!) but never had anything too interesting to say...I still don't, I suppose. anyway, the annual bevis family vacation again consisted of canoeing up north this past week, and I couldn't help but think of you guys while we paddled some rivers of our own. know that once the mississip is conquered, the stuart and horse rivers await you! a wholly different experience I'm sure, but still pretty sweet. look forward to seeing you again in the cities sometime soon? i hope?

much love,

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