Category Archives: Journal

raindrops are falling

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It’s been really rainy the last couple of days: we spent the first rainy night in the middle of the tiny river town of Hamburg, IL (pop. 150) in a shelter in the town park. The hammocks worked great strung up along the shelter supports and we didn’t feel too much like vagrants, since we were invited guests of a lovely guy named Steve, who I had met while waiting for Mary to arrive, but I did think we resembled bats a little bit: big green bats hanging in our hammocks under the eaves.

Hamburg is on a sort of peninsula bounded by the Illinois River on one side and the Mississippi on the other: there are no bridges across the Mississippi except up north at Louisiana (the cool narrow bridge Susan commented on), and the Illinois is another barrier to easy travel, so the towns on the Illinois side feel quite different from the Missouri side. Hannibal, Louisiana, Clarksville, even though they’re pretty small towns, feel like they’re along the highway of the river, but the Illinois side feels much more rural. I’ve been re-reading Tom Sawyer, and Twain gives you the same feeling about Illinois vs. Missouri: it’s interesting how geography trumps development even when there are almost ten times as many people living in the US than in 1860. My guess is there aren’t a whole lot more people living in far western Illinois than there were when Samuel Clemens was hanging around these parts.

Last night, Mary and I drove down to Pere Marquette State Park, which has a really great lodge and cabins that were built by the CCC during the Depression. The greatroom of the lodge is a total wonder: I’d say it’s about 50 by 80 feet and four stories high, all built of huge wooden beams. Angie in the bar gave us a sampling of the local wines, and we hung out for a bit hoping for the rain to stop, but eventually headed out to the campsite in the rain and rigged up our hammocks in the trees.

It was great at first to be cocooned all cozy and dry in the hammock with the tarp right overhead tapping with raindrops, but as the night wore on my tarp slid down and I woke up around 5:30 in a clammy bath of cold wet sleeping bag and clothes and staggered to the car and changed into dry clothes and slept a bit more in the front seat. Mary hadn’t fared much better in her hammock, so we headed over to Jerseyville to the laundromat to dry everything out and then came back to the lodge because I wanted to spend the day hanging out in that great greatroom! So I’m writing this looking out at the still-rainy day and the Illinois River and hoping that the rain will let up and let us out on the river tomorrow.

We’re heading down to Alton tonight, to Bob and Wita, some friends I haven’t met yet. Bob’s grandfather and father and uncle all worked on building the lodge, how cool is that?!

Wherever the river goes

I slept til noon on Sunday, and when I woke up, my cousins Emma and Spencer and Amy (Frank had to work) had figured out where they wanted to take me in St. Louis. The place is called the City Museum, and it’s hard to describe how cool this place is. Imagine Tom Sawyer’s island at Disneyland, cross that with the Holy Ghost Grotto in Wisconsin, and then multiply wildly, adding in two ancient airplanes, a schoolbus cantilevered off the roof, several bulldozers used as staircases, lots of masonry from torn down buildings, many mosaics and sculptures, all welded together and connected by heavy metal mesh (outdoors) or concrete (indoors), so that you can crawl or climb or slide through and among all these wonders. A kid can crawl or climb or slide through even more of it: some of the spaces are definitely too small for a full-grown person. It is a totally incredible place, and the guy who made it keeps adding new marvels, and I’m in a bit of delighted shock it can manage to exist in these litigious days. Next time you get to St. Louis, you really must pay a visit, pictures definitely do not do it justice!

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Monday morning I picked up Mary Rowell at the St. Louis Airport and we immediately headed back north (Susan, you didn’t really think I’d skip it, did you?!?!) to Hannibal, where we wandered around town and visited Mark Twain’s boyhood home and other haunts, and climbed Cardiff Hill and read aloud the chapters in Life on the Mississippi where he describes revisiting Hannibal. Tourist Hannibal is really very nicely done, the shops and cafes along Main Street are pleasant and inviting, and I was happy to spend an afternoon wandering through it. Even the nostalgia is not laid on too thick: given that Twain himself can fall prey to that illness, I think it’s impressive that the town succeeds at honoring its history without wallowing in it.

Mary and I camped out at a commercial campground Monday night and as we were setting up camp, a gentleman came over to talk with us a bit. Galen is 83 years old and bikes and lifts weights five days a week. I would have placed him at least ten years younger, not just because he’s in great physical shape, but because he was so engaged and warm and curious about our adventure. The next morning as we were packing up to leave, he came back and offered us a blessing, a formal blessing, that I welcomed with my whole heart: thank you Galen, you are indeed a physician of souls right there in the Mark Twain Campground.

So after ten days away, I finally got out on the river again in my very own kayak this morning. We drove over to a boat launch on the Illinois side directly opposite Hannibal and I put in and paddled past downtown Hannibal and down the back sloughs in and among the islands, one of which must be the place where Huck and Jim launched their journey, and I couldn’t help but stop paddling and just float, imagining how it would feel to be rafting down this river, running away from slavery or an abusive drunken father, giving in the power of the river, thinking about the trippy irony that in this great American novel, Huck and Jim float south to freedom. What they do is not Calvinist effortful striving, not sweaty action-movie heroics: they just let the river carry them.

And after a while the clouds and rain cleared and the sun came out and the wind came up in gusts, so sometimes it was fighting me and others it was helping me along, and the whole undertaking felt like a game, a series of jokes between me and the wind and the water. And I can’t tell you how much I love being out here, and how happy I am to be underway again.

I gave the kayak over to Mary about 1 pm, and she should be getting here to Louisiana any minute now (the town, not the state(!) recommended, like Quincy, by a friend I haven’t met yet named Linda Smith) and I’ll see if I can find wi-fi to post this.

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darkness visible

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After all the adventures of the past few days, despite the amazing generosity and warmth of everyone I met in Burlington and Fort Madison and the miraculous recovery of all my stuff, I really hit a wall Thursday night. I keep thinking about Gary, the protagonist of the Stephen King story, The Man in the Black Suit, a story I’ve been working on turning into an opera for several years now. (You can find the story in Everything’s Eventual : 14 Dark Tales.) Gary escapes a visit from the devil completely unscathed — he, too, finds that nothing terrible has in fact happened — but nothing is ever the same for him, and at the end of his life he is still waiting for the devil to return and destroy him. The Man in the Black Suit is a cautionary tale about a loss, not of life, limb, or property, but of faith, which is the most unrecoverable loss of all.

I drove down to Quincy Thursday night, past the reach of the newspaper stories and back into anonymity, but I was spooked enough that couldn’t bring myself to camp out alone, so I checked into the cheapest motel I could find and spent the whole next day exploring Quincy, a wonderful town, full of great old houses (Maine Street is like Park Street in Brandon on steroids, one excellent house after another), visiting the crazy Moorish house right on the river that serves as the Visitor Center, and being given a long private tour of the house that belonged to the founder of the town, John Wood. I bought a book, The Underground Railroad Ran Through My House, by a local woman whose kids found a secret room while playing hide and seek one day, had an excellent lunch of spanakopita and Greek salad at one of the two(!) Greek restaurants in Quincy, hung out at the bookstore run by gentle and friendly folks, and then headed down to Hannibal for another cheap motel night.

When I woke up Saturday I realized it made no sense to continue traveling on in this frame of mind, so I drove back up to Quincy to take a look at the Eells house, home of another leading citizen of Quincy who was active in the Underground Railroad, before driving down to St. Louis, where I joined up with an absolutely great guy named Mike Clark, who among many other things, organizes monthly Full Moon Floats where he takes a group of people out on the river for a night paddle and dinner. On the way to meeting up with Mike, I stopped at a gas station in a sketchy part of town, and during the two minutes I was in the bathroom someone tried to clip my bike off the top of the car, no joke! So I put my big NYC chain and lock around the bike and the roof rack, now both my kayak and my bike are pretty seriously locked down to the top of my car, and I’m hoping we’re done with this theft story for good.

Mike and Betsy and I set off in a canoe around 6:30. It was cool and overcast, seemed like a pretty unprepossessing night for a paddle, but I just needed to get out on the river in the company of people who get it. Wow, it was totally totally the right thing to do! We put in south of the confluence with the Missouri, so this Mississippi is a whole new story: no more is it a series of pools created by the network of locks and dams, it is a free-flowing river with more than twice the volume now that the Missouri has joined it. Just crossing over to the island (i.e. not the whole width of the river) was a real undertaking: you have to find an eddy and paddle upstream a good ways before heading across or you’ll end up downstream of the island you’re heading to. We landed on this island and headed to a spot which is under the river during high water but turns into a huge sandy beach with blue holes, pools up to 25 feet deep of river water that connect to the main channel deep underground. You can see some daylight pictures here.

We gathered some wood and lit a fire and finished cooking up some excellent jambalaya and opened some wine, and suddenly the clouds parted and there was the full moon rushing upwards, creating an open space in the clouds and shining through and illuminating the whole scene, including a coyote off by the tree line who imitates the bark of a domestic dog so well that you can only tell he’s a coyote by the telltale upward yip-howl he can’t entirely suppress. And the talk was wonderful: Mike has paddled the whole Mississippi a few times, and the whole Missouri, too — he is a real river rat on a level I can’t even aspire to attain, and to talk river on both the practical and the mystical level with these wonderful folks in this amazing secret place in the middle of St. Louis was healing and inspiring on so many levels. Wow.

I got to my cousins’ house at 2:30 am, totally fried and totally happy. Thank you, Mike and Betsy, with my whole heart!

not even a hair is missing

So I’m driving back from dropping off Rafaela at the Quad Cities Airport (I felt really bad that her whole visit was taken up with searching for the lost gear: not much of a river trip for her, that’s for sure), and as I was heading over the Burlington bridge, the phone rings and it’s the Lee County sheriff saying he thinks they’ve found the kayak just down from the Green Bay launch caught in some trees and reeds. EXACTLY as I had hoped; exactly as I had asked you all to dream! We had gone out looking very slowly and carefully yesterday, and hadn’t found it, but maybe the wake from the boats in this morning’s bass tournament dislodged my kayak from where it had snagged! So I go sit impatiently in the library for a bit and the sheriff calls again and tells me to come down to the Fort Madison launch. I drive down and find John Pawling from Lee County Conservation and the sheriff, James Emmett, standing there with my kayak. Not only my kayak, but ALL the accessories: paddles, life jacket, skirt, safety gear, even my well-used boat shoes and slightly stinky gloves. EVERYTHING!

And then John looks up at my roof rack and says “Where’d you get that bike?“ Cindy and Tom had lent me one of their bikes yesterday, and we had made a plan to meet up in New Orleans when I’m done with the journey for them to retrieve it. (A fine excuse for a trip to NOLA, don’t you think?!) John says, ”I’ve got your bike, too.“

Can you imagine?!? It turns out he saw it locked up at Ortho landing and thought perhaps someone had stolen it and hidden it down there, so he cut the lock and brought it back to the Lee County storage facility.

It’s hard to describe how it feels to have imagined I had lost everything, and suddenly have it all restored in the snap of the fingers like this. The Lee County Conservation folks even gave me a new lock to replace the one they had cut!

So I spent the rest of the day driving back and forth several times between Fort Madison and Burlington: returning Cindy’s bike, picking mine up, heading out to River Basin Canoe to buy a lasso lock for the kayak, and calling all the amazing people who had offered me replacement kayaks and bikes, written articles to get the word out, offered money to re-outfit, places to stay, searchboats to go look, to tell them the miraculous outcome of this story.

And I’m going to choose to believe that the wind pushed my boat six to ten feet down the beach into the river all by itself. No kids, no vandals, no theft, nothing like that. The outpouring of kindness from the people of Burlington and Fort Madison and Keokuk has been such an amazing gift to me. And the support and love from all of you here and on Facebook means so so much: I really feel like I am carrying all of you with me on this journey: you are keeping me safe, and all shall be well.

If you want to make a gesture in support of the people of Lee and Des Moines counties, and all they’ve done to make this story have such a wonderful ending, you could send a donation to either Des Moines County Conservation or Lee County Conservation.

And I’m heading down to Quincy and Hannibal this weekend, to the heart of Huck and Jim territory, and Lincoln/Douglas territory, and the Underground Railroad, and more cool stuff I can’t even predict, and it’s gonna be GREAT!

missing: one red kayak

When we went out to Green Bay landing this morning, the kayak was gone. Simply gone, no trace. The last time I saw it was Sunday around noon, when I was about to paddle down to Ortho landing where the bike was locked up. The wind was too strong, so I decided not to paddle, and I thought it was a bad idea to try to put the kayak back up on the car, partially because I was alone, partially because I needed to drive up to the Quad Cities to pick up Rafaela at the airport Monday and the wind was strong enough that highway driving with the kayak seemed dangerous. I had already left the kayak there overnight with no trouble, so I thought it would be okay.

I was wrong, obviously. Totally wrong.

We called the Lee County sheriff and he came out and took a report. I talked to Mike, a local farmer, whose friend owns some of the hunting camps just upriver and they both promised to ask around.

But there’s more.

We drive down to the Ortho landing ten miles downriver, where I had parked and locked my bike with a big NYC-type chain. And, I bet you can guess, the bike was gone, too. Simply gone, no trace. Not even the presumably broken lock. There was a woman there who comes out every day on her lunch hour who had seen it yesterday, which means the bike was stolen between 1 pm Monday and noon Tuesday.

We called once again, and the police came out to take a report this time (Ortho launch is within Fort Madison city limits, while Green Bay is north enough of Fort Madison to be under the aegis of the county.)

I am now without any form of human-powered transportation. Except walking, I guess(!) And I am kind of in shock. In nearly two months of traveling down the river, nothing has prepared me for this, not even a hint that something like this could happen.

So. We go to the Fort Madison newspaper where I talk to a sympathetic reporter named Joe Benedict, who promises a story for tomorrow’s Fort Madison Democrat. And then we drive back up to Burlington, where I talk to the very kind and helpful editor, Randy Miller, at The Hawkeye, and he, too, promises a story for tomorrow’s paper.

Randy puts me in touch with a local person who wants to remain anonymous, who has put us up in a hotel for the next two nights, and will take us out on the river to look for the kayak tomorrow downriver and in the back sloughs, just in case someone decided it would be fun to launch the kayak just to see where it ends up.

All these people have been so great, so generous with their time and energy and sympathy, that it seems almost unimaginable that both my kayak and my bike could really be gone forever.

So here’s what I’m praying for. That we will go out tomorrow, and my little red sportscar kayak will be caught in some reeds down the river a bit, victim of a dumb prank by some bored kids, and all will be well and I’ll be able to continue on my way almost as if this whole bad adventure didn’t happen. I don’t have much hope for recovering the bike, because in my experience a stolen bike is gone forever. But I’m focusing on the kayak right now, and if you have a little extra space in your day, if you would just dream about my little red kayak half-hidden in the bullrushes waiting to be rescued, I would be really grateful.

sure to be saved?

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This morning I went to the Joy Baptist Church in Fort Madison. I think it’s the first time I’ve been to a Baptist church, and it’s a step towards visiting a form of Christianity that is pretty foreign to me. People were very warm and inviting, there was lots of enthusiastic singing of hymns that are definitely not in the Episcopal hymnal, and the pianist was really good (the song-leader guy said she used to be an opera singer in NYC, check it!) And the sermon was a discursive journey through Philippians by a pastor who evinced utter certainty about the efficacy of beating children (it was Family Day), along with the utter certainty that he is saved. Towards the end of the service, we were asked to raise our hands if we are sure we are saved, sure that we are going to heaven. I couldn’t raise my hand, (as I left, one man patted my shoulder and said “Keep coming back,” sort of like at a 12-step meeting) and it got me to thinking that probably according to these folks I am not really a Christian, not really a believer at all. I left the service thinking hard about what it might do to a person’s life if one were to live it in the utter certainty of salvation and forgiveness, sure of a beautiful upcoming afterlife. One might embrace his sinfulness and brokenness, as this pastor did in his sermon, but insist nonetheless that heaven certainly awaits him. He said at one point, “I am not interested in justice, I am interested in mercy.” Yes, I can follow that, I can, but I don’t like the self-satisfied certainty of this guy’s approach, which colors all his pronouncements, all his opinions. God’s mercy is very strange indeed, (as Graham Greene so beautifully articulates in Brighton Rock,) but I don’t think I would want to live in the certainty of mercy as opposed to justice. I think perhaps faith in justice and hope of mercy might lead to a more generous and honorable life, but what do I know?

A few other little things I am beginning to notice. The regional accent has begun to change. Maybe south of Davenport it began — certainly by Burlington you can begin to hear vowels that sound vaguely Southern to me. Also, the church activities are divided by gender (I began to notice this at the Presbyterian Church in Le Claire last week, actually) — the men are asked to do maintenance work on the church and the women (ladies, actually) to cook and serve lunch, for example. And it gets me thinking about how gender roles are so deeply embedded in our culture, in most cultures of course, and how very lucky I feel to go to churches in both New York and Vermont where you aren’t required to have breasts to serve on the hospitality committee and don’t have to have a penis to preach.

*

I had planned to do a second split day of paddling and biking after church (yesterday was my first day of implementing this wacky plan of putting the bike at the pullout point, paddling the kayak down to the bike, and biking back up to the car, and it was very cool to have this doubled experience of the river from both the water and the land), but when I got to the launch where I had left the kayak, I realized the wind was against me at about 13-15 mph, and would definitely make for too long a day on the river. So I decided to check out the restored Fort Madison, a very early 19th century settlement that was once the only stop between St. Louis and Prairie du Chien. The soldiers had burned the fort to the ground when they abandoned it in 1813, and it was reconstructed about twenty years ago by volunteers from the maximum security prison here in Fort Madison, led by a lifer named Walter Smith. I ended up having a long conversation with the historian who runs the place, (I didn’t get his name), who was dressed up in period clothing as the Lieutenant of the fort. The actual Captain had been a brutal man, so awful that the doctor assigned to the fort had complained to the authorities about his behavior. I got a detailed description of the various tortures the Captain regularly visited upon the fifty or so enlisted men under his authority. Do you suppose he also was sure he was saved?

Walter Smith, the prisoner who headed up the rebuilding effort, is in his seventies now, if he is still alive. Perhaps he is at the penitentiary still. I’d be interested to know how he thinks about his several years’ work heading the team that re-built the fort. Do you think he is sure he is saved?

painting and paddling

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Today I set off in the kayak from Shady Creek with a very fun send-off crew: a group of folks who winter together in Florida and summer together by the banks of the Mississippi. (Sounds like a pretty good life to me!) Full of energy and laughter, they were just the right people to launch me on this rainy gray day for a sort of curious journey past through Lock and Dam #16, where the tender sent me through almost without a single word, a quick rest stop in Muscatine, where Caroline the Chicago poet was waiting to greet me, then past a bunch of huge factories spewing gunk right next to seemingly pristine natural vistas right next to wacky duck blinds (all the birds in that photo are decoys, in case that’s not clear(!)) Caroline retrieved me from a landing where you drive up and over the levee to get there, quite cool, and after a restorative lunch at the riverfront cafe I’ve been hanging out at every day (it’s called Elly’s and if you get to Muscatine, you too will eat there every single day, I am sure), we headed over to the Art Center, which is one of those 19th century houses with lots of Persian rugs and beautiful furniture and tasteful minor artworks — not so much my kind of thing except for this painting of the Mississippi River.

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It was tucked away near the bathroom or something. The painter is named Bill Bunn, and I just came up with this Life Magazine article from 1940, which describes how he and his 19-year-old wife were about to sail down the Mississippi in their own boat. I wonder if they did it?! He just died this summer at the age of 99, according to this article. I want to see more of Bill Bunn’s work! Somebody should get on this, don’t you think?

out and back

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After nearly two months of continuous travel in the company of other people, I am seriously ALONE for the first time. Tonight this campsite (Wildcat Den State Park) is completely empty, I am the only person here, the only person within at least a couple of miles, I imagine. It’s a lot different from being alone on my land in Vermont, not just because my neighbor Mike isn’t within hailing distance, but also because this place itself, the land itself, is not familiar territory. I am really beginning to understand the sheer immensity of the country in a way that I never have before, and in my mood today, it’s somehow a bit oppressive. All these towns, all these houses, all these lives being lived out in these places I had never even thought about, let alone visited; all these factories and roads and bridges and railroads. And the river itself going on and on.

I biked to Davenport and back today, forty miles round trip: no bike path past the city limits, so most of the ride was on Route 22 with cars and trucks lumbering by, and south of Davenport the riverside is really industrial, a huge limestone quarry (it had a sign out front saying hopefully: ”Quarry Beautification,“ but I couldn’t see the results,) many factories, knots of railroads. The road past the quarry was muddy with accidental cement made from the combination of limestone dust and the morning’s rain, it coated the underside of my bike, my legs, the tires. And the road has been pockmarked, perhaps to make it less slippery for cars and trucks, but it was a drag to bike on.

I get to thinking how everything has its price. You want cement, you have to tear holes in the bluffs to get limestone. You want steel, you dig a pit nearly the size of the Grand Canyon up in Hibbing to get the iron you need. You want to use the Mississippi to move goods, you have to constantly dredge a nine-foot channel and build dams and locks and all that stuff. Perhaps we could have done things differently, perhaps we still can do them differently, but I do realize that even my relatively green, relatively low-impact life is unthinkable without cement plants and dams and brutal quarries hidden in out-of-the-way places. I read somewhere that there are only 2500 acres of real prairie left. Can that really be possible? Maybe just in the state of Iowa? Still, it seems unimaginably low.

Going in to Davenport, I climbed the hill a bit and rode Sixth Street over to the cafe at River Music Experience, passing through a poor part of town, past a group of people lined up for free lunch, and many abandoned houses, some of which had once been mansions. The inhabited houses in the neighborhood were painted in bright colors and had excellent gardens, as if to counteract the orphaned sadness of the abandoned ones. It made me want to buy and fix up one of the lost houses, just to tip the scales a bit further towards vitality.

The museum at River Music Experience was mostly a series of kiosks with information that could just as well be on a website, but they seem to give lessons there, and the concert hall is probably cool, and the cafe downstairs is great, so it was a fine halfway point to the day. The trip home was a slog, though. I don’t really like doing out and back routes in general: they feel artificial and sort of pointless, because they are. And going past the factories a second time was even more disheartening. But once I was past the big plants, there was a bit of a climb and suddenly the river was spread out below me, and I could coast down for the last couple of miles, down to the riverside, blessedly free of factories, just green and birds and a house now and again, and the road and the river, and I was filled suddenly with the most amazing joy, and gratitude for being given joy after a day not so full of it. (Plato is right, for sure! (see Philebus))

Doing this whole trip alone would be unimaginable for me. While I enjoy my self-sufficiency, I am really glad I am not doing the rest of the trip this way: it brings out my dark side almost immediately. Caroline Walker is driving down from Chicago for a few days and will be arriving tomorrow. I am glad for that, and I’m saving the sights of Muscatine so I can discover them with her.

counting stuff works

Last night, Lori and I stopped off at the River Music Experience, where Terry Dame happened to be setting up for a show, an unexpected pleasure, and we caught a few songs, but couldn’t stay to say hi, because we had to head back north to Bellevue, where we had left Lori’s car these last days, and we wanted to set up camp before dark. We camped right by the river, haven’t done that in a while: it’s a real pleasure to wake up and watch the dawn come up right over the water. I said goodbye to Lori, who’s been a great fellow-traveler these last days, and then headed down to Le Claire and caught a service at the Presbyterian Church before driving down to meet Susan and Jim in Davenport. I’ve known Susan for a couple of years now on Walker Tracker, a site for counting pedometer steps (totally nerdy, I grant you, but a really fun community.) We’d never actually met in person until today, and I was really happy they drove all the way from Tremont to spend the afternoon with me. Susan is part of my inspiration for doing this trip: I really respect and enjoy her whole approach to life, and love all the very deep commonalities we share despite our ostensible differences. And Jim is great: a tall, handsome, laconic Republican pacifist. (But still not much of a TV watcher(!)) After a leisurely brunch, we went to the Figge Art Museum, which has a pretty great collection, augmented by work that was displaced from the University of Iowa collection by last year’s flood, including a really fine Jackson Pollack that captures something amazing about the river and the farmland, and an Odilon Redon pastel woman on cardboard, which I think Despina would love a lot (and I’m really happy because I just found an online photo of it.)

After Susan and Jim left, I drove down to Muscatine and realized I’m tired enough that a motel and a day off are the answer, so I found a fabulous Econolodge and gratefully settled in. There is absolutely nothing interesting to look at or take in or experience in this motel room, and I have running water and a hot shower and free wifi at my fingertips, and it feels absolutely luxurious to be able to take a day to clean up, take stock, and get ready for the next leg of this journey.

just say no

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I put in this morning at the boat launch in Port Byron and paddled down to Bettendorf, passing under the I-80 bridge, which I have driven on more than a couple of cross-country trips without hardly even registering the Mississippi. It’s interesting how the small river towns make the river the centerpiece of the community, but the larger cities almost ignore the river, turning their backs on it as if almost ashamed of the very reason for their existence. You can see that the Quad Cities are working at rebuilding their waterfronts, but I’m sorry to say that most of it still feels pretty vacant, sort of like the urban renewal projects of the 20th century, rather than authentically organic vitality.

I pulled out just after the I-74 bridge pictured above, and Lori and I headed over to the one non-Starbuck’s cafe we could find (thanks, Jane!!) and then to Arsenal Island, where I bought my very own set of sexy river maps that will cover the rest of the trip. (There is such a thing as map porn, and the Army Corps does a pretty good job of scratching that particular itch.) We drove around looking for the museum to no avail: we were pretty tired, but there’s also a strange secretive lack of information on this Army-run island: maybe better signage to the museum would incite terrorists, I don’t know. But we had no trouble finding the cemeteries: rows upon endless rows of white headstones, a segregated cemetery for the confederate soldiers who died in captivity here (I gather there was a sort of concentration camp, a northern Andersonville, here, during the Civil War) and then the national cemetery, where we were alone except for two young women and a small child who were gathered at the freshest graves. In a moment I looked back, and one of the women had wrapped herself around a headstone, and I couldn’t help but picture that Iowa or Illinois boy, just about Mac’s age, the fresh young love of this young woman’s life, the father of this toddler, blown to pieces by an IED, bleeding to death in the dust of Iraq.