A Tour of the Mississippi

I took this past week off of work; a staycation since traveling during a pandemic is problematic. A whole week to focus on art is precious to me. I took my favorite spot at my kitchen table and went on a virtual journey along the Mississippi River.

My inspiration is from a story that is part of the Natural Heritage Project‘s Mississippi River Stories work. They have collected stories about the river and sent recordings to artists who will participate in an exhibit at the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization. Below is a transcript of the story I received, a story of the Mississippi River from the Twin Cities community collected by University of St. Thomas students through a research partnership with the St. Thomas Sustainable Communities Partnership, the Natural Heritage Project, and the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization.

I have lived near the river for decades. And I think I’ve probably run, hiked biked, tens of thousands of miles on the trails in the river gorge in the Twin Cities. My dog loves swimming in the river and would do it every day if I would let him. My most recent story of the river is that my wife and I took a bike trip from St. Paul right near the Lake Street bridge to New Orleans, largely along the Mississippi River last year, a 1500 mile bike ride. In which we were able to experience the culture that I believe has flowed upstream from New Orleans to the delta to Memphis to St. Louis, and up to the Twin Cities. A culture that includes music and cuisine and all kinds of things. We love the river and want to protect it.  And thank you for doing this project.  

To plan my 18×24 drawing, I did a little research. I looked at historic maps of the Mississippi from when Zebulon Pike made the Europeans’ first trip to find the river’s source to the “ribbon” maps developed during the height of steamboat traffic. Most maps were of either the upper or lower Mississippi, with Saint Louis and the mouth of the Missouri the end or beginning. I intended my virtual trip to run the length of the Mississippi, from Lake Itasca to Pilot’s Station East.

The next essential item to planning your vacation is a trusted travel guide: Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail: A Complete Route Guide Along the Mississippi River. Living vicariously through the author, Bob Robinson, took me to places in my home state that I have never explored, like Bena, Minnesota, and places far away, like Dyess, Arkansas.

While the exhibit at the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization was planned for the spring of 2021, the dates are now postponed until 2022. I feel fortunate that I can take my time with the drawing, learning more about biking trails, the New Madrid earthquake, Mark Twain, the ancient ruins of Cahokia, and tragic events at Fort Pillow. To give you a sneak peek, and assure you that Darla has a place in this drawing too:

Darla the Dog and the Gulf of Mexico, in progress.

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