Angle to Key West: Huck Finn is Not Dead (12/16)

Last Glimpse of the Mississippi

New Orleans, Louisiana – December 16, 2012

I walked to the top of the levee in the French Quarter and stared at the Mississippi. I needed to see the river one more time. I needed to say goodbye.

“Huckleberry Finn is dead,” a woman told me once. “People read that book and they think the river’s going to be just like it, but it’s not, everything’s different. I don’t know why you’d want to paddle it.”

“We’ll see,” I said.

There was no Jim, no escape to freedom. I didn’t fake my death, explore a floating house, or get run over by a steamship. I wasn’t shot at in a family feud and no dual I saw almost led to a lynching. I didn’t miss the Ohio in a fog, get bit by a rattlesnake, or meet any European royalty. No one was tarred and feathered and Tom Sawyer never showed up.

But that woman was wrong.

I sat around a campfire with strangers turned friends and walked out of a restaurant freezer with a week’s worth of food. I saw power plants that changed the water’s temperature and towns that crowded behind levees. I dodged barges and pulled the boat around damns. Accents changed from “don’tcha know?” to nothing to “ya’ll” as food went from wild game to smoked BBQ to fried everything. I slept in a dozen beds in a dozen houses owned by a dozen people I’d never met before. I ran after the American Queen and hid next to saltwater freighters. I watched a small river turn into the Mighty Mississippi and I cried as I crossed under that last bridge and slid toward the French Quarter.

Huck Finn is not dead.

The river is what it has always been, a slice of American Pie cooked to the temperament of the age.

I stared at her one last time and listened to an old Cajun man talking nearby, not to me, but to anyone who would listen.

“Where ya at?” he said. “Ya in New Orleans, Louisiana, where people pay $1,000 to sit where you are.”

My eyes filled with the happy sadness of saying goodbye to something you love.

“Smile,” the Cajun said. “The most amazing thing in the world is a smile. When you smile, you’re happy.”

I stared at the water, smiled, and said goodbye.

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9 responses to “Angle to Key West: Huck Finn is Not Dead (12/16)

  1. Outstanding!… Best of luck on you Ocean adventure. Remember what I told you about rip tides… they are only so wide. To add to that: to cross one, start near shore before the waves break and paddle hard…

  2. Have been following you since you spent the night by the camp fire with my son Mike and his friend Wade north of Brainerd MN. Wishing you the best in the new year. Joel

  3. Congradulations Daniel. I understand your sorrow in leaving the Mississipi behind, but for your personal safety it is good you are exiting that portion of the river. Stay safe.

  4. Quote: Twenty years from now you will be come more disapointed by the the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowliness, sail away from safe harbors, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream . Discover – Mark Twain

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