Angle to Key West: The Mississippi River (9/13)

Mississippi River south of Palisade, MN – September 13, 2012

Lake Superior, it looms. It forces its grandeur on you. You see it and you stare at that blue water until your eyes hurt, until you can’t tell where the sky begins. No one needs to tell you that you’re in the presence of greatness.

The Mississippi is not so brash, not here anyway. The water’s only a dozen steps across in places. Choose the right spot and it’s walkable. If you didn’t look at a map or read a sign, you might glance and forget you ever saw it. It’s nothing but a bit of brown water, thin and humble, sunk low between muddy banks that twist, circle, and refuse any invitation at directness. It hides behind bends, slips away and disappears along curves, never lets you see more than a glimpse.

“Are you really the Mighty Mississippi,” I ask. “I don’t quite believe it.”

I stare at my piece of river like one of the blind men asked to describe an elephant.

“It’s a pillar,” the blind man touching a leg says.

“It’s a plow,” the blind man touching a tusk says.

“It’s a rope,” the blind man touching the trunk says.

“It’s a fan,” the blind man touching an ear says.

“It’s a muddy stream,” I say.

And the river looks up and laughs from muddy stream to mile-wide giant, grinning at me with a smile two-hundred feet deep at the mouth.

“You have no idea what I am,” the river says.

I stare at my little piece of brown water and trade it for another as I slide around the next bend.

“I know,” I say. “That’s my favorite part.”

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