Mile 43 on the Upper Mississippi, near Commerce, MO – November 12, 2012
Barges are constant now. As soon as one disappears, another comes chugging around a far bend. They’ve grown too, from fifteen barges for every tug to twenty-five barge giants that fight to make each bend while I watch from just outside the channel. They almost never notice me, at least not outwardly.
They never wave back.
The river has changed too. South of St. Louis, no longer restrained by locks and dams, it flows again and the Corps has made sure it stays in place. Giant wingdams and cutoffs force the river toward the main channel where the water drifts and swirls around bends and leaves giant eddies and sandbars along the banks.
The river feels big and constant, instead of skipping over the same song again and again behind every lock, it plays only one note now. There are no more marshes or island mazes anymore, no more side channels to hide away in. There’s only the main channel and its wingdamned shoulders.
The towns have changed with the river. Scared of the water’s new-found liberty, they sit back, pushed off the banks, resembling medieval cities hiding behind huge walls. Only the roofs peak above the ramparts, staring out like tired guardsmen, wondering when the river will rise again to knock on their gates.
For now, they rest easy. It’s only me knocking and hoping to fill a water bottle.