Mile 365 on Lower Mississippi, just north of Natchez, Mississippi – December 3, 2012
Something about the bank looked odd. The river had cut away at it and left a high cliff of mud. Layers every shade of brown piled on each other like a chocolate cake. Huge slices lay cut and sunk in the water. Trees clung to the edge to stare down at their fallen comrades.
I glided past it, looking at the trees, the layers of mud, the water carving away at the base. I wondered how long those trees on top had, how quickly the river would eat its way west. I kept staring at it, not sure why, but sure something seemed off, something out-of-place, something on the edge of my perception. Then I saw it.
The bank looked natural.
There weren’t piles of riprap stacked against it, no blankets of concrete slabs and wire, no metal cables, nothing but Mississippi mud and trees to try and fail to hold back the mighty river.
That’s the way it used to be. You can see it on a map. Look at the curving state lines jumping across from bank to bank. That is the river lopping off pieces of Louisiana and leaving them in Mississippi, pieces of Arkansas in Tennessee, laughing at anyone fool enough to think her constrained. Those old state lines hang on like stubborn ghosts, relics of a different river, like a muddy, undercut bank in a world of concrete, rock, and wire.