Spillway, mile 128 – December 12, 2012
There is nothing left for me on the river. Industry has swallowed it all. A thousand barges and tugs, loading dock after loading dock, cranes lifting buckets of raw goods, bulk freighters towering a hundred feet high.
It feels like walking down an interstate except there’s no shoulder, medians, or lanes. Everything is buses, vans, and semi-trucks. Some moving, some parked in long lines along the bank, waiting to go at any moment. Nothing is constant except the groan of diesel motors and the terror of being the only flesh and blood thing in a world of battered metal.
I remember being scared when I saw the first tug in Minneapolis. It had three barges and I thought it was gigantic. The fifteen barge tugs in the locks looked unreal, like walls of steel sliding along the river.
I saw a tug pushing forty-two barges today. That is almost seven acres of barge moving across the water. It’s an island, it’s an entire Walmart Supercenter, and it looked puny next to a bulk freighter.
I remember them from Lake Superior, the outlines of ships moving on the horizon, but the lake is deceptive, it’s the difference between staring at a bull in a distant field and finding yourself facing two horns and a few thousand pounds of muscle in a skinny alleyway. Things look bigger up close.
There’s no place to hide anymore, no place to rest. The entire river is either a channel or parked barges, metal and engines wherever you look. The river is over a half-mile wide and I can barely find two-and-a-half feet to breathe.